The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 2)

A previous blog post on the topic focussed on three things you ought to do on the eve of your IELTS test: ensuring your physical well-being, reducing anxiety levels and eating well.

We have some more advice on how to spend the twenty-four hours leading up to your test.

Revise

Whilst it is natural for you to want to continue preparing for D-Day till the last moment, it is important to keep studies light. It is best not to attempt to study anything entirely new on the eve of your IELTS test. Instead, focus your energies on revising whatever you’ve managed to learn up until that point. Besides, do not be tempted to chop and change the strategies that have worked for you thus far. In short, last-minute changes are undesirable.  

Know when to stop

Let’s face it – there is only so much study you can do before a test. Too much cramming for an exam at the eleventh hour isn’t going to help one bit; all it would do is send you into a tizzy. If you’ve put enough hours into improving your language skills, it should give you the confidence to ease up on the day before.

Put together a to-do list

To avoid moments of panic on test day, it might be a good idea to draw up a list of things you have got to do before you set off for the test venue. This should help you remember to pick up essential things, such as your ID document and stationery. Doing a quick double-check of the location of your test venue online is also advisable if you’ve never been there before. 

Get some shut-eye

Months of hard work can quickly go down the drain if you aren’t sufficiently rested and sharp. Remember, getting a good night’s sleep is as important as anything else you could possibly do in preparation for the test. Whatever you do, do not pull an all-nighter, which is bound to leave you groggy and disoriented.

Finally, once you begin the test, you might come across topics that are unfamiliar or questions that look tricky. Just keep calm, take time to slow your breathing, and deal with things as best as you can. Good luck!

The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 1)

When you are due to take a high-stakes test such as IELTS, it is perfectly natural for you to get the jitters, especially on the day before. You may even have to fight hard to block out the thought that every plan you’ve made for the future depends on the outcome of the test you are about to take.

Learning to cope with exam stress is the key to turning in a strong performance on test day. Check out these tips that will help you manage stress and give a good account of yourself.

Focus on your physical well-being

If you need to be able to give your best in a test, it is important that you are fighting fit. Too much study can trigger headaches or leave you with tense muscles, among other things. Spending hours in the same position poring over study material isn’t the ideal way to prepare. See to it that you take regular breaks, getting up each time and moving around a bit.

Manage anxiety

Exam preparation can also affect you emotionally, making your feel blue or unusually moody because of the high levels of anxiety you experience. Learning to absorb stress is often half the battle. One thing you should definitely avoid is too much exam talk in the hours leading up to your test. To lift your spirits, do something during the day that will help take your mind off any exam worries and put you in the best frame of mind – for example, listening to music or watching something funny.

Eat right  

Eating a well-balanced diet will boost you energy levels for sure, so include fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and protein in your meals. While it might be tempting to sip energy drinks when studying, do realise that they can increase nerves. Also, snacking on junk food, such as chocolate or crisps, over the course of the day might get you a sudden burst of energy. However, it is bound to wear off soon, at which point you will begin to feel sluggish.    

In the next part, you will find some more handy tips on how to spend the day before your IELTS test. 

Being Imaginative in IELTS Speaking (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we spoke of how letting your imagination run wild is a good thing to do in IELTS Speaking. Your answers will be longer, and they’ll probably have more varied language.

It’s not just at the beginning of the Speaking section where thinking up details to embellish your responses works. Maintaining this approach throughout the interview will certainly pay dividends.

Part 2

In this part, the test taker receives a topic on a task card and one minute preparation time. They are then expected to talk for up to two minutes without further prompts from the Examiner. Since the focus here is on the test taker’s ability to speak at length on a given topic, it might be a good idea for you to draw on your own experience to help you keep going. That being said, it may not always be possible for you to relate to topics. Here’s an example:

Talk about a time when you were really close to a wild animal.

If the topic you receive on the day were to leave you stumped, creativity can come to the rescue. For instance, you could quickly think of someone else’s experience (e.g. an anecdote shared by a friend, a movie scene, a documentary account), add finer details to personalise it, and present it as your own.    

Part 3

In the final part, the test taker and Examiner discuss at length the topic in Part 2 in a more general and abstract way. Here, you need to show an ability to express and justify opinions, to discuss and analyse topics, and to speculate about issues. Yet again, being imaginative can be the key to producing well-rounded answers. In order to buy yourself some time to work out what to say, you could begin responses with a functional phrase. Here are a couple of examples:  

  • Just last week I happened to read an article online about ….
  • I’ve often thought about this question, as it is hotly debated nowadays. Now, if you ask me,…

An additional benefit of this approach is that such phrases can also boost your vocabulary and grammar scores. Just see to it that you use functional language prudently to avoid sounding too rehearsed.

Just like any other skill, creativity too demands regular practice, so be ready to put in the hard yards. Good luck!

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.

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