Structuring Your IELTS Letter (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we began exploring a formula called ODAC, which basically breaks up your IELTS letter into four key elements – Opening, Details, Action and Closing. If used appropriately, it could help you structure your IELTS letter effectively, improving your chances of securing a high band score for the task.  

Read on to find out more about the remaining two parts of the formula.

Action

As mentioned previously, there are always three bullet points presented in the question for you to address in your letter. Although there are no hard and fast rules about formulating the bullet points, one of them, which is usually the third, will very often be something action-oriented – for example, say what action you would like the company to take or suggest someone he/she could take in your place. In other words, you will be asked to perform some kind of action, such as making a request, giving instructions, proposing solutions, providing an explanation, laying out a plan or making suggestions.

In order for you to explicitly state what you are intending to do next or what you would like the recipient to do, spend some time learning useful functional language (i.e. set phrases). That way, you will find it easier to finish writing the task in the recommended twenty minutes.

Closing

The opening, as well as closing of your letter, should perfectly fit the tone you’ve used in the letter. The word ‘tone’ refers to the way in which (formal or informal) you write the letter. Generally speaking, the tone is decided on considering who you’ve been asked to write to, the context, and the purpose.

Even though getting the closing of the letter right might seem to be the least of your worries, please be aware that using an inappropriate closing formula will most definitely have an adverse impact on your final Writing score.

So, now that you know how the ODAC formula can help you structure your Task 1 response in the IELTS General Training test, it’d perhaps be a good idea to give yourself some practice using it before test day. Good luck!

Structuring Your IELTS Letter (Part 1)

In IELTS General Training Writing Task 1, test takers are presented with a situation and asked to write a letter in a personal, semi-formal, or formal style. You may be asked to request for or give information and/or explain a situation. The situation is normally a common, everyday one that is easy to relate to.

A wide range of writing skills is assessed, including your ability to write an appropriate response, organise ideas and use a range of vocabulary and grammar accurately. In this blog series, you will learn about an easy way to structure your IELTS letter – the ODAC formula. The acronym stands for Opening, Details, Action, and Closing. 

Opening

It may be stating the obvious, but you should ideally begin by indicating the purpose of writing if it is a formal or semi-formal letter you have been asked to write. It might be a good idea to learn a few functional phrases that will help you do this. Here are a couple of examples:

  • I am writing with regard to
  • I am writing to let you know that

A personal letter, on the other hand, does not always need to have the purpose stated in the very first sentence. Instead, you could begin in a casual manner – for instance, express your feelings or ask about the recipient’s well-being – and then mention the reason for writing.  

Details

Test takers are told what sort of information they must include in their response. This is usually presented in the form of three bullet points, which need to be covered sufficiently in order for your response to receive a high band score. Remember, a single bullet point may sometimes require you to do two things (e.g. explain where and when you left the item). Now that you’re aware of this possibility, do look out for the use of ‘and’ and plural forms. Leaving out any part of the bulleted list will automatically invite a penalty, lowering your score on the Task Achievement criterion. A good way of ensuring that you produce a fully developed response is to see that there is a paragraph written around each bullet point.   

Do read the next part in this series to know more about the rest of the ODAC formula.

IELTS: Special Arrangements (Part 2)

Part 1 in this series detailed how brand IELTS goes the extra mile for test takers who have visual and hearing difficulties by offering them considerable support, from requesting for a modified Listening CD to being assisted by a scribe/reader.

Let’s now see what help is available for IELTS test takers with speaking and learning difficulties.

Speaking Difficulties

If you are someone who takes longer than usual to say things or to understand what others say to you, you could receive extra time to complete the Speaking section of IELTS. Remember, IELTS does not permit test takers to use sign language during the interview. However, you could be granted extra time to read and process the written material (i.e. the Part-2 task card) used in the test, process what your Examiner is saying and produce a speech sample of rateable length.

Learning Difficulties

If you have specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the British Council can make special arrangements for you to take IELTS. For starters, you could ask for an extra 25% of the normal time allotted for a section. For instance, the Reading section lasts 60 minutes, so you will receive an extra 15 minutes to complete it. Extra time can also mean the use of a modified CD for the Listening section that has additional pauses. Apart from, or instead of, the extra time, you can request for supervised breaks too. What this means is that you could stop writing and take a break in another room, which can be a great help if you have trouble concentrating over long periods.

You could get permission to write your answers on a computer or word processor that does not have spellcheck, grammar check or thesaurus functions. Other special arrangements include having the assistance of a scribe, getting help filling out your Listening/Reading answer sheet and using enlarged print question papers.

As you might imagine, making special arrangements is oftentimes a complex and time-consuming process. To avoid disappointment, see to it that you give the test centre at least six weeks’ notice so that you get to take a modified version of IELTS. Please also be aware that you will be required to submit medical evidence to support your claim. Good luck!

IELTS: Special Arrangements (Part 1)

IELTS, the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration, makes every effort to see to it that the language ability of all test takers is assessed fairly and objectively. To this end, special arrangements can be made for test takers with accessibility requirements.

If you are someone who has special requirements, such as visual difficulties, hearing difficulties, speaking difficulties, learning difficulties, medical conditions, or infant feeding, British Council test centres will be willing to help you in different ways. In this series of blog posts, you will get to read about some of these special arrangements.

Visual difficulties

Test takers with visual difficulties can request for enlarged print question papers that make use of Arial 18-point bold font in place of the Arial 11-point font used in regular question papers. Blind individuals who are able to read Braille can opt for Braille question papers. Depending on the severity of visual difficulty, extra time can be allotted to a test taker at the discretion of the test centre depending on their specific needs.

You can request for the assistance of a scribe or reader during the test if you are unable to read or write. If so, your test centre will also have to request for a modified CD for the Listening section from Cambridge Assessment English so that there is enough time available for the scribe/reader to work.

Hearing Difficulties

Those who are hard of hearing may be able to put in a request with their IELTS test centre for a modified Listening CD that includes additional pauses and plays the listening extracts twice. Remember, separate invigilation will be required if you opt for this arrangement.

A hearing-impaired version of the Listening section is also available for those who you can lip-read in English, or for those who find processing recorded sound challenging but are able to access human voices. Instead of playing a recording, a trained member of the venue staff will read a script to you out loud so that you are able to access the test content through hearing, lip-reading, or a combination of both.

If you wish to know how IELTS can support individuals with speaking and learning difficulties, do read the next part in this series.

Resitting the IELTS Test (Part 2)

If you are yet to achieve your IELTS goals and need to retake the test, you’ve come to the right place. In the previous part, we looked at the importance of being in a positive frame of mind and discovering all there is to know about the test pattern and marking scheme.  

Read on to find out what more you could do to avoid disappointment when you resit IELTS.

4. Identify areas that need improvement

There is little sense in retaking IELTS without first honing your language skills and improving your ability to use strategies and time effectively. And such improvement is only possible if you identify what went wrong in your previous attempt. Dissect your performance – for instance, think about where you lost time or identify which task types bamboozled you – and you should have all the answers. If targeted feedback is what you’re looking for, you could opt for the official IELTS practice test, IELTS Progress Check. That way, you will get to practise in timed conditions, and receive an official feedback report and indicative band scores afterwards.

5. Set realistic goals

To avoid disappointment, it is extremely important that you remain realistic throughout your IELTS journey, setting yourself attainable goals. Before you have another shot at passing the test, think whether you would want to prepare on your own or seek professional help (e.g. enrol on a preparatory course, get regular feedback from an IELTS expert). It is absolutely imperative that you make an informed decision at this stage so that you don’t falter. If there is a massive difference between your previous IELTS scores and the scores you require, it is best to enlist the help of a trained expert. They can tell you how exactly you would be able to build your test skills and improve your language ability. By assessing your current level of English, they can also determine how long you may have to prepare in order to pass IELTS. Remember, if you don’t make a significant effort to improve your English and/or test skills before retaking IELTS, your scores are unlikely to improve. So, stop feeling frustrated, pull your socks up and set your sights on getting those elusive IELTS scores you need.

Resitting the IELTS Test (Part 1)

IELTS is the world’s most popular English-language test for work, study, and migration, which is trusted by over 11,000 organisations worldwide. With high stakes riding on the results, how you fare in the test pretty much decides the sort of opportunities that are likely to come your way soon after.

Failing to get the IELTS scores you require the first time round is not the end of the world, though: you can apply to sit the test again as soon as you feel up to the task. In this series, we’ve put together some useful suggestions for anyone planning to retake IELTS.   

1. Be in the right frame of mind

In an ideal world, we would pass every test we take at the very first attempt. However, in real life things do not always go according to plan. It is only natural that our confidence takes a hit on such occasions. Don’t feel pressured to make another attempt straight away. Instead, come to terms with what has happened, give yourself enough time to feel relaxed and buoyant, and only then should you sit IELTS again.  

2. Read up on the test format

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, but as far as language tests go, having a thorough knowledge of the test format boosts your confidence and helps you perform to the best of your ability. So, devour every bit of information you can find about the format of IELTS. Also, knowing the various task types in advance will allow you time to practise the ones you find tricky.  

3. Improve your understanding of marking

No matter how good your English is, understanding how your language skills are going to be assessed is enormously important before you take a test. See to it that you read and understand the IELTS band descriptors so that you know how Examiners award a band score for each of the four criteria in Writing and Speaking. You can find the public version of the IELTS band descriptors here. Similarly, find out how Listening and Reading scores are calculated.

You can find more handy tips for resitting IELTS in the next part, so do read it without fail.

Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 3)

An increasingly mobile international workforce is also a factor that has boosted the popularity of IELTS. It is now the most widely used test for visa and citizenship purposes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In this final part, we will uncover for you some more interesting facts about the delivery of the IELTS test.

Test security measures

IELTS adopts a multi-layered approach to test security to protect the integrity of test results. To begin with, there are tight regulations surrounding the storage and handling of test material. Tailor-made biometric systems are used at test venues to verify the identity of test takers, right from when they first arrive till they complete the last section of the test. Strict test conditions prevail at test venues to thwart any attempts at copying or collusion. To help identify imposters, detect fraudulent behaviour and prevent cheating, test centre staff undergo intensive training periodically.

Once a test session concludes, routine inspection of test results has to happen before scores can be released.  Test takers receive a Test Report Form (TRF), which is printed on security-enhanced paper and authenticated by an IELTS validation stamp. The TRF also contains a high-resolution photograph of the test taker. Finally, as an additional safeguard against fraudulent documents, a recognising organisation (e.g. college, immigration authority) can verify online the authenticity of every IELTS TRF presented to them. All they need to do is sign up for the free IELTS TRF Verification Service: it will enable them to check if the results they receive match the results on the IELTS database.

Getting help

While the test is in progress, test takers can seek help from test centre staff if the need arises. For example, if you believe you have received the wrong question paper, or if the question paper you have is incomplete or illegible, immediately raise your hand. An invigilator will then approach you and offer assistance. Similarly, if you experience trouble with your headphones during the Listening section, an invigilator will be at hand to sort it out. However, do not expect test centre staff to provide any explanation of the test questions!

So, if you need proof of your competence in English, then look no further than IELTS, the test that more than 11,000 organisations across the globe trust implicitly.

Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 2)

The internationalisation of higher education in recent times has been a key factor that has driven the demand for IELTS. Given that the test is recognised for entrance to universities and colleges across the English-speaking world, it is the preferred way for most youngsters aspiring to get a foreign education to demonstrate their English proficiency.   

In this blog post, we will talk about some of the measures that make IELTS fair and highly reliable.

Ensuring quality and fairness

Over the years, IELTS has established itself as an assessment tool that is fair to all test takers, whatever their nationality, cultural background, gender or special needs.

For a start, it assesses language skills, not specialist knowledge, so the topics covered are all quite general in nature. The test measures practical communication ability, which means that learning prepared answers by rote will not get test takers anywhere. One of the pluses of IELTS is that it recognises all standard varieties of native-speaker English, such as Australian English, British English and New Zealand English. You can rest assured that your background will in no way affect the outcome of the test.

There are safeguards and systems in place to ensure that the delivery of the test is both consistent and secure. Unique test versions, for instance, are created so that test takers will never sit the same test twice. Furthermore, each test version is subject to routine analysis in order to check whether the performances of test materials, test takers and Examiners are in line with expected standards.

Reliability of test results

Not many people know that all active IELTS Examiners receive periodic feedback on their performance. This task is performed by a team of IELTS Principal Examiners and Assistant Principal Examiners, who second-mark selected Speaking and Writing performances to check assessment quality.  Additionally, if there is a significant difference between a test taker’s scores – for example, a band 5 for Reading and band 8 for Speaking – the IELTS computer system flags it up so that double marking is carried out without fail. Do not miss the final part in this blog post series – among other things, you will get to read about IELTS test security regulations.

Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 1)

If you are looking to work, live or study in an English-speaking country, then the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) can help you do just that by letting you demonstrate your ability to use English effectively in a variety of real-world contexts. The test is accepted by more than 11,000 employers, universities, schools and immigration bodies, including 3,400 institutions in the USA.

In this blog post series, you will get to discover some little-known facts about the world’s leading language test of English for international migration and higher education.

Getting the perfect score

If you count yourself among those who believe that the perfect IELTS score – i.e. band 9 – is something that only a native English speaker can conjure up, then you are gravely mistaken! The truth of the matter is that native and non-native English speakers have an even chance of producing an IELTS band 9.

In IELTS Speaking, for instance, a native English speaker will get a score lower on pronunciation if their accent has considerable effect on intelligibility. On the other hand, a non-native speaker who is able to use a full range of pronunciation features with precision and subtlety, and who is effortless to understand will get rated a band 9 on this criterion. It’s your skill that matters, nothing else!

Test development

Launched in 1989, IELTS has built its worldwide reputation over the years by undertaking extensive research to provide secure, reliable testing that meets the needs of users across a wide range of sectors. Rigorous test design, development and validation processes are in place to ensure that every version of the test is of a comparable level of difficulty.

For example, did you know that test writers from different English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Canada and the UK, are involved in developing IELTS content so that it reflects real-life situations around the world? To ensure that IELTS is unbiased and fair to all test takers, new test questions are extensively trialled with people from different cultures.

We will reveal more surprising facts about the world’s most popular language test in subsequent parts of this series.

All You Need to Know about IELTS Study Pack (Part 2)

A previous blog post introduced you to British Council’s free IELTS Study Pack and listed advantages you could have by signing up for it. In this part, read about what you can expect to find in the pack and how you can access it.  

Contents

The IELTS Study Pack website is structured into three sections.

  • Webinars

You will find a series of webinars from qualified British Council IELTS experts which cover a wide range of topics across all four IELTS skills. Each webinar focuses on particular aspects of the test and answers common questions that test takers are likely to have. Webinar topics on the website include Introduction to IELTS, IELTS on computer and How to self-study

  • Study plans

This section has tailored self-study plans designed by IELTS experts that make use of a range of online resources to help you prepare for all four skills. To make the most of these study plans, see to it that you use each in tandem with the relevant ‘self-study guide’ webinar.

  • Practice tests

On completing the four self-study programmes, which are a combination of webinars and study plans, do not forget to put your English skills to test and find out just how much progress you have been able to make. Check your exam readiness by trying out either the Academic or General Training test on the website.

For those planning to retake IELTS, the Study Pack now has a brand new section just for you with extra practice materials. Along with six detailed videos from our IELTS experts that give comprehensive guidance to improve your performance in each of the four skills, you will also have access to one extra practice test each for the IELTS Academic and General Training tests.

Accessing IELTS Study Pack

Signing up for IELTS Study Pack is as easy as ABC – all you’ve got to do is visit our official website here and fill out a simple form. You will then receive an email with information to access the Study Pack website.

So, if the Covid-19 pandemic briefly stalled your efforts to study abroad, use IELTS Study Pack to do some self-study online, achieve IELTS success and get your plans back on track. Good luck!

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