"I Didn't Get The IELTS Results I Need, What Should I Do?"
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So, you received your IELTS test results and they are not satisfactory. You thought the test went well, and you thought they would be higher. In which case, you can request an Enquiry on Results (or ‘EOR’) – this is a remark of one or more sections of your test.
However, it’s important to know that IELTS test results are given through meticulous and methodical procedures, which are in place to reduce the chance of error. In other words, requesting a remark could change your score by a small amount, but your Speaking test score won’t suddenly jump up from a band 4 to a band 7. It is more likely you may need to improve your results by retaking the test. Read on to find out more.
Considering that most applicants need their scores to apply for visas, citizenship or a higher education, an unsatisfactory IELTS test result is not the end of the road. There is no limit to how many IELTS tests you can take (although, taking more starts to get very expensive!).
Before booking your next IELTS test, take a moment to diagnose what could have gone wrong. Some of the causes could be:
- Lack of preparation: Your IELTS test results may be low because you either (a) did not prepare enough or (b) did not prepare in a way that would develop your IELTS test-taking skills. Skip to ‘Solutions’ below for more help on how to best prepare for the test.
- Overconfidence: Many advanced students go into their first test confident that IELTS is just an English proficiency test. For the most part, that is true. However, even some native speakers do not achieve high marks in IELTS. This usually happens if the test-taker doesn’t take the time to familiarize themselves with the test format, how and what is being scored, and timing. As a result, advanced or native speakers fail to show off the English skills they have during the allotted time and therefore don’t score as high as expected. (Remember: it’s still a test!) Even test-takers with experience in one test (i.e. either IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training) may underestimate the differences of the other one.
- Not knowing the test format: IELTS is a language proficiency test delivered in a standardized format and marked in an equally standardized way. Therefore, while language proficiency is the most important skill you should have, you must also practice demonstrating those skills within the format of the test.
- Mental or environmental obstacles: Sometimes, the most prepared test-takers may not perform well on their test day. Physical health and mental preparedness can affect anyone. Make sure you are well-rested for your test, eat breakfast on the morning of your test, and take a (clear) water bottle with you to your exam centre.
Retake vs. Remark: FAQs
You are considering retaking the test. What is on your mind?
Can I only take IELTS once?
No. You take the test as many times as you want or need. However, consider your reason for retaking the test. If it was due to a lack of preparation, then taking some time to self-study for the test or join an IELTS preparation course is a good suggestion. Furthermore, each test costs over $300 (CAD) or more, depending on your test location. Therefore, spending time preparing well is recommended so you don’t need to take the test more than once.
How soon should I retake the test?
There is no minimum time that you need to wait between tests. However, you should diagnose the reason why you underperformed in your first test, before booking the next one. Keep in mind that some IELTS test centres also offer IELTS preparation courses which can be helpful for those who are finding it difficult to study without guidance from a professional IELTS expert.
Can I book multiple tests at the same time?
In theory, yes you can. However, it’s strongly not recommended. Booking multiple tests is costly, and doesn’t guarantee improvement. Instead you should diagnose your mistakes, define areas for improvement, study and practice before retaking the test.
Should I retake the test or apply for a remark?
This is a tough decision that you need to make! If you think your IELTS test results were not fair and you expected a higher result, you can go through the EoR (Enquiry of Results) process. You need to apply within 6 weeks after your results are released. You can ask your test centre to remark any section of the IELTS test again. There is also a fee involved (fees vary by centre – contact your test centre to inquire).
If your result(s) increase, you will receive a refund as well as a new Test Report Form. If your results do not change or are marked lower, you will keep your initial Test Report Form (IELTS will always let you keep the highest score); however, you will not get a refund. This process can take up to 45 days.
Before you apply, consider which sections you want to be remarked. Remarks are recommended only for the Writing and Speaking sections. Reading and Listening answers usually have just one correct answer; therefore, your answer will either be ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’. This process rarely causes any misunderstanding, and the success rate for appealing Reading and Listening scores is not very high. On the other hand, the examiner will review your responses for the Writing and Speaking components and score them based on IELTS band descriptors. Examiners are highly trained in this area, and the band descriptors are intentionally designed to reduce partiality. Therefore, the remark examiner is likely to reach the same or similar band score as the original examiner. In other words, you may be spending precious time and money waiting for a score that may not change, or may only change by a very small amount.
Solutions and Next Steps
1. Change your mindset!
Remind yourself that IELTS does not have a fail-pass result. The fact that you took an internationally renowned English proficiency test and got your results should help boost your mindset moving forward. It is essential that you start your second attempt with a positive attitude. Think of it this way: now you will not be going into the test blind. You know what will happen, and you will be prepared for it. Tell yourself that you just took a very official practice test!
2. Diagnose the problems and take the right measures to fix them
Think about your test day and the individual IELTS test results you received in each skill (Listening, Reading, Writing, or Speaking). Consider what is within your own powers to fix and what isn’t. Ask for help. Many IELTS teachers get students who tell us they can study well for one of the skills at home, but they need professional help for another.
However, do not underestimate the importance of consultation with an expert. You may be overconfident without knowing it yourself. I had a student who was spending the entire 60 minutes of the Reading test without having any time to review. Her scores were good, so she never asked for help. When I explained a technique to approach certain question types in a smarter (and faster) way, her time management and accuracy of answers improved. She reported that she even had time to relax during her test before starting her Writing test!
3. Prepare: take a course or self-study
In IELTS, you need to improve a lot more than your language skills. Most often, candidates need to learn “how” they need to demonstrate these skills in a testing environment, under timed conditions. Try to recreate the same conditions on your own by practicing sample questions and evaluating them according to the IELTS band descriptors. If you cannot recreate test conditions or would like professional help from an expert, consider investing in a preparation course. ILAC has IELTS preparation courses to help current and future test-takers.
IELTS is a standardized language proficiency test. It evaluates the English skills of test-takers within a rigid and impartial system. Candidates who neglect either of these aspects are more likely to not get the score they hope. Attending courses at ILAC, taking practice tests at home, or seeking professional advice can help improve your IELTS test results in the future.
If you are located in Vancouver or Toronto, Canada, contact our program advisors at ILAC to talk about your English goals.
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