I'm taking my summer holiday this week, so I won't be able to update the blog until Monday 5th August. Then I'll be back to normal with daily lessons. The ebook will still be on sale this week.
See you on the 5th!
Students often wonder why their scores fluctuate, especially in the writing and speaking tests. One reason could be that they don't have a method; they approach the exam in a different way every time.
You can only measure your progress if you use the same method every time you take the test. If you always approach the exam in the same way, you will know when you have done well or badly, and if your scores go up or down, you will probably know why.
In part 3 of the speaking test, it's common to get questions about the past and future, as well as questions about 'now'. The examiner will be listening to your use of verb tenses:
What types of transport are there in your town?
In Manchester I think you can find every form of transport apart from an underground system. You can drive around the city by car or get on a bus; there are even free buses that take people between the train stations. Manchester also has a tram system, and of course there are taxis too.
How has transport changed since your grandparents were young?
Well, they had cars, trains and planes back then, and London already had the underground system, but I suppose the difference is that technology has moved on. Having said that, the transport system is not necessarily better nowadays; people travel a lot more, and I'm sure we spend more time stuck in traffic.
What types of transport do you think we will use in the future?
I'm not sure, but hopefully we'll have cars that drive themselves and never crash. I think we'll probably fly more, and it might become normal to have your own plane. On the other hand, many cities are building more bicycle lanes, so maybe we will use cars less for getting around towns and cities.
Last week I asked why a 'stacked' bar chart was chosen to illustrate the information in the figure below. The answer is that each stacked bar shows us 4 pieces of information (number of gold, silver and bronze medals, and the total number). This is surely the clearest way to show so much information on one chart.
The chart below shows the total number of Olympic medals won by twelve different countries.
Here are my first 2 paragraphs (introduction and overview):
The bar chart compares twelve countries in terms of the overall number of medals that they have won at the Olympic Games.
It is clear that the USA is by far the most successful Olympic medal winning nation. It is also noticeable that the figures for gold, silver and bronze medals won by any particular country tend to be fairly similar.
Notice that I don't mention any numbers in my overview paragraph. I just make two general observations: one about the highest total, and one about relative numbers of each medal colour.
I always tell my students to choose a method and stick to it. For main paragraphs, I teach them two easy ways to organise their ideas:
Listen to the following advice about how to reduce your spending.
Which TWO of the following tips are NOT given by the speaker?
A) Don’t go shopping when you’ve had a bad day.
B) Don’t spend what you don’t have.
C) Pay off your debts first.
D) Look after what you own.
E) Replace your car every four years.
F) Buy things second-hand.
'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.
It's easy to read something (e.g. a lesson on this site) and think that you understand it. But 'understanding' is not the same as 'using'.
Can you really USE everything that you have read?
Can you use it correctly, without any mistakes?
Look again at yesterday's lesson about 'lead to'. I'm sure you understand these words, but not many students are able to use them accurately. This is important because it could make the difference between a band 6 and a band 7.
Try to think about these steps when you are studying:
Students often make mistakes when using 'lead to' in their writing. What's the problem with these sentences?
The problem is that we need a noun or noun phrase after 'lead to', not a verb.
So, here are some some ways that you could rewrite the sentences:
Notice that in sentence 3 it is better to keep the verb 'motivates' and miss out 'leads to'.
There are some good descriptions of plants in the comments below last week's lesson. But here are some sentences that need correcting:
Someone wrote to me recently asking for advice about describing a 'stacked' bar chart. Here's a nice example of this kind of chart:
The chart below shows the total number of Olympic medals won by twelve different countries.
Why do you think a stacked bar chart has been chosen to illustrate this information?
Note: I'm not sure whether the information in this table is true. I found it on Google.
The "idea, explain, example" format is a good way to organise your main paragraphs. Start with the main idea of the paragraph, explain it in more detail, then give an example.
A variation on this format is "idea, example, explain". Here's a paragraph that I wrote with my students about last week's topic:
Some art projects definitely require help from the state. In the UK, there are many works of art in public spaces, such as streets or squares in city centres. In Liverpool, for example, there are several new statues and sculptures in the docks area of the city, which has been redeveloped recently. These artworks represent culture, heritage and history. They serve to educate people about the city, and act as landmarks or talking points for visitors and tourists. Governments and local councils should pay creative artists to produce this kind of art, because without their funding our cities would be much less interesting and attractive.
Task: Analyse the paragraph. What role does each sentence play?
Listen to the recording about road safety and fill the gaps in the summary.
Traffic in Europe is increasingly ______. The aim of the 'European Road Safety Day' is to reduce the ______ ______ from road accidents throughout the European Union.
The number of lives saved every year since 2001 has ______ ______ markedly in line with ______. However, there are still nearly ______ people killed on Europe's roads each year.
The big problems to address are speed, alcohol or drugs, and not wearing a ______. These are the ______ ______ of accidents.
If you would like to watch the full video about this topic, click here.
Read the following text about sharks, then answer the questions below.
Contrary to the common wisdom that sharks are instinct-driven "eating machines", recent studies have indicated that many species possess powerful problem-solving skills, social skills and curiosity. The brain- to body-mass ratios of sharks are similar to those of mammals and birds, and migration patterns in sharks may be even more complex than in birds, with many sharks covering entire ocean basins. However, shark behaviour has only begun to be formally studied, so there is much more to learn.
A popular myth is that sharks are immune to disease and cancer; however, this remains to be proven. The evidence that sharks are at least resistant to cancer and disease is mostly anecdotal and there have been few, if any, scientific or statistical studies that show sharks to have heightened immunity to disease.
According to the text, are the following statements true, false or not given?
When students are stuck on band 6.5 in writing, they often think that they need a new technique, a new book or some new advice. This is wrong!
If you have a 6.5, it means that you are already getting band 7 in 50% of the scoring criteria. For example, you might be getting 7 for task response and 7 for organisation, but 6 for vocabulary and 6 for grammar (examiners can't give half marks in these criteria). Just a small improvement in one area will take you to band 7 overall (e.g. 7,7,7,6 = band 7).
If you are getting band 6.5, your method is fine. Don't change what you're doing; just try to find a small improvement in one area.
It seems that teachers in some countries are telling their students to fill their answers with "difficult grammar devices" like passives, conditionals and subjunctives.
I tell my students to do the opposite: forget about these things!
In my experience, the more you focus on grammar (25% of your score), the less you focus on answering the question well, organising your ideas, and using good vocabulary (75% of your score). Worrying about "difficult grammar" is likely to ruin your answers rather than improve them! Focus on the other 75%.
A student sent me this question from a recent test in Australia:
Describe a plant grown in your country. You should say
- what the plant is
- where it is grown
- why you like or dislike it
- and explain why it is important to your country.
If you haven't prepared for this question you might find it difficult, so let's prepare in advance. Do some research about plants in your country; my tip is to choose a plant that produces some kind of food (a crop).
Here's my full essay about the table in last week's lesson:
The table compares the percentages of people using different functions of their mobile phones between 2006 and 2010.
Throughout the period shown, the main reason why people used their mobile phones was to make calls. However, there was a marked increase in the popularity of other mobile phone features, particularly the Internet search feature.
In 2006, 100% of mobile phone owners used their phones to make calls, while the next most popular functions were text messaging (73%) and taking photos (66%). By contrast, less than 20% of owners played games or music on their phones, and there were no figures for users doing Internet searches or recording video.
Over the following 4 years, there was relatively little change in the figures for the top three mobile phone features. However, the percentage of people using their phones to access the Internet jumped to 41% in 2008 and then to 73% in 2010. There was also a significant rise in the use of mobiles to play games and to record video, with figures reaching 41% and 35% respectively in 2010.
The above essay isn't perfect, but it's still good enough for a band 9. You are not expected to write a masterpiece in only 20 minutes.
Compare the following questions. Both ask you about the same topic, but the requirements of each question are different. Think about how you would organise your answer for each one.
Some people think that governments should give financial support to creative artists such as painters and musicians. Others believe that creative artists should be funded by alternative sources. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
Some people believe that governments should stop spending money on the arts. Instead, they should use this money to improve vital services such as schools and hospitals. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
I didn't choose the following video to make any political arguments. I chose it for listening practice because the people in the video speak clearly and use some good phrases. Psychology studies are also a popular topic in the IELTS reading test, and 'money' is a possible topic in the writing test.
If you can't see the video, listen to the recording below.
Fill the gaps in the following summary of the first 4 minutes of the video:
Every time you do a practice IELTS reading test, remember to keep a record of the 'keywords' that helped you to find the correct answers.
Did you make a keyword table for the exercise in last week's lesson?
If you are able to get a band 7 score when you do a test at home, can you be confident that you'll get a band 7 in the real test? Probably not.
The stress of a real exam means that your performance level will probably drop, so you'll need to be more than ready. In other words, you probably need to be achieving band 7.5 when you do practice tests in the comfort of your home. Only then can you be confident of getting a band 7 under exam conditions.
1) Did you play with toys when you were a child?
Yes, of course. I loved playing with toys when I was a child; I think all children do.
2) What kinds of toys did you like?
As far as I remember, I mostly played with toy cars, planes and action figures from films or cartoons. I also liked building things with Lego.
3) In your country, do boys and girls play with the same types of toys?
Not really. I think boys like the kinds of toys that I mentioned before, whereas girls play with dolls. My niece, for example, doesn't like toy cars; she prefers dressing dolls in different outfits.
4) Do you think that toys help children to learn?
Yes, I do. All toys encourage children to use their imagination and creativity. Even with simple toys, children imagine situations and invent games and rules.
After describing the main features or general trends shown on a graph or chart, we need to describe specific details. It's important to include some numbers and make some comparisons.
Whenever a chart shows years, I describe the details starting with the first year and the highest figure(s). Here's an example paragraph about the year 2006:
In 2006, 100% of mobile phone owners used their phones to make calls, while the next most popular uses of mobiles were for text messaging (73%) and taking photos (66%). By contrast, less than a fifth of owners played games or music on their phones, and there were no figures for users doing Internet searches or recording video.
After this, I would write a final paragraph containing a few key numbers for the other two years (2008 and 2010). I'll show you my full essay next week.
A student asked me for some tips about how to write task 2 essays faster. Here's my advice:
One of my favourite sites for interesting videos is the RSA website. The short talks are great for listening practice, and the animation makes them easier to follow. Here's an example that I watched yesterday:
If you can't see YouTube videos, you might be able to download the original video on this page.