The big day is approaching. You’ve registered and paid for your English Language test, you’ve sharpened your pencils and have extra sheets of scrap paper. But what’s missing?
1) Chance it – Hope that your combination of good looks and wit will get you the score you need.
2) Buy a test prep book and study your brains out.
3) Enroll in a preparation course and benefit from the guidance and knowledge of a certified teacher.
All three options will work, (although I wouldn’t recommend the first one) but if you are looking for extensive preparation, skill-building and a peace of mind on the big day, your best bet would be a prep course. But how do students need to approach prep courses in order to benefit from them? Here are three things you should know on your way down the path of test preparation:
1) Know your subject
Whether the test is a language test, like IELTS or TOEFL, a test to get into university, like SAT or ACT, or something more specialized, like LSAT or MCAT, if you do not know the subject, you will not do well. A native-Spanish speaker studying French should not take the TOEFL, just like someone who wants to be a lawyer should not take the MCAT, which is destined for medical students, and someone who has only been studying English part-time for a couple months, should probably wait to take the IELTS. However, that does not mean that those people can not do well with those tests eventually; they just do not have as much experience with the subject matter as they need in order to get a good score on the test. Don’t rush into taking a big test if you’ve only been studying for a short time; spend more time studying the subject matter so you are comfortable with it as a whole and not focusing on passing a test. As long as you are familiar with the subject-matter before hand, then all you really need to learn is the format.
2) Know the format
Learning about the format, rules and scoring of a test is mostly what prep courses focus on. All of that can be accomplished by studying on your own, but having a teacher who knows the test and has seen actual tests is extremely worthwhile. Books can only show you examples and give you basic descriptions of a test; but a prep course teacher can reinforce these tips with exercises and activities that will build your testing skills. Teachers also are a great source to give you personal advice from their experience and their previous students’ experience.
3) Know what’s important
Everyone’s brains make associations, so you need to learn tips and rules in regards to parts of the test, i.e. the writing section of the IELTS: Task 2 is worth more than Task 1, so spend more time on that task. If you were to read that tip on a page of other tips while studying on your own, you would read it, say “ok, that’s good to know”, move on to the next tip and forget about it. But when you learn that while studying about the writing section of the IELTS in a prep course, your brain will be able to associate that very important note with that section of the test because the teacher told you how important that aspect of the writing section is, told you to highlight that in your notes and spent more time practicing Task 2 in the prep course.
Anyone who has a strong grasp on the content of a big test can do well. Anyone who has a strong grasp of the content and participates in a prep course to familiarize him/herself with the rules and format of the test, can do even better.