My IELTS Experience

I took and passed the International English Language Testing System or IELTS administered by the British Council in 2015. That time, I had an ongoing application for an International School in Saudi Arabia (the same period that I was taking the third level of the Foreign Service Officer Examination). My IELTS experience almost never crossed my mind since then, especially since I chose my FSO career over my international teaching opportunity, but someone’s inquiry made me look back at my experience.

So the Exam covers these four areas: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking and you have to do your best in each part to gain a score of 6.0 or much better if higher. Take note that the IELTS scoring system is based on band scores from 1.0 – 9.0 and although there is no passing or failing scores, the score that you have to gain depends on the required level of the immigration or university program that you applying for.

I was aiming for a 9 OBS when I took the Exam, so I was a bit disappointed when I got an 8 OBS. This is not to boast but to challenge myself then. Since I had been teaching the English course for over a decade when I took the exam that time, I just felt that gaining a low score would mean that I fooled myself and my students, so somehow, that score was okay.

I still took review classes, but with the main purpose of knowing how the test was conducted and what tips I might gain from lecturers. I was busy working then so I just made sure to attend at least one class per category. The classes of this particular review center that I attended were held in different locations depending on the topic. A few classrooms were okay. Most were overcrowded. There was even one session in which the students had to fight for their space–the room was too small and the proctor and lecturer were late so when they arrived, there was a large “crowd” awaiting them. There was a bit of a commotion, with students protesting about a magic list that materialized out of nowhere, which left out the others. It was eventually resolved, thankfully, and the class was conducted albeit delayed.

In another case, one classroom was big enough to accommodate all students/reviewees but the teacher was really far from the last 10 rows. He had no microphone, and the room was too hot, I could still remember the sweat trickling down my nape and down the sideburns of the student ahead of me. The teacher lectured on writing, sentence patterns, a topic that I was very familiar with but it was a challenge hearing his faint words though my classmates appeared to be all listening attentively.

Taking the IELTS is expensive. It costs over 10, 000 PhP for the exam so it is an endeavor for which one should prepare for. Otherwise, it is a waste of money and/or opportunity. I’m saying this not to discourage people from taking IELTS but to remind them that they have to prepare for it because it is not an easy examination. So to answer some questions that are probably in your mind, here is a list with the corresponding simplified answer:

What is IELTS? It is an English Language Proficiency exam. (The other is Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL). This link might be helpful too.

When/Why do you need to take IELTS? When it is required by your would-be employer abroad or when you are applying to study or teach in an international school.

Is it helpful to take IELTS lessons facilitated by review centers? Yes. But don’t rely on them entirely. You should still study a lot by yourself to hone your skills in the four (4) areas of your English communication. Take the tests in review centers seriously, as if you’re taking the actual exam. If you get a high score, keep at it. Should you get a low score, study some more.

Is self-review sufficient? It may be, with all the available online resources now that can assist you in preparing for the exam. But it is still better to experience a “mock test.”

Any tips? Always stay focused while taking the test. A two-second distraction in the Listening Test can cost you several mistakes. Also, be mindful of the time. In the reading part, read as fast as you can, with comprehension.

Practice writing essays before you take the test. It helps if you can outline your ideas systematically. Learn useful expressions in analyzing graphs, tables or charts. Know how to see the patterns in figures or statistics. In the speaking exam, be engaging and energetic. Be confident in expressing your ideas. Establish rapport with your interviewer/examiner.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

With regard to the Speaking Test, the owner of the review center, when he addressed the group prior to the test shared some practical advice, bordering on being naughty. He said that females should dress attractively but that she should be ready with a shawl/jacket in case she happened to be assigned to the conservative/religious examiner. My speaking test was okay. I was able to reply but I didn’t like my examiner’s attitude nor his question or rather the question that I picked. I guess, that showed on my face. ^_^ But should I be required to take the test again for any purpose, I’ll make sure to totally enjoy the experience and aim for one notch higher.

Author’s Note:

The tips here are not meant to replace the advice or strategies of professional IELTS’ mentors. They are just based from my experience, which I hope would be helpful in a way for any reader planning to take the English Proficiency Test.

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