I have been an English teacher to non-native English speakers for over 10 years and the question I get asked the most is how to improve an English test score. Note: the number one question is NOT about how to improve English ability. However, really, the answer to both questions is the same – to improve your test scores you should improve your English and not just focus on ways to try to ‘beat’ the exam. The rest of this article focuses on ways that you can improve your English, especially if you are living in a non-English speaking environment.

English exams, such as the IELTS, are designed to test your ability to communicate in English, so ultimately you cannot score well without a high level of English. Learning any language is a slow process that requires hard work and perseverance. The best way to improve your English is to immerse yourself in English…take every opportunity you can to read, write, speak, and listen to English. You need to build up lots of learning resources. In addition, try to develop regular habits for doing things in English, such as, reading the daily news in English or starting a blog in English. Research shows that it is important to interact in English frequently as opposed to big chunks of infrequent study.

You can improve your listening skills by listening to the BBC news or watching movies. In doing so, try to understand as much as you can about what the speaker is saying, and do NOT rely on subtitles – they only improve your reading! Reading can be improved by regularly reading English newspapers and novels. Try to guess the meaning of words you don’t know and only use a dictionary to check your guesses or for words you can’t guess the meaning.

Writing can be improved by writing more often…how about starting a blog or joining a chat group or forum. Why not try to write your emails in English! Ideally, you should try to get your writing checked by a native speaker, but if you can’t at least use the spell-checking function of Microsoft word. Speaking can be a tricky one if you are in a non-English speaking country. One thing you can do is to record yourself speaking and listen to it for mistakes. Another thing you can do is to try to meet people over Skype – even if they are non-native speakers you can still benefit from this kind of interaction.

If you follow these suggestions, not only will you find your English test scores improve, but also you will find that your English competency is much higher. You will actually be able to communicate and function in English! Oh, if only I had a dollar for every student I have met with high scores in IELTS, but still unable to hold-down a decent lunch time conversation!


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