It might be a simple and petty exam for some but it was an experience for me. I took the International English Language Testing System exam–ACADEMIC (the other type is General Training), offered by the British Council last 5th November in George Town, Penang, Malaysia as per requirement of my present work as a medical lecturer. I took the RISK and defied a famous Chinese philosopher’s quote.
 PREPARATION IS KEY TO SUCCESS. Indubitably, the quote above is true (It’s used in The Amazing Race, Season 19, in their Taiwan-leg recently). Gearing up properly for something will definitely yield positive. As for my case, perhaps, the stars, the moon and lady luck were all on my side when I sat in the exam. Seriously, I owe it much to the good Lord for He is great and merciful. He made it possible for me to pass despite I barely had review! I only spent two days of browsing the review materials that I printed from the web. Like Confucius, I absolutely do not recommend braving a war without a sword.
With Tina and Gabby in tow, I went to the British Council office before 9AM exactly a week prior to my test date. I downloaded and printed IELTS application form from their website and filled it out, brought my passport and 2 identical recent passport photos and the fee (to be reimbursed by our medical university), RM 570 (USD 182 or PhP 7,860; cheaper here compared to Pinas when Tina took it last 2007 it’s PhP 8640 then).
I asked the pleasantly looking Chinese-Malaysian lady staff at the counter who received me that Saturday morning if November 5th testing date is still open. I got a nod and so I decided not to prolong the agony. I told myself silently, “Let’s go, let’s do this!”
 PUNCTUALITY INDICATES COMMITMENT. I woke up before 6 in the morning of 5th November, Saturday; hit the shower, drank my much-needed caffeine dose, filled my tummy a bit with noodles and hurriedly hopped on the bus to Penang Sentral. I waited for few minutes for the ferry and headed to George Town in about 12min-ride. At the jetty in the island, I rode the free shuttle Rapid Penang bus that took me to Cititel Hotel in Jalan Penang (notice my blog header?) or Penang Road. I fortunately arrived 15 minutes before the 8AM call time for the exam. I would not have forgiven myself if I came late for the test. FYI, I am rarely late on any schedule I commit unless there’s valid reason. Intentional tardiness doesn’t run in my blood.
 FOCUS ON THE TASK GETS THE JOB DONE RIGHT. At Level 3 of Cititel Hotel where ballrooms are located, I saw the volume of examinees across all ages and races waiting patiently for any instructions from the British Council invigilators. I instantly noticed a single laminated poster on the wall with directions and labeled illustrations of the Philips wireless headsets to be provided for the LISTENING TEST. I took mental note of its knobs, how to turn it on, how to adjust its volume.
I greeted with a smile one of my foreign colleagues who was also there for the test (No one from our office knew I was taking the exam few weeks after it was required to all teaching staff). I immediately texted Tina that I have arrived at the venue and kept no interactions with anyone after. Soon, I collected myself and concentrated on the exam ahead.
Few minutes after 8AM, the senior invigilators announced the start of registration. With other IELTS examinees, I queued after 2 bladder trips to the toilet. I needed to empty my bladder to avoid physiological distractions during the exam. I presented my passport as my ID, got a claim stub and a tag with my candidate number for my bag and long umbrella (part of the instructions was to bring drinking water on a clear and transparent bottle, I followed but chose to keep mine in my bag and did not drink until the first 3 areas were done), and subjected myself for body search before entering the test venue (hotel’s ballroom).
With only my passport at hand and claim stub for my things, I finally found myself seated at the last desk of the middle column of examinees with the designated desk and my candidate number. I immediately tried the wireless headset and tear the plastic pack of mechanical pencil and eraser provided for the test.
 PRAYERS CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS. Despite the shame that I did not prepare enough, I still silently uttered a short prayer and called for divine intervention. (I disregarded the thought that God the Father, Jesus and His Holy Spirit might be busy on more difficult problems of the world, hehe! Certainly, I know the Lord has time for everyone).
 FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS IS AS IMPORTANT AS BREATHING. The tables were turned. The moment came when the examiner became the examinee. As a very strict educator(thousands of my Filipino students can attest this!), I am definitely aware how crucial it is to follow instructions correctly. And so I became so keen in observing directions as the examination began with the Listening test that required, “Answers should be not more than 2 words, or answers should not be more than a word or a number…”
An excess word or unecessary answer to what is asked will lead you dead (read : wrong mistakes! haha!)
 ALWAYS ASK WHENEVER SKEPTICAL. Asking questions to the official invigilators by raising hand to catch their attention was allowed. I did that when I had no idea on how to fill out and shade my candidate number on the answer sheet. After I got a response, I was back on track. I tried to be in my best fighting form!
 BEING CONSCIOUS OF TIME GIVES YOU A GREAT EDGE. The four components of IELTS -Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking are all time-limited. Each test and subtest has specified duration that ranges from 20 minutes, 40 minutes to maximum of an hour. No extensions are given to whatsoever reason. Time is indeed golden!
 BE MINDFUL OF YOUR OBSTACLES. I thank the Lord that despite my rush decision of taking the exam without formal review, I managed to read some materials that somehow introduced me to the test itself. More so, Tina guided me with her reminders and important inputs about the exam (FYI, she took and passed IELTS twice; first in Auckland, New Zealand where she got overall band score 7.0 back in 2005 with no review too, then she had to retake as it expired 2 years after. Her overall band score was again 7.0).
Instructions are given verbally on microphone heard over our headsets and are also written on the front page of every questionnaire. It is important not to turn the page of the sheets unless told to do so.
The LISTENING TEST is composed of various recorded conversations played (without replays of course). The examinees answer the questions as the exam progresses. There are total of 40 questions to answer with specified number of words or letter of the answer as some questions provide multiple choices.
The READING TEST comes after Listening test. In my module, there are three 2-page-articles to read with series of questions. Answers are in the form of words, letters of the answers, or letter of the specific paragraph. Similar to Listening test, there are also 40 blanks on the answer sheet to fill out with correct answers under given time.
The WRITING TEST is the last part of the first session of IELTS exam. It has two parts and as explained verbally by the invigilator; its second part has more weight (40 minutes allotted) than the first part (20 minute for report or graph interpretation). I also noted the instructions given : “Use the third page for your essay and first and second page for your report.”
With much ease on the topic, I did the essay part first. The topic was like, “There should be more financial investment on teaching Science than in other subjects. Agree or Disagree?” And being an educator for 8 years now with Medicine degree and BS Biology in my bloodstream, this really seemed like within my comfort zone. Nonetheless, I certainly know the scoring for this part would be subjective. And absoultely, SCORING is SOMETHING NOT IN MY CONTROL.
The first part was a bar graph with topic on something like ”comparative study on factors that determine success in business from correspondents in USA and EUROPE.” Just when I was hoping to get a line graph, my exam had bar graph. The report-interpretation with 20 minute-allotment requires the examinees to have at least 150 word-composition and the second part’s word count should be not less than 250. Again, everything should be accomplished under specified time.
 KEEP IT ORIGINAL AS REPETITION IS LESS GOOD. In WRITING TEST, keep your brain cells nurtured with tons of SYNONYMS, ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS. Avoid using the same word more than once and utilize subject-verb agreement with utmost care. Thou shall not observe flight of ideas! Do not digress! Stay on the topic and make sure to provide an introduction, body and discussion and lastly, conclusion.
 FLUENCY DOESN’T GUARANTEE SUCCESS, SPONTANEITY DOES! I am astronomically far from being fluent in English as it’s only my second tongue, however, I had no choice but to conquer the last part of the IELTS -the SPEAKING EXAM. It dawned on me that one may be an expert at something but his expertise may be futile without being consistent and spontaneous.
I was neither fluent nor spontaneous and so I am not content with how I conducted myself during the SPEAKING test. I never felt so awkward with any questions before! I tried to be composed with proper hand gestures and facial expressions but everything did not fall into what I expected.
First few minutes of the test was a breeze. I was aksed to describe the CITY in my own country where I lived, then after several descriptive attempts on my end, the British-looking lady-assessor shifted the topic into BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS in childhood and adulthood in my country. We also talked about WEEKENDS (how do I spend my weekends, plan of activities for the next weekend, etc). Then out of nowhere, she asked me about ANIMALS. Describing domesticated animals versus the wild was easy. I even relayed the importance of having pets at home and compared it with the extinct animals in their natural habitat. I even spoke of PETA, the non-governmental organization that cares for all shapes and sizes of animals (Thank God, I wasn’t asked of the definition of that acronym, LOL!).
Everything went well until we came to the second half of the SPEAKING TEST. She handed me a manual where 3 questions were written (They were like, “Name an animal peculiar to your country. Describe it and its location where it thrives.” –something like that).
At that moment, I became uneasy. Probably, because I wanted the whole day to end in a blink. I initially thought of describing the Philippine monkey-eating eagle however, I believed I can say more about the carabaos or the water buffalos. hahaha! I needed to be like an authority to talk about that animal to salvage my score. And so I started with its physical characteristics. Imagine me saying, “Carabaos or water buffalos are huge herbivores, black with 2 horns and 4 legs and a tail, LOL! hahaha! While controlling myself to burst into laughter, I continued by saying, “Unlike in Penang where farming is mechanized, these animals in my country are used by farmers in plowing rice fields. Carabaos are commonly found in most rice-producing provinces in our country. ” I even mentioned the that “there’s a carabao festival in Bulacan (forgive me if it’s not in Bulacan!), a province located at the North of Manila, where these animals are featured kneeling in front of a Catholic Church just before they go on parade and participate in a race.”
Never it crossed my mind that I will be speaking about CARABAOS on my SPEAKING TEST! I cringed and wanted to shrink from my seat, nonetheless after about 20 minutes, I was relieved to complete the entire IELTS exam and it was indeed one for the books!
Here’s how they grade The IELTS 9-band scale
There is no pass or fail in IELTS. Candidates are graded on their performance, using scores from 1 to 9 for each part of the test – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The results from the four parts then produce an Overall Band Score.
This unique 9-band system measures scores in a consistent manner – wherever and whenever the test is taken. It is internationally recognised and understood, giving you a reliable international currency. IELTS scores have a recommended validity period of two years.
Each band corresponds to a level of English competence. All parts of the test and the Overall Band Score can be reported in whole and half bands, eg 6.5, 7.0, 7.5, 8.0.
Band 9: Expert user: has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
Band 8: Very good user: has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
Band 6: Competent user: has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
Band 5: Modest user: has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.
Band 4: Limited user: basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.
Band 3: Extremely limited user: conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.
Band 2: Intermittent user: no real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
Band 1: Non-user: essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
Band 0: Did not attempt the test: No assessable information provided.
Sourced from www.IELTS.org
Fast forward to THIRTEEN DAYS AFTER, the results were out.
MY PERSONAL POST-RESULT ASSESSMENT : I realized I didn’t compose an arguement on my essay part of the Writing test. The topic was simple and was indeed within my comfort zone however, I just thought that the score could have been higher had I used the phrases, “In contrast…..” “On the otherhand…” or perhaps, “The other side of the coin shows…” Nonetheless, I cannot be thankful enough.
Are erasures and cleanliness parts of the criteria in marking the Writing component of IELTS? Do you have any idea?
Maraming salamat sa kalabaw at naka- 8 po ako sa Speaking test, LOL!
I am now certified fluent in 3 languages, Tagalog, English (kunyari lang!), and Sarcasm! hehe!
Seriously, my family and I are always thankful for all blessings -big and small. Glory to God! Thank You, Oh LORD!