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How to be an independent, proactive learner


Test Takers


How to study

Date Published

01 February 2023

  • This article was first published on (this website is now closed)

Have you ever felt like you just can’t seem to get motivated to study? And you don’t know where to start? In this blog, I'm going to talk about how you can become more of an independent learner when studying for IELTS.

Focus on the process, not just the end result

If you’re taking the IELTS exam, the most important thing for you is probably the score you receive – to get you to your learning destination or your dream job. That’s totally understandable, but I want us to take a step back and think about what makes us receive high scores – perhaps let’s call it your learning journey. Consider the actions you need to take to get the scores you’re hoping for.

Develop a growth mindset

It’s important that you have something which is often called a growth mindset – that is the idea that with time, you can develop your skills to reach your goals. Rather than just focussing on the final result, think about the steps and processes you need to go through to get there. These can be things like recognising good strategies that you occasionally follow and using them more, as well as reducing how much you use less effective strategies. To help you do this, think about what you did in IELTS practice activities and previous tests and consider the following questions:

  • What did you do well?
  • What did you not do so well?
  • What do your teachers say you should do? How much of that advice did you follow?

I strongly recommend that you keep a record – a reflective journal perhaps – of this. This will help you identify what you should do next time to do even better. A good independent learner knows where they are on their learning journey, where they need to go and how they can get there. This means that they know what they do now and what they need to do more of or differently. Let me give you some examples:

Speaking and Writing

Think about all the good advice you’ve read about for the Speaking test. Let’s think about Part 2. Do you always use the full one minute to prepare? Do you always try to use a variety of grammar structures and a wide range of vocabulary? Write a list of all the recommended tips you’ve heard and think will work. Do the same for the Writing test– consider what is essential to do in Task 1, for example writing a summary statement and focusing only on the key parts of the data, etc. After every practice, ask yourself three important questions:

  1. How many of these tips did you follow? How many did you not follow?
  2. What worked well? What didn’t?
  3. What will you do differently next time and why?

Use a checklist to help you and keep a diary – a reflective journal – and over time, watch how you use more of the strategies that work and fewer of the ones that don’t. If possible, write down the scores and comments you get and think about how you can improve further.

Listening and Reading

For Listening, think again about all the positive strategy tips you’ve discovered like reading the questions carefully before the test starts and underlining the keywords.

For Reading, think about good tips to stay on top of time management – there’s a lot to get through in this exam. Make a list of all of these effective steps you should take to do well. Again, a checklist works well here. After you do each of the practice activities and tests when preparing for IELTS, note down what you did in your reflective diary and answer the same questions as before. Watch as you use more and more of these good strategies and fewer of the less effective ones.

Create a better process to get better results

It would be understandable to think that some people are just better at language learning or exam-taking than others. Perhaps you feel some people just have a natural gift for these things. While there may be a small element of truth here, this shouldn’t discourage you if you feel you’re not lucky enough to be one of these talented people. It’s more likely that these people are using highly effective strategies and are just more aware of what they’re doing and why. The key is to always think of your learning journey – where you’re at and where you need to go. This will help you understand what you need to do more of and what you need to less of. Focus on the process here - use a checklist and regularly update your reflective diary. Reward yourself for using more and more of the recommended strategies and watch as you hopefully get to your desired destination quicker.

Good luck!