Did you make a keyword table for last week's paragraph matching task?
I often talk about 'collocations' and 'topic vocabulary'. Do you understand the difference between these two terms?
Collocations are groups of words that often go together. Many groups of words, such as "global warming" and "for example", can be called collocations.
Topic vocabulary is the term I use when I'm teaching IELTS writing task 2. It refers to single words, collocations and phrases that relate specifically to the question topic. So, "global warming" is topic vocabulary, but "for example" isn't.
A student asked me which sentence I prefer from these two:
Although sentence 1 might look more 'difficult' (due to the use of array, proliferation and disposal), I definitely prefer sentence 2.
The problem with sentence 1 is that it seems forced and unnatural:
I think this is a great example of what I said in Wednesday's lesson about having the confidence to keep it simple. When students try too hard to be difficult, they write unnatural sentences like number 1 above.
Students often ask me whether it's ok to lie or invent an answer in the speaking test. My advice is that it's usually easier to tell the truth; however, sometimes your only option is to make something up (to lie). Take this part 2 question for example:
"Describe a team project that you worked on"
If your job involves working in a team, this might be an easy question. But if you're still a student, or you work alone, you might be stuck for ideas. You might need to invent something!
Here's how you could adapt to the question above:
I've just published my latest video lesson at the bottom of this page. In the lesson, I explain my approach to describing bar charts, and I work through this question:
The chart below shows global sales of the top five mobile phone brands between 2009 and 2013.
A few things to consider if you try writing a report for this question:
You can see how I deal with these issues in the video lesson, or you could share your own ideas in the 'comments' area below.
For many of the students I've taught, a breakthrough (or big improvement) came when they found the confidence to write in a more 'simple' way.
When you stop worrying about whether you need to include passives, conditionals or 'difficult academic words' in your essays, you are free to focus on answering the question and explaining your ideas coherently. It takes confidence to change your approach and to believe that the 'simple' way will work.
Note: Remember that 'simple' is not the same thing as 'easy'!
Listen to the following short recording of a primary school teacher explaining how she teaches the children in her class.
Let's try working together to transcribe (= write the full text of) what the teacher says. You'll have to listen several times, and stop the recording after every short phrase, but I hope you'll find that this is a useful activity. Let's see if you can collaborate to produce an accurate transcription by next Tuesday. Good luck!
Note: You don't have to do this kind of task in the IELTS test. I'm just suggesting it as a good 'workout' for you ear.
Read the following passage about the tutorial method of teaching, which is used in some universities.
A) The tutorial method of teaching, where students are taught individually or in very small groups of two or three, developed as the collegiate system in Oxford and Cambridge Universities established itself. Teaching has existed in Oxford since the 11th century, and the role of tutors was documented in the 15th century, when Oxford tutors were described as ‘having responsibility for the conduct and instruction of their younger colleagues’ (Moore, 1968). Thus, the early role of the tutor was both pastoral as well as academic.
B) One of the foundations of Oxford’s academic excellence is the dialectic of the individual, discussion-based tutorial which is reputed to have reached its unique status in the middle of the 19th century. Professor Benjamin Jowett, classicist and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, is traditionally credited with having been the guiding influence behind the establishment of the tutorial system based on the Socratic method. His students said of Jowett, ‘his great skill consisted, like Socrates, in helping us to learn and think for ourselves’ (Markham, 1967). When Jowett took up the mantle of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in 1882, his teaching method of Socratic dialogue became established as a ‘pattern for the whole university’ (Markham, 1967).
C) In the last decade, multiple studies have been conducted exploring the unique learning benefits of the tutorial method. 130 years after it was formally established as the cornerstone of Oxford education, the tutorial method retains its prestige and effectiveness. As the present university website states, it is through the tutorial system that ‘students develop powers of independent and critical thought, analytical and problem-solving abilities, and skills in both written and oral communication and argument'.
Which paragraph contains the information in the statements below?
1. The tutorial is still a key part of the Oxford education system.
2. The tutorial method encourages students to learn independently.
3. The tutorial method features in Oxford University marketing.
4. Traditionally, Oxford tutors had more than just an academic role.
1. Will I lose marks for spelling mistakes like 'Appril' instead of 'April'?
Yes, 'Appril' would be marked wrong in the listening and reading tests.
2. Can I suggest reasons for changes shown on graphs or charts?
No, you shouldn't try to explain reasons for the data in writing task 1. Just describe what you can see.
3. When should I use 'the' in the phrase 'figure / figures for'?
You can use 'the' with the singular and plural, but I often miss it with the plural (i.e. "the graph shows the figure for" but "the graph shows figures for").
4. Is it a ok to start task 2 essays with a question?
No, that would be more journalistic than academic style.
5. In writing task 2, is it possible to agree completely but still mention the other side?
Yes, you can mention the other side of the argument too, but make sure it's clear that you disagree with it, and explain why.
I think it's important to remember that you can never be 100% prepared for any exam. One of the aims of an exam is to take you out of your 'comfort zone' in order to find the limit of your current ability. There will always be surprises and difficult questions; otherwise everyone would get full marks.
So, don't worry if there are topics that you haven't studied, or words that you don't understand, and try not to get too nervous or frustrated. Just keep working hard, do your best, and try to enjoy the challenge of the exam!
Here are my sample answers for last week's questions about maps. Remember that my answers are short and simple because this is what the examiner requires in part 1 of the test.
1. Do you ever use maps?
Yes. Whenever I go somewhere new, I plan my journey with the help of a map.
2. When do people usually need to use a map?
I imagine that some people use a map every day if they travel to different places for work. Others might only use a map when they're on holiday.
3. Do you prefer electronic or paper maps?
I still prefer paper maps for a long journey; I like being able to open the map out on a table and see the full journey ahead.
4. Do you ever ask people for directions instead of using a map?
Only if I'm really lost. Whenever I ask for directions, I find it difficult to remember what the person said. So I prefer to find my own way.
Be very careful when using the words (labels) that you see on the graph or chart. You may need to change them when writing full sentences.
Look at this chart for example:
You can't just use the words in the table like this:
- Nuclear was 30% of energy used.
- Thermal produced 20% of energy used.
You need to write something like this:
- Nuclear power was used to produce 30% of the country's energy.
- Thermal power stations produced 20% of the energy used in... (year / country).
Can you see why we need to add words when writing full sentences?
(Answer: 'nuclear' and 'thermal' are adjectives, so we need a noun like 'power' after them)
Did you note down the following 'band 7-9' phrases from my wild animals essay? I've left some gaps to encourage you to look a bit harder!
It took me longer than I expected, but I've now finished my latest video lesson. In this lesson I explain my approach to describing line graphs.
You can find the lesson at the bottom of this webpage.
The following presentation is on the same topic as yesterday's reading lesson. Watch the video and fill the gaps in the sentences below.
1. In today’s society we rely on _____ and _____ to access information.
2. We have to trust that a passport or driver’s license has not been _____ with.
3. Fingerprint, facial, iris and _____ patterns are sources of biometric data.
4. We’re identifying people at _____ with facial recognition software.
5. As the technology _____, our identities will be better _____.
If you can't see the video, here's the recording:
Read the following passage and answer the questions below.
‘Biometrics’ refers to the identification of humans by their characteristics or traits. Biometric identifiers are often categorised as physiological versus behavioural characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include fingerprint, face recognition, DNA, Palm print, hand geometry and iris recognition. Behavioural characteristics are related to the behaviour of a person, including typing rhythm, gait, and voice.
More traditional means of identification include token-based systems, such as a driver's license or passport, and knowledge-based systems, such as a password or personal identification number. Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods; however, the collection of biometric identifiers raises privacy concerns about the ultimate use of this information.
Are the following statements true, false or not given?
1. There are two main types of biometric identifier.
2. Fingerprinting is the best known biometric identification system.
3. The use of a password is another example of biometric identification.
4. Some people may worry about how biometric data is used.
I know that most people reading this won't be able to come to Manchester, so forgive me for doing some advertising!
From next Saturday, I'm starting some new IELTS lessons here in Manchester. I'm hoping to offer weekend courses once a month, and possibly a one or two-week intensive preparation course in the Easter holiday. The new course location, Manchester Conference Centre, also offers hotel accommodation, so this might be an option for students who don't live in Manchester. For more information, visit this website. Maybe I'll meet some of you soon!
A student, Kishanth, asked me about two of the points in the grammar criterion for band 8 writing (both task 1 and 2):
Here's the problem with these two points:
When you try to use a wide range of grammatical structures, you risk making more mistakes (errors). But to reduce the number of mistakes, you might have to simplify your sentences.
So what should you do?
My advice is this: Forget about the 'wide range of structures' point. If all of your focus is on using complex grammar, you'll probably do something worse than just make mistakes; you'll probably forget to answer the question properly. The people who worry most about grammar usually neglect task response, coherence and vocabulary.
For me, grammar is the least important criterion to worry about. I tell students to focus on the other 75% of the scoring system: task response, coherence and vocabulary. However, if you want my tip for improving your grammar score, I'd say that it's better to focus on reducing errors. I think examiners notice errors more than they notice grammatical range, and if you write a mix of short and long sentences, you'll probably fulfil the 'wide range of structures' requirement without realising it.
A few students said they had this topic in a recent exam. How would you answer?
Let's talk about maps...
1. Do you ever use maps?
2. When do people usually need to use a map?
3. Do you prefer electronic or paper maps?
4. Do you ever ask people for directions instead of using a map?
Remember to keep your answers short and simple. This topic might surprise you, but it isn't difficult.
Using the report in this lesson, find one word to fill each gap below.
1) something is _____ risk _____ happening
2) the stopbank acts _____ a flood barrier
3) to stop something _____ happening
4) to prevent something _____ happening
5) _____ shown in the second diagram, there will be...
Some people would call this a grammar exercise. I prefer to see it as a vocabulary (collocations) task.
Memorised phrases for any essay, original or difficult words, complex grammatical structures, a long introduction with background and thesis statement: these are NOT the keys to a high score!
If you want to get the highest score possible with your current level of English:
Many of my students have problems with spelling. Simple spelling mistakes can lose you marks in the IELTS listening test, even if you have the right answer.
My advice is to keep a spelling list - a list of words that you have difficulty with. Forget about spelling rules; just learn the words by heart.
For example, are you sure you can spell the following words correctly?
1. quite and quiet
6. choose and choice
My first video lesson for IELTS writing task 1 is now available here. In this lesson, I introduce the aims of the course, then show you the 6 question types. I also explain my 4-paragraph approach in some detail.
'Not having enough time' is the biggest problem for most people taking the reading test. Here are some tips for dealing with this problem:
When preparing for the reading test at home, try not to worry about time at first. Your first concern should be to get the score you need, even if it takes you 3 hours instead of 1 hour to do a full test.
I often meet students who have no problem getting band 7 for listening, reading and speaking, but they get a lower score in the writing test. Why is this?
These seem to be the main reasons:
The solution is to spend more time planning and organising your ideas before you start writing. Think and plan before you write!
I noticed a question from Mira in the 'recent exam questions' area:
"I just wanted to know whether you guys followed Simon's structure in a real IELTS examination. If I follow Simon's structure, can I get band 8 in writing?"
Can you see the problem with Mira's question? The problem is that nobody can give you a 'structure' that will get you a band 8. Essay structure only has a very small impact on your score; it is just one element of your 'coherence and cohesion' score. Structure doesn't help you with your task response, vocabulary and grammar scores.
Have a look at some of the 'band 9' essays that I've shared here on the blog. It isn't the structure that makes them band 9. It's the relevant content, coherence of ideas, and range of vocabulary. Focus on these things and you're much more likely to get a band 8.
The following sentences come from students' answers below last week's lesson. Can you find and correct the mistakes?
Did you analyse the diagram report that I wrote for last week's lesson?
Analyse sample answers in this way, and use them as models when writing your own task 1 reports.
Wild animals have no place in the 21st century, so protecting them is a waste of resources. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Some people argue that it is pointless to spend money on the protection of wild animals because we humans have no need for them. I completely disagree with this point of view.
In my opinion, it is absurd to argue that wild animals have no place in the 21st century. I do not believe that planet Earth exists only for the benefit of humans, and there is nothing special about this particular century that means that we suddenly have the right to allow or encourage the extinction of any species. Furthermore, there is no compelling reason why we should let animals die out. We do not need to exploit or destroy every last square metre of land in order to feed or accommodate the world’s population. There is plenty of room for us to exist side by side with wild animals, and this should be our aim.
I also disagree with the idea that protecting animals is a waste of resources. It is usually the protection of natural habitats that ensures the survival of wild animals, and most scientists agree that these habitats are also crucial for human survival. For example, rainforests produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and stabilise the Earth’s climate. If we destroyed these areas, the costs of managing the resulting changes to our planet would far outweigh the costs of conservation. By protecting wild animals and their habitats, we maintain the natural balance of all life on Earth.
In conclusion, we have no right to decide whether or not wild animals should exist, and I believe that we should do everything we can to protect them.
(269 words, band 9)
I've highlighted my main paragraph 'topic sentences' in blue. Can you see how each topic sentence relates to one part of the question?
Listen to the following talk by the cycling coach mentioned in yesterday's reading passage. He talks about his 'Core Principle' coaching philosophy.
'CORE Principle' coaching
If you would like to see the full talk on YouTube, click here.
Choose the best title for the passage below.
A) The story of a visionary cycling coach.
B) Cycling’s ‘marginal gains’ theory and its application in schools.
C) The man behind Britain’s Olympic cycling success.
D) How cyclists implement the ‘marginal gains’ concept.
E) Schools have improved since the Olympic Games.
One simple, but highly effective, lesson from the Olympics comes from the visionary British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford. Brailsford believes that by breaking down and identifying every tiny aspect of an athlete's performance and then making just a 1% improvement in each area, the athlete's overall performance can be significantly enhanced. His concept of 'the aggregation of marginal gains' has been making transformative ripples in classrooms and schools ever since the cycling team came to prominence a few years ago.
What is so brilliant about Brailsford's marginal gains concept is that it is so flexible. It provides an accessible, precise and useful language for achieving success in a school context in various ways: from students improving their learning, to teachers looking to enhance their pedagogy, and, more broadly, school leaders looking to make small, but highly significant improvements.
(Adapted from The Guardian)