I’ve been teaching IELTS in different countries around the world for the last decade and I have experience with every type of student – what makes a student a success?

I’ve had students who improved their IELTS score dramatically in both short and long courses.

I’ve also seen students who studied for years and years without moving their score up an inch.

Let’s take a look at the differences between successful and unsuccessful students!

Another quality of successful IELTS candidates – they read a lot of quality sample answers.

Be sure to avoid the mistakes that most students make on writing by signing up for my exclusive IELTS Ebooks here on Patreon.


The Main Difference

The main difference between these types of students is simple and has many names: Motivation. Determination. Grit. Resilience. Attitude.

The qualities of successful IELTS students!

Your IELTS journey will be mostly made up of stumbles, failures, and steep challenges.

The students who continue to work in the face of failure, who even enjoy failure and use it to push them forwards, will be successful.

A mountain climber doesn’t get discouraged when it is difficult to climb the mountain. They expect it. They enjoy it. They have a good attitude.

I see evidence of good attitude in several ways: students who show up to every class, take good notes, ask questions, focus, do their homework, do extra homework, and don’t get discouraged when they make mistakes or improve slowly.

If that describes you then you can stop reading this because you are already on your path to becoming successful.

If it doesn’t, read on and I’ll show you the 4 elements of a bad attitude and what you can do to have a good attitude from now on!

Bad Attitude

1. Comparing Yourself to Others

It is harder for you to focus on your own work when you focus on how much faster other people are working. 

There may be a number of possible reasons for other students improving more quickly: they have been studying English longer, they have better study habits, they are better motivated or they are naturally talented at learning a language.

Those are just excuses. Ignore the people racing ahead of you!

You will improve as long as you are focused on your own English. As soon as you begin focusing on other people you will start to feel that your study is a waste of time, meaningless.

You can endure the difficulty and struggle if you believe it is meaningful. If you don’t think it is possible, then you will give up.

Be careful – the opposite of this is also true if you are a good student.

If you focus on how much better you are compared to other people, you may become over-confident.

Measure yourself against yourself. No one else.

In this way, you will make the best progress.

2. Failure is Personal

IELTS study is a long series of failures: You can’t write an overview. You make lots of grammar mistakes. You can’t think of the right word. It takes too long to write. And so on and so on.

This is a natural part of the learning process and it does not mean you are dumb. It simply means that you have more to learn.

If you think your failures are a permanent part of who you are, you will become demotivated.

You will not be able to enjoy studying because you will fear the next failure.

The worst part is you’ll try to hide your failures and mistakes from other people.

Failure is the key to success. But it has to be out in the open. You need to see your failures. And then correct them.

Fear or hide your failures and you will not make good progress.

3. Weak/Unclear Motivation

It’s absolutely essential to have a good reason for studying – a deep well of motivation that will get you through difficult challenges.

A lot of students don’t have clear goals for their study.

Maybe your parents are making you take the class but you don’t really want to.

Maybe your family is pressuring you to study abroad or learn English but you’re not interested.

Maybe you want IELTS for no specific reason – just to have it.

None of these reasons is very deep or important so they will fail to motivate you both in the short and long-term.

4. Bad Study Habits

This one is less psychological than the other elements of a bad attitude.

A lot of people just haven’t learned good ways to study. Maybe this is your fault. Or maybe you can blame the schooling system in your country.

It doesn’t matter. You need to improve your study habits if you want to get a good score.

Some bad habits include: taking notes but not reviewing them, not reviewing lessons, taking messy notes, not asking questions in class, studying a lot of hours in one day but not every day, not doing much practice, and having a disorganised notebook/materials folder.

Make a list of all your bad habits and try to cross them off everyday!

Good Attitude

In order to have a good attitude you just need to reverse the elements of a bad attitude:

1. Comparing Yourself to Others Measure Yourself Against Yourself

The only person you should compare yourself to is yourself.

Look at how good or bad your English was in the past. Could it be better? Of course!

Focus on how you could be better and ignore the people around you (both those who are better and those who are worse).

Focus on any improvements you can make. You’ll feel better about yourself and be more motivated to work hard and improve.

2. Failure is Personal Failure is not Personal

No one likes the feeling of failure. It hurts.

It makes you feel stupid. Incapable.

But you should try to connect the words ‘stupid,’ and ‘bad’ to your mistakes, not to you.

Good IELTS students don’t believe failure is personal.


Stupid and bad are not fixed qualities. Your abilities change over time. You go from bad to not-so-bad to good eventually.

Recent research has shown that your brain can physically change, even as you get older.

No quality is fixed.

Once you attach bad to your mistakes, rather than yourself, you will be free of the emotional impact of making a mistake.

Making a mistake doesn’t mean you are stupid. So make a 100! It’s fine!

Only by making mistakes will you improve your English.

Not feeling bad about your mistakes is the first step to failure which is the first step to success.

3. Weak/Unclear Motivation Strong/Clear Motivation

For example, you want to go study abroad.

That’s a good, motivating reason. But it could be better.

Look at the reasons for your reasons and your motivation will become deeper and stronger, like a house built of stone rather than straw.

You want to study abroad because you want to experience life in another country. You want to get a better job. You want to work in the best companies, with the best people. You want to change the world in some way. You want to bring your experience back to your home country and help it. You want your children to grow up in a more developed country.

There are so many reasons! These are all firm bricks in a wall of motivation.

Add more bricks, more reasons, and the wall will become stronger and won’t be shattered by the occasional setback.

4. Bad Study Habits Good Study Habits

Some people are born with good study habits (maybe) but mostly people have to learn from their mistakes and get better over time.

Here are some of the good study habits I’ve noticed in my best students: reviewing their notes after every lesson within the same day, taking neat organised notes, studying consistently every day even if it is not that long, practicing all the time, focusing on 1 thing at a time (close your Facebook!), and having organised folders with old worksheets and notes.

Now it’s Your Turn! Tell us –

What are your good study habits?

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