Exam preparation

Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

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In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

Improve Your Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Matthias Uhlig via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Let’s face it, among all the language skills, reading is perhaps what most people least enjoy, especially if it happens to be an academic text. The reason for this can vary – a wandering mind, narrow vocabulary, or just impatience.

 

However, there are situations where this skill is a must; an exam perhaps being the best example. Almost all popular language tests have a reading component. IELTS, for instance, has a reading module designed to test a wide range of reading skills.

 

So, how do you improve your comprehension if you are not the reading kind? Here are some ways:

 

  1. Use speed reading

Speed reading is the technique of reading a text quickly with the aim of understanding its overall idea. In a reading comprehension test, this skill is priceless, as test takers find themselves in a race against the clock to answer all the questions. When dealing with long passages, the reader often focuses on content words – i.e. words that carry the message, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This way, they save time, allowing them to better focus understanding and answering those questions.

 

  1. Learn to deduce meaning

One thing that slows readers down is unfamiliar vocabulary. Each time they come across a word they don’t recognise, it hinders their reading speed, thereby affecting comprehension too. One way to overcome this problem is to develop the ability to deduce meaning. In other words, form an ability to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know by looking at words surrounding it. Let’s put this technique to test with the help of an example:

 

We drove past hyacinth fields in full bloom, the air filled with their sweet, lingering fragrance.

 

If you don’t recognise the word ‘hyacinth’, focus on words surrounding it – fields, in full bloom, sweet, lingering, and fragrance. From the context, it is clear that hyacinth is something that grows in fields, develops over time, and has a pleasant smell that is long-lasting. If your guess at this point is that it’s a flower, then you are dead right!

 

So, the next time you come across an unfamiliar word, try to deduce its meaning; then look it up in a dictionary to confirm you guessed right.

 

GLOSSARY

 

let’s face it
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to indicate what you are about to say is unpleasant but true
Example : Let’s face it, we both know you shouldn’t be marrying a guy like Jake.

 

wandering
Form : adjective
Meaning : moving aimless from one place to another
Example : Sally fares poorly in studies because of her wandering mind.

 

comprehension
Form : noun
Meaning : an individual’s ability to understand things
Example : Miguel had no comprehension of how difficult it was to raise a child.

 

a race against the clock
Form : phrase
Meaning : a situation when someone has to do something quickly, as they only have a limited amount of time
Example : Rescuing people during floods is always a race against the clock.

 

hinder
Form : verb
Meaning : to make it difficult for someone or something to make progress
Example : A leg injury hindered Roger from playing his best tennis.

 

How To Use Time Conjunctions Correctly

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Imagine you are asked to deliver an impromptu speech on some topic. Chances are that you would just focus on producing sentence after sentence, paying little attention to the order in which they appear.

 

However, when speaking at length, it’s important that what we say is coherent, i.e. our thoughts appear in a logical sequence. Using conjunctions of time is one way of achieving this.

 

Wondering what conjunctions of time are?  They are tiny words (such as before, after, once, while, etc.) which connect an action to a point in time. Put simply, they indicate when something happens.

 

In part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test, candidates need to speak continuously on a topic for two minutes. Here’s how time conjunctions can help structure your answer better:

 

Topic

 

IELTS Speaking: Part 2

 

Describe a holiday you went on recently.

 

 

Sample Answer

I love exploring new places, so holidays are something I always look forward to. The last holiday I went on was to a place called Kumarakom, which is in Southern India.

 

I first heard about Kumarakom when a friend spoke of her trip to India. Her vivid descriptions of the place and its people intrigued me so much that I knew I had to visit it. In fact, while she was busy recollecting her holiday experiences, I’d already started comparing tour packages on my phone. The following week, I found a great deal on a travel website. Before booking the holiday, I checked with my sister if she wanted to come. She jumped at the chance, and thus began our exciting journey.

 

Once we reached Kumarakom, I couldn’t contain my excitement. To be honest, since a visit to Egypt in my teens, never had I been to such an exotic location. As soon as we checked into the resort we were staying at, my sister and I decided to go for a swim. We enjoyed ourselves so thoroughly that we remained in the pool until sunset. After a sumptuous dinner that night, we decided to ….

 

Remember, time conjunctions also help create complex grammar structures, which is a major plus in a test situation.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

impromptu
Form : adjective
Meaning : not planned in advance
Example : He gave an impromptu performance at the wedding.

 

chances are that
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that something is likely to happen
Example : Chances are that Lilly will be moving abroad soon to join her parents.

 

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long time and in great detail
Example : Mike and I spoke about his career choices at length.

 

plus
Form : noun
Meaning : advantage
Example : Knowledge of current fashion trends would be a major plus in this job.

 

The Key to Study Success? Don’t Set Goals, Create Habits

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We’re always told that it’s good to dream big. That we should have our goals planned out: write a hit novel, become a surgeon, run a successful business.

 

But as we embark on making those dreams a reality at university and beyond, we can come unstuck. Most people have experienced those difficulties to some extent. The progress to achieving our goals is slow-moving. There are still a lot of blank pages that we’re trying to fill.

 

So, what’s the key to achieving the goals we set ourselves and realising our dreams?

 

Some Psychologists suggest that instead of setting goals, we should create habits.

 

They argue that a goal is too far off in the distance for it to have a significant effect on our daily lives.

A goal doesn’t help you get the thing done. In fact, until you reach the goal you exist in a sort of state of failure, e.g.  ‘I haven’t written a novel yet.’

 

Instead, we should create a habit that fits with the sort of person we are, or want to be.

 

For example, writing that thesis is a daunting prospect, with many thousands of words to compile.  But if you create a habit: ‘I’m the sort of person who writes for an hour every morning,’ the thesis takes care of itself.

 

In both cases (goal or habit), the end result is often the same (these completed). But crucially, our happiness, and therefore our ability to produce our best work, is far greater when we employ habits.

We’re creatures of habit after all.

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 2)

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The first part looked at some information that is typically found in most dictionaries – meaning(s), part of speech, pronunciation, verb forms, and miscellaneous grammar points.

 

Here’s some more information you are likely to come across:

 

  1. Synonyms and antonyms

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning, or nearly the same, as another word. An antonym, on the other hand, is a word that means the opposite of another word.

Example:

honest

Synonyms – truthful, sincere, trustworthy, straightforward, reliable

Antonym – dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, insincere, untrustworthy, unreliable

 

  1. Collocations

The word collocation refers to a word combination that happens naturally in a language. Learning such typical combinations is important because it broadens the scope for expressing ideas clearly.

Example:

food

Verb collocations – consume / eat / have / cook / make / prepare food

Adjective collocations – fast / junk / takeaway / fresh / organic / canned food

 

  1. Example sentences

Example sentences are perhaps the best way to learn how to use a word or phrase accurately in a sentence. They show us the way various grammatical features work together to form a sentence. Some dictionaries print fixed expressions or phrases in bold to help users learn faster.

Example:

The change in policy will do serious harm to our business.

Though I’m not particularly fond of my mother-in-law, I don’t wish her any harm.

I know our neighbour’s dog looks ferocious, but he means no harm.

 

  1. Register

The term register means the degree of formality associated with a word. At times, dictionaries also highlight words that are old-fashioned or offensive.

Example:

ascertain (formal) = to find out

ripping (old-fashioned) = wonderful

gaffer (informal) = an individual who is in charge of a group of people

dude (slang) = a man

bird (sometimes offensive) = a way of referring to a young woman

 

  1. Spelling

A lot of words have alternative spellings, depending on the version used – British English (BrE) or North American English (NAmE).

Example:

theatre (BrE) / theater (NAmE)

doughnut / donut (NAmE)

colour (BrE) / color (NAmE)

 

So, the next time you use a dictionary, gather different types of information that can help you better your English.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

miscellaneous
Form : adjective
Meaning : consisting of different kinds of things
Example : Tom has a box of miscellaneous items from his childhood.

 

scope (for something)
Form : noun
Meaning : the opportunity to do something
Example : Sally’s new job offers plenty of scope for international travel.

 

offensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : rude or unpleasant
Example : Students who use offensive language in the classroom will be punished.

 

alternative
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that can be used instead of something else
Example : Swimming is a good alternative to running when recovering from an injury

 

 

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

A decent dictionary, be it printed or electronic, can be an invaluable tool when trying to improve your English. Sadly, not many language learners exploit it to the full.

 

So, what can you typically expect to find in one?

 

  1. The meaning(s) of an English word or phrase

Most words in the English language have more than one meaning, and dictionaries usually list them out.

Example:

run (verb)

  • to move quickly using legs
  • to manage a business
  • to use a computer program
  • (of liquid) to flow in a particular direction
  • to try to get elected to a job
  • to drive somebody to a place

 

  1. Part of speech

This refers to one of the grammatical groups that a word belongs to depending on how it is used in a sentence. Remember, a word could have different forms.

Example:

drive – verb (= when used to talk about operating a vehicle)

drive – noun (= when used to talk about someone’s energy or desire to do something)

 

  1. Pronunciation

The phonetic transcription of a word usually appears alongside it to help users pronounce the word accurately. Alternate ways of pronouncing the word can also be found in some dictionaries.

Example:

 

Word Pronunciation

(British English)

Pronunciation

(North American English)

restaurant /ˈrestrɒnt/ /ˈrestrɑːnt/
sure /ʃʊə(r)/ or /ʃɔː(r)/ /ʃʊr/

 

  1. Verb forms

Most verbs in English have between 3 and 5 forms; knowing them is essential to be able to make different grammatical structures.

Example:

 

Present simple

I / we / you / they

Present simple

he / she / it

Past simple Past participle -ing form
cut cuts cut cut cutting
dance dances danced danced dancing
eat eats ate eaten eating

 

  1. Other grammatical information

A comprehensive dictionary may also contain other important information, such as the plural form of a noun, or whether a noun is countable or uncountable.

Example:

thief (singular) – thieves (plural)

furniture (uncountable)

 

If you’ve just started learning English, using a dictionary regularly can help stretch your limited vocabulary, so be sure to use one.

 

GLOSSARY

 

decent
Form : adjective
Meaning : of good enough quality
Example : Is there a restaurant nearby where I can get a decent meal?

 

exploit
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something well in order to get benefit from it
Example : I don’t think students exploit the study resources in our library enough.

 

to the full
Form : phrase
Meaning : to the maximum
Example : Youngsters usually want to enjoy life to the full.

 

comprehensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : including many details
Example : He’s writing a comprehensive guide to tourism in Asia.

 

How Signposting Can Help Improve Your Listening

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Imagine you are in a brand new city and need to get to a particular place. If you had no technology for help, you would be all at sea. Even so, you could still get directions the old-fashioned way via signposts – signs next to a road giving information about the direction and distance to a place.

 

Similarly, when language learners hear a lecture or an extended talk given by a native speaker, they may experience difficulty in fully understanding what’s being said. Unlike reading, where you can check content over and over again, listening generally gives you only one chance to make out what is being said. In such a situation, identifying signpost expressions can help improve comprehension.

 

So, what exactly are signpost expressions? Well, they are words that guide the listener through the various stages of a talk. In a way, signpost expressions help the listener predict what is going to be said next. As a result, the relationship between points becomes clearer, be it comparing, contrasting, adding information, or just sequencing.

 

Here are some common expressions used for signposting:

 

Signpost expressions What they indicate
Firstly The beginning of a list of points
like, such as Introduction of an example
while, whereas Comparing two or more things
In other words, Put another way Rephrasing what has been said
Moreover, What’s more Introduction of additional information
However, This isn’t always the case though Introduction of a contrast or an exception
As I said earlier Reference to a point made earlier
Moving on Introduction of a new point
Finally The speaker is nearing the end of the talk / Introduction of the last point

 

 

In language tests, candidates often need to listen to long monologues and answer questions. A good example of this is the IELTS Listening test, which has two monologues, including a university-style lecture.

 

Be sure to look out for signposting language in an exam situation, and you’ll have a very good chance of finding the right answers.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

at sea
Form : phrase
Meaning : confused and not sure what to do
Example : I’m all at sea with this new syllabus. I mean, I am not familiar with many of these topics.

 

extended
Form : adjective
Meaning :  longer than expected
Example : If you buy this TV right now, you also get an extended warranty. 

 

over and over again
Form : phrase
Meaning : several times
Example : Reihaan, your dad has told you over and over again not to play in the rain.

 

in a way
Form : phrase
Meaning : to a certain extent
Example : In a way marrying Jake within weeks of meeting him was a big mistake.

 

 

monologue
Form : noun
Meaning : a long speech by someone during a conversation that stops others from saying anything
Example : Thomas went into a monologue about his trip to Sri Lanka last year.

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Place

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A preposition of place shows the location of someone or something. Three of the most commonly used ones in this category are at, on and in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to the specific position where someone or something is located.

 

Used to refer to Example
addresses at 39 Lake Road | at 221B Baker Street
a specific location at the bus stop | at the railway station | at the airport
a meeting point We decided to meet at the club. | Let’s meet at the mall.
a place of study She’s studying at Glasgow University.
someone’s shop or house I’m at the grocer’s. | I’m at the dentist’s. | I’m at Katie’s.
group activities at a conference | at a party | at a rock concert | at a wedding
a large place when we consider it to be a point in a journey Our plane stopped at Dubai for refuelling before landing in Zurich.

 

 

When to use on

Use on to indicate someone or something is located on a surface.

 

Used to refer to Example
travel via public transport on a bus | on a train | on the metro | on a plane | on a ship
travel using horses or two-wheelers on a cycle | on a motorbike | on a scooter | on a horse
pages in a book on the first page | on page 23
the number of the floor on the ground floor | on the eight floor
position by a lake, sea, road, street, etc. London is on the Thames. | They used to live on Orchard Street.
something that is in contact with a surface on the wall | on the table | on the floor | on the ceiling

 

When to use in

Use in to show that someone or something is in an enclosed space.

 

Used to refer to Example
large areas in Paris | in France | in Europe | in the desert | in the woods
three-dimensional space in the office | in a supermarket | in a flat | in a house
cars, small private aircrafts, boats, etc. in a car | in a taxi | in a boat | in a helicopter

 

Remember, you cannot do without prepositions of place if you wish to use English accurately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Time

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A preposition is a relationship word which generally shows the location of something (in the hall), the time when something happens (at midnight), the way something is done (by train), and so on.

 

Learning them can be a little bit tricky, as there aren’t always rules to help you choose the correct one. To make matters worse, some prepositions can have many different uses. For example, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, the preposition on has eighteen different functions.

 

In this article, we’ll consider how to use three common prepositions of time: at, on, in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to a specific time that is relatively short.

 

clock times at 7 o’clock | at 6:30 pm
holiday periods at Christmas | at Easter
specific times of the day at noon | at midnight
meal times  at lunchtime | at dinner time

 

Of course, there are situations when at is used to show longer periods of time ‒ for instance, we say at night, or at the weekend.

 

When to use on

Use on when referring to days and dates in general.

 

days of the week on Monday | on Thursday
dates on the 15th of July | on 22nd February
special days on New Year’s Day | on Republic Day | on her birthday
parts of specific days on Friday morning | on Sunday night

 

When to use in

Use in when referring to longer periods of time.

 

parts of a day in the morning | in the afternoon | in the evening
seasons in winter | in autumn
months in February | in July
years in 1977 | in 2015
decades in the seventies | in the 1980s
centuries in the fifteenth century | in the twenty first century

 

Remember, we do not use a preposition before certain expressions of time, such as last, next, every, each, or this. For example, we say:

I saw that film last Saturday. (NOT I saw that film on last Saturday.)

I play tennis every Sunday. (NOT I play tennis on every Sunday.)

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

tricky
Form : adjective
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : Some people can find operating smartphones a bit tricky.

 

 

Free British Council IELTS prep tools

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Most IELTS candidates leave their test preparation to the last minute. When they go into the test centre, they discover they don’t understand the question types, they’re not sure how to allocate their time efficiently, and they don’t know what the examiner is looking for. And this is just the basic knowledge they lack.

ClarityEnglish and the British Council are trying to solve this problem, and to go much further. We have developed three free resources that tackle the nuts and bolts of IELTS prep, but also provide the scope for committed candidates to go further, and find out more.

 

IELTS blog

Clarity’s IELTS blog includes dozens of posts from IELTS experts explaining task types, preparation ideas and pitfalls to avoid..

Peter Hare (British Council Addis Ababa) reveals that 23% of answers submitted in IELTS Writing are under the required word count and develops a strategy for avoiding this problem. Colm Downes (British Council Indonesia) points to a TED Talk showing that just two minutes of ‘power posing’ before the IELTS Speaking test really can change the outcome. Andrew Stokes from ClarityEnglish points to a 1970s study suggesting that a test taker’s cultural background can influence their performance in the Reading paper. What measures can Chinese or Arab candidates take to avoid being disadvantaged?

Point your students to the IELTS blog here.

 

IELTS Tips phone app

The IELTS Tips phone app drip feeds key IELTS information one day at a time for 30 days. There are five categories of tips: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Preparation. Test takers can spend as little as a minute reading key facts or can follow links to get their hands on more comprehensive resources on the Internet. It’s all about repeatedly stimulating their interest!

Download the IELTS Tips app at www.ielts.tips

 

IELTS practice Facebook page

The IELTS Facebook page has attracted over half a million fans. It features downloadable worksheets, sample questions from the different papers, videos of candidates explaining how they prepared for IELTS, and a lot more.

Click here to visit the IELTS Facebook page.

 

These resources are cross-platform, and students can access them on their desktops, or on the go on their phones or tablets. They are all available free of charge. If you think they would be useful for your students, simply post them the links below.

IELTS blog blog.ieltspractice.com

IELTS phone app www.ielts.tips

IELTS Facebook page www.facebook.com/PractiseforIELTS/

 

This post first appeared on Clarity IELTS blog here.

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