They say (and by ‘they’ I mean the specialists, the researchers in the learning field) practice makes perfect, and when you look to the habits of professional athletes, musicians and actors, it’s easy to see why. Psychology writer Malcolm Gladwell once stated the 10,000-hour rule: only after 10,000 hours of practice does a person become an expert in any field. While you may not need 10,000 hours of practice to get a high score on the IELTS, there’s no denying that completing practice tests can help you achieve better results. However, if you’re stuck in the ‘test-test-test’ loop you’re missing the important part of your learning: building the language skills that will help you improve and practise. If you’re prepping for IELTS (or, as a matter of fact for any exam) and are curious about the benefits of deliberate practice, take a look at these:
1. Work systematically
Standardized tests often take multiple hours to complete. Given how predisposed our modern society tends to be with multitasking, sitting and staring at an exam hour after hour can be draining. Just as bodybuilders slowly work up to heavier weights over time, you should work systematically on improving those skills which prevent you from progressing.
2. Learn the Quirks of the Test
Tests are designed to identify what you know and what you don’t. Unfortunately, though, they are rarely as straightforward as you’d hope they would be. By repeatedly testing yourself, you will only grow the stamina, but how do you know if you’re actually making any progress.
Just visualise the next situation:
You watch a professional bodybuilder performing barbell squats and then you tell to yourself:
I can do that!I can easily do that!
Next thing you know, you go to the gym and you do the same thing, over and over again, disregarding whether you use the correct form or stance, or whether your knees and toes are aligned, or how to prevent back pain. You think you’re actually doing pretty well, but in time, your back affects your hips, your hips affect the knees, and by the time you’re 40 you’re going to have the same risk of osteoarthritis as your grandma.
It goes without saying: you need to learn before you study, and study before you take the test. Knowing the format inside out not only helps you become more comfortable with the process, it also helps you better prepare your own personal study strategies.
3. Identify Knowledge Gaps
It’s difficult to know what you don’t know. That’s where practice tests come into play. BUT if you don’t work on your weaknesses but constantly test yourself is like trying to pour from an empty cup. You may think you’ll breeze through the writing section, but if test practice results reveal a less than stellar score, you need to go back and reevalute your strategy.
Confidence is good, but poor results of multiple practice tests can confirm that there are clearly areas which need improvement.
4. Alleviate Anxiety
Perhaps you’re working to get into the school of your dreams or hoping to secure a well-paid job. Regardless of your reasons for testing, tension is probably running high. One way to ensure maximum comfort and minimal anxiety is to be prepared. For example, for the IELTS Reading tests there quite a few types of task you may encounter, for example
- multiple choice questions (MCQs),
- information identification questions,
- information matching,
- headings matching,
- sentence completion.
Just to name a few. Not to mention that what works best for you, might not work for someone else. No two students are the same.
Identifying the correct strategy to tackle each and every type of question will help you perform well when taking a practice test. Once you’ve done that, you can tick off a bullet point on your to-do list and save time and energy.
5. Perfect Your Timing
IELTS is a speed test. It’s only 2h45min long and it’s easy to lose track of time. The last thing you want, is to realize the exam is almost over when you’re only halfway through a reading comprehension passage.
Pacing is important when you have a limited time to complete a given section. If you don’t know where’s still work to be done, taking numerous practice tests won’t help you. If you’re at pre-intermediate or intermediate level, stop taking practice tests, go back to language learning, and address the learning gaps. There’s a lot of things out of your control on the day of the actual test and timing shouldn’t be one of them.
6. Track Your Progress
You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. Tracking your progress can be a great way to show you which study strategies are working for you and which should be abandoned. Even establishing a baseline through a single practice test can give you the intel needed to know what areas need your focus. Of course, the more data points, the fuller the picture. I recommend this strategy:
- take a practice test
- identify weaknessess
- address those weakness
- take another practice test
- record your progress
7. Cement Knowledge
If you’re feeling uncertain about your skills in a particular area, it’s easy to focus all of your energy on that topic. A practice test can help you identify problem areas, but it can also help reassure you that you do indeed know your stuff.
So, yes, taking a practice test is advisable in this situation, but if you don’t work to improve your problem areas, then you’ve simply wasted your time. By discovering and confirming your subject matter strengths, you can devote more time to the areas where you really need focus.
8. Retain Information
If you’re planning to pull an all-nighter before an exam, you might be in for a shock: studies consistently show that those studying in short, regular bursts retain more information than those who undergo marathon study sessions.
Similarly, the information learned in the process of notetaking, synthesising, and reviewing have results which will stick with you in a unique way. Flashcards and notetaking can get you far and practicing the act of calling specific facts and figures to mind will make it easier to retrieve such details during the actual exam.
9. Stress Less
Remember, important tests are rarely just a chance to quiz you on your knowledge. They’re also an indicator of how well you perform under pressure. When you slack off on studying, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re going to fail or that you don’t know any of the answers. If you know the ins and outs of the IELTS exam, then the chances are very slim that you’ll be taken aback by question types or tasks.
Regardless of how you prepare for the big exam, consistency, perseverance, and deliberate practice can help you in more ways than you might expect. In addition to getting a good night’s sleep and eating a healthy breakfast before the actual test, taking a practice test is a great way to diversify your study strategy and ensure the best possible results for the real thing.
But remember: you first need to know in order to test!
See you next time!
Your IELTS bestie,