How to Improve IELTS

Twelve Top Tips for IELTS

 

There is no special name for today but after the first two days – which are public holidays – some people have to go back to work. Those who are lucky to have a longer holiday (or if it’s a weekend) will continue to visit friends and family, have or go to parties.

 

 

On this third day of Christmas, I want to give you the final thing you should do to improve your listening.

The listening test is probably the one part where you have to concentrate the most. If your mind wanders for just a few seconds (and I know this as it sometimes happens to me too when working with IELTS students) you can lose an answer or in the worst case more than one answer. It is important to keep focused and to concentrate throughout.

There is however a small technique that you can use to make sure you don’t miss anything and have something to come back to at the end of the section or when you transfer your answers.

This little trick is to make some notes. There is little time so your notes have to be very short and useful so they can help you if you miss an answer.

This is another of the techniques I teach my students to do so that they can be sure to have something to fall back on if they can’t quite get the answer – it helps you make an informed decision about these missing answers rather than a random guess when you transfer at the end of the test.

So if you want to be sure about your listening you need to make certain you practice all the techniques I’m sharing with you so that they become second nature. The very best way of doing this is to get help from a qualified and experienced IELTS teacher.

To see if I can help you to get your band 7 and 8 I’m setting up Exam Support calls at the beginning of January where you can meet me on Skype personally and look at the possibility of working with me and my team for 5 or 12 weeks to make sure you get really ready for your IELTS high band score.

To get one of these Skype appointments you need to complete this questionnaire:

 

Questionnaire 

I’m giving a special IELTS Christmas gift also – but first you have to complete the questionnaire to qualify for one of these Skype calls.

Questionnaire

Twelve Top Tips for IELTS

 

Today is called Boxing Day! A funny name and it has nothing to do with boxing! Christmas boxes are gifts of money that were (and still are sometimes) given to people who help us year round – the postman, the milkman or other tradesmen. Traditionally this was the day that they would receive these gifts.

 

 

On this second day of Christmas, I want to give you a second thing you can do to improve your listening.

Before you begin to listen, you are given some time to check the questions. Everything in the IELTS exam is done for a reason and this time is given to you because it will help you to get the answers better. Do you know how to use this time well? Do you use this time to read the questions, or do you spend your time just looking at your previous answers?

It is important to know how to use this time to make sure that you are ready when the answer comes.

Let me tell you how – you need to underline the key word in the sentence that will anticipate the answer – just one. If you underline too many words you will only get confused. Look at the answer you are being asked for and then find the one word in the question that will signal this information. That’s the word you need to listen for.

This is just one of the skills we teach on our IELTS courses. You need to get really good at using this time well so that you can make sure you don’t miss an answer.

If you are looking for a band 7 or 8 in listening you cannot afford to miss many answers and you need to use everything you can to maximise your score. By learning how to use every minute of the test well you can make sure that you don’t panic, you wait patiently for the answer to come and then calmly write it down correctly.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do this in every listening exercise by learning how to use this time? Well you can!

I want to help you achieve this and other skills and give you the chance to work with me and my team in January and make sure your IELTS is ready for band 7 and 8.

I am setting aside 5 days at the beginning of January to speak to you about getting the help you need to get the IELTS score you want.

To get one of these Skype appointments you need to complete this questionnaire:

Questionnaire 

I’m giving a special IELTS Christmas gift also – but first you have to complete the questionnaire to qualify for one of these Skype calls.

Questionnaire

Berni xx

Twelve Top Tips for IELTS

Today is Christmas Day! It is one of the most important and exciting days in our calendar here in the UK. Today, all across the UK, people will be exchanging presents and ‘making merry’ – eating a huge feast of turkey, vegetables and stuffings as well as Christmas pudding and traditional mince pies. It is a time for family and is especially magical for children – with Father Christmas, the glittering Christmas tree and lots of gifts. During the long, dark winter months Christmas lights up our lives and our hearts so no wonder we want to celebrate for a whole 12 days!!

On this first day of Christmas, I want to share one thing with you that can improve your listening

It’s important with listening to have wide exposure to different kinds of listening content. If you are looking for bands 7 and 8 then it is vital that you practise listening to different voices, sometimes speaking together and also a wide range of topics and vocabulary. The better your listening skills, the better the IELTS will be for you.

To improve your IELTS listening more quickly it’s a good idea to have questions to test your understanding of this listening content then you really know that you are able to pick out the details of what is being said.

You can listen to things like the BBC News, TED talks and also the Economist online – this is all good content and it will help you with IELTS. But, how will you know if you are listening to the right parts to answer questions?

Well I can help you with that. I have over 8,500 pages of practice material on my site and this is available to all my IELTS students. All the listening material is intended for native speakers so the level is high and I have created questions for everything so you can really test and develop your listening skills to be at band 7 and 8 easily.

I want to offer you the chance to work with me and my team in January so that you can have access to all this practice material and make sure your IELTS is ready for band 7 and 8.

I am setting aside some days at the beginning of January to speak to you personally about getting the IELTS score you want.

To get one of these Skype appointments you need to complete this questionnaire:

Questionnaire

I have a special Christmas gift to give everyone who books a Skype call – but you have to complete the questionnaire to qualify.

Questionnaire

I spoke to an IELTS student yesterday whose exam will be in 10 days. He took his last IELTS exam a few months ago. I asked him what preparation he was doing and he told me that he had just started preparing this week as the exam was coming soon and prior to that he hadn’t don’t anything since the last exam. This is not the way to learn or improve a language; you cannot just cram for a week and hope that things will improve. Language learning is NOT about learning facts; it’s about honing a skill.

IELTS Success

Too much study!

There is a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill based on 3 hours practice a day. So to become fluent in all aspects of English (based on this theory) you would need to spend (and make sure you do all 4 skills each day) around 10 years! Of course this isn’t the whole story – some people have a talent for languages and a good ear and this speeds things up. Another factor is age, the younger you begin the easier it is. You need also to add in how much English you learned in school – but the fact of the matter is that you do need a very high level of skill to get band 7 and 8 in IELTS.

I have said this before – it takes 7 years to learn your native language and that is before you begin to read and write. This is not a skill that you can ‘fast track’. Going to ‘cram school’ will help you to understand the exam and the techniques for the exam but if your English is at band 6 and you want band 8 it won’t help you achieve that score – what you need is time, practice and patience to improve your English skills.

Solution One to Fantastic English Skills

Secret #1

Go and live in an English speaking country and both work and socialise with native speakers. This does actually work BUT you have to use English for most of your day. I know this because a lot of students I meet rarely speak to native speakers outside work (and sometimes never, if they are not currently working) and this is such a great waste of a chance to really get great language skills and an easy route to a band 7/8 in IELTS.

The reason I stress both work and socialise is that work-related language is generally restricted to a fairly narrow range of language which is related to the particular field of work. I have been an English language teacher for 40 years and I know that those students who ‘spread themselves around’ socialised with their colleagues at breaks and lunch and had native speaker friends improved their English far more that those who just went to work and then just came home and spoke their native language with family. This approach may not be your ‘cup of tea’ but you need to ask yourself how much do you really want to get your IELTS result?

This method of learning is the very best. I have seen it work over and over with the most amazing and quite fast results. It is exactly how I learned Bahasa Indonesia when I went to live in Indonesia and later when I had taken a little coaching in more formal Indonesian I ended up delivering lectures to students (in the Music Department) at the University completely in Indonesian. Even so to get to this level it took around 4 years.

Solution Two to fantastic English Skills

Secret #2

If you don’t have the chance to live and work in an English speaking country then you have to find an alternative way of immersing yourself in English and making sure you get a lot of exposure as well as doing a lot of practice.

The three-hour rule mentioned above would be a good thing to aim for – that is a lot of study but you can break it up so that not everything you do is IELTS and book-work.

We learn our own language by listening and copying so this is something you can do in English – listen to lots of English and today it is so easy to do with the internet. If you hear words or sentences you would like to use then write them down or just try them out – learning a language is about mimicking.

Speaking is critical so make sure that you speak some English every day. Find friends or colleagues or join an online group and practise as often as possible. This practice does not have to be IELTS – just discuss, chat and share ideas – the more you speak the better you will become.

Read, anything and everything, books, magazines, newspapers, comic books – anything that is in English will help improve your reading skill. Do some every day but don’t try to do too much 20 minutes if you can’t stand any more than this. If you enjoy reading then do as much as you want. The best reading scores in my experience come from avid readers.

Writing is a tough one. This cannot really be done so easily except as part of study. Having said that we all text, email and send messages all the time so writing is far more common today than it was 20 years ago. Why not have a time each day where you message all in English and get your friends to check your language and give you feedback.

If you combine all these activities regularly with your dedicated IELTS study you will soon find that you will improve more quickly.

 

Finally, the Fastest way to get to a high band in IELTS

Alternative Ways to Improve Your English

Choose the quickest way

There is no doubt that one of the quickest ways to learn anything is by having an expert show you. If you drive you use a driving instructor – otherwise it will take too long to understand what to do and also could be dangerous. If you want to study a musical instrument or learn to fix a car or use a machine the quickest and most effective way is for someone who knows how to do this to show you.

It stands to reason therefore that the quickest way to improve your skills and get the IELTS band you want is to work with a qualified, trained teacher (and if they are a native speaker so much the better). Yet, the vast majority of IELTS students refuse to do this. I don’t understand why. You seem to want to continue to struggle, to keep taking the exam and failing to get your band and to keep postponing your chance for the future you are seeking.

I speak to many of you every day about getting help to firstly make sure you can actually achieve the score that you want and secondly that you can achieve it within a reasonable time. I hear comments like:

  • I am confident that I will get it next time -how do you know that if you have got exactly the same score for the last 3 tests – what evidence do you have it will change?
  • I don’t have any money for English – OK but if you have already paid a lot for your PR visa, your consultant, your medical training, your flights etc. and the ONLY thing that is stopping you and will continue to stop you for more months if not years is IELTS then it seems illogical NOT to pay a teacher to help you otherwise all the other payments you have made will be wasted.
  • If I don’t get it next time then I’ll hire a teacher: I refer to point 1 above and you know that this will cost you at least $400 for the two tests and another delay of weeks or months. Also if you have a sharp deadline and don’t get the score then you either have to give up, which would be tragic, or start the whole process again which would mean spending even more money.

That said, it makes absolute sense to see your IELTS training as an investment in your future overseas just like your job training was an investment. Without it you absolutely cannot progress – so stop being a DIY IELTS student and start to think seriously about your future plans and allow some investment for your IELTS – it’s THE deal breaker in moving to another country and it really deserves more attention!!

In summary, to get IELTS band 7 and 8 in your sleep you have to focus fully on your English for quite a long time. However, it doesn’t have to be a chore, there are plenty of relaxing and fun things you can do in English which are helpful and which you will enjoy. Make your IELTS training part of your budget when you first start the process of moving overseas – otherwise it may become a steel wall. If it’s speed you need then hire a good teacher, if you have plenty of time then invest in a good online course – don’t just dabble in free websites – these are great for information and advice but you need something practical and focused that will move you level by level through your English to reach your desired band.

If you need help with IELTS then complete this questionnaire and we can talk on Skype.

Reading and Writing

IELTS Reading

 

 

Many IELTS students have the belief that if you read the first sentence (or first two) of the first paragraph and then read the last two this will be enough information to answer the questions that are set. In actual fact for some passages this may just work – but it is too strict and not all passages fit into the same pattern of writing.

 

 

 

 

Take a look at this opening paragraph from an IELTS reading below:

The infamous Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in India was initiated with World Bank loans. It was designed primarily to irrigate 1.8 million drought-prone hectares in the state of Gujarat. Despite the extensive canal and pipeline work, the 20 million people in Gujarat have this year experienced their worst drought for a century.

If we read the first two sentences – as per the general ‘rule’ many students use and then go on to the questions, this is what happens.

The first question for this passage is:

Choose the most appropriate title for Reading Passage 3

A. Drought: Small Scale solutions for a Very Big Problem

B. Water: A Women’s Work

C. Dams: Providing Water for All

D. Drought: An Unsolvable Problem

This is actually a global question which means you need to skim the WHOLE passage to answer it – but using the 2-sentence rule strictly which many students do, I know (because I have used this passage many times) that most students will choose C

Now, if we go back to the first paragraph we can see that the first word in sentence 3 is Despite – this is a linking word used to introduce a contrast and so if we go further and read the 3rd sentence we can see that the answer C is, in fact, the opposite of what the paragraph is telling us namely: that this hugely expensive Dam has not solved the problem of drought. The ‘rule’ about 2 sentences has failed and this is the problem with these so-called ‘rues’ they don’t work in every case.

A word like despite, yet and but, which often occur in the middle of a paragraph, tell us that the truth is the opposite of what the first part of the paragraph tells us. This is a very common convention in writing (one you can use yourself to great effect in your own IELTS task 2) and not realising the significance of this contrast means that you will inevitably get the answers wrong.

Read carefully

This is one example of a ‘rule’ that has somehow become part of IELTS mythology and these restricted ways of working are causing many students to consistently choose the wrong answers. Another strongly held belief is that answers are chronological so you’ll find the answer to question 2 after question 1 etc. this is not always true and leads to a lack of common sense. It is far better to deal with the substance of the passage and also the key words in the questions to find the answer. Far from being ‘short-cuts’ these arbitrary rules simply stop you from really understanding what you are reading and being logical about the process.

So how can we move forward with reading if we stop applying these ‘rules’?

Firstly, spend more time reading and understanding text generally. Read widely. All students that I meet who have achieved high reading scores tell me that they read a lot and enjoy reading. This will also improve your vocabulary. Also think about how reading and writing are connected. How do you plan your writing? You will find if you analyse reading paragraphs that the same patterns emerge. It’s logical. Be systematic and don’t make assumptions which are external to the text – the question and text itself will tell you everything you need to know to get the right answer.

Secondly, notice linking words and other ‘helpful’ vocabulary. In the paragraph above there is a very interesting word that tells you something important – infamous- when I have used this passage with students many of them read this as ‘famous’ – which it isn’t in fact the word means famous for something bad and so straight away we know that there is a problem with this dam. Once we realise this then we can be on the lookout for why this dam is infamous, what are the problems with it and it gives us a whole different interpretation of the paragraph!!!

Here is another sentence from the passage which has caused some issues for students.

While I was there, the newspaper headlines announced the first human casualties.

A ‘Yes No Not Given’ question stated:

Many People have died as a result of the drought

The answer lies in the word ‘casualty’ – is this a synonym for fatality – which would be a death? Many students again put YES. Understanding the word casualty means that you would understand that it is not necessarily fatal, it could also mean injured. Therefore, as we don’t know the extent of the injuries and whether or not there have actually been deaths from the drought, (it is possible but we are not told) we have to answer Not Given.

A good understanding of vocabulary, the interplay between sentences, the role of linking words can all help to make sure that you get the right answer.

Finally, use common sense. A student recently was struggling to find the answer to a question. She was using key words and had chosen the correct ones in the question to find the answer. I could see that all of her key words were sitting in the first paragraph but she was frantically search in paragraph 3. I was a little puzzled and asked why she had started looking here. Because the previous answer was in paragraph 2 she told me so it must be in 3 and beyond. I asked her to have a look at paragraph 1 and immediately she found the correct answer – common sense not arbitrary ‘rules’.

If you need help with IELTS then complete this questionnaire and we can talk on Skype.

Learning Languages than Others?

Your Teacher

 

 

Choosing the teacher that will help you best with your IELTS, especially if you are looking to work online or one to one, is a very important decision. There is a lot of choice and you need to know that the teacher you choose is going to help you to achieve the score that you want.

Here are some tips to help you find the person who can help you the most.

 

 

 

Your learning preferences

  • Do you like face-to-face study?
  • Are you happier with a group of people who can also support you in your study?
  • Do you want to go away from your home or work-place for your lessons?

If this is your preference then it is probably best to choose a language school that offers IELTS in small groups or classes. If you are lucky enough to have a few weeks, months, or longer to study then you may consider a school in an English speaking country.

  • Do you need one-to-one lessons?
  • Do you require some flexibility?
  • Do you enjoy working online?
  • Do you have limited time to study?

In this case it seems that online training might just be up your street! You can work the lessons around your daily schedule and complete the work in your own time. It also saves on travel time and you can do everything from the comfort of your home or workplace or even both.

Your budget

  • An online teacher may be cheaper but it depends where they are based – if you have a teacher in the UK or Australia they will be paid at local rates
  • Sometimes students think that tuition fees for IELTS courses should be less that the IELTS exam fee – this doesn’t make sense. The exam will be taken over a 3 hour period or so but your training could well be several days, weeks or even months and this involves the time and effort of a professional teacher. It is true that the IELTS exam is expensive but then you should expect that the training courses for the exam will be significant too and in many schools these are premium courses
  • There is an expression in English ‘You get what you pay for’. If you need a high band then you will need an experienced IELTS teacher
  • Factor IELTS training into your overall budget – if IELTS is THE deal-breaker then any other money you have paid to your agent or to a university will be wasted if you can’t get the required score. IELTS is often the golden key so be prepared to get the best support that you can so you can be successful

Your IELTS Needs

  • Do you require very high bands 7 or 8? Then find a teacher who can deliver this. Not all teachers have the experience. I know teachers who will not teach above band 6.5 because they don’t feel they have the skills
  • Bands 7 and 8 need high level language skills as well as an understanding of the specific techniques and skills required to get such bands
  • Large IELTS classes will often go for the level required by the majority of the students in the class which is often band 6/6.5. If you need band 8 you may find that you won’t get a lot of help in a big class
  • Do you need more training on a specific area of IELTS like writing or reading? – again in a large class the teacher will probably not focus on any one area so it may be better for you to choose a personal tutor who can help you with more specific things

Get Recommendations

  • If you are looking for an IELTS teacher then ask around, see who your friends recommend
  • Look at track records – how do their students do (although no teacher can guarantee your exam result )
  • What do they offer you, how do they work, is this good for you
  • Can you speak to them first about what you need and want – a good idea as you will get a sense of how they work and if this will be good for you
  • If you are looking at a physical school you probably won’t have any choice about the teacher but you can find out about the school’s results
  • If you are looking at an online school or agency can you choose the teacher? If not can you change the teacher if you find that you are not very compatible? This may be important in a one-to-one situation
  • Look online at any testimonials, if the course is expensive then you may be able to speak to past students to get their story

Choosing wisely means that your money will be well-spent and you will get exactly what you need to be successful in your IELTS. It will probably save you both time and money too – so it’s well worth checking things carefully first.

Make Sure you Know Exactly what you need to do to get the IELTS Band you want.

IELTS Total Check-Up  will help you do just that!

 

Luis called me in May 2016. He was living in the UK and not too far from me, a doctor but unable to practise as such in England. I meet many doctors in this same situation and it can be very frustrating for them. He had already taken the exam twice and not achieved the score required which is band 7.5 overall with a minimum of band 7 in each part. A 3rd test was already booked which was less than a week away! His main issues were reading and writing which were stuck at 6 and 6.5. Speaking and Listening were very good.

As he lived locally, we decided to spend 3 intensive days (from 10.00 to 5.00) together and he would also do extra reading and writing as homework. The reading began to improve quite quickly as there were some techniques, especially around key-words and also cutting down the amount of time spent on reading, which helped a lot. In writing Luis needed to write more complex sentences, use a wider range of vocabulary and less common words as well as eliminate some grammatical errors which were coming from his native language. The ‘interference’ from a native language can be quite a common problem in both speaking and writing and as I was able to identify the cause, he became aware of this and started to notice these mistakes.

Another problem with the writing was a tendency to think in his native tongue rather than in English and this can also be a big problem for many students. The key here is ‘if you don’t know it then don’t use it’ that means that if you have an idea in your own language and try to translate this idea without knowing exactly how it should be expressed in English, then it is very unlikely to come out correctly – think of a way of saying it that you do know or change the idea. Translation hardly ever works and you end up either with something that is not clear or something that is very strange – this is one of my golden rules in writing only write sentences that you know. If you don’t know how to write this idea then find an idea that you do know how to write. Of course if you have enough time then you can begin to experiment with new things but with only 3 days to go this was not possible for Luis.

As we had very little time, the strategy was to keep the basic sentences quite simple and then join them with good linking words, enhance them with adjectives, adverbs and other modifiers and try to find more interesting verbs to replace simple words like ‘have’, ‘can’,  ‘is’, etc. Then with the use of the passive and modal verbs (should, would may, might etc.) it is possible to build up a good task 2 which starts to get to band 7. For task one relevant vocabulary for the kind of data and absolutely clarity around what is presented; be it data, map, diagram or process, is the key. Keeping the basic structure simple helps to retain clarity and then sentences can be enhanced with other lexical devices. I had also warned Luis that making a big difference to writing in just 3 days was virtually impossible but that he might just be lucky and have everything come together. On the other hand he didn’t have any choice as the exam was booked and he was prepared to see what he could manage.

We did make quite a lot of progress and he went off to take the exam on the next day.

Although his reading achieved band 7 the writing only got band 6.5, this was not a surprise to either of us as writing cannot be rushed – it really needs lots and lots of practice.

Luis had now returned home for a holiday so we agreed to continue the lessons online. He had a very tight deadline and booked another test – this time we had 10 days! I was still concerned that the writing might take longer but again, there was no choice the test was booked.

My method of working with students online is that I send the work to complete, the students then send me the answers and after checking we meet online to go through everything together looking at mistakes and why these mistakes were made. I also ask students to re-do things if they are far from the score they need – this was the method I used with Luis. He told me that even after only 2 weeks away from IELTS he found it hard to do that very first reading and writing again!

We met every day on Skype and in-between he worked hard at the test material and his writing. Eventually he had a template for both task 1 and task 2 which he used each time adapting this to the questions. Soon the writing was becoming easier to write, contained fewer and fewer errors, gave an excellent answer to the task and contained wonderful vocabulary and pushed all the Band 7 buttons – despite the short time available I felt that this time the band 7 was very possible.

The day of the test arrived and Luis took it. This was the last one he told me – if he didn’t get it he would return to his home country and not try again – a lot was at stake. After the exam he emailed me the following:

Listening, Writing and Speaking fine. I feel happy with them. But the Reading was awful. The heading of the first text was Infants Literacy….. And no idea at all about the meaning of the word literacy…. So you can imagine. A disaster. The second text was about photographs of planets, astronomy…..: I hate that… Difficult because i spent a lot of time with the previous one trying to understand, and I left some questions without answering them due to the lack of time… The third text was ok. But overall with the reading, I will be happy if i reach band 5….! So everything will be useless by now….!

This was very disappointing to hear as the reading scores had been excellent in our practice. However, I have heard this many times from students in the past who had actually scored very high bands so I was not expecting him to get band 5!

The day of the results came and I didn’t hear anything. I left it a few days and still nothing. I was concerned that his prediction about reading might be true. After a few days I emailed and asked how the results had gone. It turns out that there was an investigation so the results were delayed. This happens from time to time it is all a part of the moderation of the exam to keep the results fair and equitable. In the past when this had happened to my students they had all achieved very high scores so I now felt more hopeful (this is not always the case, however, as sometimes the test can be voided and the students have to re-take the exam which is very stressful).

The results took a whole month to arrive and they were excellent!! – Listening and Speaking 7.5, Writing 7 and Reading an amazing Band 8.

It was a ‘nail-biting’ time but worth all the drama in the end.

IELTS is possible for everyone – just keep going, maintain confidence and above all get some support from people who know the exam.

If you are in a similar position and want my help you can give me more information in this IELTS questionnaire and then we can speak on Skype and see what you need to do to achieve your score.

IELTS is your friend. This may sound strange but it is actually true.

There are people who want to go overseas to continue their education by taking a Master’s Degree or PhD. Other people want to work in the US, UK Australia, Canada, New Zealand. Still others want to educate their children in one of these countries. They all have one thing in common; they need IELTS (or TOEFL, Pearson etc.). Getting a good IELTS score will open up that opportunity so IELTS IS your friend. It is a positive.

Continue reading

In 2012 I worked with a student from Malaysia called Sharifa. Sharifa wanted to go to Australia to do a Master’s Degree. She was a fully qualified child-psychologist and had already been offered a place on a Master’s programme and required an IELTS score at least 6.5  but had to have a minimum of band 7 in writing. When I met her in the early part of that year she was almost there. Continue reading

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