(or any other standardized test for that matter…)

Do you need to get a 7 or 8 on the IELTS?

Maybe your vocabulary feels a bit limited or your pronunciation just doesn’t sound quite right. If you already registered for the IELTS, you probably have heard that there are ways to improve your score, but where are they?

You might have a few books, articles or links, but where should you begin? Would you like to know your score in advance, before taking the exam?

In this article I will tell you exactly how to prepare, step by step, from registration to exam day with clarity and confidence.

When I take a standardized test, I know what score I will get before I even open the test booklet. I am serious. Believe me, when I am paying a lot of money for an exam — I don’t want any surprises. Like a professional athlete stepping onto the field, I have already set myself up to perform my best. With my proven system for test preparation, you too can prepare well and get the score you want.

Creating this system was not easy. I made a lot of mistakes and wasted a lot of money before I figured out exactly how to organize and prioritize exam preparation. Friends used to tell me, “Well, you can’t really prepare for standardized tests, they test your general knowledge, so just read a lot of newspapers.” Maybe that works for some people, maybe you want to take the exam and test your language level without preparation — that’s fine. If this is good enough for you, my system is probably not for you. However, if want to reach for the best score possible on exam day, I will show you the exact strategies you need to get the most value out of your preparation and score well.


My 4 Step System to CRACK the Test

1. Take the right exam

Before I register at any examination center, pay any fees or even open a test preparation book — I make sure that I am taking the correct examination. This saves a lot of time and frustration. If you have not already confirmed which standardized test is the best one to meet your needs, here are some questions to help guide you:

Are you sure that the IELTS exam is the right one for you?

Many jobs and universities require different exams. Check the exact requirements for the school or position that you want — if you are not sure, find out now. This information is usually posted on the website of the school or even on the application form. If it is not clear, contact the school directly and ask. Believe me, this can help you avoid headaches later. Additionally many standardized tests offer different levels and types of exams. For example, IELTS offers several types of exams — IELTS Academic, IELTS General Training, IELTS Life Skills (A1-B1). (For current information, please refer to the IELTS website.)

What are the minimum score requirements?

It is extremely important to make sure that you meet the exact requirements for the position or school you want. Once you have confirmed the exact exam and level that you need to take, clarify your target scores. Do you need an overall band score of 6.5, or only in the reading section?

Is this really the best test for you?

Once you have confirmed the exact examination and your target score, there are a few other variables to confirm as well:

  • Level — Which level / score do I need to pass? Many standardized tests offer different formats — beginner, intermediate, advanced, academic, etc.
  • Cost — How much does the exam cost? How should it be paid? When is the payment due?
  • Time — When is the exam? Which month? What time of day? How long does the test take to complete? When are scores available?
  • Location — Where is the exam offered? Is there more than one option available?

2. Craft a strategic plan

With a clear goal (including the exam date and target score) in mind, develop a strategic plan. This is the step that really distinguishes exceptional learners and paves the way to success. Planning is really one of the greatest tools available to test takers and it is FREE. Sadly, most people don’t even use it.

Strategic planning means setting aside some time at the start to allocate your learning plan in the most efficient way possible. Although it may seem counterintuitive to take time away from ‘learning English’ to make a preparation plan, strategically allocating your time and energy will organize your efforts and dramatically improve your score.

Make a plan

  • Make a learning schedule. How much time do you have to prepare? 1 year? 3 months? 2 days? How many hours? Can you squeeze in some extra reading while riding the bus? Be creative. Create a list of all the skills and aspects of the test that you wish to review and plan time for each one.
  • Focus on the skills. Understand the test format and be sure to familiarize yourself with the structure of the exam. What is being tested? Which skills do you need to consider — of course you will be tested on the four main language skills (reading / writing / listening / speaking), but what about the foundational skills, such as pronunciation, spelling, grammar, vocabulary? Imagine losing precious minutes during the essay writing portion of the exam because you forgot how to spell ‘convenient.’ (This actually happened to someone I know!) Think about and plan out all aspects of the exam, then allocate time for each aspect.
  • Practice test taking. Honestly, learning how to do well on a standardized exam is a special skill, a skill that can be taught, practiced and mastered. There are certain aspects of English learning tested in the exam, that you may not even realize. In addition to the more obvious language skills mentioned above, examiners are assessing your ability to use English in complex and stressful situations. This includes implementing good timing strategies, organizational techniques, impromptu speaking skills (speaking without preparation) and more. Just as my first grade teacher gave me a score for the tidiness of my desk, your examiner will give you a score based on the tidiness of your brain. How well can you process new information and speak about it in a structured way?

Take practice exams

Many standardized tests offer practice tests and sample questions and answers online. I suggest that you use these tools to test yourself before exam day. Schedule practice tests into your strategic plan. How many practice tests can you do? Stagger them out over your training. If you only have access to 3 practice tests — take one at the start of your preparation, one in the middle and the last practice test 2 days before the exam. If you have access to more practice tests and are able to do one practice test per week — fantastic! — do it and track your progress over time!


3. Go with confidence

Like marathon runners changing their strategy for the last stretch of the race, I have found that it is very important to have a 48-Hour Plan strategy to help bring all of your focused learning and preparation confidently across the finish line and perform well on exam day. Here is a sample framework for creating your own strategy:

48 Hour Plan

48 hours before the test: As you get closer to exam day, it is important to focus on the crucial details that you will need to do well. Review the new skills you have learned during your preparation process and take your final practice test.

24 hours before the test: REST. Even if you did not prepare before this point, cramming at the last minute will not help. Give your brain time to rest and restore. Go for a jog or do some light exercise. Eat well and give your body the nutrients it requires to perform well the next day.

EXAM DAY: Use breathing exercises to help manage stress throughout the day.

  • Start right by waking up early and eating well.
  • During the test, stay calm and focused. Follow instructions and proceed exactly as you practiced — you can do it! Do not stress yourself, or let unexpected things startle you. Perhaps there is a loud clock ticking in the room, or a dog barking outside — block it out. Focus on you and completing the exam exactly as you prepared.
  • After the test — CELEBRATE! Sit in a park, meet a friend, eat a special dinner…do something that makes you happy. Knowing that you have a relaxing plan to look forward to AFTER the exam can sometimes help relieve stress earlier in the day.

4. Reflect (and repeat)

  • Rest — Take a day or two off. Don’t even think about the exam. You did your best and now it is time to relax.
  • Get your score — Before you take a standardized exam, find out when and how you will receive your score. Make sure that you will receive the correct format and the right number of copies that you will need for applications.
  • Reflect — How did you do? Are you satisfied? What worked well? What needs improvement? Think about each step of the process.
  • Chose next steps — If you got the score that you need — congratulations! Get ready for your new adventure! If you did not get the score that you need, consider retaking the exam. “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” Most people take standardized tests more than once and work to improve their score over time. Look at your scores and go back to step 2 — CRAFT A STRATEGIC PLAN.

While no tips or tricks can really make taking a standardized test a joy, my proven system works and gives you a clear plan to prepare yourself for success. Go ahead, use my 48-Hour Plan to help you go with confidence to the test. By the time you arrive at the testing site, you will already have a clear idea of where your strengths are, how to allocate your time during the exam, which traps and snares you need to be wary of and, most importantly, you will already have a clear idea about what your final score will be before you even open the test booklet.

Download the FREE talkwithecm Test Prep Kit to help you CRACK your next exam.
Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Tactical Planning Worksheets
  • 48 Hour Checklist
  • English Exams: Step by Step Poster