Here is Part 2 of the Prepcast which provides our IELTS Test tips for listeners.
IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 8
IELTS TIPS Arising from IELTS Candidates’ Questions: Part 2
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. Welcome back to the second part of the general overview tips for the IELTS listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The first lesson podcast has already been produced, is issued separately, and this is part 2, which completes the general overview questions. Let’s ask a very similar question for reading. Very often, the message I get is very straightforward. It says, “I’m having problems with my IELTS reading. How could you help me?” And normally, they add to that “My exam is in six weeks’ time” or something very similar. So what sort of advice would you give to that sort of question?
Andrea: Well, you can, you of course have to be prepared to work very hard at home to improve your band score. In writing, it’s easy to help improve your band by about .5 or even 1 band just by following a format that we do give you, we give you in the show notes. Reading is not so easy. We can give you tips, and you can understand how you can improve yourself. But you must go home and practice, and that’s really the key thing. Go to classes, take away the information from the classes, but really, really practice. And it will be things like in certain questions, in certain reading texts, you can look at the questions first and answer the questions just without even reading the text. You need to skim just to see where the questions belong, and obviously, you save yourself quite a lot of time if you can answer the questions first.
Andrea: Yes. Unfortunately, it’s not always the way you can do it. Sometimes you really have to read the text.
Steve: Okay, so this is the idea of reading questions first and then reading the text and skimming it eventually. That’s really because it’s very, very difficult certainly for a nonnative speaker to be able to read the quantity of information that’s being given to them. So they’re going to have to develop techniques to understand what is being asked and to identify the answer to those within the text very, very quickly.
Andrea: Yes. Yes, exactly that. And we’re always talking about key words and synonyms, and if you answer a question first, you look at question 1. Decide what the most important words in the sentence are, and then you very, very quickly look for something similar, and that saves you reading the whole text.
Steve: Okay. And you mentioned key words and synonyms. Of course, part of reading is—at least the reading test—is that the question will be written using synonymous expressions or synonyms of what is actually in the text being read.
Steve: So that’s another reason for going home and making sure you have a routine, if you like, to improve your vocabulary. Can I just come back to a point you raised earlier? You did say that one of the ways that students have to improve is to go away and read. What sort of things should they be reading?
Andrea: Well, there are very typical publications that the IELTS people use to find their text, and it’ll be things like medical publications, quite often things to do with the environment, published by the government, education, education’s really popular.
Steve: Okay. So if I was to name a few magazines some of it hopefully would be available online, The Spectator.
Andrea: Yes, that’s a good one.
Steve: Government reports from both local government and also from national government, and presuming that applies to all the major English-speaking nations, so New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America and the US, and UK.
Steve: What else could there be? I’m just trying to think of semiserious text, so . . .
Andrea: Historical as well, quite often, maybe things from hundred or a couple of hundred years ago, geographical quite often. Look at things like, I don’t know, mountains and how the stones formed and things like that, so just interest magazines, yes.
Steve: Okay, so National Geographic.
Andrea: Like something like National Geographic, yes.
Steve: Okay, so it’s the more serious stuff. It’s not really the tabloid newspapers.
Andrea: No, I’ll say it’s okay for speaking, yes. Just be very careful about the language you use from that. But yes, more serious stuff, and also documentaries on television. Even though that’s listening, obviously, they’re using language that you could go and record and practice.
Steve: Okay. Was there anything else you wanted to say about that aspect, or should I move on to the listening and . . .
Andrea: For reading, we said that yes, you sometimes can look at the questions first. I would say there are about twelve basic types of questions, and eight of those, you can look at the questions first. You do sometimes need to, you must read the text, and then what you’ll have to do in the text is in reverse. So you read a paragraph, you find the key words, and then you can look quickly through the questions to find again the synonyms, really. So you, it works in a different way, but you need to read the text so again, you need to learn how to read the text quickly.
Steve: Okay, right. Let’s move on to listening, which I always think is a bit of a challenge. Quite commonly, the people who write to us will say almost exactly the same question: “I’m having problems with my listening. What could you do to help? And I’ve only got six weeks.” So let’s not constrain ourselves too much for the six weeks, because there’s also very little that can be done if you aren’t preparing in time for the IELTS test. But what could you recommend in terms of preparation for listening?
Andrea: Well, each section concentrates on different skills, so what they hope is section 1 is just what you probably would do come across every day in England, so hopefully, you’re already quite good at that. But remember that you need to know some things to help you. So that would be, they would be looking for names and numbers, street names, city names, bank account numbers, post codes, and things, and dates they quite often mention. And I could also say that they, the examiners, try to trick you when they use that sort of information, because they’ll change it. So you just have to be aware that if you’re given a number, then something’s going to crop up to make the number change, and you’ll be looking for the second answer.
Steve: Okay, are there any good sources of listening on the, either on the Internet or on television or something.
Andrea: Well, I just always say, listen in general, because quite easy, it’s quite easy to go home after a day at a college or a day at work and just sit in front of the television for half an hour. You can either do that very passively; obviously, that takes longer for your comprehension skills to improve. Or you can sit there maybe for ten minutes, and you can note down new expressions and try to learn them and recycle them. Obviously, the more you listen, it’s just going, it’s going to be easier for you to understand things. I was going to say something else about that. Each of the channels has something called similar to BBC iPlayer, which means that you can, it’s something that’s already been on television but you can watch it again if you want to. I think it’s very good to watch something like a documentary on BBC iPlayer, and you could maybe watch it for ten minutes. Take notes, because one of your skills in listening is to take notes, so that would improve your note taking. And then you can watch it again with subtitles if you like. You have a facility to put subtitles on iPlayer, and then you can see how good your note taking is. And at the same time, you can look at new vocabulary. So I think that’s a really good way, especially if you choose programs like documentaries or news programs.
Steve: Okay, so that’s a good suggestion. So which one have we not covered? We’ve covered a little bit of writing.
Andrea: Writing, yes.
Steve: We’ve done some writing. We’ve done some listening. So the last one really is speaking. Is there anything that these candidates can do to improve their speaking?
Andrea: Well, I could offer similar advice, really. If you’re watching television and listening, obviously, somebody is speaking, so you could watch that and imitate some of the ways people speak, things like typical questions you could put out or typical replies to questions or natural collocations, natural expressions that we use in English, and think about how you can recycle them. Obviously, you should try to speak to a native speaker. Although I think that’s probably quite hard if you live in a big city, because people aren’t inclined to socialize very much. And also, you have to be quite brave and just approach people, especially native speakers, and see if they’re willing to talk to you. Or use your colleagues at work if you work with native speakers.
Steve: Okay. Some people I know practice with their student colleagues. Is that a good way of doing things, or is that something that needs to be treated with a bit of caution?
Andrea: I would treat it with caution. It’s what students themselves tell me. Then you could be building up your fluency, but if you’re with a student, you’re not really going to know if your English is correct, unless they are better at speaking English than you.
Andrea: So it’s good for fluency. It’s good for socializing, obviously, but just be very wary. When you come to section 3, they ask you global questions about your speaking topic in section 2, and then you’re actually having a real conversation with the examiner, so something that could help you there is either to look at news online and just look at typical events of the day or typical global topics like pollution, global warming, technology, obesity, and just think of the very popular topics, because it helps with your writing as well. Everything you do will help all the skills, but if you look at those, you’ll give yourself ideas. Again, watch television programs that deal with those topics. And it will just give you ideas to talk about anyway, and then, when you’re talking to the examiner, the examiner will pick up on something you said and ask you a question about that, so it just gives you lots of ideas if you use television, and things like that are really, really easy to do. Just sit down and watch television.
Steve: Okay. Are there any other IELTS, specific points for the IELTS general people from any of the other sections, or are they generally the same? So IELTS writing, IELTS reading . . .
Andrea: Well, you do exactly the same listening and exactly the same speaking, so you’re judged in the same way, really. Reading is a bit different. The reason is that the reading is easier, that the reading texts are easier, the question types are the same, so you need the same sort of skills. But for example, if you want a band 7 in IELTS academic, you’ve only got to get thirty out of forty questions right, but if you want a band 7 in IELTS general training, you’ve got to get thirty-four or thirty-five questions right. So although the texts are easier, it’s more difficult to get higher marks.
Steve: I see, so it’s actually quite deceptive.
Steve: It’s deceptively easy.
Andrea: Yes, exactly.
Steve: So to score the higher marks, you really have got to be quite unusual.
Andrea: Yes, you’ve actually got to be really, really good, because you can’t get many answers wrong.
Steve: Okay. And are there any other elements that the general students don’t—sorry, do that the academic people don’t?
Andrea: No, I don’t think so. It’s just letter writing in task 1, and the reading, the texts are easier, but the question types are the same.
Steve: Okay. Now the other thing that we, is a running theme for most of our lessons is the public band descriptors. Is there anything that you would suggest about them to candidates, for the public band descriptors?
Andrea: Well, I would go online and download them, and keep them at your side because if you’re looking, probably most people are looking for 6.5, 7, or higher, then I think they’re not usually looking for higher, maybe 7.5. Obviously, they want higher, but they’re not especially looking for higher. If you get the public band descriptors, each of the bands will tell you what the examiner’s looking for to give you your band 6.5, if you want one, 7. Especially in band 7, if you look at the descriptors, that’s when they start looking for your paraphrasing. So if you’re really good at paraphrasing, hopefully, you can start to begin to expect a band 7 or better.
Steve: Okay. Well, that’s been a really useful set of tips, I think, for the high-level, general “I’m having problems with this; how could you help me?” type of questions. So I think, for today, we’ll wrap it up there, and we’ll perhaps give some more focused tips in later lessons.
Steve: Okay, thank you.
Andrea: Okay, bye-bye.
End of Lesson
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