Many students use practice tests as an essential part of their International English Language Testing System (IELTS) preparation. However, finding authentic practice tests that mimic the exact level of difficulty as the IELTS exam can be quite difficult. There is no real way to obtain copies of real past IELTS exam papers since both the IELTS General Training and Academic tests are not officially published by any of the owners of the test (Cambridge ESOL, IDP and the British Council). In addition to this, there are tonnes of fake mock tests available that can give you an incorrect impression about the content and difficulty of the test. In order to provide students with a real-time exam feel, Cambridge ESOL began publishing the Cambridge IELTS Practice Test Books. In this article, we will take a look at how you can use these practice tests effectively in order to maximise your IELTS band scores. We will also take a look at some of the common misconceptions that many students from Singapore have regarding the use of the IELTS Cambridge books for their test preparation.
Cambridge IELTS Practice Test Book (1-15)
These books provide 4 authentic practice tests developed by actual IELTS exam writers. Each test contains four sections for listening, reading, writing and speaking tests.
The book includes 4 complete IELTS tests along recording scripts and audio files for the listening test, answer keys for the reading and listening components and model answers for the writing section of the exam. There is also a detailed description of the IELTS scoring system. There are separate books for the IELTS Academic and General Training Tests.
When Should You Use These Practice Tests?
These books are a useful tool when practising for the exam, but in no way should be considered as a textbook or coursebook. It’s necessary to use good well-formulated material to help you master each skill before you even begin practising. The tests in these books should only be used to practice skills that you have learned from other IELTS resources or teachers.
A common thing which I hear students say is I’ve been practising for ‘x’ months. I’ve been going over past papers, but I’m still stuck at this band score!’ If you don’t know what skills you need to master and haven’t actually mastered those skills, practice will never help you improve! This is why you need guidance about how to move forward with your preparation.
When You Should Use The Cambridge IELTS Practice Tests
In my opinion, there are only 3 times when you should take practice tests
- At the beginning of your IELTS preparation in order to get an idea about your current level of proficiency. Taking multiple tests at the beginning will not help improve your scores, since you have not learned any of the skills necessary to perform better.
- During your preparation to check if there have been any improvements and also to apply and reinforce the skills and strategies you have picked up.
- At the end of your preparation to get an accurate estimate of your scores on test day
It is also important to analyse your scores once you take a test. Try to figure out why you made certain errors. For example, did you not understand the wording of the question or parts of the readings passage, were you unable to understand a particular speaker’s accent or were you unfamiliar with a particular question type?
Questions for the writing and speaking tests are also provided in the Cambridge IELTS books. However, only a few writing model answers are provided in the book. Since both the speaking and writing tasks involve producing language, it is very difficult to for second language learners to objectively assess their own answers. This is where having a trained IELTS professional tutor comes in handy. Not only will an IELTS lecturer be able to tell you about the estimated band scores for your practice answers but they will also be able to help you improve on them as well.