In recent weeks I’ve had a number of students take their test for either the first or second time. I’m very happy to report that all of them felt more confident after attending IELTS at REV and even if they didn’t achieve their intended score, they all improved on previous tests. Great job everyone!
That brings us to today’s topic: writing. Yes, writing tends to be the one section of the test that can absolutely terrify students. Because of this, they tend to avoid serious attention to it or ignore it all together. The first thing to realize is that writing is what we call a productive skill; meaning that we don’t become good writers from simply being around writing or reading about how to write. You actually have to practice your writing! So, here’s a few tips that might help those of you who are frustrated with your progress.
1. Basic Academic Writing: Academic writing is a specific style of writing with its own rules and nuances. Unfortunately, many students haven’t had enough exposure to it. Here are some things to remember:
Recently a number of my students have taken the IELTS test and one of their greatest fears always seems to be the speaking test. This is natural as the speaking test is the only part of the test which requires direct communication with a real, live native speaker.
Being prepared for the speaking test is essential to get the score you want. This means knowing what the test is, and what it isn’t. Here are some tips as well as some common misconceptions I’ve heard in my years of examining and teaching.
First, know how the test is scored. To do this you should study the public band descriptors available online. You’ll see that there are four criteria that you are evaluated on:
- Fluency and Coherence
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
Each section is scored individually and each is equally weighted (25%). This means that, contrary to what some students believe, you simply cannot memorize long lists of academic words and phrases and expect a high score. The key to a high score is balance.
- To score high in fluency you must speak naturally, understandably, and smoothly. Use connecting phrases and avoid long pauses (“uhhhh….ummm…”) and unnecessary repetition (“…it was nice….and, uh,…a nice place…).
- Lexical Resource means using vocabulary that is appropriate, not just “difficult”. You also need to be specific and accurate. Avoid saying things are “nice”, “good”, “fine” as these are boring and generic words. But, at the same time describing a memorable trip as “a sufficiently palatable jaunt” sounds strange and unnatural. Balance descriptive with natural.
- Don’t obsess over grammar. Yes, you need to show that you know your present, past and future tenses along with a range of structures, but intentionally trying to fit complex grammar into your responses is more likely to cause you to make mistakes, lowering your overall score. Stick to the grammar you are comfortable with, but prepare by studying useful grammar for everyday conversation. Don’t forget, written and spoken English follow very different sets of grammar rules.
- Accent and pronunciation are not the same thing. We all have an accent. Actually, I have scored an 8 or even 9 to candidates with noticeable accents. The real problem is when your pronunciation affects the ability of the examiner to understand what you are saying. For example, if you struggle with /r/ and /l/, you need to practice before the test. If you tell me that your favourite food is “lice” (little bugs that live in your hair), rather than “rice”…that’s a major problem! Yes, it is common knowledge that some speakers struggle with these sounds, but don’t assume the examiner will understand what you intend to say. Remember, the examiner only evaluates what you actually say, not what you mean to say.
Now that you know all this…you have to practice! That’s where we can help. Come on in to REV and let us help you get that score you need. I have a lot more advice and experience to share with students who really want to reach their goal, so let’s work together!
Seeing as a new session of REV IELTS is beginning soon, I thought I’d take the opportunity to give a little background on what to expect from my IELTS class at Real English Victoria and the test in general.
Over the last 8 years of teaching IELTS, it’s been a privilege for me to have helped numerous students reach the scores they need to pursue their future goals. In that time, I’ve also seen a fair share of students who fail to get the score they need. Here’s some thoughts on why that happens.