IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 1)

Since its introduction almost three decades ago, IELTS has emerged as the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration.  

Over this time, some myths about the test have also been established. In this series, we’ll attempt to dispel some of the myths about the IELTS Speaking test.      

Myth #1: Speak as fast as you can

In the Speaking section, test takers are marked on four criteria, one being fluency and coherence. A common misconception among test takers is that it’s good to speak as fast as you possibly can in order to show the examiner that you are a fluent speaker. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful – if you focus on speed and say whatever comes to mind, you may soon start sounding incoherent. Besides, speaking fast can also make you breathless, affecting your delivery and resulting in a lower band on pronunciation. 

The truth: While it’s important to speak at a reasonable pace and without hesitation, what you say should be well organised and logical. A higher rate of speech DOES NOT automatically mean a higher band score on fluency. What you should aim for is producing answers that are sufficiently developed.

Myth #2: Put on an accent

The IELTS test accepts all standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian, and New Zealand English. However, this doesn’t mean that non-native speakers are expected to sound like native speakers of the language. Trying to fake an accent could have a boomerang effect – some of the sounds you produce might become unintelligible.

The truth: Pronunciation is assessed in IELTS, accent ISN’T. As a test taker, you need to ensure that you’re intelligible to the examiner throughout, and that’s all that is required!

Myth #3: Dress formally

It’s surprising how many test takers feel pressured to dress up and look their best in the hope that it might fetch them a higher speaking band score. Nothing could be further from the truth: the examiner closely monitors what you say during the test, not what you’re wearing.

The truth: Your choice of clothing has absolutely NO bearing on your final scores, so DO NOT agonise over what to wear to the speaking test. Choose something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. We’ll be back soon to bust some more speaking myths.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 3)

So far in this series, we’ve focused on some dos and don’ts that can help you ace the IELTS Listening section.

Here’s some more advice on what to do and what not to do during the test.      

9. Be mindful of grammar rules and spelling  

It isn’t entirely uncommon for test takers to do all the hard work to find the right answers, only to lose marks in careless fashion soon after. For example, they may forget to add an article (a, an, the) in front of a singular countable noun, misspell a word, or simply fail to pluralise a word. Remember, carelessness can hurt your chances of getting a high Listening score. 

10. Do not leave blanks

While it is important not to get stuck with a question, it doesn’t in any way mean that you leave blanks. There is no deduction of marks for entering wrong answers in the IELTS Listening and Reading sections. For this reason, it makes total sense to have a go even if you aren’t sure of the answer. Who knows, if it’s your day, you might earn yourself a valuable mark. And that one extra mark could sometimes change your band score.  

11. Do not go wrong with sequencing

At the end of the recordings, test takers get 10 minutes to transfer their answers on to the answer sheet. Be very careful while transferring answers so that you do not go wrong with sequencing. If answers go in the wrong boxes, they’ll be marked incorrect. One effective strategy to overcome this problem is to deal with answers in blocks of 10 – after writing answers to the first 10 questions, do a quick check against the question paper to ensure that you’ve written the answers in the appropriate boxes. Once you’re satisfied, proceed to write the next block of answers.  

12. Do use upper case if needed

Although grammar is important, capitalisation is not assessed in IELTS Listening. If you’re one of those people with illegible handwriting, use UPPER CASE throughout. It’s safer that way, as it’ll be easier for the clerical marker checking your answer sheet to identify letters.  

Follow these tips, and you’ll give yourself every chance to get a high Listening score. Good luck!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we gave you some advice on what to do during the Listening test – ensuring audio clarity, using time prudently, following instructions, and learning to anticipate what will be spoken in a recording.  

Read on for some more tips on IELTS Listening.     

5. Answer in the question booklet

Over half an hour, test takers need to answer 40 questions based on four different recordings. As you get to hear each recording only once, it’s important that you listen with rapt attention. Write your answers in the question booklet as you listen. That way, you can scribble down words without having to worry about your handwriting. Also, if you need to change an answer you’ve already written in the booklet, just cross it through before jotting down new information. Remember, your question booklet doesn’t get looked at, so feel free to write what you like.

6. Focus on finding answers

Seldom do test takers realise that they don’t have to understand every single word that is being said in the recordings. Don’t push the panic button if some parts of recordings go right over your head. Instead, stay calm and see if you can find any information that’ll help you answer the question(s) in hand.

7. Don’t get stuck

It’s quite possible that you might struggle to find the answer to a question despite your best efforts. Whatever you do, do not get stuck on a question and spend too much time; the recordings can’t be heard a second time. If a question seems too hard, quickly move on to the next one so that you are able to find the remaining answers.

8. Pick up signpost expressions  

Signpost expressions are words or phrases that help guide the listener through the various stages of a talk. Here are some examples: firstly, moving on, in fact, for instance, lastly, however, whereas. As they establish relationships between points, signpost expressions can help you understand how information is being organised in a talk. In other words, they help you tell whether the speaker is making comparisons, contrasting two things, adding information, or just sequencing ideas. This approach is particularly useful in the last part of IELTS Listening, when you’ll hear a university-style lecture on an academic topic.

We’ll be back soon with some more advice on how to improve your IELTS Listening scores.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 1)

Listening comprehension tests can be challenging for some, especially if they happen to be non-native English speakers. This may be down to various reasons, such as failing to understand speech sounds, having limited vocabulary, or experiencing too much anxiety.

In this series, we’ll give you handy bits of advice to do well in the IELTS Listening section.    

1. Ensure audio clarity

When your scores depend on how well you hear and understand recordings, nothing can be more important than audio clarity. At many British Council IELTS test centres, test takers get headphones so that they have the best possible audio experience. Before the test begins, use the volume wheel/button on your headphone to set the volume to what is the right level for you. If your headphone develops a problem at any point during the test, raise your hand right away. An invigilator would then come to your aid.

2. Use time wisely  

Before the recording in each section begins, test takers will receive some time (about half a minute) to read questions. How accurately you find answers will depend mostly on how well you understand questions. Use the time given to read questions carefully, taking in as much information as you possibly can. What you should also be doing is underlining important parts of the text – such as instructions and key words – so that you remember to focus on them while you listen.

3. Follow instructions

In IELTS Listening, the test taker’s ability to follow instructions is almost as important as their skill to find answers. For instance, if you have been asked to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer, then writing ‘works of art’ as the answer, instead of ‘art works’, will fetch you no marks. So, be alert all through the test!

4. Learn to anticipate

More often than not, it is possible to anticipate what the speakers might say and what vocabulary they are likely to use. This can be done in two ways: identifying the context and skimming through the questions. You’ll be able to guess who the speaker(s) will be and what they may talk about. Questions can also tell you what types of words may fit as answers – nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Remember, as far as exam success goes, strategies count as much as language skills.

Understanding the IELTS Writing Section

Writing is arguably the most difficult language skill to master. Contrary to popular belief, skilful use of grammar and vocabulary alone wouldn’t necessarily make a person a good writer. This is because good thinking which follows a logical path and which is easy to understand lies at the very heart of good writing.

Read on to understand what to expect in the Writing section of IELTS.

Tasks

Task 1 (Academic)

Test takers are given information ‒ usually in the form of a graph, table, chart, or diagram ‒ and asked to describe it in their own words, writing at least 150 words. This could involve describing and explaining data, describing the stages of a process, describing how something works, or describing an object or event.

Task 1 (General Training)

Test takers are presented with a situation that people commonly encounter in their everyday life. They are then asked to write a letter of at least 150 words requesting information or explaining the situation. As far as the style of writing is concerned, the letter could be personal, semi-formal/neutral, or formal.

Task 2

In both Academic and General Training, test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem. Essay topics in Academic Writing are suitable for individuals entering undergraduate / postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration in an English-speaking country, whereas topics in General Training Writing tend to be of general interest and less complex.

Duration

Overall, test takers receive 1 hour to finish writing both tasks. Although the recommendation is to spend 20 and 40 minutes on Task 1 and Task 2 respectively, it is up to you to decide how to divide the time. Remember, Task 2 contributes twice as much to the final Writing score as Task 1, so you may need to spend adequate time on it.

Skills tested

Broadly speaking, the test is designed in such a way that a range of skills gets assessed. These include the test taker’s ability to produce a response that is appropriate, organise ideas skilfully, and use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures with accuracy.

Marking

Writing answers are evaluated by certificated IELTS examiners using the IELTS Writing test assessment criteria: Task Achievement (Task 1) / Task Response (Task 2), Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Scores are reported in whole and half bands.

Remember, a common mistake that test takers make is not finding out enough about the Writing section format before the exam; do familiarise yourself with the task types so that you can fulfil all task requirements.

IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of how it’s important to be well-rested, well-fed, and comfortably clothed on the test day so that you can give a good account of yourself in IELTS.

Read on for some more tried and tested tips that can help you on the day.

Take your ID document along

On arrival, one of the first things that a test taker needs to undergo at the test venue is an identity check. When registering for IELTS, you receive information on what type of ID you’ll be expected to carry. In many regions, this would be the test taker’s passport. If you fail to take along your ID, you will not be allowed to sit the test. So, whatever you do, do not forget your ID.

Carry enough stationery

If you’re taking paper-based IELTS, you’ll have to write mostly in pencil. Time is invaluable, so anything that helps you save precious seconds is good news. Have 3 to 4 pencils ready to be used so that you don’t lose time sharpening when one goes dull. Similarly, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, and a couple of pens are also essential.
In some cases, the stationery is provided to you at the test venue. But, if this is not clearly mentioned to you when you book the test, ensure you carry enough stationery with you on the test day.

Leave electronic devices outside

Mobile phones or other electronic devices shouldn’t be taken into the test room, so leave them at home. At some test venues, designated places may be available where personal belongings can be stored. Remember, if an electronic item is found on you while you are in the test room, it would be considered a serious breach of test rules.

Arrive early

It’s really in your best interest to arrive on time at the test venue. For one thing, when you’re running late, you slip into panic mode. More importantly, test takers who report late may not be allowed to participate.

Watch how much water you drink

The Listening, Reading, and Writing tests are conducted one after the other, with no breaks in between. If you do choose to use the toilet, you’ll lose that time. Hence be mindful of how much water you drink during the test. It might also be a good idea to pay a quick visit to the toilet just before you enter the test room.

Remember these tips, and you should have a stress-free test experience.

IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 1)

Sitting an exam can be pretty nerve-wracking for most, even if it happens to be a straightforward language test. Often test takers are so caught up in exam preparation that they fail to get the simple things right.

Every year, thousands take IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. If you are thinking of having a crack at it anytime soon, we have some handy advice to help you perform to the best of your abilities.

Get adequate sleep

The IELTS test is considerably long, with the test taker spending 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the Listening, Reading, and Writing tests alone. Add to this the time taken by venue staff to check identity, collect biometric data, and give instructions, and the test taker might spend close to 4 hours under examination conditions.

To get through test day without having your energy levels drop, it’s important that you give yourself sufficient sleep. Once you’re well-rested, you’ll arrive at the venue feeling fresh, ready to take on any challenge. 

Have a heavy meal

It is common to experience pre-exam jitters on the eve of a high-stakes test such as IELTS. Test takers are so consumed by the anxiety to do well that they don’t always eat adequately.

If you begin the test on a near-empty stomach, you’ll soon suffer hunger pangs, and consequently lose your concentration or feel nauseous. See to it that you have a hearty meal before you set off for the exam venue. Food and drink cannot be taken into the test room, so what you eat has to be substantial.

Wear something comfortable

Formal or casual, the clothing you wear has no bearing on your test scores, so choose wisely. While you may be tempted to dress to impress, comfort should clearly be the priority here.

Wear something that you’ll be comfortable in and that’ll give you confidence to perform. At many test centres, the air-conditioning will remain switched on throughout, so don’t forget to take along an extra layer of clothing to keep warm.

We’ll be back soon with more simple yet effective exam tips.

Describing Visual Data (Part 2)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we looked at some useful advice to produce a good report – adding data to descriptions and choosing data carefully.

Here are some more tips on report writing.

 

3. Use comparative language

As well as choosing the right kind of data, a report writing exercise tests the writer’s ability to compare information where relevant. In other words, for a report to be good, you need to be able to look at trends in the graph and identify both similarities and differences.

Naturally, use of language to compare things is a must here, so keep looking for opportunities to use comparative phrases such as greater than, a lot less than, and relatively unpopular. Superlative adjectives (e.g. the tallest, the fastest, the costliest, etc.) also come in handy when something is being compared to a group of objects.

 

4. Use appropriate vocabulary

There’s no doubt that the wider the range of vocabulary used, the clearer descriptions get. A powerful word like skyrocket or plummet can help the reader visualise the trend being described even without having to look at figures. Of course, range alone will not do the trick. What is equally important is that vocabulary gets used precisely.

A graph is usually full of trends, which means that skillful use of trend vocabulary can better the overall quality of a report. Learning such vocabulary can go a long way towards improving your descriptions.

 

5. Look at the big picture

An overload of statistics can possibly suck the writer in, meaning that they spend all their energies on details. When writing a report, if you can’t see the wood for the trees, then that definitely is a major handicap.  Always look for the big picture, that one overriding pattern or trend that captures the essence of the graph that you are interpreting.

 

Practise using these tips, and report writing should be manageable even if you aren’t mathematically inclined.

 

 

GLOSSARY

do the trick
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to mean that something achieved what you wanted it to
Example : Complaining to the manager did the trick, as we got a discount on the meal.

 

not see the wood for the trees
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that someone is so focused on details that they fail to notice the main point
Example : People who lack experience are often unable to see the wood for the trees.

 

handicap
Form : noun
Meaning : a disadvantage
Example : Playing in Canada was a handicap, as they were used to warmer conditions.

 

the big picture
Form : phrase
Meaning : an overview of a situation
Example : The article focuses on the big picture of how the internet influences what we buy. 

 

 

Describing Visual Data (Part 1)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Describing information that is presented in visual form can be a hard row to hoe, especially if Mathematics isn’t your thing. For a start, there could be so much data that you wouldn’t know where to begin. Identifying the overall trend that captures the essence of the graph isn’t easy either.

 

It then comes as no surprise that different types of tests commonly use graphs to assess the test taker’s ability to interpret and describe data with some degree of precision. In IELTS Academic, Task 1 is a report writing exercise that can be based on visual data – line graph, bar graph, pie chart, or a combination of them.

 

Here are some handy tips for writing a good report.

1. Add data to support descriptions

Sometimes we get so caught up in making any sense out of all the numbers that are plotted on a graph that we forget to get the basics right. A fundamental part of report writing is effective use of figures. Leave them out, and your descriptions could make little sense to the reader.

Imagine reading an automobile sales report that includes various trends but has absolutely no numerical data to support descriptions. The chances are you wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of the situation just by reading about trends. So, add figures wherever needed to support trends or patterns you describe.

 

2. Pick data wisely

Although it is important to include numerical data when describing trends, it doesn’t mean that every number plotted on a graph needs to find its way into your report. Too many figures can make a report less effective, just like one without any data.

One ability that report writing assesses is whether the writer can pick key figures out as well as leave those out which are non-essential to the task. While there are no shortcuts to making this decision, thinking about the purpose of the report should help you decide what numbers to include and what not to.

 

Remember, time spent analysing the graph is time well spent.

 

 

GLOSSARY

hard row to hoe
Form : phrase
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : With just four matches left this season, winning the championship will be a hard row to hoe.

 

isn’t your thing
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to explain that you are not interested in something
Example : Camping under the stars isn’t really my thing, so I think I’ll pass.

 

not make head or tail (of something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : unable to understand something
Example : All the dialogues were in Italian so I couldn’t make head or tail of the play.

 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it’s important to sensibly utilise the one minute allotted for preparation during the IELTS Speaking section.

 

Read on for more advice on how to do well in the IELTS Speaking section.

2. Generate some main ideas, not many

Test takers commonly but wrongly try to produce as many different ideas related to the topic as possible, which doesn’t always work. After all, thinking up new ideas is a lot harder than extending ideas you already have. What they really should be doing is to come up with a few main ideas and then think of ways to develop them. Wh-words (what, when, which, where, why, and how) come in handy when you wish to elaborate a point. Learn to put them to good use, and you should be able to keep talking until the two-minute time is up.

 

3. Be descriptive

Topics used in the second part of the IELTS Speaking section often encourage test takers to draw on their own experience and feelings. And when doing so, it’s a good idea to vividly describe people and things you include in your talk. If you’ve been asked to talk about your favourite type of food, for example, talk about its appearance, smell, texture, and aroma. That way, you’ll have a lot more to say, meaning that you are less likely to dry up. As well as this, the examiner might also find your response more impressive, as detailed descriptions involve use of precise vocabulary.

 

4. Speak at a steady pace

It’s only human nature to talk faster than usual when we are fairly stressed out, and exam conditions can do just that sort of thing to you. The problem, though, is that the faster you go, the more content you need to produce to last the two-minute duration. Going at breakneck speed can also interfere with your diction, lowering your pronunciation score. It is best to stay calm and speak at a steady pace – not too fast, not too slow.

 

Equip yourself with these sound strategies, and speaking non-stop will be a walk in the park!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

come in handy
Form : phrase
Meaning : be useful
Example : Some ability to speak European languages will come in handy in this job.

 

draw on (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to make use of skill or experience that you have 
Example : The book draws heavily on the author’s experiences as a tourist in Asia.

 

a walk in the park
Form : phrase
Meaning : something that is easy to do
Example : I’ve been a cop for over two decades, so investigating petty crimes is a walk in the park. 

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