Studying for your IELTS with a learning need

Studying for your IELTS with a learning need

It's important to recognise that many students have learning needs. This is something I saw many times as my career as a teacher, and it is what gave so much to me in return and taught me so much.

It may be the case that many of you, who are studying for your IELTS, have a specific learning need. And this article is written to give you actionable steps to help you study in a way that supports your learning need.

This post will address how to stay focused with ADHD. Due to some of the characteristics of ADHD, this post may also be useful to you if are someone who struggles to focus and tends to procrastinate, or is perhaps the type to leave studying until the last minute.

Learning needs can include and represent:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dysorthographia
  • ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • AS (Asperger Syndrome).

If you have one of these or a combination of these conditions, the following arrangements would apply to you:

  • 25% extra time for Listening (Your test centre can request a modified CD from Cambridge Assessment English for the Listening test.  This will repeat the Listening texts twice and include additional pauses for you to write your answers.) 
  • Enlarged print question papers (Your test centre can request modified papers from Cambridge Assessment English with a layout and font style which may help test takers with dyslexia.)
  • 25% extra time for Reading and Writing
  • Supervised breaks (which may help test takers with ADHD or anxiety)
  • Separate invigilation
  • Use of a PC or a laptop for typing answers.

Make sure you contact your test centre as soon as possible, ideally before you even book your test, if you have learning needs that may require a modified IELTS test version. You want to make sure you are adequately supported according to your needs.

What is ADHD?

*This article is not attempting to give any expert, medical knowledge on ADHD, and should not be taken in this vain. I am bringing a learning need like ADHD into the framework to support all learners who come to the Writing Lab.

ADHD is characterised by hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and forgetfulness where symptoms vary from person to person. Many with ADHD struggle with time management, memory and retaining focus on one task. These factors mean that ADHD can impact someone's ability to study. And I want to help as many people as I can who are preparing for their IELTS.

How can students with ADHD thrive?

Some of these strategies could be helpful if you are someone with ADHD, or ADHD tendencies:

  1. Choose a distraction free zone to study in. This could be a separate living space if you are working from home. Such as the kitchen table, rather than your room which is associated with relaxation and entertainment.
  2. Busy places like cafes may be problematic because they tend to be busy and noisy, which could be distracting.
  3. Clear your desk and working area of clutter. Create an environment that is conducive to focus and work. Things that are counted as clutter can be temporarily put away whilst you get some focused work done.
  4. Put your phone somewhere out of sight and reach. You can check this after a chunk of work is done but place your phone in another room to create habits of focus.
  5. Moving around may be a positive stimulus of focus for you. Take regular breaks to walk around and let the learning seep in. You could take regular, brief walking breaks to help you with your focus.
  6. Music can be an effective focus tool. Some people prefer listening to music without lyrics, and others prefer music with lyrics. Or perhaps white noise or complete silence works best for you.
  7. Figure out whether you prefer to work independently, or with people. Try both scenarios to see what feels better. If you prefer working alone but would benefit from some engagement at the end of the day, try joining online study groups, or have a short call with your tutor to go over what you have learned, any questions that may have come up during your individual study time.

The Boxing Method

The Boxing Method is a note taking method carried out in a structured way that involves categorising and organising information into distinct boxes.

The boxes help to visually separate topics under different titles. Each box represents thoughts, concepts or ideas under a category.

The Boxing Method is good for:

  • visual learning
  • hierarchical information
  • categorised content
  • structured content

How can you apply this to your IELTS studies?

Let's say you are preparing for an essay in the Writing section. The concept or idea in the question isn't something you are too familiar with, or simply haven't given it much thought yet, or the topic is broad and you just aren't sure where to begin- the Boxing Method can be really useful to break this all down.

As well as being useful for the Writing section, the Boxing Method would also be useful for the Speaking and Listening test. The more you know, in this context, the more you can put down on paper (Writing) and the more you can add to a conversation (Speaking) and detect ideas being discussed (Listening).

Having said this, the IELTS exam is created to be 'user friendly', in that the topics are relatable and will not be abstract or unnecessarily challenging. The topics are chosen and questions curated, for you to access.

Let's try the Boxing Method with this essay question:

Society: Many people believe that the gap between rich and poor is widening. What problems can this create for society and what measures can be taken to tackle this issue?

You could get into more specifics with your boxes and categorise them further. This simple demonstration is just to show how you can create 'problem' and 'solution/action' boxes, with an IELTS essay question. Though the method itself lends itself to detail. Although you don't have the word count for a detailed essay, it is good practice to explore ideas and topics as part of your practice so that you are well-prepared.

If you did want to categorise your boxes further you could for example, have boxes such as :

  • outcomes of of wealth
  • outcomes of living in poor circumstances
  • what happens at governmental level
  • cultural comparisons
  • where the divide is commonly seen (i.e. access, schooling, healthcare), so this could be boxed into 'examples'

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Texhnique is where you break down takes into small, manageable chunks. The technique is a time management method based on 25-minute stretches of focused work broken by five minute breaks. Longer breaks, such as 15 to 30 minutes, are taken after four consecutive work intervals. You can manage how long these work intervals are, but the longer your Pomodoro, the longer your work interval should be.

Going for a short walk is a great way to spend your longer breaks. Try walking around the block once or twice or if you live near a park, do a lap of this. Another method you can try is called 'Shifting'. This can be a way of recharging or replenishing your focus if you have ADHD. When you can feel your attention begins to drift, try moving onto a different task, and go back to the one you temporarily left when your attention begins to feel unsettled again. You are essentially shifting between tasks as a way to continue sharpening your focus.

Others may view this as being scatty or not committing to a series of tasks, but this doesn't matter. It can be really effective to continuously get work done and retain focus. Those with ADHD tend to enjoy this practice as it keeps the sense of overwhelm at bay.

Key take-aways:

  • Do not convince yourself you have a poor work ethic because your brain functions in a different way
  • Try different methods and see what fits best
  • Continue to search for specific practices and techniques that work best for you- whether that be the Boxing Method, the Pomodoro Technique, or other techniques that really support your way of learning
  • The sheer drive of wanting to succeed in your IELTS test is a great motivator and there is no reason for you to not get the grade you are aiming for