Here are some sentences that students wrote about last week's describe a conversation question. Try to correct and improve them.
Click here to see my corrections.
Last week I wrote an introduction and an overview for the graph below. Today I'm going to describe specific details.
The graph below shows trends in US meat and poultry consumption.
(Note: I'm ignoring the forecast and treating 2012 as a past year)
Between 1955 and 1976, US beef consumption rose from around 60 to a peak of 90 pounds per person per year. During the same period, consumption of broilers also rose, to nearly 30 pounds per person, while the figures for pork fluctuated between 50 and 40 pounds per person. Turkey was by far the least popular meat, with figures below 10 pounds per capita each year.
By 2012, the amount of beef consumed by the average American had plummeted to around 50 pounds, but the consumption of broilers had doubled since the 1970s, to approximately 55 pounds per capita. By contrast, there were no significant changes in the trends for pork and turkey consumption over the period as a whole.
Analyse the above paragraphs carefully. Look at which figures I decided to include, the language used for comparisons, and the way I divided the description into two separate paragraphs.
In this lesson I wrote an introduction for a 'balanced opinion' answer. Today we're going to look at a question which I think requires a 'strong opinion' answer:
Foreign visitors should pay more than local visitors for cultural and historical attractions. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
I think it would become confusing if you tried to explain a balanced view for this question. The choice of opinion is simple: either foreign visitors should pay more, or they shouldn't.
I'll show you how I would write an essay for this question next week. For the moment, just compare the question above with the question here. Make sure you understand why I'm suggesting a strong answer for one and a balanced answer for the other.
Many students ask me about idioms: What are they? Should you use them? Do they help your score?
My dictionary defines an idiom as "a group of words whose meaning is not deducible from the meaning of each individual word". This means that you cannot understand an idiom by analysing it word for word. For example, "it's a piece of cake" means "it's easy". Phrasal verbs are also idiomatic expressions (e.g. "look up" can mean "search in a dictionary").
English speakers use idioms all the time in conversation, but less so in formal/academic speaking and writing contexts. However, we often write things like "focus on an issue" or "the key to solving a problem" and here we are using 'focus' and 'key' in a figurative or idiomatic way.
Idioms in IELTS
You need to be really careful when using idioms in your IELTS test. Please don't learn lists of idioms; if you use them in the wrong way, your speech/writing will seem forced and unnatural. Also, remember that many idioms are informal or clichéd. So, what should you do? Read my tip below.
You can only be sure that you are using an idiom correctly if you have seen or heard it used in context. For example, if you've read about someone who "set up a business", you can use that phrase with confidence (and it might help your score). If you've only seen the idiom on a list, don't use it.
Here's a recent question that a few people told me about:
Describe an interesting conversation you had with someone you didn't know. You should say
- who the person was
- where the conversation took place
- what you talked about
- and explain why you found the conversation interesting.
Remember that you don't have to tell the truth. If you have a true story, that's great. If you don't, think about a conversation that you would like to have, or try to adapt a topic that you have already prepared.
Feel free to share your ideas in the comments area.
Today I'm going to write the first two paragraphs (introduction and overview) of an essay describing the graph below. I'll finish the essay by describing specific details next week.
The graph below shows trends in US meat and poultry consumption.
Introduction and overview:
The line graph shows changes in the per capita consumption of beef, pork, broilers and turkey in the United States between 1955 and 2012.
It is noticeable that beef was by far the most popular of the four types of meat for the majority of the 57-year period. However, a considerable rise can be seen in the consumption of broilers, with figures eventually surpassing those for beef.
Today I'm attaching a model essay for the 'economic success' question that we were looking at a few weeks ago. The question is what I call a "2-part question", and I simply wrote one main paragraph about each of the two parts.
The answers to last week's reading exercise were B, C and F. We get those answers by doing two things:
Here's a question that seems to worry students, especially those in China:
"A famous IELTS book in China tells students that they should write 340 words or more (for task 2) if they want to get band 6.5 or higher. However, other tutors tell us that we should use the 10% principle, which means we will lose marks if we write anything more than 275 words. Which advice is correct?"
Here's my answer:
All of that advice is wrong, and I don't know why teachers invent these things! The only rule is that you need to write at least 250 words. So, whether you write 250 words or 500 words, it is possible to get a band 9. As long as you reach 250 words, the examiner only cares about the quality of what you write.
PS. I advise my students to spend 10 minutes planning before they write anything. This forces them to focus on quality rather than quantity.
Descriptions of statistics often appear in newspapers and on news websites, and they can give you some useful language for writing task 1.
The example below comes from the Washington Post website.
The description on the website is inappropriate for IELTS because there is too much analysis of reasons why meat eating habits are changing - don't try to give reasons in your IELTS essay!
However, there are a few nice phrases that we can use e.g. Americans are projected to eat 12.2 percent less meat in 2012 than they did in 2007.
Maybe you can share your ideas for an IELTS-style description of this graph.
People often ask me how to give a balanced answer for "agree or disagree" questions. Take this question for example:
Many people say that we now live in 'consumer societies' where money and possessions are given too much importance. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
A clear introduction is vital when giving a balanced answer:
It is sometimes argued that we live in a materialistic world and that we value money too highly. In my opinion, some people are extremely money oriented, but many of us place more importance on other values.
The big mistake that students make when trying to give a balanced answer is that they write about what "some people" and "other people" think. This question asks for your views, not the views of other people. Notice how my introduction makes it clear that the essay is about my own views.
Here's another interesting TED presentation. The quick gap-fill exercise below comes from the start of the talk, but I'd recommend watching the whole thing if you have time. Turn the subtitles on if you need help.
We live in difficult and challenging ______ ______, of course. And one of the first ______ of difficult economic times, I think, is public spending of any kind, but certainly in the ______ ______ at the moment is public spending for science, and particularly curiosity-______ science and exploration. So I want to try and convince you in about 15 minutes that that's a ridiculous and ______ thing to do.
Read the following passage about a tunnel in London.
The Thames Tunnel is an underwater tunnel that was built beneath the River Thames in London between 1825 and 1843. It is 396 metres long, and runs at a depth of 23 metres below the river surface. It was the first tunnel known to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river.
Although it was a triumph of civil engineering, the Thames Tunnel was not a financial success, with building costs far exceeding initial estimates. Proposals to extend the entrance to accommodate wheeled vehicles failed, and it was used only by pedestrians. However, the tunnel did become a major tourist destination, attracting about two million people a year, each of whom paid a penny to pass under the river.
The construction of the Thames Tunnel showed that it was indeed possible to build underwater tunnels, despite the previous scepticism of many engineers. Its historic importance was recognised on 24th March 1995, when the structure was listed Grade II* in recognition of its architectural importance.
Which THREE of the following statements are correct?
A) The Thames Tunnel was the world’s first ever tunnel.
B) Construction of the tunnel was more expensive than predicted.
C) There were plans to allow vehicles to use the tunnel.
D) Tourism eventually made the tunnel profitable.
E) Many engineers had already tried to build underwater tunnels.
F) The Thames Tunnel is now considered to be a significant work of architecture.
1. Can I use the phrases "bottom out" and "level off" in writing task 1?
Personally I never use those phrases, but you could try Googling them if you want to see some examples.
2. Will my speaking score be lower if I miss one of the bullet points?
Maybe. You should always try to cover all of the points on the task card, but you can still get a high score if you speak well about the other points.3. How does the examiner know if language is copied or memorised?
Every word that you know is copied from somewhere and held in your memory. However, the phrases that examiners don't like are the ones that students learn because they can be used in any essay about any topic. For example, examiners are not impressed by the phrase "this is a controversial issue nowadays". On the other hand, you might have memorised the words "the greenhouse effect", but if you're writing about the environment, it's perfectly fine to use them.
4. Do you update the topics in your ebook?
No. The most common topics will always be the most common topics. The IELTS exam is over 20 years old, and they have always asked questions about topics like work, family, education and environment. I doubt that will change.
A few weeks ago I wrote an example answer about a future plan. Maybe you read it and understood it, but did you really notice the good language that I used? Did you note down the good vocabulary and try to use it yourself?
Grammar and coherence:
Read my description again and highlight the words and phrases above. Hopefully you'll see why an examiner would give it a band 9.
Let's review the approach (method / technique) that I suggest for writing task 1. Your task 1 essay should contain three elements:
If you look through the task 1 lessons on this site, you'll see how I include these three elements in every essay.
Let's plan and then write one main paragraph for the question below.
Economic progress is often used to measure a country's success. However, some people believe that other factors are more important. What other factors should also be considered when measuring a country's success? Do you think one factor is more important than others?
Here's a plan I wrote with my students:
Paragraph about other factors:
1) Education for development of the country, providing future workforce. 2) Good health system, living standards, life expectancy. 3) Personal freedom / rights / equality e.g. equal opportunities for both genders.
Here's our full paragraph using the plan above:
Standards of education, health and individual human rights should certainly be considered when measuring a country’s status. A good education system is vital for the development of any nation, with schools, colleges and universities bearing the responsibility for the quality of future generations of workers. Healthcare provision is also an indicator of the standard of living within a country, and this can be measured by looking at average life expectancy rates or availability of medical services. Finally, human rights and levels of equality could be taken into account. For example, a country in which women do not have the same opportunities as men might be considered less successful than a country with better gender equality.
There were some really useful phrases in the letter I wrote last week, even for people doing the academic test:
Don't ignore the general IELTS lessons; think about how you could use the vocabulary for IELTS speaking or academic writing.
Although this website has its own search box, you might find that Google works better. If you want Google to search within one website, just write the word or phrase that you want to search for, followed by "site:URL".
For example, here's a search for "environment" on this website:
Here's a search for the phrase "in terms of". Notice that you need to use speech marks to search for a phrase:
Try doing both searches. The results that Google gives you should come only from ielts-simon.com. Can you see why this type of search might be useful?
In part 3, the examiner often asks a question about the past and a question about the future. For example:
In the first answer, the examiner wants to hear some past tense verbs. In the second answer, you will need to use a future tense: