Teachers and IELTS examiners talk/laugh about this more than anything else: the students who want to study IELTS now even though they are far away from the score they need.
Studying IELTS is for students who are .5 or 1 band away from their score. Going up 1 band can be accomplished with some test prep in anywhere from a day to a few months.
Students who are more than a point away from their score – the majority of students studying IELTS! – are making a terrible mistake that will cost them time and money.
It’s like deciding that you want to be an Olympic athlete a few months before the Olympics start. It isn’t a realistic goal.
Only once you’ve set a realistic goal can you start to plan out the steps that will give you a realistic chance of reaching your goal.
Before you read on make sure you know you current level and know how long it will take to get to the band score you want.
Then keep reading to learn why you shouldn’t be studying IELTS in order to improve your English.
If you want to both improve your English and feel comfortable, I now offer online lessons complete with feedback, videos, workbooks and more – you can learn more here!
Reason #1: Your English is Not Improving (Much)
Studying IELTS is not about improving your English.
It is about preparing for the test by learning test strategy (and making some small improvements in your English).
The biggest problem for IELTS is vocabulary. English has tons of words that you have to learn how to hear, read, write and speak.
That takes time. Most IELTS courses do not focus on vocabulary (except for some useful phrases) because they only have time to deal with the test itself.
I’ve seen so many students waste years and years studying IELTS while their English barely improves at all. They start as a 6 and two years later they are still a 6.
If they had been improving their English, and then studied some tips for the test at the end, they could have improved to a 7 or 8!
Instead, they wasted their time learning the same tips and tricks over and over again. They’ve been learning with a blindfold over their eyes.
It’s true that their English is improving somewhat (how could it not?). But this is not an efficient method.
You can read some more about efficient ways to improve your English here: Reading the New to Improve, Watching Movies/TV with Subtitles, Improving your Listening Skills, Improving your Spoken Vocabulary, Brainstorming Ideas, and Useful Grammar Websites.
Reason #2: It’s Boring
The single most important factor in improving your English (more than the school you choose, your teacher, the methods, etc.) is your motivation.
If you are well-motivated by external factors like getting a good job and living abroad or by internal ones like having fun learning you will improve over time. Guaranteed.
If you are not motivated, you can still do it. But it will be a long, painful journey and you are much more likely to give up or improve slowly. Read more about the importance of motivation here.
Because studying for IELTS is boring that means that your motivation will be low in the long-term.
In the short-term, it will be very high. You have a clear band score goal. You know what you need to do. You have a good reason to get IELTS.
Over a few months, IELTS students are usually really highly motivated.
The longer you spend doing boring practice tests and reading about boring topics, the less motivated you will become. Motivation for IELTS has a limit and you will reach it if you study for too long.
In order to keep your motivation high you should be watching movies and TV shows that you like, listening to music, reading interesting books, meeting people on Tinder and learning English in fun, motivating ways.
You will stay motivated, study harder and the things that you learn will be more likely to stick. As Leonardo DaVinci said over 500 years ago:
IELTS does not contain the fuel to keep you motivated for a long time. Your motivation will decrease over time and your English language improvement will plateau (stop improving).
Reason #3: You Can’t Trust the Schools
IELTS is a business. Not just for the company that owns IELTS (Cambridge) and its partners (IDP and BC) but also for all the schools that teach IELTS (um… and websites, too: https://howtodoielts.com/band-scores-and-writing-corrections/)
It is sometimes in the best interests of schools to lie to students. Schools tell students they can get a score that is not realistic. Students study IELTS again and again for years without improving.
Schools are afraid to tell students that they should not be studying IELTS because they know the student will just chase impossible promises somewhere else.
To improve your English, you need to put in a lot of work outside class and find interesting materials that are not related to IELTS. That’s much harder for schools to sell.
So schools will lie to you to get you to sign up. They will tell you that you can move up a band or 2 by studying IELTS long-term with them.
Schools are not going to tell you that you are 3 or 4 years away from your score and you need to improve your English first and think about IELTS later.
This is how students end up studying for years at a school without making the improvements you would expect for the money they spend. It’s an abusive relationship based on the insecurity of students and the greed of schools.
Don’t get trapped by schools promising you the world and delivering nothing.
Not all schools are like this. For example, British Council is honest to students about what scores they should expect and their long-term study plans.
Now you need to know the key question: Should you be studying English? Or improving your English? Read this post to know your score so that you can make a plan and make sure you aren’t wasting your time!
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