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IELTS Horror


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I would like to share my IELTS story. I have done it 5 times in total, but for different purposes (the 1st for university enrollment, the 2nd because of the 1st result expired, the 3rd for 6s, the 4th and 5th for 7s). At this moment, I am waiting for the 5th time IELTS’ result, and I really hope it could be my final IELTS, which I believe those who have taken it multi-times but still have not gotten their desired bands would feel the same.



IELTS, to sum it up, is a nightmare for the majority of candidates. Though the desired bands vary on different candidate, but still, most of them suffer. In my opinion, only those native speakers or who have truly excellent English capacity across all the listening, reading, speaking and writing 4 sections plus with proper preparation which at least including knowing the format and the marking criteria of IELTS and a few times of mock tests, would achieve the desired bands in one or two attempts. From my observation, the most formidable tasks for candidates are of two types: 1, All 7 or above for takers whose English is not his first language. 2, All 8 or above for takers who are native speakers.



If you are a candidate who needs IELTS result to enroll in an university. Then, congrats, you do not have to taste the bitterness of IELTS that much. Because: 1, The universities mainly look at your overall band, which can be lifted up by one or two high bands in either listening section or reading section, needless to say that listening and reading are the easiest sections for the majority. 2, The universities have language programs which allow you to make mistakes in IELTS, meaning if you failed to achieve your desired band, you just need to spend some money and some time in the language program to cash feed the universities to get the enrolment invitation.



Nightmare starts for native speakers who need 8s to migrate to Australia. Well, IELTS doesn’t exist in the USA’s immigration process, does it? Canada seems to be lenient in IELTS requirement, 6.5s maybe? That’s an easy task for both native speakers and who have decent English ability and determined to migrate to Canada, just take IELTS a few more times if they could not make it in the first time. Same can be applied to New Zealand I think. And I am not quite sure the policies in the UK, maybe 7.5s for certain occupations? Anyway, those are easier, achievable tasks. But Australia’s IELTS 8s 20 points reward for the immigration point test system is like a pie in the sky, which is so tempting however seems beyond reach. The native speakers who need 8s to boost their points, are mostly, from the UK or Ireland. Their stories, unlike the international students’, are simple: they have lived in their countries for quite a while but they feel like a change. They are around 40 years old, thus their age point is deteriorating by time, and highly possible they didn’t study in Australia for 2 years to claim the 5 points. So comparing to the younger international students, they need the 8s to make up 60 points to submit the application.



Here comes the problem, 8s. What is the definition of 8s in IELTS? I think it is beyond imagination for candidates whose first language is not English, because they need to somehow have a big leap in all the 4 sections plus immense luck to achieve it. Immense luck means they should happen to be at their 100% or beyond at all the sections in one exam. One more incorrect question in either listening or reading, one unfamiliar topic in speaking, a few more misspellings, grammatical mistakes in writing… anyone of those could likely kill your hope of 8s. As for takers whose English is not their first language, those mistakes are inevitable; thus 8s is not a realistic target for them. However, there is the possibility in several counties where English is partially the official language, such as South Africa, Singapore, India, Malaysia, the Philippines… I will be reluctant to bet on candidates from other counties for a 8s.



Ok, let’s come back to the British/Irish native speakers. Firstly, congrats, they are already blessed in listening and speaking sections, what they need is merely a few mock tests to get familiar with the format and necessary techniques, such as listening to key words in listening, staying calm, do not look back when you miss one or more questions, learning to waffle in speaking… then a 8 is almost in the bag. Reading comes as the second most difficult module for them, as they still need to battle with the notorious TRUE FALSE NOT GIVEN nightmare. A 8 in reading means 5 incorrect questions in Academic Reading and 3 incorrect questions in General Training Reading, therefore they is space allowing you to make mistakes but it is narrow. After a few times slips, after they get pass the YES NO NOT GIVEN, reading becomes a even but still wet road – they still could slip, such as a disaster in paragraph headlines matching questions where incorrect answers take place together. The most difficult part for the British/Irish natives, is writing. Well, I think if they are around 40 years old, then they would be out of school for a while, and they might not work in an office, even in an office they are likely to use a computer instead of writing things down with a pen. Therefore, would they basically forget how to write? And then there is the particular underlying rules for IELTS Writing Task 2, such as an introduction, a conclusion, clear paragraphs which present central opinions well… If they are too cocky to follow the rules, then there is the possibility to fail the writing module. I think band 7 in writing is an easy task for them but not for the international candidates, but band 8 in writing requires them to practice and summarize experience. So let me summarize, they definitely can get 8s, I mean, nearly all of them. When on a good day they pick up the easier writing questions, they pass. By contrast, when on a less lucky day, they might need to pray to God before and during the exam, particularly before the moment they turn the writing booklet cover over.



Well, we all need to pray to God before, during, and after the exam actually.



Here comes the horror of IELTS – 7s for candidates who aren’t native English speaker, and who can only guarantee 1 or 2 7s.




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The more 7s the candidate can guarantee, the less horrible his IELTS experience will be. Firstly, I have to emphasize that 7 range users are very good English users, which can be confirmed by the IELTS official band scores explanation. You can find it on the back side of your TRF.


"Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning."


Therefore, if your overall band score is 7, no matter you achieve it by scoring high bands in listening or reading but less in speaking or writing, or by truly valuable 4 7s, everybody should give credit to you. More credit would be given to those who come from countries where English is not spoken/seen at all. So what is torturing you is not really IELST, IELST is just a medium, but the Australian Immigration Department who set the immigration rules. A few years back, I think 4 6.5s could help you to obtain points, and a few more years back, I think 4 5s or 4 6s were sufficient to help you obtain your PR. Now due to everybody is jumping on the boat, they have to increase the benchmark to control the amount of applicants as well as prevent too many poor English speakers from migrating to Australia. I strongly believe one thing: no matter how much effort you invest in, how talented you are in English, you will never master the language like the natives do, even if you get 9s in IELTS, meaning you will have accent, which is a big put-off, or you will make minor mistakes, or you cannot communicate fluently at advanced or specific topics.


So as a 7 range user, you have achieved significantly in your English studying journey, and I am pretty sure you might use your 7 band score TRF to seek a English teaching job in your country, but you have to take IELTS at a wrong time which is now. Things might get worse, and nobody would surprise if the Australian Immigration Department announce that "4 7s = 0 points and 4 7.5s = 10 points" or more straightforward "7s are nullified, only 8s count from now". So I would suggest those who are fearing IELTS for whatever reasons, to kill the demon now, to separate the timeframes of different tasks. If they are doomed to suffer a bit during the immigration journey, I would advise them to suffer it bit by bit, don't let the whole come down on them at once.


A problem for those who need 7s is they realize they are not that good in English at all when their mock test results come out. They cannot feel standing at a somewhere higher position to look down upon the 7s, thus they have to work on certain modules to lift themselves up. More than that, those who need 7s are mostly aiming for a migration to Australia, which is a game of racing with the time itself, so in most of the case, they are required to improve their English ability in a relatively short time. So the short English ability, the tight time, plus a lottery like 7777 IELTS band score, and maybe other individual elements, such as ACS's frequent work experience years deduction, AITSL's new policies, or personal health, work, study issues, all of those generate a horror show for the candidates needing 7s and desperately wanting to migrate to Australia.


So if you are determined to battle with the demon, I would suggest you to improve your English long time prior to the actual exams. I would want you to look at IELTS' questions and laugh at them rather than struggle with them. Having 1 or 2 7s but falling short at the rest is a real torture, because at the next time after you fill the hole you left at the last time, you discover a new hole in another module. And it goes on and on until seemingly forever. The ultimate torture from IELTS is 3 7s but fall short 0.5 in one of the module, if the module is speaking or writing then take a deep breath, pray to God, go for a revaluation, if the module is listening or reading then I am sorry, you fail the whole exam by 1 or 2 questions. And next time, you have to start from beginning. There is always the next time, people don't want to give up that easy, let alone it is for immigration such a lifetime goal.


Good luck to all candidates.



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  • 3 months later...

I am kicking myself as I need 8 to migrate and only got 7, and I'm even more miffed as I'm a native speaker. I thought I'd slip on the writing, but although not good it was the listening and reading that were the worst, 6.5 for each again pretty poor for a native speaker.


8.5 for speaking however that's nothing to boast about for a native speaker.


I match all of your criteria as I'm just turned forty and British, type rather than hand write and had I been asked about child protection, (I'm a social worker) would have aced it but population growth was lost on me. I will get there eventually, I really will.

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My main issue with this entire system is that it's a pretty shoddy one. I walked into the exams with confidence purely because I was the only native speaking candidate. I walked out of the exam with the total opposite feeling. I don't test very well and have never tested very well, gauging my ability to listen by making me sit through a dreary conversation about someone who is quite clearly a very bad actor isn't a brilliant way of doing it. Also making me pick pointless information from a block of writing I have little to no interest about again isn't the best way of letting me show I can read!


Speaking exam was a piece of piss, I scored a 9. I walked in, she asked if I was a native speaker and from then on in I spoke about a radio station I had listened to on the way to the exam test centre!


Having told a few people I'd taken the test and done ok but not ok enough to score into the right band they seemed surprised, again because I'm not a stupid person and can string a sentence together. Some may disagree after reading this I'm sure! The people who mark the exams clearly pick up on certain things, things I've been doing wrong for 23 years.


Taking a retest a week today in Bristol (Cotham School), so if any of you are there and want to catch a coffee and perhaps sob together when I come out of the exam. That'd be great.

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I sat IELTS once, and English is the third language I learned (German was the second language). Am French, and scored all topics above 8... Though I did study and used 2 books to prepare for the exam, I did not find the exam to be tricky in any way... That being said, I'm not the main applicant on the visa and didn't feel any pressure when I sat the test as requirements are lower anyway. My tips: Go through the books, learn to reply the way they're expecting you to (rephrasing the topic as an introduction for the reading session, using 1 paragraph for 1 idea, writing a conclusion), and do not stress as you can always re-sit the exam should you need to... If I've done it and am not a native, anyone can do it! Good luck!

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I don't think generating this sort of fear is helpful for anyone.


Like any examination, IELTS requires preparation whether you are a native user of the English language or not.


From my own experience, going through some practice papers and familiarising myself with the format was extremely helpful beforehand. Something I really wish I had done was to complete some practice writing papers as I'm also office based and I only scribble in my notebook at work.


My own feeling was that for non-native speakers, IELTS could be perceived as challenging. But I do believe that preparation/practice is key.

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hmm agree to some extent and I believe everybody has a unique experience with IELTS...

I gave it once and scored all 8s and 9s except for Writing, where I was 7. And I know the mistake I committed in writing i.e. not using the time efficiently....spent 40 minutes on letter and 20 on essay.

I prepared for IELTS for two consecutive weekends through a website shared by a friend.

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I guess migrants to Aus just have to have good English skills if they want to be successful. There are so many people migrating to countries these days to make sure that the countries accept the best applicants, those who will have the best chance of getting a job and settling into the community, the tests are only going to get tougher.


Like when there is a shortage of housing we find it hard to find a house, its the same with migration supply and demand and supply is outstripping demand these days.

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