Monthly Archives: September 2015

How should I manage my time in the reading test?

Time is a key part of the reading test.  A Band 8 or 9 candidate can skim read or speed-read a passage a lot faster than a Band 4 or 5 candidate.  Your ability to quickly read the passages and locate the relevant information to answer the questions is one of the reading skills being assessed.  So it is important to have a strategy for the test and to practice the skills of skim reading and scanning a passage.  

Remember also that you need to transfer all of your answers onto a separate answer sheet within the 60 minutes that you have.  You are NOT given any extra time for this at the end. It is very important to make sure that you don’t make any mistakes when you are transferring your answers and that you don’t make any spelling mistakes.  

One question I’m often asked is whether you should start by reading the questions first.  My advice is to only very quickly look at the questions just to satisfy your curiosity and no more.  You will absolutely NOT be able to ‘guess’ any answers or answer the questions without reading the passage.  This is a common problem with practice tests that aren’t written by trained exam writers.  In the IELTS test, you will have to read the passage to find out the information you need, so reading the questions in detail first will be confusing and may make you feel anxious about what you don’t know.  It is also a waste of very valuable time.  

The images below show what I think is the best way to use your time in the reading test.

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Why not try my new Vocabulary teaching app?

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My IELTS Vocabulary teaching app is ready!

I have spent the last 6 months developing a series of apps designed to help you increase your vocabulary for the IELTS test and over 80 users are now enjoying the app and improving their vocabulary.  The app is available from iTunes and for android phones on google play.  (click on links to see the app in the two stores)

Here are some comments I’ve received from users:

‘Awesome!!!!! This app is a must for any IELTS aspirant.’

‘I like how the app is teaching you topic-wise vocabulary’

‘These words are repeatedly seen in the exam. The app will also help you memorise and master the use of these words.’

This is how the app works:

The app is designed to help increase your active vocabulary for IELTS, so that you can remember words when you need to use them in the IELTS speaking and writing test.  The app will also help you to improve your listening and speaking scores by helping you to increase your speed reading and helping you to quickly recognise words.

The first app is aimed at IELTS candidates who feel stuck at bands 6 or 6.5 and are aiming for Bands 7 and above. In the next few months I will release a higher level (for those aiming for Bands 7.5 to 8) and a lower level (for those aiming for Band 5 or 6).   The images below show the main features of the app…
App image page 1
App image page 2
App image page 3,
and you can click on this link to see a video about the app.
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Can I use idioms in the IELTS speaking test?

I’m often asked if it’s ok to use idioms in the IELTS speaking test.

Here is a question I was asked recently by a follower of my Facebook page:

‘I am unsure about whether using idioms in my IELTS speaking test is encouraged or not and which is better, using idioms or collocations? Many teachers say doing this will get 8.5 but why? is it necessary?   Can you give me some solid examples for IELTS speaking?”

There are several important points to this question.  I’ll start with the difference between idioms and collocations.

An idiom is a phrase that has a special meaning that is different to the literal meaning of the individual words. Idioms often help to create a mental picture of something. For example, you might hear a native speaker describe an optimistic person as someone who ‘sees the glass as half full‘, while pessimists are people who ‘see the glass as half empty.’ They aren’t literally looking at a glass of anything, but thinking of the image and the way a particular person would describe it, helps us to see whether that person generally thinks in a positive or a negative way. There are also many idioms connected to the weather. For example: it’s raining cats and dogs ( = it’s raining very heavily). Some idioms can sound very old-fashioned and non-native speakers have to reach an extremely high level of English and be around native speakers a lot to know which idioms are normally used and which ones you very rarely hear any more.

Collocation refers to using the correct combination of words and is more closely connected to showing your general lexical resource skills (in both speaking and writing). One example is knowing to use the verb ‘take’ and the preposition ‘for’ with the word ‘responsibility’. This is why I always recommend that you don’t learn lists of individual words – you need to also learn the words that go with them. So, you would learn ‘take responsibility for something‘ instead of just learning the word ‘responsibility’.

The next important point is to be extremely wary of anyone who suggests that simply using a magic list of words will increase your band score.  A Band 8 or 8.5 candidate is a candidate that can communicate naturally and fluently in English and in a way that is easily understood. They may well not use a single idiom at all, and if they did it would be because it was a natural part of their speech.

Trying to learn lists of phrases to use in the test will most likely mean you actually reduce your score in the speaking test. This is because you are very unlikely to be given a perfect topic to naturally use those phrases – so they will stand out in an odd and unnatural way in your speech. You are also more likely to pause in your speech to remember the phrases – this will reduce your fluency and will make you sound hesitant.

The very best way to score well in the speaking test is to respond to the questions in a natural way.

Writing Task 2 – Sample Essay

I’ve just added this page to the IELTS Weekly site:
Let’s take a look at IELTS writing task 2. The question below comes from the official IELTS website:

The question says:

Writing Task 2 Sample question

So, the question has 2 clear parts:

  1. A problem (too many cars on the road and the number is growing) and
  2. A possible solution (alternative forms of transport and international laws to control car ownership)

So, your essay should

  • Introduce the topic
  • Discuss the problem
  • Discuss the proposed solutions
  • Reach a personal conclusion saying to what extent you agree or disagree

The image below shows one candidate’s answer. Can you find any language errors in the answer? Have a look at the public version of the writing task descriptors. Do you think this is closer to a Band 5, a Band 6 or a Band 7?

Writing Task 2 Car essay sample answer

Below is my feedback on this answer. It’s important to point out that I am not a current IELTS examiner, these are my own opinions based on my own experience in the past and based on the public band descriptors. I have divided the comments and the errors up into the 4 different criteria. As you can see, most problems are in Lexical resource and Grammatical range and accuracy.

The task is 358 words long – this is 108 more than you are asked to write, so it is overly long. If the candidate had written a plan then they might have controlled this better and they would then have had more time to check for silly mistakes at the end.

Try to correct all of the errors I have listed in Lexical resource and Grammatical range and accuracy.

Car essay feedback comments 1

Car essay feedback

The next post will give answers and ways to improve this answer.