How to choose an IELTS school

Since I am an IELTS trainer myself, I sometimes make internet searches related to IELTS. As a result, I end up being bombarded with advertisements of IELTS schools, which I sometimes click out of curiosity. There are so many schools offering test preparation that potential test takers may find themselves at a loss as to which school to choose. In this post, I want to talk about what to pay attention to when browsing IELTS schools’ websites.

My recommendations are based on the analysis of IELTS schools in St Petersburg, Russia. I am not going to reveal the names of the schools.

1. Look for teachers’ profiles 

Some websites have a lot of text about how good their school is, but no photos, names or bios of teachers. If I don’t see any profiles, I immediately get suspicious and can only come up with two explanations why: 1) The school doesn’t employ any teachers full-time and starts desperately looking for teachers as the clients come along; 2) The teachers the school employs have no bragging rights. The explanations aren’t soothing, are they?

To be fair, many schools do showcase teachers’ profiles. Literally all IELTS schools call their teachers 'IELTS experts.' To understand if they really are, try to find out the answers to these questions:
How much teaching and IELTS preparation experience does the teacher have? Have they taken IELTS themselves? Academic or General Training? How many times? When? What scores did they receive? Have they attended training courses on exam preparation?

In my opinion, no teaching experience, no qualifications and an IELTS score lower than 8.5 is a shaky ground.

2. Look at promises

Due to cut-throat competition, schools don’t even promise high scores, they guarantee* them. First, no one can guarantee you any score (not even the test center or you yourself). Second, you have to keep in mind that scores and English levels go hand in hand. Here is the truth. If your level of English is Intermediate (B1), it is impossible to get IELTS 7 after completing a two-month course even with the best school in the city. Impossible, seriously. And you will only get IELTS 8 if your level is already Advanced at the time of preparation. Improving your English level to IELTS 7 or 8 will take time and hard work. No school can work magic.

*When schools use the word 'guarantee,' I get confused. I can’t wrap my head around how exactly they do that. Scores are impossible to guarantee. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and recommend that you steer clear of schools that claim to guarantee scores.

3. Look through the content the school produces

Many schools have blogs or videos related to IELTS preparation. Do check them out. How much do they have to do with exam preparation? Are they meaningful? Are they helpful? Are they unique?

Some schools lure you in with headlines like, “How to crack IELTS.” But when you click them, you end up reading / watching about the structure of the test. You can find this material on the official website and in every IELTS book. Such material is not unique, nor does it live up to its headline. Some schools lure you with IELTS tips, but you end up reading / watching tips like, “Watch movies in English and pay attention to the language,” or “Improve your grammar” (well, duh!). While there is nothing wrong with the tips as such, they are not IELTS-specific. They are generally true for learning foreign languages.

Here are some examples of meaningful materials: assessment criteria analysis, tips on writing essay introductions or conclusions, reading strategies, explanation of the differences between formal and informal letters, explanation of the differences between essay types. Helpful materials have to be very specific, something you don’t already know, something that hasn’t been copied from the official website.

The content the school produces is an indicator of how knowledgeable and serious the school is.

4. Look out for free seminars

Many schools offer free seminars and hold open houses. Go. Meet the teachers, ask them the questions from #1, look at their soft skills, just see if you like the vibe you get.

5. Use common sense

Some schools try so hard to sound professional and outrun their competition that they write ridiculous things. I am not going to go in more detail publicly not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but message me if you want specific examples. So think twice, question what you read and use your good judgement.

To sum up, there are a lot of professional IELTS trainers and schools out there. And there are a lot of those which don’t really cut the mustard (and don't necessarily realize it). Take all those promises and self-praise with a grain of salt. Do your research and ask questions. Hopefully, with this post making your choice will be easier. 


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