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Friday, December 08, 2017


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sir simon,
you are perfectly right.

The prompts are there for two main reasons.

1. They help the candidate by giving them something to talk about. This is especially true for weaker candidates in the 5 and under range.

2. They help the examiner, because if a candidate stops early (usually under 1m40 seconds) the examiner can easily ask the candidate to say more about one of the bullet points

Otherwise the prompts play no role in scoring. The important thing to realise however, is that the prompts are always the most simple and logical parts of the topic. It would actually be very difficult to speak for two minutes and NOT address most of them. For example, for the topic 'Describe a decision you made', the first prompt is 'What was the decision?'. If you don't tell the examiner what the decision was, you will not be coherent, because the examiner will not be able to understand what you are talking about.

Examiners have some room for discretion if there is a genuine misunderstanding of a word in the topic, although it would affect your score if you talked about something else.

Simon, I was a bit surprised by your answer to this question , and by the subsequent comment that the 'prompts play no [or little] part in the scoring'.

The IELTS prompt uses the rubric 'you should say....' , which looks like an instruction to me , and I have always told my students that the wording of the prompt is carefully chosen to test the candidate's skill in handling different verb tenses, moods etc. So I advise the students always to cover each part, especially the final one, where they can expand and explain at length.

But from your answer it seems like the examiner does not pay any close attention to the individual parts of the question.

Hi Tim,

I suppose my position on this issue is somewhere between yours and sjm's. I think the prompts are important and I do encourage my students to use them. However, I also agree with sjm's point that in practice most people will probably cover the bullet points even if they forget to check them - because they are usually very obvious / logical.

There's nothing wrong with the advice that you're giving your students, so I wouldn't worry about it.

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