We thought we’d take a different approach today and provide our listeners with a set of IELTS Test tips.
The tips are as a result of questions that we commonly get from IELTS candidates on our website – www.passieltshigher.com.
IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 7
IELTS TIPS Arising from IELTS Candidates’ Questions: Part 1
The IELTS Test Prepcast provides three free IELTS test lessons each week for candidates who are aiming for IELTS band scores 7, 8, or 9.
I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since.
Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS, and has previously lived in Spain. She is a qualified teacher of English as a second language and has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.
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And now for today’s IELTS lesson . . .
Steve: Hello. We thought we’d take a different approach today and provide our listeners with a set of tips. These really are as a result of questions that we commonly get from IELTS candidates on the website. Typically, when we ask people to sign up, one of the e-mails that they get ask them to mention and highlight any particular problems and write to us, letting us know what they are. What we find, though, is that students are not necessarily that knowledgeable about what actually the problem is, and the questions tend to be quite high level. So what I thought we’d do is—we have Andrea here—is to ask Andrea the questions that we typically get and then just see what answers that she comes back with. So let me start with writing. And a typical question that we might get is “I have problems with my IELTS writing. What can you suggest?” or “How can you help me?”
Andrea: Well, there are obviously rules to the way you write task 1. First of all, I would say you’re given twenty minutes to write the task, and just make sure you only spend twenty minutes on the task. If you spend more, you won’t get better marks, really, and you’ll lose valuable marks from your task 2.
Steve: Okay, so this, so that piece of advice is really for task 1.
Andrea: Yes. What you should do is plan. If you plan, your writing’s always going to be logical because you thought about what you’re going to say. And then you don’t forget anything, and sometimes, if you don’t plan, then you forget something or you put it at the end and after cross it out and put it at the beginning, but if you plan, everything’s going to be very logical. Remember that you get marks for being logical and easy to follow. Because you’ve only got twenty minutes, I’d spend about three minutes writing a plan. That could be a list of things you’re going to mention, or it could be a mind map, which you approach in the same way. You put the general idea in the middle and then put some things you’re going to mention at the side.
Steve: Okay, so how about things like linking ideas together or any of the other things that examiners would expect to see in their writing.
Andrea: Yes, that’s also a good question. So having planned, yes, you actually could put your linking expressions at the side, just to remind you to use them. You’re so anxious to get the task written that you forget some of the good things to do. So if you make notes of what you’re going to do in the plan, then you’ll be more likely to put it in your writing task. It’s probably a good idea to spend about fourteen minutes on your writing. Having spent three minutes on the plan, fourteen minutes on the writing—you break task 1 down into three sections, really. Section 1 is what they call an overview; the examiner’s looking for an overview, and that’s where you describe generally what you can see. You’re not very specific in the introduction. And because you’re describing generally, you’ll need to use the present tense, and having described generally, you then have to talk about something you noticed, which is called the general trend, and that’s what the examiner’s looking for, really. So in the bar charts, graphs, etc., etc., the general trend is probably that things are increasing or decreasing or staying the same, so make sure you point out that there was a general view you can take, and then you get extra marks from the examiner. If you don’t put your general trend, you lose marks. It doesn’t have to be in the introduction; it’s just easy to see there, and a lot of people put it in their conclusion. As long as you do have a general trend somewhere in the writing, you’ll get your marks. If you don’t put it, if you’ve put it in your introduction, it means you don’t have to write a conclusion. So that’s probably quite good as well. You can write all your information down; you don’t have to review what you’ve written, and so you can save yourself a bit of time if you don’t do a conclusion.
Steve: Okay, and there’s obviously, there must be different sorts of plan for different sorts of question, so if you’re being asked to describe maybe directions on a map or a city plan, or if you’re being asked to describe the life cycle of a mosquito or something, the plans, although they’ll be similar, you’ll need to have an introduction. You may or may not need to have a conclusion, but there, and the stages in between, I presume the examiners are expecting to see three, four, five paragraphs. We could probably come up with and include in the show notes a, like a blank template, so maybe in one corner, you could have the verbs you want to use or adjectives or directions or something like that. So perhaps what we’ll do is we’ll include something like that in the show notes, and we’ll think about the differences you might have for the different sorts of task 1 question you might get.
Andrea: I agree. There would be different things to remember. You have to remember that everybody all over the world is doing the same exam, so you’re probably going to be writing the same basic information. What you do to get your extra marks is to put unusual expressions in. So that’s what we call collocations, really, so it can be unusual expressions in English or unusual expressions showing grammar, and that will get you extra marks. So yes, again, you could write those down in your little tables. In the describing changes in the map, you’d need to think about buildings, maybe points of the compass and how to talk about those points of the compass, southwestern or southwest or northeastern. And you need to know where things are, really, so you’d say maybe “at the top end of the map” or “at the north end of the map.” You can apply the same sort of ideas to a change in the map as you can to the task 1 bar charts, for example. So you might say that figures have doubled, for example, and in the changes in the map, you could say that the area used to improve—I don’t know, something, your building has doubled in square meters or something like that.
Andrea: Yes, so just think that anything you learn, you should try to make it useful for every kind of task 1 you might have to answer.
Steve: Okay. How about for task 2? Is there anything that you would recommend or provide as a tip for task 2?
Andrea: Task 2’s similar, really. You can do the same sort of things a a basic approach. As long as you’re telling the examiner all the time how you’re going to approach it, you’ll get marks for being logical. So you just decide what task type it is, so three basic tasks types: traditional, modern, or problems and solutions. And you just tell the examiner how you’re going to develop your argument, really. As you mentioned, linking is very, very important, and it’s very easy to say things like “firstly” and “secondly,” but what you should try to do, because that’s at the lower end of the marks, again, I think, try to have unusual ways to link your ideas, something like “the first point to be mentioned is,” and you’ve included quite a lot of unusual grammar when you use that expression. So, and also those are easily transferable to any of the kind of topics you have to answer, or you can use those in task 1 as well, if you think carefully.
Steve: Okay. I know we have a blog post on our website, and that blog post talks to how you can use more unusual phrasing to link your expressions together.
Andrea: Yes, exactly that. The minute you start being adventurous is—a lot of students, of course, want their band 7s, because it allows them to follow a profession in Britain or in a native’s English-speaking country. And the sophisticated languages is what’s going to get you your band 7, the unusual way to express yourself, typical expressions that English people use.
Steve: Okay. So once again, the simple expressions, the grammar that you’re using for those needs to be correct. It’s worth having a store of some of the more unusual expressions, and if you get those correct, then of course, you’re into the very high marks, not just the medium to high marks.
Andrea: No, I agree. If you’re experimental, you could get between—I would say, if you look at the public band descriptors, they give you marks for trying, so look at your band 6, high band 6, band 7. Of course, the better you are at English, the higher your band’s going to be anyway.
Steve: Earlier, I wanted to ask you to go back to the task 1 in particular, because of course, we’ve forgotten about the general IELTS, IELTS general paper, and of course, the task 1 is different. Is there anything that you would suggest to the 20 percent of IELTS students that are taking the IELTS general test?
Andrea: Okay. Well, IELTS general, obviously, task 1 is writing a letter, so I would study sort of the three basic approaches there are in letter writing. So one is a fairly formal letter, and learn special expressions that you would use in formal letters. Also know the letter format. So if you’re going to write something fairly formal, you know things like, you must write “Dear Sir,” “Yours faithfully.” If you’re writing something that’s less formal, then you’d write something like “Dear Mr. Smith,” “Yours sincerely.” And then you might be asked to write to a friend, so that’s up to you how you write that. You might just say “Hi,” “Hi, Sam,” “Hugs and kisses,” things like that. So just learn how you begin and end letters, and then you can apply the same approach as you can to your writing task 2. If you’ve got special ways to link your ideas inside the letter or special collocations in the same way as in task 2, you’ll get extra marks for those. So just think about remembering universal phrases that you can apply to any of your letters.
Steve: Okay. But an interesting takeaway for me, at least, there was that you would expect linking expressions to be used, and again, the more complex that they are, the higher the task 1 score will be.
Andrea: Yes, I agree. Letter writing is actually quite easy. It’s quite easy to get a middle-of-the-road band. What gives you the extra bands are exactly the linking, the unusual linking, the unusual collocations. And people just think, “Oh, I’m writing a letter,” but no, it’s not just writing a letter. If you want higher marks, you have to put unusual things in for the examiner to notice and give you the extra marks.
Steve: Okay. So what we’ve realized is that this is, this set of tips that we’re giving is going to be too long for just a single podcast episode, so what we’re going to do, we’re going to put it into two. So we’ll still cover everything; it’s just that we’re going to put it into two individual lessons and release it on different occasions. So we’re going to wrap up the end of the first session, and we’ll join you again at the beginning of the next session.
End of Lesson
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