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Listening, Reading

Should I do practice reading and listening tests?

Yes, practice tests should be a part of your preparation. Let’s think about why …

(1) Knowing what will happen in the exam will help you feel more prepared and give you more confidence.

(2) Practice tests can help you develop your time management and exam taking strategies.

(3) After you’ve finished a practice test, you can focus on why answers are right / wrong. This can help you know what to look out for in the real exam.

Is it enough just to do practice tests?

Almost certainly not! But, it really depends on your language level. If you need to improve your general level of English or improve your listening and reading skills, practice tests alone won’t help with that. You should also be aware of tips and strategies so that you don’t lose marks and so that you get the band you deserve.

Should I use a book of practice tests or do online practice tests?

I usually recommend that students use published tests. Psychologists tell us that when you take a practice test, you should be trying to reproduce exam conditions. Reading on a screen (whether you’re reading a text or just the questions) is different from reading on paper. So, if you use online practice tests, print them out sometimes so that you can get a ‘real’ experience of what it’ll be like to take the exam.

Another big issue is that with online practice tests, it’s hard to be confident about the quality. A lot of online practice tests are not written by experts. The person writing may have experience in test writing or a natural ability in this area, but there’s no guarantee. And even the people who write the real IELTS have to use statistical programmes to be sure about the level of difficulty of particular questions.

So what is a ‘bad’ online practice test?

The worst cases are those that contain mistakes. I’ve seen quite a few that are not written by expert speakers of English and contain grammar mistakes or unnatural language. Others have questions which are confusing/misleading. Writing good tests is incredibly hard (one reason why IELTS is so expensive!)

Another problem is that the text might not provide good feedback or might have no explanations as to why particular answers are right or wrong. Just doing a practice test won’t help you much. You need to be able to analyze why you got answers right/wrong, how the questions could trick you, and what you should look out for in the future. Another issue is that some of the listenings don’t have tapescripts. These are useful to look at (after the exam).

Are all online practice tests bad?

No, not at all. Just make sure that you’re getting the most benefit out of all the practice you do.

Image (c) graur razvan ionut
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