The IELTS exam evaluates a person’s overall English ability. There are many ways to improve your test technique, but the better your overall English ability, the better you will do on the test. There’s no way to fake it. This is one of the reasons it is trusted by schools, colleges and universities. Not only does it mean that a candidate has the basic tools necessary to do the course, but it means that they have a chance of succeeding in an English-speaking academic environment.
Universities need to know that they are going to get a student whose English is good enough to be able to enter into a programme of study which was written and designed in English, for English-speaking students. They need to know you will be able to read and understand texts, listen to and understand lectures, and to write well enough to express your ideas clearly. It is a risk for a university to take a chance on accepting new students whose first language isn’t English, and they need to be sure that the student has the potential to succeed.
If a university decides it can accept students with an overall score of 6.5, this does not mean that band 6.5 is a good level for studying the course; it means that a student who gets a band 6.5 is at the minimum level that they can consider for entry onto the course. - There’s still a long way to go!
Even the native speakers in a course are going to be challenged by the course; their aim is to study and to grow the same as all the other students. Even though they’ve grown up in an English speaking country and been speaking English all of their life, they’ll still be working hard to understand and complete the course.
Selectors know that students whose first language is not English have a very difficult task ahead of them when they start to study in an English-speaking country. They know you will, as well as tackling the course, be facing the trials of living in a different country, adapting to a new culture and way of life, and even different weather. On top of this will be the pressures of study, reading, assignments, theses, discussions etc. You can make it as easy as possible for yourself abroad if you put in lots of effort now.
For students studying less language-focused courses e.g. physics, electronic engineering; it is perhaps unfortunate that such a high degree of English proficiency is required, given that your main focus of study will not be directly related to English language. But as English is set to be the lingua-franca for the foreseeable future, anyone studying at a higher level will be at a clear advantage in terms of being able to research ideas, read new papers and generally participate in the international academic world; and of course the advantages in the business world are obvious.
So, although getting the correct IELTS band is an excellent achievement, it is only the first part of your journey towards gaining a qualification overseas.
The good news is that an English-speaking country is the best place to be to improve your English, and providing that you keep writing, reading and speaking in English while you’re there, your improvement is almost certain to be much quicker than it was in your home country.
For English teachers, it’s usually very easy to recognize someone who has lived abroad. Not only is their pronunciation, intonation and rhythm noticeably better, but they’re generally much more relaxed and confident to communicate and connect with other English speakers.
Studying hard in your home country is an excellent was to improve your language skills, but particularly at higher levels (IELTS band 6 and above), Voltaire’s advice still rings largely true: -
‘If you would be acquainted with the English comedy, you must go to London: you must reside there three years; you must learn the language perfectly’
Anyone with a good intermediate level will have the chance to make huge leaps in their overall English level once they’re living in an English-speaking country.
So, when you get your required band-score, congratulate yourself on doing a great job, then prepare yourself to do an even greater job from that day until you graduate; and take heart from knowing that, through your hard work, you’ve already put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.