If you read my last post about the IELTS , you’d probably know that I wasn’t so happy on how I performed. Last Friday, the unofficial results were released. I was hesitant to peek on my scores because I knew I would be disappointed if I only receive a grade of 7, which ironically was what I was expecting. Besides, I couldn’t remember my Candidate number so it was really futile to visit the site–although I only need a quick call to the British Council to get my candidate number, just making excuses. After a few hours of psyching myself, I mustered the strength to call.

Before the exam date, British Council actually gave a free workshop to the examinees. The lecturer taught them the tips and tricks on how to obtain a passing mark. During that session, I met a few people who had retaken the exam more than once, which made me more nervous. People do fail the exams!

Fortunately, I got good grades in Reading and Listening modules. I got a perfect score in Reading and nearly perfect in Listening. My Writing module didn’t fare so bad, it was one band lower from the highest. Speaking, which was my most dreaded part, had an above average. My overall rating was 8.5, a level lower from the highest, which is 9.

If you’re wondering how I managed to pass, I did the following techniques before taking the exam:

Reading

  1. Answer at least three sample exams. On the first try, focus on how the test is structured. Always highlight (in my case, I underline) in the instruction whether it allows  ONE, TWO or THREE words. This is very important.
  2. I always get confused on the TRUE, FALSE, NOT GIVEN section. I knew that if I’m going to commit a mistake, it would be on this part. To overcome this, I analysed the differences between a FALSE statement and a NOT GIVEN statement. You just have to get used to the logic.
  3. Always underline the important words. I received an advise to read the questions first before reading the entire article. It will work if there are only four questions for that article, which isn’t the case. Otherwise, it’s better to skim through and underline some phrases that you think are important. Then read the questions and refer back to the article.
  4. Time your reading comprehension. There are 40 questions and you’re given only 60 minutes to answer all of them. You should achieve a rate of 1 minute per question, that would be the safest.
  5. Learn how to block all distractions when reading an article.

Listening

  1. The emphasis of this exam is to ensure that you can understand different English accents, e.g. British, Canadian, Australian and American. Since I always watch US TV series, the Canadian and American accent wasn’t that difficult to understand. To familiarize myself with the British and Australian way of speaking, I go to Youtube and watch some videos.
  2. You need to practice your concentration and monitor your speed in analysing each dialogue. This is tougher than reading because you can’t pause nor rewind the tape.
  3. Before each session starts, you are given 20 seconds (or 1 minute?) to read the questions. You have to ensure that you read and highlight the important words in each question. Always underline those words that you deemed valuable.

Writing

  1. For this exam, it was a mistake to rely on my blogging skills. It doesn’t help that you know how to rant in a blog. The checker will always grade you based on the  “proper” way of writing an informal/formal letter as well as the correct way of conveying your thoughts in an essay.
  2. To accustom yourself with the correct way of writing a letter, read the sample solutions of the review materials. If you’re used to writing emails in the office or sending letters to your English-speaking friends, then this is a breeze. Just make sure that you only spend 20 minutes (or less!) on this part.
  3. The essay part of the exam is more draining than the first. Not only do you need to formulate your thoughts into Introduction, Body and Conclusion, you also need to ensure that your reasoning is convincing. It will help if you practice a lot on this part. You need to train your mind to always write an eye-catching intro (not just a paraphrase of the topic).
  4. When writing the body of the essay, always use the words, “Firstly”, “Secondly” or “The first point is”. I don’t know why, but this seems to be the right formula according to the review materials.
  5. If you’re not good with conclusions, just summarize your points into one paragraph and that will work.
  6. Follow the basic rule of writing, list down the outline of your essay. This will give your thought a direction. This should take you a minute or less.
  7. ENSURE that you adhere to the minimum word count. The easiest way to do this is to count the words in each line, then multiple by the number of lines you’ve used, subtract it by ten.
  8. Use pencil and don’t use the scratch paper. Write directly to the answer sheet, you’ll be provided with an eraser so there’s no need to worry.

Speaking

  1. The real reason why I dread this part is that I’m not a good conversationalist. I’m a native Tagalog speaker so doing a real-time translation to English is difficult. I can see the nerves of my brain swelling or my nose bleeding, whichever comes first.
  2. The easiest way to practice this is to meet people outside your circle. You can sign up at Meetup.com and look for groups which have the same interest as yours. You don’t have to connect to all the people there, aim for quality and not quantity.
  3. What I did before the exam was I arranged a dinner with a few English-speaking friends. It’s best to do a one-to-one date because it will allow you to be aware of the way you speak and how quick you can construct sentences in your thought. Besides, the interviewers in British Council Singapore are all “ang mohs” so try to find another “ang moh” and imagine talking to him/her during the exam.

It is inevitable that you get anxious before the exam especially when you told your friends that you’re aiming for a grade of 9 (until you found out that 9 is actually the perfect score!). It may differ on how you get rid of anxiety. In my case, before the exam started, I stood at the back of the room and did some stretches. I didn’t drink any water because I have a tendency to go to the loo when I’m hyperactive. I slept 6 hours the night before the exam and had a light healthy dinner–not that it matters.

Before the start of the exam, it also helps to drown yourself with happy thoughts. This relaxes your mind. Luckily, I had so many memorable encounters in Myanmar so this part wasn’t that difficult. If this still doesn’t work, remind yourself how many buffets you can get from a $320.oo exam fee!

Good luck!