Here's my full answer for last week's question:
When you're struggling with IELTS, it might seem like you'll never get the score you need, and it's tempting to think that it's an unfair exam.
But remember that people do pass the test every week. Several students have shared really positive stories here on the blog this week, and they all have the same message: keep trying, keep studying, and eventually you WILL pass!
Here are some sentences that students wrote about last week's topic. Can you improve them?
Students often find it difficult to describe tables with lots of numbers.
The table below contains 36 numbers. We can't describe all of them, so which ones should we choose? How many numbers do we need to include?
The table below shows changes in the numbers of residents cycling to work in different areas of the UK between 2001 and 2011.
Many students find the following question difficult (Cambridge IELTS 4, page 55):
Happiness is considered very important in life.
Why is it difficult to define?
What factors are important in achieving happiness?
Here are some ideas from my ebook.
I'll show you how I would write an essay for this question next week.
Listen to the recording and fill each gap in the summary with ONE word only.
Opening or switching a bank account can seem ______, so it’s important to start by thinking about why you need a bank account. You may need it in order to receive ______ or benefits, to pay ______ bills, to take money out of cash ______, or to make payments using a debit card.
Different types of accounts are available. Current accounts are good for ______ your day-to-day money. They allow you to go ______, so you’ll have to pass a credit check when you apply for one. If you go into the ______ you’ll have to pay fees and ______. Basic bank accounts are similar to current accounts, but they don’t let you go overdrawn.
Read the following passage and choose the best title from the list below.
The attitude of the scientific community towards the unconscious mind has shifted dramatically in recent years. While once viewed as a lazy reservoir of memories and non-task oriented behaviour, the unconscious is now regarded as an active and essential component in the processes of decision making.
Historically, the unconscious mind was considered to be the source of dreams and implicit memory (which allows people to walk or ride a bicycle without consciously thinking about the activity), as well as the storing place for memories of past experiences. But recent research reveals that the unconscious brain might also be an active player in decision making, problem solving, creativity and critical thinking. One familiar example of the operation of the unconscious in problem solving is the well-known phenomenon of the "eureka moment", when a solution to a problem presents itself without the involvement of active thinking.
A) Scientists present new findings about the unconscious mind
B) Our growing understanding of the role of the unconscious
C) How humans solve problems
D) What is a “eureka moment”?
Students often make mistakes with uncountable nouns. These are nouns that you can't count. Most importantly, they don't have a plural form.
For example, you can't say "an information, two informations, many informations". You can say "some information, more information, a lot of information, a piece of information".
Below are some common uncountable nouns. Do you know any others?
Here's a recent question that a few students told me about:
Describe a school that you went to when you were a child. You should say
- where the school was
- when you went there
- what the school and the teachers were like
- and explain whether you enjoyed your time there.
Tip: try telling a story for the last point e.g. talk about a particularly enjoyable event that you remember.
From Simon: I've been busy moving house today, which is why this lesson is so late!
Question: How should you structure your task 1 report if the question shows two different charts (e.g. a line graph and a pie chart)?
Answer: It's easy. Just follow the 4-paragraph structure below:
In last week's lesson I asked whether you could see the problem with an essay outline. The problem was the use of "many people" in paragraph 2.
If the question asks whether YOU agree or disagree, don't write a paragraph about what other people think. The whole essay should be about YOUR views.
Click here to see how I wrote a 'balanced opinion' essay. Notice that the opinions expressed are all my own; I don't mention what other people think.
Here are my top 4 tips for how to answer 'paragraph headings' questions:
1. Do these questions last
'Paragraph headings' questions are difficult, especially because the answers will not be in order in the text. For most other types of question, the answers will be in order in the text. So, do the other questions first, then you will be familiar with the text when you return to the 'paragraph headings' questions. You might even find that you are able to match some of the paragraphs really quickly because you remember what they were about.
2. Start with the shortest paragraphs
Instead of starting with the first paragraph, why not start with the shortest paragraph? If there is a really short paragraph, it should be easier to match it to a heading. Then you will have fewer headings to choose from for the longer paragraphs.
3. Look for similar words
As with most types of IELTS reading question, you should be able to find words in the paragraph that are similar to words in the heading.
4. Move on if you are spending too much time
'Paragraph headings' questions often take a long time. Don't allow yourself to use more than 20 minutes for each reading passage. If you haven't finished after 20 minutes, move on to the next passage.
To get a high vocabulary score, you should try to use a good range of vocabulary. However, this doesn't mean that 'strange' or 'difficult' words are the secret to success.
The vocabulary that you use also needs to be natural and appropriate to the style of the essay or report that you are writing. This is the reason why I suggested avoiding words like 'plummet' and 'rocket' in writing task 1. These words are not normally used in academic-style reports (because they exaggerate too much), whereas 'fall' and 'increase significantly' seem much more natural and appropriate.
In Thursday's lesson I suggested that you should avoid using words like soar, rocket and plummet when describing changes on a graph or chart. I explained that these words exaggerate too much, and that they are not 'academic'.
But someone asked this sensible question:
How can we get a high score for lexical resource (vocabulary) if we only use common words like 'increase', 'rise' and 'fall'?
The quick answer is that it's better to use 'less common vocabulary' for other aspects of your description. If you analyse this band 9 essay, you'll see that I used common words like rose, decreased, reaching and dropped to describe changes, but I managed to use 'less common vocabulary' for other aspects of my description e.g. global turnover, devices, namely, platform.
I'll explain more about how to get a high vocabulary score tomorrow.
Here are my sample answers to last week's questions:
1. What games are popular in your country?
Well, if we can consider sports as games, then football is definitely the most popular game in my country, but we also love board games like chess.
2. Do you play any games?
Not regularly these days. I play the occasional game of tennis with my brother-in-law, and I recently played a bowling game on the Nintendo Wii with my nephew. I wasn't very good at it.
3. How do people learn to play games in your country?
I think children teach each other to play games. I remember a friend at primary school teaching me to play chess, for example.
4. Do you think it's important for people to play games?
Yes, it's really important, especially for children. I think research has shown that play can improve brain development, intelligence, creativity, and the ability to cooperate with others.
When describing changes I prefer to avoid words like soar, rocket and plummet because they are too "sensationalist" - they exaggerate too much, and are more journalistic than academic in style.
Instead, we can demonstrate good control of grammar by using words like increase, rise and fall as both nouns and verbs:
- London saw a significant increase in the cost of homes. (noun)
- The cost of homes in London increased significantly. (verb)
- There was a rise in house prices between 1990 and 1995. (noun)
- House prices rose between 1990 and 1995. (verb)
- There was a 7% fall in the average house price in Tokyo. (noun)
- The average Tokyo house price fell by 7%. (verb)
Imagine that the question asks "to what extent do you agree or disagree?". Can you see the problem in the type of essay outlined below?
Introduce the topic, then answer that you completely disagree
Give the other side of the argument e.g. "On the one hand, many people believe..."
Give your side of the argument e.g. "On the other hand, in my opinion..."
Summarise the reasons why you disagree
Many students make the mistake of writing their "agree / disagree" essays in this way. Can you see what's wrong and where the problem is?
In all IELTS reading tests you'll find good vocabulary. When you read a good word or phrase, do you notice it, write it down, and try to use it?
Here's some good vocabulary from last week's reading exercise:
This is the kind of "less common vocabulary" that could help you to get a band 7 or higher in the writing and speaking tests. Can you use these words and phrases in your own sentences?
1. Can I use American English in the IELTS test?
Yes. Examiners just want to hear good, clear English, wherever it's from.
2. What is the difference between "a number of" and "the number of"?
There are many grammar websites on the Internet that explain this kind of thing. Click here to see one that I found just now.
3. Do you have an ebook for writing task 1?
No. I try to cover everything you need to know for task 1 in the lessons here on the blog. I'm hoping to produce some video lessons for September, so I'll teach writing task 1 in a more organised way then.
4. How can I achieve a band 7?
I'm afraid there isn't a simple answer to that question. Hopefully I'm gradually answering it in the daily lessons that I write. Keep studying hard and the secret will reveal itself!
5. In the listening test, if the question asks "where can you buy a ticket?", do we need to write "at the post office" or just "post office"?
The short answer "post office" will be fine. They just want the key words.
I was asked recently about the questions below. Can you suggest any answers? Do you think it's acceptable to talk about sports, or should we only talk about games like chess?
A good place to find 'real' descriptions of graphs and charts is a government statistics website like this one for the UK. If you click on the different themes, you'll see graphs, charts and written summaries of recent statistics for the country.
Here's an example summary from the website:
The employment rate for those aged from 16 to 64 for the three months to June 2012 was 71.0 per cent. This is the highest figure since the three months to May 2009 and it is up 0.4 percentage points on the previous quarter. The number of people in employment aged 16 and over increased by 201,000 on the quarter to reach 29.48 million, the largest quarterly increase since the three months to July 2010. The number of people in employment was 96,000 lower than the pre-recession peak of 29.57 million recorded for March-May 2008.
I've underlined the verbs in the paragraph above. Notice that we tend to use 'easy' verbs when describing statistics.
Let's go back to the question we were looking at a couple of weeks ago:
In some parts of the world it is becoming popular to research the history of one's own family. Why might people want to do this? Is it a positive or negative development?
Here's the plan I wrote for the first main body paragraph:
Here's a full paragraph using the ideas above:
There are various reasons why people might decide to trace their family histories. One explanation may be that they would like to know more about themselves, in terms of their roots, where they come from, or whether their ancestors had similar personality traits. Another factor could be that it has become so much easier to carry out genealogical research using the Internet. We hear about people who have studied their family trees, and there are even advertisements to encourage us to use genealogy websites. Finally, it may be that people are simply curious to find out whether they have any famous or wealthy ancestors.
Listen to the following interview with a doctor about the risks of too much sitting, and fill the gaps in the sentences below.
Read the following passage about a study into 'sitting'.
The ease of our modern workday could come at the expense of our longevity. A new study of older women in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that sitting for long stretches of time increases the odds of an untimely death. The more hours women in the study spent sitting at work, driving, lying on the couch watching TV, or engaged in other leisurely pursuits, the greater their odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.
Even women who exercised regularly risked shortening their lifespan if most of their daily hours were sedentary ones. “Even if you are doing the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous exercise, you will still have a higher risk of mortality if you’re spending too many hours sitting,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, one of the study’s authors.
How much sitting can you safely do in a day? In the study, women who were inactive for 11 or more hours a day fared the worst, facing a 12% increase in premature death, but even lesser amounts of inactive time can cause problems. “Once you’re sitting for more than 6 to 8 hours a day, that’s not likely to be good for you,” Dr. Manson says. You want to avoid prolonged sitting and increase the amount of moderate or vigorous exercise you do each day, she adds.
Are the following statements true, false or not given?
1. The study looked at the effects of sitting on elderly women only.
2. A link was found between hours spent sitting and serious health problems.
3. The warnings about sitting do not apply to people who exercise regularly.
4. Less than 6 hours a day is a safe amount of sitting.
(Source: Harvard Medical School)