Why Professional People Fail IELTS

professionals fail ielts

Many highly educated people fail IELTS and have to make additional attempts at the exam. Professional people with university education make up a large proportion of the millions who take the IELTS exam every year. The reasons for this are obvious. IELTS facilitates migration for many reasons, including educational and professional purposes. It might surprise you to know that many highly educated people, even people who speak English as a first language, fail to achieve the score they need on IELTS.

What Does it Mean to Fail IELTS?

It is important to clarify at this point that there is no pass/fail grade for IELTS. When people say they have “failed” IELTS, what they mean is that they have failed to achieve the band score that they needed for their particular visa, job or institution. Before you take the IELTS exam, you should ascertain what band score you need. You will then know what to aim for. Unfortunately, many people fall short of this goal on their first attempt.

Why do Professionals Fail IELTS?

Sometimes this is just because of a lack of planning and preparation. It can also happen when people underestimate the length, complexity and difficulty of the test. But there are several factors that actually make IELTS a risky enterprise for people who have spent time working in a professional environment. Some of them might surprise you.

The Reading Test: True, False, not Given

The IELTS reading test consists of three sections with forty questions. Candidates have to read a large amount of information and answer questions on this information. The reading test only lasts sixty minutes, so there is pressure to work efficiently and strategically. One of the most challenging parts of the reading test is the question type “True, False, not Given”. It can also appear as “Yes, No, not Given” depending on the context. 

For this question, you have to read a series of statements. Some of them will be true and some will be false. Others will be neither true nor false because they don’t feature in the text at all. This is a complex task because it pushes you to distinguish between these two forms of negative answer (false and not given).

If the reading test presents you with a reading passage related to your area of expertise, you should tread carefully. This is because you have to decide whether a statement is true, false or not given, according to the text. If you are an engineer and the reading test presents a reading passage about engineering, you should take extra care to make sure that you are not bringing too much background knowledge to bear on the questions. This is because the articles in the reading test are written for an educated non-expert. An expert might know that something is false, but if it doesn’t appear in the text, “false” will be an incorrect answer.

The Speaking Test: Will they Know if I Make it Up?

The IELTS speaking examiner might ask you to talk about a topic about which you have no knowledge or experience. This can be disorienting for people who don’t like public speaking. It can also be challenging for people who are in the habit of talking with authority or leading others. Many students have expressed anxiety about this.

The good news is that you don’t have to lie for IELTS. It’s not a dinner party game. You are free to be totally honest: “Well, I’ve never visited a foreign country, but I’m going to tell you about my brother who went to Canada last year.” On the other hand, if you do improvise, or play hard and fast with the truth, nobody is going to fact check what you say. As with all elements of IELTS, what counts is how well you use English to express your thoughts.

The Writing Test: Thinking Creatively

Many people who work in a scientific field have to develop the ability to communicate in a concise manner. Some professions even develop their own shorthand or jargon for getting information from one person to another as quickly as possible. Eliminating unnecessary detail is essential if you work in a scientific context, or emergency services, for example.

The problem is that the writing test will ask you to do the exact opposite. The second task in the writing test is always an essay. This could be a discursive essay (consider two sides of an issue), an opinion essay (state and justify your feelings on an issue) or a problem/solution essay (describe a problem and suggest solutions). If you work in an area that requires you to communicate in a very concise manner all the time, it’s a good idea to get some practice in essay writing before the exam.

Formatting the writing test

Many professions require people to write in certain formats that will not work for IELTS. Bullet points, subheadings and lists are common features of professional communication in many industries, but if you include them in your IELTS writing test, you will not get a high band score. Academic candidates often ask us whether they should include references in task 2. (The short answer is no, by the way). You should take some time before the test to practice for the writing test, to make sure that writing habits like these don’t carry over into IELTS.

Our Community of Test Takers

Our in-person workshops attract a large number of professionals from various fields. This includes people who are moving in and out of South Africa for career or educational advancement. In these workshops, our IELTS coaches’ expertise is combined with the experiences of professionals who have had to make a second or third attempt at IELTS. If you are one of these people, you will benefit from being part of this forum.

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