Monday, 23 April 2012

IELTS Reading: confessions of an IELTS teacher

I've been teaching IELTS in Manchester on and off for about four years now, and although IELTS is in many ways a difficult and sometimes frustrating examination, I do enjoy preparing students to take the test.

However, it's time for a confession - in all those four years of teaching IELTS, I've always been very nervous about my own ability to get full marks in the Reading test, if I had to do it with a strict time limit.  I've never had any worries about the Listening, Speaking or Writing (well, maybe a few worries about Writing Task 1 until I discovered IELTS-Simon's wonderful method here), but I've always found a reason not to do a whole reading test under exam conditions, just in case I didn't get full marks in the time available.  I felt that I would be so embarrassed, even if no one knew about it except me....

Well, today was the day I faced my demons - I finally ran out of excuses and worked alongside my lovely students while they did a practice test themselves.  It took me 22 minutes in all (the students have 60 minutes), and I got full marks.    

I learnt such a lot from this experience, and will be a better teacher as a result.  The main thing is that I mustn't let my perfectionism stop me from doing things.  I felt that I would be a 'bad' teacher if I didn't get full marks in the test - so I let my fear of 'failure' stop me from having a useful learning experience, whatever mark I got in the test.  If I hadn't got a good mark in the test, it would have motivated me to improve my own reading strategies, and that would also have been really useful to me as a teacher.   As it is, I'll now be much more confident to share my own tips and strategies with the students - I was a bit hesitant before, as I'd not really tried them out under pressure. 

So, this is how I got full marks today in the IELTS Reading test - it worked for me, and if your own strategies aren't getting you the score you need, maybe it's worth trying it out:
  1. I quickly read the whole text before I even looked at the questions.  
  2. I didn't underline anything in the text at this stage, because I didn't know what would be important, but I did try to focus on noticing the key points in each paragraph.
  3. I then looked at the questions one by one, and was fairly easily able to go to the right part of the text because I roughly remembered the main points of each paragraph.
  4. I answered each question in turn, but when I got stuck on a question (three times in all) I did the rest  of the questions in that section and came back to it a few minutes later.  In each case, answering the other questions gave me a bit more useful information about the whole text and I was able to answer the difficult question correctly.
There are many other techniques and strategies which different people find helpful - you just need to find a way which works for you.


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