Free IELTS Practice Tests
Practice Testing and IELTS Preparation
Practice tests are absolutely crucial to effective IELTS preparation. Practice testing serves a number of pedagogical functions, including assessment of skill development, refinement of study plans, and assimilation of important testing skills. Students who undergo practice testing at regular intervals throughout the preparation period will gain a strong understanding of their content area weaknesses, which will help them create study strategies that address and improve their skills in those areas. Tutors or instructors can more easily target their teaching to student needs with the information that practice tests provide. Full-length practice testing also builds up the necessary endurance and time management abilities, and students will become intimately familiar with all sections of the IELTS. Although too much practice testing may be counterproductive, regular evaluation through practice tests is an essential component of IELTS study.
Official IELTS Practice Tests
IELTS practice tests are widely available, either for free or for nominal cost. Available materials can vary considerably in quality, and students must therefore exercise caution when it comes to their practice tests. "Official" practice tests are defined as assessments published by IELTS or any of its constituent organizations. Students should not accept any other definition of the term (some publishers are not above falsely claiming that their tests are official). The website of the British Council (takeielts.britishcouncil.org/prepare-test/free-practice-tests) offers a free practice test for the IELTS academic and general training assessments. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS for Academic and General Training, the official book on IELTS preparation, includes a total of eight practice tests with answer keys and transcripts of recording scripts. This title comes with a DVD-ROM that includes recordings of the scripts. Cambridge English also publishes volumes of additional practice tests, which are based on authentic past IELTS exams.
Unofficial IELTS Practice Tests
Any practice test not published by IELTS or affiliated entities is defined as "unofficial." Unofficial practice tests are necessary because many students require a larger number of practice assessments than IELTS publishes. Practice tests released by credible academic publishers are usually of value, and several private test prep firms have their own versions. The best approach to unofficial practice tests is to use them in conjunction with the official assessments, which will allow test-takers to compare the content and quality for maximum value to preparation. Test-takers should avoid practice tests published by organizations with no connection to the field of education.
Practice Testing and the Psychology of Learning
The notion that practice testing promotes retention of material and enhances testing skill is well established in educational psychology. Some educators refer to the use of practice testing as "retrieval practice" or "test-enhanced learning." Being able to recall large amounts of information on command is a vital ability for almost any field of study, and it is also difficult to imagine a career that does not have any such requirements. Reproducing material in a practice testing context also helps students learn to deal with the testing situation, which reduces stress when taking the actual exam. That students get better at a task after several repetitions is a commonsensical phenomenon that has been demonstrated by researchers over and over again.
Using Practice Tests Effectively
Practice testing is of marginal benefit without analysis. Test-takers must carefully review the results of their practice tests for areas of weakness and patterns of errors. It is common for students to have difficulty with some types of IELTS exercises while finding others less challenging, and it is important to devote ample study time to the former. In terms of frequency, it is ideal to take practice tests at regular times during preparation, perhaps every week or so. Too much practice testing may introduce anomalous results and paint a distorted picture of student skill level.