Want to study in the UK? Start preparing IELTS now
If you want to study at university in the UK, you need to have a high level of English. Not only will you have to listen to lectures and read textbooks on complex academic subjects, but you will probably also have to write about them. Exams will be written, as will much of the work taught during the course. It is not enough to ‘get by’ in English.
For this reason, most universities require a certain level of English language proficiency to enter the course and ask you to provide a certificate from a recognized language testing organization before you are accepted as a student. You can check the websites of the universities of your choice to see which tests each university recognizes, but the IELTS Preparation Course in Dubai will almost certainly be on the list.
What is IELTS?
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and is jointly administered by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council and IELTS Australia. Over 500,000 people take the test every year and it is recognized by nearly 4,000 universities, government agencies and professional bodies in 120 countries around the world.
The IELTS exam consists of four parts: reading (1 hour), writing (1 hour), listening (about 40 minutes) and speaking (an 11-14 minute interview with an examiner). There are two versions of the test: an academic version and a general knowledge version. However, universities usually require the academic version.
How is IELTS assessed?
For each IELTS test, you will receive a score from 0 (did not attempt the test) to 9 (expert). Universities rarely accept a total score below 6 (expert) and often have higher requirements. For example, the University of Bristol requires a minimum overall grade of 6.5 for most courses, but a minimum grade of 7 (proficient user) for law and medicine courses and a minimum grade of 7.5 for English courses.
Why should I prepare?
If you are considering studying in the UK, you probably already have a good general level of English. However, the IELTS exam tests not only your general English language skills, but also your ability to apply the knowledge you have acquired in an academic context. You may have a good knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but unless you have had specific training, you may not know what organization, sequence, style etc. you should use in a written task. Writing practices vary greatly between cultures, and what is considered “good” in your language may not be acceptable in English, and vice versa of course.
How to prepare?
Many language schools and other institutions offer special IELTS preparation courses, but this option may not be right for you. Perhaps there are no courses in your city, the cost is too high, or the time and/or effort required is not compatible with your other activities.
But there is another option. Today you can find many good online courses to prepare for the IELTS exam. Some courses focus on just one aspect of the test (usually writing), while others, such as Net Languages’ IELTS preparation course focus on the entire test. The online materials include tips and exercises for successfully taking all four tests, and the course tutor will proofread your written work (via email), practice the speaking test (via Skype or other voice-over software), and generally help you with any problems.
Will the university help you when you arrive?
Yes. The IELTS exam is only the first step. Most universities require you to take a pre-degree course a few months before you start your academic course. Again, the aim here is not only to improve your general language skills, but also to prepare you for the demands of the course: listening to lectures, discussing and presenting seminars, using an academic writing style, reading academic textbooks, etc.
The pre-degree course is also valuable in that it offers a period of adjustment during which you can get used to life in the UK, make friends and cope with the challenges of everyday life before the serious demands of an academic course begin.
Some universities offer a single standard pre-degree course, while others base their requirements on IELTS (or other) test results. King’s College London, for example, requires students with an IELTS score of only 5.5 to take a three-month pre-sessional course, while students with scores of 6.0 and 6.5 can opt for a shorter course.
Some universities may offer you a place on a pre-sessional course even if your test score is lower than the requirements of your preferred university, and you will have the option of retaking the test at the end of the course. In this case, the length of the pre-sessional course depends on your need to improve.
If on the IELTS test no individual score is lower than the minimum required score by more than 0.5 points, you will probably be able to improve your score by 1.0 point in about twelve weeks, bringing your total score to 5.5 points, which will be enough for a 6.5 score. However, if you are particularly weak in any area, you may need more time.
So if you are planning to study in the UK or another English-speaking country, the first step is to acquire the necessary language skills. And if you don’t know what “fast-track” means, maybe you should start preparing now.
Sue Swift has worked in the adult language field for almost 30 years as a teacher, trainer and content writer; previously she worked in pre-school education for international students at the University of Reading. She writes about language teaching methods and other language learning issues, and maintains a website for language teachers. She also runs Business Talk, a company specializing in teaching English and communication skills for business and online.