Study Skill #1: Set Aside Some Time For Study And Protect It
Your first step is to carve out an hour a day when you can reliably settle down and study. That time may be first thing in the morning after the children have left for school, or after supper when the house quietens down for the evening. Only you know the quietest periods during your day. What’s most important is that this time is yours and yours alone for four or five days every week.
You may need to enlist some help from the people around you. This is an important test, one that likely impacts your future and that of your family, so those around you are probably far more willing than you realize to offer support right now. Can your partner take care of the children? Can this be the night you eat a take-out pizza for supper? What tasks could someone else take care of to free up this time for your study?
Once you’ve decided on your time, don’t let anything get in the way. EVER!
Study Skill #2: Be Realistic
It’s really important to be realistic and reasonable both about the time, and the amount of time, you choose. There’s no point setting aside three hours a day and then spending it watching a movie or procrastinating in some other way. If you have young children, you may only be able to manage an hour a day – that’s okay! What’s most important is that once you’ve decided when you’re going to study, you stick to it.
Study Skill #3: Organize Your Workspace
Okay, so now you know when you’re going to study, and you know for how long, but what about where? Do you already have a place where you can get on. Is that space distraction-free and conducive to studying? Is it warm, quiet, and accessible? Pay as much attention to the space you’re going to be studying in as you pay to your other preparation because, if you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to want to go back! Once you sit down, turn off your phone and focus.
Study Skill #4: Familiarize Yourself With The Test
Whether you’re planning to take IELTS, CELPIP, or CAEL, you’ll need to get of hold of several tests and work through the. You can get CAEL practice tests from the CAEL Store. You’ll need to pay for these tests, but there aren’t any available on the internet for free. You can get CELPIP Tests from the CELPIP Store. You’ll have to pay for these too, because the quality of the few tests available for free isn’t the same as that of the actual test. You’ll be able to find any number of free IELTS test on the internet.
Once you have these practice tests, don’t forget why you have them! Their purpose is to help you identify which areas of the test are difficult for you so that you can practice those types of questions. Don’t just work through the tests to get you score in the hope that it will magically go up – it won’t. What will happen though, is that you’ll exhaust your test supply – especially with CAEL and CELPIP – before you’ve fixed your problem areas.
Your best approach is to do one test, then identify problem areas and fix them. Once you’ve done that, you can go on and complete another practice test.
Study Skill #5: Create a Schedule
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the test, and identified the problem areas that you need to strengthen in order to get your score, create a study schedule. In that schedule, write down exactly what you intend to work and when you intend to review it to make sure it’s crystal clear in your mind.
You can see from this study schedule that I’ve allowed myself two days off every week – Sundays and then one day during the week. I’ve set myself up to work on my IELTS Academic Preparation for two hours every evening because that’s when I know everyone will be busy doing homework, and no-one will be wondering where I am… or looking for socks, snacks, mitts etc. which everyone I live with always seems to need my help to find.
Study Skill #6: Decide What’s Next Before You Stop.
Now that you have your space and time all set up for study, you’ll be eager to get started. Don’t be surprised if that eagerness fades over time. One very good way to keep motivated is to get into the habit of deciding where you’ll start, or what you’ll start with, when you return to your desk for your next session. Let setting that up be the last thing you do before you end your study session.
Study Skill #7: Get Help When You Need It.
Identifying what you need to work on, and gauging your own speaking a writing can be very difficult. Some people manage to use the reading and listening answers to identify problematic question types, and I’ve had students who’ve used Grammarly to help them improve their written errors. Some have even used Grammarly for their spoken errors by transcribing their responses and pasting them as text. Grammarly may help you with the grammatical components of your speaking and writing, but it can’t help you with other elements of the test, such as coherence and cohesion, which are critical to securing a higher score.
Although you can do a lot with the materials available on the internet, anyone looking for higher scores will probably need to work with a tutor who understands the requirements of the test you’re preparing for. It can get expensive, but there are ways of reducing the cost. For example, some of my students reduce their expenses by sending me written responses and recordings of their spoken responses for correction – we never actually meet! Others would rather spend their money on motivating classes than on failed tests and have regularly lessons a couple of times a week. Every now and again, I get a student who just has a class when he gets stuck on something.
Study Skill #8: Repetition is Key
Studying is an iterative and repetitive task. It’s something you have to keep coming back to, identifying errors, fixing those mistakes, and then practicing over and over again.
There’s nothing easy about studying, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while, so reach out for the supports and help you need when you need it. For most people, language tests like IELTS, CELPIP, and CAEL, stand between them and their citizenship, permanent residency, university acceptance, or professional recognition. That means there are probably family members that would be quite willing to participate in establishing your security – and theirs- by helping you out!