How I Prepared for My IELTS Language Exam
Hi, my name is Ioana and I am from Romania. I chose to take the IELTS examination as part of the benefits I received after finishing a six-month internship for the British Council, in my home country. I thought it would be a good opportunity to assess my English level and considered the certificate would be a huge plus for my CV as I was planning to work in a multicultural environment. I decided to take the IELTS because I thought it would best match my future interests. Eventually, I did benefit from my English certificate at my job interviews, and now I work as a content editor for an international company.
Registration and deciding on the exam type
As a past intern, British Council Romania took care of the whole registration process and my fees for the exam. All I had to do was fill in the application form and provide two recent passport-size photos.
The normal IELTS registration procedure begins with finding the nearest test centre, filling in the application form and sending it back by email or in person. You can find all the available 1000 test locations worldwide on the official IELTS website. In some centres, you can also register through the online registration system, but you have to talk with the staff from your centre about the payment methods.
It is important to consider carefully the test date that suits you best, taking into account the time you need for the exam preparation. In Bucharest, for example, the British Council offers IELTS tests twice per month, but there are other centres around the world that hold the exam even four times a month. Before registering, you will also need to decide which IELTS exam you want to take, depending on your personal goals, having to choose between the Academic and the General Training tests.
- If you are interested in enrolling in a university from an English-speaking country or you want to attend an English-taught study programme, the IELTS Academic is better suited for you.
- The IELTS General Training measures your level of English in everyday contexts and is more appropriate for visa applicants looking to immigrate and find a job in an English-speaking country.
Personally, I was looking to be able to work with my English skills at a more complex level, as a copywriter, editor or even a translator. I, therefore, chose the IELTS Academic, although I did not necessarily plan to study abroad. For the IELTS Academic, you will have more abstract, theoretical subjects, while IELTS General Training features a more applied set of questions and requirements. I think I made the right decision in taking the Academic because it helped me properly evaluate both my reading comprehension and my writing skills.
Preparing for the IELTS
There are a lot of ways to prepare for the exam, from library materials to a wide range of online resources. You can attend courses that train you for all sections of the IELTS examination, or you can practice on your own if you are a self-taught learner and want to save some money. On the British Council website, for instance, you have access to free resources such as the Road to IELTS test drive that will help you get a general idea about the examination. If you register for IELTS test via your local British Council, you can also get access to 30 more hours of free training.
I set my exam date in such a way that I would have two months available for preparation. To be quite honest, I didn’t work as much on preparation as I had initially planned, although my intention was not to acquire a more in-depth English knowledge, but only to familiarise myself with the IELTS examination. My history with learning English began with watching English cartoons, movies and music channels. Many shows only had Romanian subtitles, so the English words were easy to follow. I studied the language for another 10 years during school, and eventually English became the second language of instruction through my undergraduate and graduate studies. We would read most articles and books in English, and sometimes we had to write the essays and practical papers in English.
For my IELTS preparation, I had access to the audio and printed exam resources at the British Council library in Bucharest – another advantage of my internship. The materials proved very helpful, especially for the reading and listening training. With the writing section is more complicated, as it would probably be useful to ask someone with a better level of English to proofread your texts. However, the learning materials gave me a good idea about the possible subjects, as well as valuable writing tips. The internet is full of examples for the IELTS writing section, so it’s a good idea to spend some time researching them. Check out this example as well. As for the speaking section training, well, I just spoke English as much as I could during the internship, with my colleagues, my friends and doing online exercises.
Before the examination
There is nothing to fear when it comes to the actual examination, as the organising staff tries to make the atmosphere as relaxed and easy-going as possible, which is the standard procedure for international examinations. Your local IELTS centre will send you information well in advance about the location, date and hour of the examination, along with some general rules of conduct. I was only allowed to take inside the exam room my identity card, some pens and pencils and a bottle of water. Read some tips for the day of the IELTS exam.
My exam took place at a hotel in Bucharest, in their big conference room. We were asked to arrive at 8 AM, and we waited in alphabetical order to enter the examination room. The organisers took photos of us on the spot that were added to our language certificate. At 10 o’clock, everybody was ready to start the exam.
Taking the tests
The first day of the examination, I took the listening, reading and writing sections of the exam. I was a bit stressed at the listening exam because I knew each audio was only played once and we did not have headphones. I only used headphones when I practiced at home, so I was not accustomed to hearing the audio samples in the room. However, the dialogues were accessible and I even took some short notes, after which I completed the questions, which I found fairly simple.
Instructions for the reading section are clear and easy to follow. I had some passages from an article about the demographics of a city, with questions requiring short answers, multiple choices or sentence completion. I tried to write as many answers as possible directly on the answer sheet and less on the draft because I did not want to run out of time.
Finally, the writing section had two parts and lasted one hour. The first task was to describe a bar graph, while the second was more demanding, involving some creativity and debating. Again, I tried to write as much as possible directly on the test paper, but only after making a coherent argumentation plan in my mind and on the draft. The bad part was that I finished writing at the last minute and I had no time to check my writing for errors.
At the end, I was scheduled for the speaking examination, which took place at the main British Council centre in Bucharest. There are typically three candidates in the room: one is examined while the others are drafting their answers and preparing for their turn. I passed my examination with a Romanian English teacher – a very relaxed and reassuring lady who told me I don’t need to be nervous, as we were just going to have a friendly discussion. She asked me what were my favourite subjects at the university and why, and about what places I would take a foreigner who wanted to visit Bucharest. The examiner records the whole exam and the speaking sample is sent to the IELTS administration for reviewing.
Receiving my final scores
I received my scores through email, within a couple of weeks, and I was very happy with the overall results. I got 7.0 out of a total possible 9.0. I gained more confidence in my English abilities, but I could also see objectively where I needed to improve my English. The writing tips I had learned during preparation proved very useful even after the examination.
The testing experience was not as stressful as I had expected. I think it was efficiently organised, or maybe it happened so fast that I did not have the time to feel the stress. The confidence boost I received by taking the IELTS helped me in finding a job where I could put my English skills to good use, as an English content writer for an international company in Bucharest.
I encourage others to take the IELTS as well as I was very happy with the professional staff and overall experience, which was challenging but fair. The resources and information provided by the British Council were also very helpful and I never felt I ran out of resources to practice my IELTS exam.