IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 3)

Thus far in our series of posts about IELTS test day advice on the Reading section, we’ve had a look at several little things that you need to get right in order to score well.

Here are four more Reading tips to help you ace the test.

9. Write answers on the answer sheet   

Unlike IELTS Listening, the Reading section doesn’t allow test takers extra time to transfer answers on to the answer sheet. Naturally, writing answers in the question booklet as you find them and then transferring them later just doesn’t make sense. While it’s perfectly okay to underline text in the question booklet or to write short notes, answers written there don’t get looked at. Therefore, right from when you begin practising reading, form a habit of entering answers straight on to the answer sheet.

10. Attempt all questions

In IELTS Listening and Reading, the test taker is not penalised if they go wrong. While each correct answer receives one mark, any wrong answer that they write does not affect their total score in any way. Remember, in some cases a single additional mark can elevate your Reading score by half a band. Even if you aren’t sure what the answer is, take a guess, as you clearly have nothing to lose.

11. Use upper case if required

As we’ve said before, spelling is important in the IELTS test. Although you can copy the spelling of answers from the reading text, bad handwriting could sometimes cause confusion to the clerical marker evaluating your answer sheet. To play safe, see to it that you write all answers in UPPER CASE.

12. Check all answers

It’s true that a lot of people struggle to complete a reading comprehension test in time, so checking answers may be the last thing on their minds on the day. The key to finding spare time to check answers is to give yourself enough reading practice. Do that, and you’ll be able to check all your answers before the test ends. 

During the IELTS Reading section, stay calm and alert so that you’re able to recollect and use all the tips you’ve read here.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we introduced you to some exam tips that can help push your IELTS Reading score up – keeping an eye on the clock, noticing special features, copying words from the reading text, and predicting answers.

In this post, you’ll receive another set of handy reading tips.

5. Watch out for paraphrasing

In the IELTS Reading section, or in any international reading comprehension test for that matter, the grammar structures and vocabulary used to form questions are different to those used to state the same information in the reading passage. This technique is called paraphrasing, i.e. expressing the same meaning of a text but by using different words. If test takers have to be able to find answers, they’ll need to have the skill of spotting paraphrases. For example, if the key word in the question is ‘dangerous’, then the reading text may have a synonym such as ‘hazardous’. Spotting information in paraphrased form is a quick way to find answers.

6. Adhere to the word limit

Whether it is IELTS Listening or Reading, if the question isn’t accompanied by a list of possible options from which the answer can be chosen, instructions generally specify the maximum number of words that the test taker can write as answer. If you’ve been asked to ‘choose NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS from the passage for each answer’, then keep that in mind and see to it that your answer doesn’t exceed the word limit.

7. Don’t be fazed by unfamiliar words

No matter how good your English is, the chances are that you will come across words that you don’t understand during the Reading test. If this happens, there’s no need to be nervous; instead, check if knowing the meaning of such unfamiliar words is essential to finding answers. If they are important, try to deduce meaning from context. Whatever you do, do not panic, as it’ll break your concentration.  

8. Be mindful of grammar and spelling

Bad spelling and incorrect grammar can cost you dear in the Reading section. While writing answers, be sure to carefully copy the spelling of words from the reading text. Similarly, pay attention to your use of singular and plural words, and other grammatical features.

There’s more IELTS Reading advice to follow in our final part in this series.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 1)

Reading is something which many feel is both relaxing and pleasurable. That being said, in an exam setting, completing reading comprehension exercises can be anything but a breeze.
Here are some handy tips to help you do your best in the IELTS Reading test.

1. Be wary of time

In IELTS Reading, test takers have to answer 40 questions within an hour, reading anywhere between 2,150 to 2,750 words and answering a range of question types. Clearly, time is precious so managing it well could make all the difference to achieving the required score. Do not spend too much time on a question or part, as this will stop you from completing the test. IELTS recommends that you spend no more than 20 minutes on each section or passage, so pay heed to it.

2. Notice special features

In an effort to find answers, test takers tend to be so focussed on understanding the text that they pay little attention to special features – bold or italic type, capital letters, figures, tables, diagrams, etc. More often than not, such features hold important clues that can help the reader find answers. It’s also a good idea to notice headings and subheadings because they help test takers orientate themselves to the text. 

3. Take words from the reading text

While some question types in IELTS Reading require test takers to choose the answer from a list of options, others require them to select words or numbers from the reading text as answers. In such cases, instructions make it very clear that test takers are supposed to ‘choose words from the text for each answer’. It’s worth remembering that the format or the order of the words in the text should not be changed.

4. Predict answers

Some question types in the IELTS Reading test have gaps that need to be filled. In order to save time, think of what type of word may fit the gap – for example, if an indefinite article (a, an) appears before the blank, the answer might be a noun, or an adjective followed by a noun. By using this approach, you get a fair idea of what word(s) to look for as the answer.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Reading advice that you’re likely to find helpful on your test day. 

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 3)

So far in this series, we have dispelled quite a few myths surrounding IELTS Speaking, facts that actually have little impact on your final score.

Read on to discover what other misconceptions people commonly harbour about the Speaking section.

Myth #7: Examiners aren’t interested in what test takers say

I think my examiner had little interest in what I was saying. He/she kept interrupting me.” It’s a grumble that test takers often have on completing the Speaking interview.

The truth: In IELTS Speaking, the examiner has between 11 and 14 minutes to assess a test taker’s language level. So, f they feel that the test taker has spoken enough in response to a question, they will want to move him or her on so that conceptually harder questions can be asked. Such an approach allows test takers to produce more complex language, opening the door to attaining higher scores.

Myth #8: Always use formal vocabulary

IELTS is a high-stakes test that is internationally recognised, so many wrongly believe that they should use formal language throughout the test.

The truth: Part 1 of the Speaking interview gives test takers the perfect opportunity to settle their nerves, as they are asked questions on familiar topics. While responding to questions on topics such as home, work, friends, or interests, it’s quite natural to use words and phrases that appear in our everyday conversations (e.g. chat with friends, have a blast). In fact, too many formal expressions at the beginning of the speaking interview could be perceived as a sign of rote learning, which doesn’t exactly help.

Myth #9: All prompts in Part 2 must be covered

In Part 2, the test taker will receive a task card with the topic they’ll need to speak on. The card will also have 4 prompts, each beginning with a wh-word (e.g. who, when, why). Many mistakenly believe that including all the prompts in their answer is a must.  

The truth: While the prompts can help test takers speak at length effortlessly, they are under no obligation to use them. What’s important is to produce a well-rounded answer that lasts 2 minutes; using the prompts given on the task card is a matter of choice.

The next time you spot any of these myths anywhere, do bust them. And when you need IELTS Speaking advice, see that you get it from an authentic source.   

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 2)

In the first part, we busted some myths surrounding the IELTS Speaking section, proving how speaking too fast, faking an accent, or putting on formal clothes don’t really help you get a higher band score.

Here are some more notions about the Speaking interview that you should reject straightaway if you happen to hear them.

Myth #4: Never disagree with the examiner

In the last part of IELTS Speaking, which will be a discussion, the examiner might challenge you on your views. Quite often they play devil’s advocate to have a good discussion about a topic. The end result is that you, as a candidate, receive enough opportunities to speak at length and substantiate your claims. A common misconception is that you need to agree with whatever the examiner says.

The truth: Do not feel obliged to agree with the examiner’s views. It’s worth remembering that the views you hold DO NOT get assessed. It’s the language you use to communicate your views that determines the final outcome.

Myth #5: Always speak the truth

Sometimes questions in the Speaking section require the test taker to draw on their own personal experiences. For instance, in Part 2, you may be asked to talk about ‘a time when a vehicle you were travelling in broke down’, but what if you’ve never had such an experience? Whilst it is a plus to be able to fall back on past experiences, this may not always be possible.      

The truth: There’s nothing wrong in using your imagination if you don’t have much to say on the topic that you’ve been asked to talk about. The Speaking examiner’s job is to test your level of English, not to check the authenticity of the details you choose to include in your answers.

Myth #6: The test is easier at some centres

Being an internationally acclaimed test, IELTS is available at as many as 1600 locations around the world. However, a considerable amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the test experience remains the same irrespective of where it is taken. 

The truth: IELTS speaking examiners are qualified and experienced English language specialists who work to clearly defined criteria. They undergo extensive training and are subject to ongoing monitoring, quality control procedures and re-certification, all of which make ratings consistent across test centres. 

There’s more to follow in the final part, so do watch this space.

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.

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