Being Imaginative in IELTS Speaking (Part 1)

Sometimes IELTS test takers fret over the possibility of not having enough to talk about certain topics in the Speaking section, and rightly so. It is quite possible to be thrown off balance by a question that you are ill-prepared for, for example, a two-minute talk on ‘a place near water that you often visit’.

First and foremost, you need to realise that while it is good to treat the IELTS Speaking interview like a normal conversation so that you do not feel too edgy on the day, your objective is not to exchange information socially with the Examiner. Once the test begins, you should be using your whole bag of tricks to show just how good your English is. Remember, each question you are asked is an opportunity to show off your language skills, so make the most of it!

Oftentimes, factually correct answers could be short, leaving the Examiner with insufficient evidence to rate you. One way of getting round this problem is by learning to be imaginative when speaking. And if being imaginative means including details that make your answers less truthful, it should not deter you. The IELTS Speaking interview is not an exercise in information exchange; it is an opportunity for you to showcase your language skills.

Here are some tips to make your answers more interesting and varied.

Part 1     

The Speaking section begins with the test taker being asked questions about familiar topics, such as study, work, accommodation, family, friends or hobbies. Some questions here could be answered with short utterances.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:In an apartment.

As you can see, short answers will hardly help the Examiner determine your actual language level. What you need to do, instead, is to add as much detail as possible, even if some of it happens to be untrue.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:I’ve been renting a flat for the last couple of years. It’s located in the heart of the city, so most amenities are within walking distance. Besides, flats tend to offer a better social life, which is something I love because I’m a people person.

Now, in reality, you may shun parties and social events, but it should not really stop you from saying such an answer.

There is more advice on how to be creative in the next part, so don’t miss it!

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 1)

Improving your English does not always have to involve attending classes or completing language exercises. One of the positives to come out of the Covid-19 outbreak is the realisation that there are opportunities aplenty around to improve your language skills; you just need to look hard enough. In this blog series, we will look at an unconventional way to improve your IELTS vocabulary – taking an interest in current affairs.

Why build your IELTS vocabulary

The answer is fairly simple! In two sections of IELTS, Writing and Speaking, vocabulary (Lexical Resource) accounts for 25 percent of the final band score. Now, a widely held belief is that it is easier to get a band 7 on vocabulary than on grammar. Anyone who has tried to fix bad grammar will vouch for the fact that it is an arduous task that could take forever. Naturally, forming the ability to use a reasonably broad range of words, phrases, and collocations related to specific topics may seem to be a comparatively easier route to improving your band scores. Additionally, a wider vocabulary will most certainly help your comprehension along in the Listening and Reading sections too.

Why use current affairs

Current affairs stories typically feature common IELTS topics, such as the environment, consumer behaviour, health, culture, education and social issues. Such reports tend to be rich in topical vocabulary; all you need to do is put enough work into learning some of them. You can then reap the rewards on test day. This is because topical vocabulary generally helps you steam ahead in Writing Task 2 or Speaking Part 3.

News reports are also a great source of functional language – for instance, language used to agree or disagree, to state your opinion, to speculate about the future, to sequence your ideas, or to describe problems and their solutions. The more you see or hear such kind of language, the easier it will get for you to reproduce it.

Finally, news reports come in different formats – print, audio, video – which means that you get to choose whatever appeals to you best. You can alternate between formats too, making sure that monotony never sets in.

In the next part, we will see how current affairs can be used to boost your IELTS vocabulary.

IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 2)

Previously, we discussed two problems – inability to understand accents and failing to keep pace with recordings – that test takers typically face during the IELTS Listening test and how best to deal with them.

A third problem that test takers grapple with is dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary. Even if you pick up every word on the recording, not knowing the meaning of key vocabulary can stop you from finding the correct answers. For instance, in Part 4 of the Listening test, if you didn’t know what the word ‘intact’ means, you might not be able to tell with complete confidence whether an artefact recovered from an excavation site is damaged or not.

Whilst it won’t be possible, or necessary, for you to know all the words you hear, expanding your vocabulary would certainly help improve your performance. You’re likely to come across particular types of vocabulary groups in each part of IELTS Listening – use this to your advantage. Words describing shapes and colours, for example, are likely to be used in Part 1, whereas common academic terms, such as syllabus and dissertation, frequently pop up in Part 3. Additionally, invest time in brushing up on your spelling because bad spelling will be penalised.

Finally, even if your listening comprehension is exceptional, a lapse in concentration can cost you dearly. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon for test takers to be distracted when they’re in the middle of the test, letting their attention wander as a result. When you’re loaded with so much information over half an hour, being able to keep your concentration is also something that demands practice.

If you have a poor concentration span, then it’s something you’ll need to work on before sitting IELTS. For starters, form a habit of listening to recordings in English that are reasonably long. Note-taking might help initially to stop your attention from wavering. Besides, learn strategies to tackle various question types so that you have a clear purpose while listening. Most importantly, enjoy developing your listening skills; if you treat it like a chore, you’re bound to lose interest sooner or later. And here’s a final tip – simulate exam conditions while practising listening so that you’ll feel less stress on test day. Good luck!

IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 1)

The Listening section in IELTS may appear to be a breeze compared to the Writing or Reading sections, but it would still make sense to do some practice tests before you take the real thing.

Over two parts, we’ll talk about some common problems that test takers face and ways to get round them.

To begin with, failing to understand a speaker’s accent often proves to be an obstacle to doing well in the test. IELTS is internationally focused in its content. Naturally, the Listening section makes use of a variety of voices and a range of native-speaker accents, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand. If you haven’t had much exposure to the speech rhythms and accents characteristic of the English-speaking world, it could be hard going.

Although there is an entire universe of native English accents out there, the good news is that IELTS has been known to use only neutral accents. One way to get better at comprehending standard native-speaker accents is by regularly listening to content produced in countries like the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. YouTube would be a good place to start, as it has tons of TV programmes filmed in the English-speaking world. The added bonus is that much of the content there comes with subtitles.

Another problem is test takers being unable to keep up with recordings. This is most common in the latter part of the Listening section, when speech gets faster. Sometimes, people are caught off guard – they lose their way and miss out on answering an entire set of questions.

To give yourself the best possible chance to keep pace with the speaker(s), see to it that you read all 10 questions in a part before the recording begins. That way, you can listen actively instead of having to do two things at the same time – i.e. reading questions and listening to the recording. Another strategy is to underline anchor words (e.g. names, numbers, technical words) while reading questions, as you’re likely to hear them in the same form later. This should help you navigate through a recording without getting lost.

Do read the next part to know about some more challenges that the Listening section can throw at you.

IELTS Writing Myths Debunked (Part 3)

Internationally acclaimed language tests like IELTS are known for their transparent and robust assessment methods. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always stop people from drawing conclusions about the test experience, based largely on hearsay and guesswork.

Read on to know about some more IELTS myths that we’ve laid to rest for you.

Myth #7: The more linking words or phrases in your essay, the better.

When you aren’t well informed about the test, you may feel that achieving cohesion is all about peppering your response with cohesive devices, such as firstly, however, and despite. Further, reading ‘poor’ model essays will only reinforce this misconception of yours.

The truth: Too much of any one ingredient can ruin a dish, and the same rule holds good for essays. While prudent use of discourse markers can make your writing cohesive, overuse is definitely something to avoid. A quick look at the IELTS Writing Task 2 band descriptors will help you see what we mean. 

Myth #8: No word should be used more than once.

Many a test taker has wasted precious time during the Writing section trying to identify synonyms so that they don’t repeat words. And if some can’t think of any synonyms, they invent new words!

The truth: Exhibiting a wide range of words and phrases can boost your vocabulary score, no doubt. However, nowhere does it say that test takers shouldn’t write any word more than once. In fact, some technical words (e.g. computer, robot) may not have synonyms at all. Focus on words, such as verbs and adjectives, which can be easily replaced so that you present the examiner with a nice variety of vocabulary.

Myth #9:  It’s useful to learn up answers to past essay questions.

When you aren’t adequately prepared for the test, it’s natural to get desperate and look for shortcuts at the eleventh hour. Some take the easy way out and mug up answers to past IELTS essay questions.

The truth: IELTS essay questions are hardly ever repeated in the same form! This is done to dissuade test takers from reproducing answers from memory. A more fruitful approach would be to identify common IELTS essay topics and read up on them.

The next time you hear an IELTS myth, do check with an authentic source before you make up your mind.

IELTS Writing Myths Debunked (Part 2)

In Part 1, we spoke of how handwriting has no bearing on your band score, why overwriting should be avoided, and how bombast won’t help push your vocabulary score up.

Here are some more misconceptions about IELTS that prospective test takers tend to believe.

Myth #4: It’s not important to meet the word limit.

Many test takers think that the word limit set for each IELTS Writing task is just a recommendation. This could be the reason why they don’t bother keeping track of the number of words they write while practising their writing skills.

The truth: A good number of test takers get penalised in IELTS Writing for the simple reason that they fail to meet the word limit prescribed for Writing Task 1 (at least 150 words) and Task 2 (at least 250 words). Learn how many words you normally write per line; use this information to estimate the length of your responses. That way, you won’t fall short on test day.

Myth #5: In the essay task, only your language skills matter, not your ideas.

Being language assessment tools, the main purpose of tests such as IELTS is to ascertain the proficiency of the test taker. However, by no means does this mean that the ideas introduced in an essay don’t really amount to much.

The truth: The ideas in your essay are just as important as anything else. If the points you make aren’t pertinent to the topic, it’d be virtually impossible to achieve logical progression throughout the response. The end result would be a lower band on the Task Response criterion.

Myth #6: The personal pronoun ‘I’ should not be used in the essay.

This one has got to be one of the most amusing IELTS myths – the personal pronoun ‘I’ should be avoided at all costs in Task 2, or you run the risk of getting penalised for informal writing style!

The truth: Most IELTS essays ask the test taker to express their opinion about a particular facet of the topic. And when you wish to give your view on something, the personal pronoun ‘I’ is the obvious choice, so it’s okay. Just don’t overuse the word and make your essay sound too personal.   

There’s more to follow, so please do watch this space.

IELTS on Paper vs. IELTS on Computer (Part 1)

One test that can take you places is IELTS, the world’s most popular English language assessment tool for higher education and migration. There are several factors that make it so popular, one being worldwide availability – you get to choose from over 800 test centres dotted around the world.  

Paper or Computer

The added appeal is that IELTS now comes in two forms, giving you the choice of taking it on paper or on computer. Whether you take IELTS on paper or on computer, most aspects of the test are the same: content, question types, security measures, scoring, speaking test delivery, test report forms, results verification.

The only thing that is different is the test experience.

What’s the difference?

For a start, in the Listening section of IELTS on paper you get 10 extra minutes at the end to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet, while on computer you don’t. Here, you need to type answers on to the computer as you listen to the audio extract in each part. Although you’ll have time between parts of the test to check answers, there is no extra transfer time at the end. This is because you’ll have already completed entering answers to all 40 questions by then.

Another feature of IELTS on computer that test takers are likely to find useful is the display of word count in the Writing section. Unlike in IELTS on paper, you won’t need to spend time forming a rough idea of how many words you’ve written in response to each Writing task. The word count for each response will be displayed at the bottom of your computer screen throughout; all you’ll need to do is ensure that you meet the word count set for each task.

And since we are on the subject of handy features, here are two more: IELTS on computer comes with tools that you can use to highlight text and make notes during the Listening and Reading sections. In the next part, you can read about how IELTS on computer offers more flexibility – don’t miss it.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 3)

So far in our blog series on IELTS Writing test day advice, we’ve explored eight different ideas that can help you up your game when it matters most.

In this final part, we’ve got more practical guidance for you to ensure things go smoothly on the day.

9. Don’t copy from the question

In school exams, students don’t think twice about beginning their writing response by copying the question. Do that in IELTS, and the chances are that it may disadvantage you. If entire sentences, or even fragments, are copied from the question paper, they won’t get assessed. It may also send out the wrong signal that perhaps your language level isn’t up to scratch, forcing you to copy the question instead of paraphrasing it.

10. Avoid rambling answers

Like in other language tests, test takers need to work against the clock to complete the two tasks in IELTS Writing. Naturally, long rambling answers should be avoided at any cost. For one thing, it would mean spending more time than you should. Such a response may also turn out to be incoherent due to the inclusion of too many ideas.   

11. Write answers in full sentences

As you may already know, textspeak (use of initials, symbols, and short forms of words that are common in text messages) is something to avoid in IELTS Writing. What is equally unacceptable is writing your answers in bullet points or short notes. It’s important that test takers write their answers in full sentences. If not, they’ll be penalised for inappropriate format.

12. Don’t remove test materials from venue

Although it might be tempting to pass on some questions from your test to a friend or teacher, do not attempt to remove any test materials from the venue. On rare occasions, test takers have been found attempting to jot down the writing questions on pieces of paper. Trust us when we say, it’s simply not worth the trouble! If you get caught, you’ll have to kiss your test results goodbye. You may also have to face disciplinary action.

On test day, remember to do the little things right, and everything will be just fine!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 2)

In Part 1, we had some IELTS Writing advice for you about choice of stationery, model answers, task weighting, and understanding questions.

In this part, we’ll take a look at four more handy tips.

5. Always have a plan

Previously, we said how important it was to take a close look at the question before you begin writing. Once that’s done, it is wise to spend some time planning. Like in most high-stakes situations, failing to plan could mean planning to fail in IELTS too. Making notes almost always helps to write a coherent answer, so feel free to use the blank space on the question paper to jot down a plan.  

6. Learn to meet the word count within an hour

Managing time efficiently is something that demands considerable practice before you can be ready to sit the real test. IELTS recommends that you spend about 20 minutes on Task 1 and the remaining 40 odd on Task 2. What’s equally important is to successfully meet the recommended word count, failing which you’ll lose marks. Keep in mind that you need to write at least 150 and 250 words respectively. 

7. Include all key features / bullet points (Task 1)

In IELTS Academic Task 1, the pictorial data on your question paper will have key features – the most important and the most relevant points in the diagram. Similarly, in the letter-writing task in IELTS General Training, test takers are told what information to include, in the form of three bullet points. Failing to include all key features or bullet points in your response will definitely mean getting a lower band on Task Achievement.

8. Answer all parts of the task (Task 2)

IELTS essay questions can have up to 4 sentences, with more than one part that’ll need to be answered at times. Since test takers need to provide a full and relevant response, leaving a part out unwittingly will lower their chances of securing a good band score. Solution? In order to be doubly sure how many parts the question has, reread the question several times, carefully considering the meaning of the text in front. If it helps, translate the question into your mother tongue. That way, you’re less likely to miss anything important.

There’s more IELTS Writing advice coming your way – watch this space.

IELTS Essay Types (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we examined two essay types that IELTS teachers commonly teach their students – Analysis and Opinion.

Here are three more types that frequently appear in IELTS Writing.

Type 3: Discussion Essay

This variety gets test takers to discuss in-depth two sides of a topic. For instance, the question might get you to discuss the advantages and disadvantages, or the benefits and drawbacks, of a situation or development.

Example Task

Shopping has developed from a necessary activity to a kind of entertainment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this development?

Test Tip

Remember that when answering this type of an essay, it would be folly to fully develop just one side, leaving the other side underdeveloped. In order for you to meet the requirements of the task, it’s important that both sides are sufficiently developed.

Type 4: Discussion plus Opinion Essay

Here, test takers need to not only discuss two contrastive views on a topic, but also provide their own opinion. A variant of this type asks the test taker to decide whether the advantages of something outweigh its disadvantages.

Example Task

The heads (CEO, Director, etc) of companies are paid a lot more money as salary than ordinary workers. Some people say this is necessary, whereas others say it is unfair.

Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Test Tip

You may lose bands if you only briefly state your opinion without making an effort to substantiate what you’ve said.

Type 5: Hybrid Essay

At first glance it’s easy to confuse this type with an Analysis Essay, because both of them follow the two-part question pattern. However, the key difference is that one of the two questions in a Hybrid Essay tends to look for the test taker’s opinion on the topic.

Example Task

An increasing number of advertisements these days are being aimed at children.

What are the effects of this on children? Should such advertisements be controlled in any way?

Test Tip

To ensure that you adequately answer all parts of the task, it’s best to dedicate one paragraph to each question.

Now that you’ve become familiar with some of the IELTS essay types, draw up strategies for each so that Task 2 will be a breeze on test day.

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