Understanding your strengths and weaknesses

Pete Jones on We love IELTS shares his voice about the skills and sub-skills needed for IELTS

Which of these skills do you feel most confident with: listening, reading, writing or speaking? Which do you feel you most need to improve?

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is essential if you want to focus your IELTS preparation on the right areas and maximise your study time.

As a teacher, I’ve seen people avoid practising certain skills because they find them more difficult than others, and I’ve seen people lose motivation because they only focus on their weakest skills and lose confidence in their ability to improve.

So, to help you understand how best to use your IELTS preparation time, look at the skills below, identify which ones are your strengths and which are your weaknesses, and then read my advice at the end of this post about deciding which to focus on.

IELTS skills and sub-skills

As you probably know, IELTS assesses listening, reading, writing and speaking, but have you thought about the set of skills needed to do each of these well (i.e. sub-skills)?

For example, to do well in the IELTS Listening test, you need to be able to understand the main ideas and detailed information, recognise the opinions, attitudes and purpose of a speaker, and follow the development of an argument.

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So, now you know what sub-skills are needed for IELTS, it’s time to identify which you’re already good at and which you need to improve.

Identifying your strengths and weaknesses

If you read the skills and sub-skills above and don’t know which ones are your strengths and weaknesses, then you’re not alone. Most people find it easier to identify their weaknesses than their strengths and find it difficult to identify which sub-skills they are strong or weak at.

To help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, here are three methods you can try.

  1. Pay attention to your results and feedback. You may of course have taken an IELTS test before and can see in your results that some of your skills are stronger than others. You can also pay attention to results and feedback from other sources, e.g. what other people say about your writing or how much they understand when you speak.
  2. Think about how different parts of the IELTS test make you feel. If you feel interested when you listen to IELTS Listening recordings, for example, or fulfilled when you answer the questions, this is a sign that listening is one of your strengths or could become one in the future. If you feel worried or afraid when you think about the IELTS Writing test, it’s probably because your writing is an area of weakness.
  3. Try the practice questions on IELTSi. IELTS intelligence is an online tool that will quickly help you check your ability in the skills/sub-skills needed for IELTS. If you do the IELTS Reading questions, for example, you’ll get feedback on what sub-skills the questions test, why you got particular answers wrong, and how you can increase your chances of getting similar questions right next time.

Here’s an example of the feedback you can get from IELTSi, showing you the reading sub-skill that a question tested (i.e. finding details), the reason the answer was wrong, and how you can improve at this sub-skill.

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Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, you’re ready to choose which ones to focus on in your IELTS preparation.

Choosing the skills and sub-skills to focus on

If it’s only your IELTS Overall band score that’s important, then you have the option to focus more of your time on improving your strengths rather than your weaknesses, and there are very good reasons to do this.

Focusing on your strengths can make you feel happier, experience less stress, feel more confident and be more productive! 

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Use your strengths to support your weaknesses so that you stay motivated and give yourself the best chance of success.

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If, like most test takers, you need to reach a minimum score in each of the IELTS skills (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking), then of course you can’t ignore your weaknesses.

What you can do, however, is focus your time in one or both of the following ways so that you improve the skills you’re already good at, stay motivated, and make progress in your weakest areas.

  1. Use your strengths to support your weaknesses. For example, if you’re much stronger at listening than reading, you could use your listening skills to support your reading skills by listening to a news story or audiobook before reading it. If you’re more confident with your speaking than your writing, you could tell someone your ideas on an IELTS Writing Task 2 topic before planning and writing the essay.
  2. Help someone who needs help in your areas of strength and ask them for some help in your areas of weakness. When you have to teach someone else, you’ll put more effort into understanding the skill or sub-skill and find out what you still need to learn. You’ll also no longer need to struggle alone with the skills you find most difficult.

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