Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A minimalist IELTS revision folder

There are many difficult things about the IELTS exam (and most other English exams), but I think the most difficult thing is its vast scope - you could spend the next ten years revising for the exam and still get a completely unexpected essay question or speaking topic.  

This means that you are likely to end up with a huge folder full of handouts from your teacher, essays you have written and things you have written down in class.  When you look at this huge folder shortly before the exam you might feel depressed, and just not know where to start.  

The answer is to make a revision folder which contains ONLY the most useful information you have collected, and really focus on learning that.  

  • Find a folder or notebook.  It doesn't have to be beautiful, but it needs to be empty, and big enough to put in some A4 sheets - maybe folded in half.  At MVC we use ugly brown folders which we pinched from the office, but they do the job.  You can even make your own folder - just get sheets of A4 paper with holes punched in them (or plastic pockets) and tie them all together, maybe with some cardboard at each end to make it stronger.  When I was revising for my Trinity Diploma exam (I feel slightly ill remembering how stressful that was!) I used a very cheap 'display book' (Google it!).
  • Get all your 'regular' notebooks and folders - everything which your teacher has given you or you have found yourself - and go through them very carefully, choosing ONLY the information which you think is absolutely essential for you to learn.  If you have a whole handout which is really useful, put the whole thing in your notebook or folder - if your're using a notebook you need to glue or staple it so it won't fall out and get lost.  If only part of the handout is useful, either cut it up and just put the useful bit in your notebook or folder, or copy it out into the notebook or onto a new sheet of paper to put in the folder.  I've been getting my students to put things like vocabulary handouts in their folder, useful phrases for the Speaking test and ideas for essays.
  • If you use a coursebook in your class (we don't), go through the book and find any useful tips or lists of good phrases.  Copy them out (or photocopy them) and put them in your folder.  
  • Don't let your folder get too big or too heavy.  Why?  Because the idea is that you actually carry the thing around with you and look at it over and over again - in your breaks at work, while you're on the bus, while you're waiting for your dinner to cook....  
  • Keep adding to it - but ONLY really, really useful stuff. Highlight the most important stuff.  Test yourself, and keep trying until you get things right.
  • If you are a creative person, or someone who is very 'visual' in their learning style, try to make your folder colourful - you could draw pictures to help you remember vocabulary, use different coloured pens or highlighters, or use different coloured paper for the things you write out yourself.  
  • Keep adding to it right up to the exam, and take out anything you feel you no longer need - you might have learnt it, or found a better handout - as you don't want it to get too unmanageable.

My students' folders are very different from each other - and that doesn't matter.   The most important thing is that they contain just enough information to help them revise, without leaving them feeling overwhelmed.  

Do you have any revision tips or strategies?


  1. Some good advice. I think that this applicable subjects no just IELTS

  2. nice post that will help students who are willing to attend ielts exam

  3. Thank you for your comments, Stephen and nancy john. It's so important to get organised before an exam to reduce your stress levels!