5 Tips to Ace IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)


Image courtesy of davide vizzini via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of two tips to score well in the IELTS letter writing task: following letter-writing rules and adding finer details.  Here are three more:

 

  1. Fully develop bullet points

The letter-writing task in IELTS requires test takers to include specific information, which is generally presented in the form of three bullet points. Here’s a sample task:

 

 

A friend has agreed to look after your house and pet while you are on holiday.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

 

·         give contact details for when you are away

·         give instructions about how to care for your pet

·         describe other household duties

 

 

 

Remember, each bullet point has to be fully developed, so a passing reference wouldn’t be enough. For example, to fully extend the first bullet point, you could provide alternative ways of contacting you.

 

Example text

I’ll be staying at The Grand Hotel in Krakow, so you can always call me there, or leave a message if I’m out. If it’s something urgent though, I’d like you to ring my colleague Jake’s mobile, as I don’t have international roaming. I’ve jotted down the numbers on a sheet of paper and stuck it on the kitchen door so that you don’t lose them – we both know your memory isn’t great!  

 

  1. Keep the writing style consistent

The writing style you employ mainly depends on two factors: how well you are supposed to know the person you are writing to and why you are writing. It’s important that the style you use is consistent across the letter. In the above example, a reference to your friend’s poor memory lends the letter an informal feel. Further, the use of the exclamation mark at the end, and informal words such as jot down, help maintain the friendly tone.

 

  1. Produce a full, connected text

Your letter should be a full, connected text, which means use of bullet points or note form will attract an immediate penalty. While most candidates are aware of the importance of linking sentences within a paragraph, few think of establishing a connection between paragraphs. See if you can achieve this.

Most importantly, no matter how well-written your letter is, all that hard work will go down the drain if you don’t meet the word limit, so be sure to write more than 150 words.

 

So, follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to doing well in the IELTS letter-writing task.

 

GLOSSARY

 

passing reference (to something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : brief mention (of something)
Example : The boss made a passing reference to lack of punctuality among staff.

 

employ
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something
Example : The police had to employ force to stop protesters from entering the mayor’s office.

 

lend
Form : verb
Meaning : to give a particular quality to something
Example : The minister’s presence will certainly lend the campaign some importance.

 

go down the drain
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be wasted
Example : If it rains, the sand castles will collapse, and all our hard work will go down the drain.

 

5 Tips to Ace the IELTS Letter Writing (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the IELTS General Training format, test takers are given a situation and asked to respond to it by writing a letter, which may be informal, semi-formal, or formal.

 

Situations deal with everyday topics, such as writing to a friend about recent changes in your life, writing to a neighbour inviting them to an event, or writing to the council about some problem that people in your locality are facing.

 

Letter writing might look simple, but if IELTS test takers disregard certain aspects of the task, they could end up scoring a lower band than what they are capable of.

 

So, here are 5 tips to help you ace the letter writing task in IELTS…

 

  1. Follow general letter-writing rules

This task assesses the test taker’s ability to follow English letter-writing conventions, so it’s important that you provide enough evidence of it: start and end the letter appropriately, organise information logically, and use an appropriate style of writing.

 

For example, if the salutation at the beginning is Dear Sir or Madam, you should end the letter with something suitable, such as Yours faithfully. Similarly, a letter should have an opening sentence that is appropriate and sets the scene for what is to follow. Here are a couple of examples:

 

Formal Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with a meal I had at your restaurant last Friday.

Informal Dear Jane,

Thanks once again for agreeing to look after Bruno over the weekend – you’re a star!  

 

 

 

  1. Make your letter look authentic

You may be attempting this task as part of an exam, but the reader should still find your letter authentic. So, how do you do it? Simple! Keep adding finer details that make your letter believable. For instance, if you are asked to write to a friend inviting them to an event, make sure you add enough details about the location.

Bad example

The party is at a popular club in Central London.

 

Good example

The party is at the Grooves club in Leicester Square, London. It’s directly opposite the National Art Gallery, so you won’t miss it.

 

Remember, the more authentic your letter looks, the better your chances of getting a high score.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

disregard
Form : verb
Meaning : to not consider something as important or ignore
Example : Mary burnt after disregarding her mother’s advice to wear sunblock.

 

Ace (slang)
Form : verb
Meaning : to succeed/perform in a competitive situation
Example : Clive studied hard so I’m sure he’ll ace the exam.

 

convention
Form : noun
Meaning : A well-established rule
Example : Her novel doesn’t follow the narrative conventions of modern fiction.

 

 

 

set the scene (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to give someone enough information so that they understand what comes next
Example : He set the scene by telling us a bit about life in 19th-century New York.

 

authentic
Form : adjective
Meaning : The original / genuine
Example : Criminals try to make fake banknotes look as authentic as possible.

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 3)

Image courtesy of QuInn Domborwski (CC Flickr)

 

In the previous part, we covered some uses of the exclamation mark, question mark, and hyphen. Moving on, let’s take a closer look at three more punctuation marks, beginning with the dash.

 

  1. Dash

The dash and hyphen are often confused by many language learners, as they are similar in appearance. The difference, of course, is that the dash is wider than the hyphen. However, their usage is entirely different.

 

While a hyphen holds different parts of a word (or different words) together, a dash is used to separate non-essential information in a sentence. It can also be used in a sentence instead of a comma, semicolon, or colon.

 

Used Example
to separate information that is not essential to understand the sentence Getting the train ‒ though it’s often crowded ‒ is the fastest way to the city centre.
in place of a comma, semicolon, or colon, to show breaks in a sentence He lives in a cottage ‒ which was built in the 1950s ‒ beside the lake.

 

  1. Apostrophe

There are two main uses of the apostrophe: to show possession (i.e. something belongs to somebody) and to show omission (i.e. not including something).

 

Used Example
to show how a person or thing is related to, or belongs to, someone or something Ben’s car (= a car owned by Ben)
to indicate that letters or numbers have been left out she’ll (short for  she will) | We got married in ’83 (short for 1983).
with the plurals of letters and digits He hit four 6’s in an over. | There are two m’s in this word.

 

Using an apostrophe to form the plural form of decades or abbreviations is considered incorrect these days. For example:

 

1930s ✔ (1930’s)

several MPs ✔ (several MP’s)

 

  1. Quotation mark

Known as inverted commas in British English, quotation marks can be single (‘s’) or double (“d”). They are commonly used at the beginning and end of direct speech – i.e. words someone said that are written down exactly as they were spoken.

 

Used Example
to mark the beginning and end of direct speech The air hostess asked, “What would you like to have?”
to separate a word or phrase that is being discussed His new book is called ‘The Rising Sons’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Top Tips to Survive Exam Stress

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‘the strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown’

Have you ever been so stressed about an exam, that it stopped you from giving your best?

It’s a common trap and one that is easily fallen into. Often, the more you want something, the more weight you put on your own shoulders to accomplish it. You then risk burning out: losing sleep, skipping meals, and running yourself into the ground. And whilst a little bit of stress is good to keep you focussed and alert, what steps can you take to keep it under control? Here are three…

 

  1. Sleep well.

“Sleep is not a luxury,” says Dr. James O’Brien, medical director of the Boston SleepCare Center in Massachusetts, USA. “It’s a necessity for optimal functioning.”

It’s maybe tempting to burn the candle at both ends to fit in extra studying, but that could be eating into your chances of performing well.

Sleeping allows the brain to recharge and reset for the day ahead. Without it, your memory, mood and ability to concentrate will be severely hampered. So get plenty of rest.

Tip: 7-9 hours a night is just right.

 

  1. Keep it real.

For some exams, there is a real need to revise certain facts, dates, equations etc, so you need to learn these by heart. For IELTS, your knowledge is not being tested, only your ability to speak, write, listen and read in English. It’s a test of your English for the real world.

So, your study should be about widening that ability as best as possible. Yes, it’s important to know how to form past and future tenses etc., but this is best learnt through using real language. Knowing that you’ve studied in an effective way will give you more confidence and reduce your stress.

Tip: Read the newspaper every day and practice writing summarising the articles you read or start a conversation with a friend on that topic.

 

  1. Practice, practice, practice

The gothic horror novelist H.P Lovecraft wrote that ‘the strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown’ – and he should know!

This definitely comes into play when we’re faced with a test or exam. ‘Not knowing’ what the test will be like or how the exam is structured can leave us stressed out.

So, the simplest way to overcome this is to get hold of practice test papers and familiarise yourself with the test itself.

If you’re thinking about taking the IELTS test you can find lots of free resources and practice papers here.

 

Tip: Try recreating test conditions by timing yourself as you sit a practice test.

 

GLOSSARY

 

Running oneself into the ground
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make yourself very tired by working too much

 

optimal
Form : adjective
Meaning : Best or most favourable

 

burn the candle at both ends
Form : phrase
Meaning : The go to bed late and get up early.

 

Eating into something
Form : phrase
Meaning : To use or take away a large part of something valuable (eg, money or time).
Example : The high cost of living in London is eating into my savings

 

 

hamper
Form : verb
Meaning : to stop something happening easily
Example : Ankle injuries severely hampered Usain’s sprinting career.

 

 

 

Come into play
Form : phrase
Meaning : Becoming active or effective
Example : Conditions for workers will change once the new labour law comes into play

 

 

 

Clever Reading Skills to Improve your English (Part 2)

books stack

 

If you are poor at reading, then perhaps it’s because you use only one style ‒ intensive reading.

 

In part 1, we looked at how skimming can help you understand the gist, i.e. the general meaning, of a text. Here are two more sub-skills that are widely used in reading.

 

Scanning

This method is useful in identifying factual information in no time, e.g. names, dates, numbers, address, etc. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down a page in order to find a specific fact or piece of information without reading the entire text. While scanning, the reader:

  • understands the way the text is structured before beginning to ‘read.’ For instance, is information arranged from A to Z (e.g. a dictionary, where items appear in alphabetical order) or by category (e.g. a catalogue)?
  • sometimes uses their finger or hand to focus on what they are reading.
  • does not make an attempt to understand the whole text; instead they read relevant parts around keyword

 

Many of us use this skill in our daily lives without realising it. For example, when we look for someone’s number in a telephone book, or football scores in the newspaper, we are, in fact, scanning.

 

 

Intensive reading

As the name suggests, this sub-skill is used to get a thorough understanding of a text by reading it closely and carefully. Here, the reader:

  • focuses more on the language (grammar and unfamiliar vocabulary) than the text.
  • sometimes deals with grammar and vocabulary that is beyond their existing language ability.
  • reads the same piece of text again and again to ensure that they have understood words correctly.

 

If you are poor at reading, then it is perhaps because you use only one style ‒ intensive reading. Obviously, this will slow you down, apart from making you too dependent on every single word you read to increase your understanding. Instead, train yourself to use sub-skills effectively so that you are able to read fast and understand better.

 

Remember, a good reader always uses different styles to read effectively!

 

GLOSSARY

 

factual
Form : adjective
Meaning : relating to facts
Example : The newspaper article about the incident had a lot of factual errors.

 

in no time
Form : phrase
Meaning : very quickly
Example : Since there was no traffic, so we reached the restaurant in no time at all.

 

catalogue
Form : noun
Meaning : a list of items, usually with details, that people can look at or buy
Example : The library catalogue lists many rare books amongst its collection.

 

keyword
Form : noun
Meaning : an important word
Example : When giving a speech, Bob keeps a list of keywords to remind him of what to talk about.

 

 

thorough
Form : adjective
Meaning : defines something done completely, with great attention given to every detail
Example : Detective Stinson has a thorough understanding of how crimes are committed.

 

 

Clever Reading Skills to Improve your English (Part 1)

newspaper stack

Nowadays information can be taken in through an ever-increasing variety of media: newspapers, magazines, hoardings, flyers, blogs, phone messages, web chat, online posts, dictionaries, brochures, and so on. And the end result? Most of us are forced to deal with an endless stream of content in our daily lives, in both electronic and print form. However, the way we read these texts differs.

 

For starters, why we read is not always the same. Sometimes we read to gain information, at other times we do so for sheer pleasure. Understandably, WHY we read something influences HOW we read it. Another factor worth considering is writing style: the tone of a novel is quite different to that of a research paper, which means we change our reading style depending on what we are reading.

 

In an exam situation – for example, the IELTS Reading test – it is important that candidates use various sub-skills to read different texts efficiently.

 

Skimming

When we skim, we read a text very quickly to form an overall idea of the content. In other words, we move our eyes rapidly over the text to get an overview of it. While skimming, the reader:

  • reads just content words ‒ nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs, which generally give us the most important information in a passage.
  • takes a quick look at the heading and subheadings to understand how they are connected.
  • does not stop to ponder over the meaning of individual words or phrases.

 

So how easy or difficult is this technique? It may not seem all that simple at the beginning, but learners get better at using this skill with practice. Of course, once you master skimming, you may be able to go through about 700 to 1000 words per minute and obtain an overview of it all.

 

And that’s exactly the kind of ability that will help you perform better in a reading test.

Look out for Part 2 for more tips and skills to help improve your reading.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

for starters
Form : phrase
Meaning : to highlight the first in a list of reasons
Example : We are facing many problems – for starters, we don’t have enough staff.

 

sheer
Form : adjective
Meaning : complete or total
Example : Watching their daughter take her first few steps was sheer joy for Mathew and Lisa.

 

rapidly
Form : adverb
Meaning : very quickly
Example : Crime figures in some parts of the world are increasing rapidly.

 

overview
Form : noun
Meaning : an outline of something
Example : Our research provides an overview of the challenges faced by today’s youth.

 

 

ponder (over something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to carefully think about something
Example : Minnie spent hours pondering over her father’s comments about her career.

 

master
Form : verb
Meaning : to learn how to do something extremely well
Example : He still hasn’t mastered the skill of passing the ball to his teammates accurately.

 

 

 

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 1)

group reading

The IELTS Reading test, in both Academic and General Training, has 40 questions. A wide range of reading skills are tested using a variety of question types, some of which are much more challenging than others.

 

In this part, we’ll take a closer look at a particular question type that most candidates feel is the hardest – identifying information (True/False/Not Given).

 

Here’s a simplified version of this question type to help us understand how best to deal with it.

 

Reading text

Mr Farrell, a revered professor at the university, walked into the room in a huff that day. Dressed in a pair of dark trousers, light-coloured shirt and red tie, his dapper appearance seemed to be in stark contrast with the foul mood he was in.   

 

Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading text?

Write:

 

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information given in the text
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information given in the text
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

 

  1. The Professor was wearing a black shirt.
  2. The Professor was wearing a blue shirt.
  3. The Professor was wearing a pastel shirt.

 

So what do you think are the answers?

 

Tips to answer

 

Choose TRUE when you find information in the text that agrees with the statement in the question.
Example: 3. The Professor was wearing a pastel shirt.
Explanation: Since pastel shades are pale or light-coloured, it’s safe to conclude that the statement agrees with the text.

 

 

Choose FALSE when you find information in the text that contradicts the statement in the question.
Example: 1. The Professor was wearing a black shirt.
Explanation: Black isn’t a light colour so this statement contradicts the information in the reading text.

 

Choose NOT GIVEN when you don’t have sufficient information to choose either TRUE or FALSE.
Example: 2. The Professor was wearing a blue shirt.
Explanation: The colour blue is available in different hues, both light and dark. There simply isn’t sufficient information in the statement to choose either True or False so the answer is Not Given.

 

 

Remember, statements that are TRUE are the easiest to find; perhaps start with them and then move on to the others.

Discover further reading preparation and tips for the IELTS test here.

 

Happy reading!

 

Thinking of Studying in Australia? IELTS is Your Key

 

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Why Australia?

Australia has a number of well-respected degree programmes that international students are flocking to in ever greater numbers.

 

Its higher education system is now the third most popular for international students in the English-speaking world, behind only the USA and UK, and is set to become more popular still.

 

It’s unsurprisingly a popular destination for higher learning, as it has built a reputation for academic excellence and career opportunities. It has seven of the world’s top 100 universities and because it is so remote, it often needs skilled professionals to meet shortages in labour.

 

International students are allowed to work 40 hours each fortnight whilst studying, so many take advantage of that opportunity to get some international workplace experience under their belts, particularly as international employers are increasingly looking for graduates who are comfortable working across borders and cultures.

 

Advance Australia Fair!

Australia is a young country (in relative terms) and full of a mix of peoples from every corner of the globe. In that way, Australia is a great environment for students to learn and develop in an international setting.

 

That internationalism is evident in her major cities too. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide are excellent places to study and bases from which students can explore this vast and varied continent. From the Barrier Reef to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Australia is home to some of nature’s most awesome sights and unique animals, so don’t miss the chance to get out and see them!

 

Why IELTS?

IELTS has long been the world’s gold-standard for proving English language ability for international study and work. And Australia is no different.

IELTS test scores are accepted by top universities for studying in Australia, and over 9,000 institutions worldwide.

An IELTS test score can be the key to securing your place at an Australian institution and start you on the road to an international education.

To check what IELTS score you’re chosen Australian universities ask for search here.

Five Cardinal Sins to Avoid in the IELTS Writing Test

 Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

In the IELTS Academic Writing test, candidates attempt two tasks of 150 words and 250 words. The first is an information-transfer task, asking you to describe information given in a graph, table, chart or diagram. Simple, right? Why then do so many candidates make a real hash of it?

It’s quite possible that they are guilty of one (or more) of these five cardinal sins…

 

  1. Not meeting the word limit

Even a cursory glance at the writing booklet will tell you that your response to Task 1 should have at least 150 words. Fail to meet this word limit and you’re hurting your score. Scripts that are under the minimum word length attract a penalty, which could be severe if the response is very short.

TIP: Learn to identify how long 150 words looks in your handwriting beforehand!

 

  1. Not using figures to support descriptions

Are your descriptions of the pictorial data just a series of words that describe trends?

Does it, for instance, say: “Even though the price of crude oil hit a trough, it soon surged to its earlier level, remained stable for a short period, before peaking towards the end of the year?”

Without any figures to substantiate these descriptions, it’s difficult for the reader to fully comprehend how exactly crude oil prices fluctuated over an entire year.

TIP: Add figures where necessary to provide a clear context to the reader!

 

  1. Answering the wrong question!

Example: “As per the data provided on the question paper, it’s evident that crude oil prices saw a great deal of fluctuation in just 12 months. Could it be the Gulf war? Perhaps it’s the result of a change in foreign policy?”

Why prices varied is well and truly beyond what’s provided as task input, so do not attempt to speculate. If you do that, you end up wasting time, adding totally irrelevant information to your response.

TIP: The test shouldn’t be used as a platform to showcase your general knowledge. Your job is to summarise the information provided by selecting the main features; so focus on that!

 

  1. Not producing full, connected text

IELTS Writing tasks require candidates to produce answers as full, connected text. Obviously, this means that use of bullet points and note form are inappropriate; scripts that use of them are penalised.

TIP: While writing, just stick to creating paragraphs. Disregard this simple rule and you may have to pay the penalty!

 

  1. Not drawing a conclusion

A report is a document written after careful consideration of various aspects of a situation; it needs a logical conclusion. If your response doesn’t refer to the bigger picture ‒ a statement that summaries the pictorial data provided ‒ it would be incomplete to say the least.

TIP: Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

 

Remember these handy tips when you begin preparing for the writing test; they’ll save you from underperforming when you eventually take IELTS.

Best of luck!

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