English language proficiency is a must for anyone who wishes to come to Canada. Be it a PR applicant or an international student, everyone must meet the minimum eligibility criteria laid down by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Both, my wife and I have taken the IELTS test and scored CLB 9 on multiple occasions. I scored CLB 9 in the first attempt in IELTS – General, whereas my wife scored CLB 9 twice in IELTS – General and has also taken IELTS – Academic. Before I talk about how we scored CLB 9 in IELTS, let me give you a brief understanding of our background.
I have studied in an English medium school since kindergarten and my wife studies in a Hindi-medium school all through. After graduation, we both worked in BPOs which helped us hone our English-speaking skills as we used to talk to the customers in the US and the UK. This gave us a strong foundation, however, scoring well in IELTS is not just about that. Clearing IELTS with a good score is more about strategy than understanding English. While it is difficult to overcome the grammatical errors and the basic sentence formation, I believe with some practice even Speaking and Writing scores can be improved significantly, where people struggle the most.
Why CLB 9 is important for Express Entry?
Canadian Language Benchmarks, commonly called CLB is a standard scale used to measure the English language ability of a person with English as a Second Language (ESL). It has 12 reference points or benchmarks. If you have calculated your Comprehensive Ranking System score (CRS) for Express Entry, you would notice, how the score increases sharply if you have CLB 9. CLB 9 is achieved with IELTS – General score 8 in Listening and 7 in the other modules i.e., Speaking, Reading, and Writing.
You are also required to have a minimum of CLB 7 (minimum 6 bands in each module of IELTS – General) to be eligible for an Express Entry profile. You can increase your score by a minimum of 50 points under the “skill transferability factor” with is a combination of Language Proficiency and Foreign Work Experience in the CRS calculator. Any score above that will increase your CRS score only by a marginal value, but CLB 9 is the magic number.
How many times did we attempt IELTS?
In 2017, we created our Express Entry profile for the first time with my wife as the primary applicant, however, our CRS score was around 380 because the first time she did not get CLB 9. Although I scored CLB 9 on my first attempt, my wife missed the magic number by a few points in speaking and reading. It was evident that we had a long road ahead and started preparing for IELTS.
When I attempted IELTS, I was working full-time and had a very busy schedule so dedicating time for studies was not possible. However, I spent a lot of time going through a lot of videos on YouTube learning the tips and tricks of cracking IELTS. I started with the fundamentals by listening to Liz’s videos and a few other experts. What I noticed was that apart from the fundamentals of English, which of course need to be in place, there were specific tricks to crack each module. I followed those and scored CLB 9 in the first attempt with a week of studies. I wrote 8-10, letters and 5-6 Essays during the week and read a lot of material for reading and speaking, especially “Makkar IELTS”. I also completed all the test samples provided in the IELTS exam Booklet.
As my wife could not score CLB 9 on the first attempt, we decided to try again with better preparation. Here is how we prepared:
- Practice – English is not our first language, hence even if we have studied in English, many find it difficult because we do not speak English in our day-to-day conversation. This was true in our case too, hence we decided to overcome the first challenge by ensuring that we spoke in English when at home. It was not that easy, because at first, it sounded awkward, but we had to do it. My office was 1.5 hr. drive, so I ensured that while I was driving to and from the office, I called my wife and spoke with her in English. That is when I realized the most what it takes to correct your wife, ha…
- Read – as much as you can. Yes, most of us lack the content and when you don’t have content you fumble and when you fumble, you lose confidence and that shows in your voice. We got Makkar IELTS study material from one of the sources and found it useful. Read as many essays and topics for speaking from as many places as possible.
- Connect – the topic with your life experiences. You can speak the most if you talk about yourself or something you have experienced.
- Speak slow – Remember, this is not your knowledge test, or accuracy of the content test or how fast you speak. The examiner will only test you on how well you are able to form the sentences, grammatical errors, and how well you can converse. The best way to circumvent this is to speak slowly. Speaking slowly means reducing the number of words per minute. Indians speak very fast as compared to western countries. Ideally, the rate of speech should be around 140 words per minute (wpm) but most of the time we speak way over it. We tried to mirror our rate of speech with Liz.
- We used the strategy of “beating around the bush” to successfully score in this test. What it means is to start with the Connect, Wonder-off by talking about the topic and relating it to your life, talking about an incident that might have happened with you, or your family/friends, bringing in a new story related to the topic and connecting back. For example, I was given the topic “what is your favourite jewellery”. Girls can go on and on with this topic, but I had nothing much as I did not like jewellery. I started with the jewellery I wore like rings and neck chains and then connected it with when and how I got it, it was gifted in my marriage, so connected a few sentences how I got married, then shifted my focus to my wife and explained how much she likes jewellery. Further spoke about different jewellery she bought from different places. Connected a few places we visited after our marriage and jewellery she bought from those places and eventually circling back to the initial point that I don’t like the jewellery at all. As you can see the strategy is to keep going circles around the topic given to you.
- Most examiners are welcoming and very friendly, ensure your smile shows confidence and speak with them as if you are having a conversation with your friend. Use simple language if you are not comfortable speaking complicated vocabulary.
- Read, Read, Read! What worked for us was reading through the content available in the IELTS preparation booklets, and sample papers from Makkar IELTS. We did not take any coaching but got the content from various sources, some online through friends and some through WhatsApp groups. Reading gives you content and sentence framing
- Format – This is the trick we used and scored well. The essay should have 5-6 paragraphs, first paragraph should be a paraphrase of the question, which means re-writing the question in your own words. Second, depending on the topic, the next 2-3 paragraphs write about your opinion, on the topic and give one example for each. This makes 2-3 points of what you think and the related example from your day-to-day life. You can also make up these examples; remember the examiner
- Stop before writing – It is extremely important to list down what you would write. List down the points you want to cover in each paragraph for both essay and letter. This strategy will completely change the way you finish. Devote initial 5 minutes to gather your thoughts and create the framework.
- Simple language – Although, there are bonus points if you use good vocabulary in your essay and letter if you don’t have impressive words just remember a few which you can use in some sentences naturally. While practicing, we wrote synonyms of some most used words and memorized those for the test day. This helps a lot in making complex words.
- Revise – We always ensured revising both the essay and the letter once we complete it. If you are unable to complete task 1 and task2 (essay and letter) in time or 2-3 mins. Before time, you must practice preparing the framework before you start writing. When you revise, you will realize that you have made some typos and silly mistakes that completely change the meaning of the sentence. Correct those errors.
- Listen to find answers – The more you practice, you will realize that there are hints in the conversations which guide you to the answers. The test is designed in a way that if you pay attention, you will likely get band 6-7 all the time, however, that is not enough. You need band 8 to achieve CLB 9. Practice as many practice tests as possible. A lot of free practice content is available online from various coaching institutes. Utilize the content to practice
- Read the instructions – The instructions will be given in each section. It is critical not only to read the directions attentively but also to follow them. If it reads ‘no more than three words or numbers,’ going over the word limit will not fetch you the score. Be very careful with the instructions.
- Concentrate on the transition words – It is very important to stay focused for the duration of the test, I know it is tiring but staying focused for 30 mins will help you focus on the transition words. In case you missed a question, don’t get stuck, just move on so you don’t miss the next answer. The transition words like because therefore or a sentence completion pause will help you get the cue for transition.
- Attempt all questions – There is no negative marking so don’t leave any question
- Don’t change your answers – Once you move ahead from the question and you have already answered it, don’t lament, and change the answer because there is no way you will get that answer correct the next time as you are not listening to the answer the second time. So let it be.
- Check for spelling mistakes – Once you are done with the test, go through it for any typos and spelling mistakes. You may not have missed any questions, but it is possible that you made a spelling mistake. Revising your work can help correct some silly mistakes.
- Read for the answers – What worked really well for us is to read the passages for the answers and not to understand the entire story. Almost every time, you will find a cue in the answer which can be co-related with the passage to find the answer. Look for those cues and answer
- Follow the sequence – IELTS questions are a bit tricky but are listed down sequentially. This means that if you have two paragraphs in a question and there are two questions, it is likely that you will have one question from each paragraph. These questions are not designed to judge your analytical skills, rather positioned to measure your comprehension skills
- Circle back to the answer when in doubt – Mark or circle the questions or words if in doubt and re-attempt the question once you have done others. This helps save time and many times, you will find the answers to those questions while answering other questions.
- Practice – There is nothing better than practicing. If you complete the sample test papers, you should be good.
The above approach helps my wife score well in the second attempt, however, she missed by 0.5 in speaking. It is important to score a minimum of 8 in Listening and 7 in other modules, but she scored 6.5 in speaking.
We had two options, first to re-attempt the test and second to opt for a re-evaluation of the test score. After a lot of deliberation and reading through many used cases in various forums, we found that there is a possibility of increasing the score if we go for re-evaluations
For those who do not know about re-evaluation, it is when you request for the results to be scrutinized once again if you are confident that the score should be higher than you got. In case, the score changes, the re-evaluation fees which then were approx. INR 7500 (now INR 8,450) is fully refunded. We took a chance and luckily, got our score changes in speaking from 6.5 to 7 band which eventually resulted in a CLB 9 for us.
Hence, in case you are in a similar situation where you missed by a whisker that is scored 6/6.5 in Speaking or writing you may want to pally for a re-evaluation. This is because Reading and Listening are very objective and computer-marked tests, the possibility of getting the score changed in these modules is next to impossible. whereas, speaking and writing are subjective and may incorporate errors of judgement. Therefore, if there is a slight miss, there are chances that your score will get bumped up by 0.5 bands by no guarantees.
Express Entry was a no go for us as our score, despite having CLB 9 was not enough to get us the ITA (Invitation to Apply for PR), so we explored the route of coming to Canada through Studies. My wife got admission to a University in Canada for which she had to take IELTS Academics, but there was o pressure of scoring CLB 9 for Academics and with past preparation, she easily scored CBL 8 which was good enough for admission and Visa requirement in Canada.
IELTS scores are valid for only two years, hence in order to be prepared for PR application, and as a principal applicant, my wife re-took the test in 2021 after completing her masters and scored CBL 9 once again using the strategy mentioned above.