It Pays To Read

I know it sounds corny, like something your grandparents might say, but as far the reading and listening parts of the IELTS exam are concerned, I found that it’s true.

As a teacher I spend a lot of time giving instructions to the students. From experience I know that they have to be short and to the point to make sure that everyone is able to follow them. During my teacher training days I was even given instructions on how to create instructions. But no matter how hard I try to make them as close to perfect as possible, there is always that one student at the back of the classroom who is more interested in someone’s Facebook pictures or capturing imaginary creatures than the task. They will end up doing their own thing, which also means many mistakes, and blame it on the instructions.

In the classroom I usually explain things again and give the student some extra time to complete the task. After all, that’s what a teacher is for, to help someone learn. But during the IELTS exam this is not possible. One can’t simply put their hand up and ask ‘What are we doing?’ This is where reading comes into play because understanding the instructions is half the battle. ‘Write no more than three words and/or a number’ and ‘Write no more than three words or a number’ can mean the difference between getting the score you need and taking the test again.

So, before you frantically begin searching the texts for answers or become frazzled by the accents of the speakers on the recordings, take the time to read the instructions. Then read them again if you need to. They will tell you what kind of an answer you should be searching for, a word or more words, a number, a date, a name or combinations of these. Sometimes, particularly in the reading test, they can even tell you where to look for it in the text.

Once you’re satisfied with your understanding of the instructions and have found the answers, you can move on to their transferring on the answer sheet. In the reading part, you need to have all your answers on this page by the end of the sixty minutes. For this reason, you should copy the answers ahead of time, maybe after every section, to avoid rushing at the end. In the listening test you have extra time at the end of the recordings for transfer, so you shouldn’t rush to copy them during the little breaks intended for reading ahead.

When dealing with the answer sheet, firstly, make sure you write the answers on the correct side of the page and you place them in their correct boxes. Secondly, check that you don’t go over the maximum number of elements permitted in each box. You can do this by reviewing the instructions. Lastly, make sure everything is written legibly and spelled correctly. If something is illegible or misspelled, you don’t get the point.