I have heard this question so many times.
Why can’t I get a Band 7?
I get so many people who email me asking me why they can’t hit Band 7 or Band 8 or whatever score they need and are stuck at Band 5 or 6. They all seem puzzled as to why they cannot raise their score. Usually, it is to do with their writing as this tends to be the hardest part of the test.
Here are 9 reasons why you may not be getting the score you need.
1. Doing the IELTS exam over and over
This is a common issue among many people doing IELTS. They think that if they just keep doing the test they will get lucky and score a Band 7 or more. In fact, they only end up more and more frustrated and stressed.
If you are doing the exam over and over again you are wasting your time and money. There is a famous quote that Einstein apparently once said:
“insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
If you are caught in this trap you should delay taking your exam until you have found your weak areas and worked on fixing those.
Ask yourself questions and be specific.
- Is it my writing that is causing trouble? which part of the writing, task 1 or task 2?
- Do I have enough topic-specific vocabulary?
- Is the problem with grammar? What are my grammar problems exactly?
- Is my structure poor?, How is my time management?
- Am I having trouble thinking of ideas? Am I answering the issues in the task question?
- Am I trying to use complicated and ‘high level’ ideas in my writing? , is my writing easy to read?
- Am I hesitating in my speaking? running out of things to say?.. and so on…
Find your weak areas and fix them before attempting the test again, you will need good feedback to do this.
Practice without good detailed feedback is useless.
2. Consuming too much information
There are so many YouTube channels, Twitter profiles and Facebook groups out there dedicated to IELTS that many people just end up becoming ‘armchair IELTS students’. This means just consuming info and not taking real action.
They also suffer from ‘overwhelm’. This is when there is so much information to deal with that you become paralysed and don’t know what action to take next. Your brain just gets overloaded.
With so many sources of information and so many hours spent going through YouTube videos, most often you will end up getting conflicting advice which then leaves you even more confused. Find an expert who can give you detailed feedback and stick to their advice.
3. Not finding your weak areas
As I mentioned before about doing the test over and over, you first have to really focus on your weak points and get them fixed. For example, If a football team loses a game, the coach analyses the weak areas and makes changes to the formation or even to the individual players in the team.
Are you having problems with grammar? get to what the exact problem is, it could be articles (a,an,the) or plurals, countable nouns, subject-verb agreement and so on… learn the grammar rules and fix your problems.
If you are stuck at Band 5 then you may have to take a general English course to develop your grammar, listening, vocabulary, reading and speaking skills. If you are at a Band 6.5 and need Band 7 then you may have less weak areas and it could be that you just need the right feedback to pinpoint the issues.
4. Mindset issues
Shifting your whole mindset is crucial to doing well in anything, not just IELTS. Here is an example what makes up a positive mindset and a negative mindset, it is easy to blame people as this is a high stakes exam for many students. Their future depends on getting a good Band score.
5. Not finding time to study
Another common pattern I see is that many IELTS students are just too busy to study. Many people have commitments, family duties, work pressure, lack of motivation from tiredness and so on.
The best way to solve this is to make a note of what you do every day. How much time do you spend doing it?. You might find that you are spending 1 hour watching YouTube or browsing Facebook instead of using that as study time. You will be surprised how time you are wasting on social media, Instagram or watching Netflix.
Find the time even if it is just 30 minutes per day.
Focus on the key weak areas that you need to fix, for example if it is vocabulary, download an interesting podcast in English that you can listen to on the train while commuting to work, make notes on new words, use your commuting time to pick up new vocabulary, read news topics, listen to News stories.
Make your own study schedule, get a calendar and mark off the days until your exam, everyday work on a weak area that you need to fix. Here is a YouTube video about how to set up your own study plan.
6. Being unrealistic
To be honest, quite a few IELTS students have unrealistic expectations. I often get emails from people saying “I have an IELTS exam on Saturday, I need a Band 7″ … If you think like this you are really setting yourself up for frustrations. You will need to think about a study plan and dedicate a few months to your IELTS studies.
Some students who are at a Band 5 expect to jump to a Band 7 in a couple of weeks, this is being unrealistic. Even if you are at a Band 6 and want a Band 7 that is still quite a jump. It is not impossible but it takes work.
More realistic students tend to be around Band 6.5 and want a Band 7, In this case, their weak areas are easily fixed and they tend to have good vocabulary and grammar overall.
What can be done?
- Set yourself a study schedule and stay on focus. Click here to see how to do that.
- Be realistic, if you have weak English skills then delay taking IELTS and work on your general English ability. You may need to enrol in an English school to get your level up to a B2 on the CEFR.
- Read a lot, pick up new words and practice newly learnt phrases especially collocations.
- Get good feedback from someone who is an IELTS expert.
- Find a study partner who can keep you accountable.
7. Not getting good feedback
I have mentioned this before as I think this is one of the biggest blocks to people getting a good Band score. If you are practicing on your own and not getting feedback, then you are in the dark.
If you know an IELTS teacher in your area or a good school who teaches IELTS, then I would advise making that commitment. If you join a school that teaches IELTS classes, make sure they can tailor it to your weak areas. For instance, if your listening is very good then you don’t need to study that, it may be that your essays need working on, in that case, focus only on the writing, it may be your speaking needs work, focus on that.
I do not advise taking IELTS group classes as you need one to one feedback on your weak areas, a group class cannot offer that. Many schools will enrol students into one big IELTS group class and students come out feeling more frustrated than before they started the course.
8. Getting bad advice
There is so much information out on the internet about IELTS and a lot of it is inaccurate because many (not all) teachers are giving bad advice. Another issue is that there are many dodgy IELTS schools. Some people out there will promise you a Band 9, they will just tell you what you want to hear to get you into their school.
Many so-called IELTS teachers have not been given the right training to teach IELTS. One of the reasons for this is that there is no formal qualification from Cambridge to become an IELTS teacher (there is only training for IELTS examiners) so anyone can claim to teach IELTS. Added to this, there is a lot of misinformation and fake material out there.
Fake or misleading task questions in the writing section can really confuse students. Only use material from Cambridge IELTS books, the British Council, IDP or IELTS.org.
Here are some tips.
- Only use authentic Cambridge IELTS material for your practice.
- Find a teacher that has experience and a proven record of getting results (good testimonials)
- Be careful of false claims by teachers like ‘You can get a Band 9 if you memorise this Band 9 word list’ or ‘Follow this system and I can help get you a Band 7 in a few days’ and so on.. .
- Be careful of myths such as: ‘if you look the examiner in the eye he will give a good score’ or something I recently heard was: ‘dress well, look smart and watch your body language’ , and the infamous: ‘never repeat words in an essay’
- IELTS is an English test so it is only testing your ability to use English effectively.
9. Focusing too much on Writing task 2
Although writing task 2 carries twice the amount of points as task 1, you should not neglect writing task 1 as this is important to get right to give your overall writing balance.
If you write a good task 2 essay and write a poor task 1, then you could still end up with a Band 6. Get your timing right, make sure you leave enough time to write task 1. For lessons on Writing task 1 take a look at this page here.