IELTS Basics Series

IELTS Lessons, written by Sam Morgan and Tom Speed

We would like to give you our 7 step advice on the best ways to use our lessons so that you maximise your practice time and give yourself the best chance in the IELTS test. The steps we will look at are:

Step 1 | Know the basics of English grammar
Step 2 | Get support from students and teachers
Step 3 | Make Notes
Step 4 | Pay attention to new vocabulary
Step 5 | Verbalise
Step 6 | Practice
Step 7 | Know yourself and know the time

Before we look at these steps in more details, let’s do a mini exercise:

Here are two words from the Academic Word List. Read each word and its definition once only, then go on to step 1.

persistent | (adjective) If someone or something is persistent, they continue and do not give up quickly.

reluctant | (adjective) If you are reluctant to do something, you do not want to do it.

Now let’s move on to the steps.

Step 1 | Know the basics of English grammar

Summary

As you go through our lesson material you will see us talk about different types of speech, mainly verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. We will also talk about different tenses, including the present tense and the past tense. So that you do not become lost, make sure you understand what these are and the basics of their relationships to each other.

We have many new students that are great communicators but make frequent basic grammar mistakes because they never properly learnt the basics. This can cause such students to struggle to reach their desired IELTS band, as in the IELTS test grammar makes up 25% of the final writing and speaking band scores.

Students that do not understand simple English grammar will find that as they study more and more of the language, their ability to follow the grammar of the material will diminish (become weak). This leads to frustration and in serious cases students may give up studying for the IELTS test entirely.

If you are one of these students, we have good news for you. Basic English grammar is easy to learn if you promise yourself that will spend time each day focusing on it.

Here is a resource to help you: Talk English

Go through a page a day, making sure that before you start practicing new grammar, you review what you learnt the previous day.

Step 2 | Get support from students and teachers

Summary

Use our community to ask questions to teachers or fellow students.

What if you know all the grammar basics but you are still confused by some lesson material? No problem, just head over to our community page and ask our fellow students and teachers.

We aim to answer your questions as quickly as possible, and can provide advice and links to sources that can help you.

You can ask any questions you like related to the English language and our lessons. You may also offer suggestions for lesson improvement and report any issues that you are experiencing.

As the community page is new, you can be one of the first to use it.

Head over there now and make a post that introduces yourself:

Tell us your name, where you are from and why you want to take the IELTS test. Also let us know what lessons you would like us to develop in the future. You can also request IELTS materials that we can send to you.  

Step 3 | Make Notes

Summary

Makes notes on each lesson, put them somewhere easy to access and review them before each new lesson.

Notes are important as they summarise the important points of the lesson. They also help you remember the lesson, as the act of writing notes down stimulates your brain into creating stronger memory links.

As you go through our lessons, make notes on each one. This is best done with paper and a pencil or pen. For intermediate and advanced students, we recommend that you take notes in English as extra practice.

For each set of lesson notes:

Summarise the important content of the lesson.

Use different colours to help different information stand out (be seen easily).

Keep your notes organised so that you can easily find them. For very important notes, we recommend you write them down again on small pieces of paper (such as post-it notes) and attach them to your bedroom or office wall – anywhere where you will frequently see them.

Frequency is important! Our brain remembers things that it repeatedly sees, and having your notes near you will remind you to practice English.

Before each new lesson, go through the notes of the previous lesson to improve your memory and allow your mind to be in the best state it can be to learn new material.

Remember, if you persistently check your notes you will remember what you learn for a longer amount of time.

We have used a word from our mini exercise at the start: persistent. Do you remember the definition?

Persistent | (adjective) If someone or something is persistent, they continue and do not give up quickly.

persistently is the adverb form of persistent. We use persistently before the verb check to mean ‘if you frequently / repeatedly check your notes…’

Speaking of vocabulary…

Step 4 | Pay attention to new vocabulary

Summary

Write new vocabulary down in a vocabulary book with definitions and examples. Review your vocabulary book frequently so that you remember the words. Learn 10 – 15 new words a week.

As you practice English you will see many new and interesting words that you have not studied before. Rather than feel frustrated that you do not know a word, you should see this as an opportunity to expand your vocabulary.

For each word that you don’t know, write it down in a vocabulary book. A vocabulary book is a note book of all the words that you are learning.

Write down the meaning of the word, but not from a dictionary. Instead, guess what the word might mean from its context (the words around it in the sentence). We have some Vocabulary in Context lessons here if you want to know more.

After you guess what the word means, look it up in a dictionary. Is your guess accurate? If yes, great! If not, correct your notes.

Next, write down the type of the word (noun/verb/adjective etc) and the sentence from the lesson that it is used in. This will help you learn how to apply the word accurately in your speech and writing. Make a note of the pronunciation of the word from the dictionary or an online source like the Cambridge Dictionary and practice speaking it.

We recommend you learn about 10 – 15 new words each week by repeating the words each day (put new words around your room where they are easy to see and remember). Learning more words than this means that you are likely to forget many of them when you come to do the IELTS test.

What if there are 10, 20 or more words from each lesson that I don’t know?

Don’t worry, you don’t need to know all the words to understand the lesson, just as you don’t need to know all the words of a reading test to get a great band score.

If there are many words in a lesson that you do not understand, then it is up to you to select the words that are the most important to write down and learn. If there are verbs, learn those first, followed by adjectives then nouns. Unknown verbs and adjectives are good to learn first as they can typically be used in a greater number of situations than nouns. It may be difficult to learn new words at first, but have persistence. As your vocabulary grows, the speed at which you learn new words also improves!

Did you notice the word persistence in the answer to that last question? It is the noun form of persistent. If we have persistence, it means that we have the strength to keep doing something. Learning the different forms (noun/verb/adjective/adverb etc) of a word is a nice way to increase your vocabulary quickly.

Step 5 | Verbalise

Summary

As you read through lessons and articles, speak them out loud as well (quietly or loudly). This will improve your speaking fluency and accuracy skills.

Most students assume that without a teacher or another student in front of you, you can’t practice your speaking skills.

The truth is, you can, and there is a simple way of doing it: As you study the lesson materials, repeat the text on the screen aloud, so that you say what you see. You can do this quietly if you are sharing your study space with other people, or loudly, for maximum improvement. Do this from now until the end of this step. (i.e. say ‘Do this from now until the end of this step.’)

Why does this help my speaking?

This will give your brain important practice at turning English thoughts into English sounds. Your mouth muscles will also get important practice at making the right shapes. If you do this enough, your muscle memory will mean that you produce accurate sounds without needing to think, just like a native speaker. Finally, as the text you are reading contains interesting vocabulary and correct grammar, you are forcing your mind and body to create English that is at a high level and grammatically accurate, which is a great habit to have.

To make sure that your pronunciation is good when you do this, you can take time to learn word stress (i.e. which syllable is the loud syllable in a word?) and sentence stress (i.e. which words are the loud words in a sentence? The answer is typically the words that communicate meaning – verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, rather than grammar words like prepositions).

To learn more about word stress, watch this video.

To learn more about sentence stress, watch this video.

Step 6 | Practice

Summary

Make practice into a daily habit. Practice using the four main skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and don’t get stressed. Stay relaxed by taking many breaks, visiting friends and doing exercise.

If you only study new language one time, you will forget it and won’t be able to use it effectively in the IELTS test. Without looking, do you remember that we studied two words at the beginning of this lesson? Do you remember what those words are and what they mean? Which is easiest to remember? Check below.

The words are:

persistent | (adjective) If someone or something is persistent, they continue and do not give up quickly.

reluctant | (adjective) If you are reluctant to do something, you do not want to do it.

It will probably be easier to remember what persistent means because we used it twice in the text (in different forms), in comparison to reluctant, which we haven’t used yet.

Each time you remind yourself of new language, the better your memory of that language will become. When you are in the IELTS test, you will be able to confidently use what you have learned, all thanks to practice and repetition.   

If I just read my notes every day, is that enough?

Some practice is better than other practice. Just reading your notes is better than nothing, but you can still improve the quality of your practice. Your brain remembers language better if you practice in many different ways. You can:

  • Read new language | Read a text to yourself (from lessons and newspapers or magazines) and frequently read the notes that you make.
  • Listen to new language | Find material online (such as podcasts) or record yourself and listen back.
  • Speak new language | Have a conversation about the English you are learning with friends or with yourself.
  • Write new language | Do practice writing tasks and make frequent notes. Some students rewrite their notes to make them more organised.

If you do all of these types of practice, your brain will remember more, more quickly!

Practice smart, not hard.

Sometimes we can practice too much. If you are studying English all day and are ignoring all the things that make you happy (meeting friends, sports, relaxing etc) then you may start to feel stressed. A stressed mind is bad at studying and your English may stop improving. So remember:

Take frequent breaks | You shouldn’t need to practice for more than 4 hours a day, and have many micro (5 – 10 minute breaks). This will keep your mind fresh.

Be happy | if you are happy then you will be motivated to learn, so make sure you are doing the things that you love, as well as learn English.

Exercise | We are learning more and more each day about how exercise keeps the mind sharp, focused and smiling.

Make practice a daily routine | if you can turn practice into a habit, you will find that your brain is able to hold onto hold on to newly learned language better than if you practice at random times of random days.

Doing these things will mean that you remember more from your practice and your skills will improve more quickly.

Step 7 | Know yourself and know the time

Summary

Sleep well and make sure your brain is ready to produce English on the test day.

Studies show that our brains are better at learning if we get good sleep in between lessons. Sleep is vital (very important) if we want to turn short term memory (the language you studied today) into long term memory (the language you can use in the IELTS test and beyond). Make sure you are getting good quality 7 – 8 hour sleep. If you are looking at a computer or phone screen in bed, the brightness of the device can make it harder for your brain to go into sleep mode. For good sleep, try to turn off your devices at least an hour before bed and use a blue light filter app to redden the screen at night. Good sleep also keeps stress away!

Next, find out the time of day that you will take the test (this varies between testing centres) and make sure that in the week before the test, you practice at that time.

For example, if you are taking your IELTS test at 9am in two weeks, practice English at 9am each day if you can. This will prepare your brain so that you won’t be slow and tired on the morning of the test day.

Those are our 7 steps to get the most out of our lessons and your English studies in general. To review:

Step 1 | Know the basics of English grammar

As you go through our lesson material you will see us talk about different types of speech, mainly verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. We will also talk about different tenses, including the present tense and the past tense. So that you do not become lost, make sure you understand what these are and the basics of their relationships to each other.

Step 2 | Use our teacher – student support community

Use our community to ask questions to teachers or fellow students.

Step 3 | Make Notes

Makes notes on each lesson, put them somewhere easy to access and review them before each new lesson.

Step 4 | Pay attention to vocabulary

Write new vocabulary down in a vocabulary book with definitions and examples. Review your vocabulary book frequently so that you remember the words. Learn 10 – 15 new words a week.

Step 5 | Verbalise

As you read through lessons and articles, speak them out loud as well (quietly or loudly). This will improve your speaking fluency and accuracy skills.

Step 6 | Practice

Make practice into a daily habit. Practice using the four main skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and don’t get stressed. Stay relaxed by taking many breaks, visiting friends and doing exercise.

Step 7 | Know yourself and know the time

Sleep well and make sure your brain is ready to produce English on the test day.

One last thing before we finish.

We often get students who ask questions like this:

I practice every day and I don’t see any improvement. What is going wrong and how can I improve?

It is difficult to learn a new language and English is often complex. For these reasons, students can become frustrated. Over time frustration leads to stress, slowing progress down and causing more stress. We talk about avoiding stress in steps 6 and 7: take breaks, do the things you love and get good sleep.

I would also like to add that improvement can be hard to see in yourself. Often you are improving but you don’t realise it. Some weeks you will feel lots of improvement, and some weeks no improvement. This is a natural part of the learning experience. Have faith in yourself that if you practice, improvement will happen, even if you can’t feel it straight away.

The key is to be patient. Any language takes a long time to learn, so if you get a 6.0 band score and you need a 6.5, you may need to give yourself 6 months of good practice before your English has improved by the half band that you need.

Well done! You have done a lot of reading today. Take notes on the parts of the lesson that you believe are most important and have a break. Call a friend, go outside, do some exercise, anything that will relax you.

If you would like more reading practice, we have a new reading course available on our courses page that is currently free for new students.

We hope you find our steps useful. See you soon.

Sam and Tom

PS If you have questions, leave a message in the comments below or post in our community.