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How to Prepare for IELTS and TOEFL

A few years ago, I was an examiner in China for the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), one of the most popular English tests in the world. I much prefered teaching to testing, so I gave it up and went back to the classroom to teach. Through that experience, I learned a lot about the test and how students can better prepare for it. I have explained some of my best advice for the IELTS speaking test and for the Reading, Writing and Listening tests in other articles. In this article, I will give some general tips that can help you on any test you take in the future, including the IELTS, TOEFL, GRE or GMAT.

Study Tip 1: Every test is different, so you need slightly different strategies for each one. Before you start to study, you must find out everything about the test you will take. You should know what the main sections of the test are, how long each section is, and what kinds of questions will be asked. You should know what the scoring system is. For example, some tests do not take points away for wrong answers (so you can guess freely!) but other tests only take points away for wrong answers, not for unanswered questions (so you should take your time to answer each quetion). The more you know about the test, the better your studying will be.

Study Tip 2: Practice with a stopwatch! This is extremely important. Using your time well can make the difference between success and failure. I know of so many students who never used a watch while studying, so when the test came, they didn't have enough time. As a result, all of their study efforts were wasted. If you use a watch and know how much time you really need, not only will you be sure to have enough time when the test comes, but you will also have extra confidence knowing that you will not run out of time.

Study Tip 3: On the day of the test, read all of the questions quickly before trying to answer them. This will give you an overview of the questions, so you will know which questions require more time and which questions require less time. In addition, you might find that the answers to some questions will be given, or at least suggested, in other questions.

Study Tip 4: If you are taking a multiple choice test, with four or five answers to choose from, use the "process of elimination" to help you. Even if you don't know the answer to a question, you can usually eliminate one or two choices. Then, if you have to guess, you have a greater chance of guessing right. (If you guess at random from four choices, you have a 25% chance of being right. But if you have eliminated two choices, then you have a 50% chance of being right!)

Study Tip 5: Find authentic old tests to practice with. There are many books you can buy to help you practice for IELTS, TOEFL, GRE or GMAT, but most of the books make their own practice tests. (Those tests are usually NOT real tests!) The tests in those books can often be too easy, or too difficult, giving you a false understanding of the test. I remember when I studied for the GRE test many years ago, I used tests from preparation books and answered most questions easily. But when I found some real GRE tests used in previous years, I had much more trouble. This was good for me, because I studied harder and eventually got a very good score on the real test.

Study Tip 6: Learn how to relax! I taught my students to do this before they took the IELTS test and they had much more confidence, and had a much easier time answering all the questions. You can read about how to relax by reading my article entitled "Relax and Learn English". If you follow my advice before the test AND before you study, you will surely succeed!

Kung Fu Kitty!

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