For many students, taking standardized exams such as the IELTS is an intimidating process; there is a limited amount of time and it is difficult to know where to spend it. However, enrolling in a quality preparation course focused on testing-taking strategies can give students the confidence necessary to obtain the highest score possible. But, do they really work? To find out, I conducted a short interview with Wahib Dallal, a student in Bridge’s Academic English program who took our preparation course before his IELTS exam.
JM: To start, could you please tell us a little about yourself?
WD: Yes of course. My name is Wahib Falall and I am from a city in the Easter region of Libya. I came here in November of last year to prepare for a Ph.D in Dentistry. I was awarded a scholarship from the higher education department in Libya and I studied for one month in another school before transferring to Bridge.
JM: How long have you been studying English?
WD: Actually, I studied Dentistry in Libya and then completed my Masters degree in the UK. I spent 2 years there so I improved a little but I wanted to keep studying English to have a higher level for a Ph.D program. That is why I started taking English at Bridge. Right now, I am working to obtain acceptance at a Ph.D. program in the United States.
JM: When you took the IELTS exam, where you nervous?
WD: Actually, I wasn’t nervous but I felt that it was a race against time. The IELTS depends on being quick with your reading and writing and you have to move quickly to answer all of the questions on time. The most difficult element with this exam is the time…it is all about time. I think if they gave you enough time, you would do much better because, at least for me, I already have the strategies to answer the questions. For example, I know how to read and how to answer, and how to organize my ideas to respond.
JM: Can you tell me about the strategies that you learned in the preparation course?
WD: For the reading part of the exam, you will have three passages. Each passage has similar questions. You have to go through these readings quickly skimming, then answer the questions according to what you read.
JM: So, you only skimmed the readings?
WD: Yes, that is a strategy that I learned. However, if the answer to the question requires detailed information, then you have to determine the portion of the reading that contains that specific info. I used this strategy but there is a constant struggle with time. Because there is a limited amount of time, you have to complete each section in approximately 20 minutes.
JM: What came next?
WD: As I remember the next part of the test was for speaking. This part actually went very well for me. I was comfortable with the examiner and the questions were clear and direct. After stating the question, she gave me enough time to think about the question and prepare my answer.
JM: Which strategies did you apply to the speaking section of the exam?
WD: Firstly, I spoke honestly about the subject that I was given. That gave me the opportunity to speak more fluently and coherently. I also prepared a chart to map my ideas during the time that she gave me to think about the subject. I then followed the five or six points that I had written down. This was a good strategy because it kept me from getting distracted by ideas that did not relate to my subject. I learned this strategy in the prep course.
JM: How did you handle the listening portion of the exam?
WD: Well, one strategy is to answer the questions immediately after you hear the passage. Then, you should answer only the questions that you know. If you don’t know the answer, skip to the next question. If you focus on what you don’t know, you will forget what was even said and you only get to hear the passage once.
JM: How did you approach the writing portion of the exam?
WD: Writing it was also a challenge because of time because you have two topics. For one topic, you have to write about what a diagram is trying to express. Secondly, you have to write an essay of at least 250 words. I started on the first task and was halfway through it when they informed us that there were only 40 minutes left for the writing portion. So, I left that task and moved to the essay portion because it is worth more points. Once I finished the essay I went back to the first task and finished it in time. After I finished both, I had an extra minute to review what I had wrote. Then, I submitted the task.
JM: It sounds like you were very methodical in the way that you approached the test.
WD: Yes, actually in the prep course they told us that certain portions of the test are weighted more heavily than others. For that reason, I spent more time on those tasks.
JM: What was the most difficult part for you?
WD: Reading because I ran out of time on the second task and had to leave two questions unanswered. That made my score less than what I had wanted.
JM: How do you feel about your strategy overall?
WD: I think I could have done better after taking the again because I have the experience now. This was the first time that I took the IELTS exam. I tried to apply what I learned in the prep course but if I had another chance, I think I would do even better after a bit more preparation.
JM: Would you recommend this course to others?
WD: Yes, it is a good way to prepare yourself and the IELTS is a good way to test your knowledge. Most universities look for the IELTS exam.