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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 2)

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

With globalisation comes an almost inevitable joining together of cultures, experiences and languages. One of the consequences of this is that a great many lesser-spoken languages are dying, as they are no longer required in the context of the modern world. This could be either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on whether a business or a cultural view is taken.

From a business perspective, moving towards a singular international language is not only sensible, but has in fact already begun. International trade and diplomatic relations are just two key areas that are made easier without a language barrier, and English has already positioned itself as the world’s leading language in these areas. The potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation is dramatically lowered, and this extends to the public in general, with holidays and wider social communication made all the more possible by a singular, shared language.

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language. To lose one’s national tongue could be seen as losing one’s identity. If this happens, it could cause no small amount of resentment, in particular towards nations which speak the chosen international language as their first. This could actually lead to diplomatic issues rather than solutions, which is precisely what globalisation is seeking to reduce.

In conclusion, while I am entirely in favour or closer diplomatic relations between countries, I strongly believe that it is extremely important that traditional values and cultures are upheld. Seeing as I am convinced that language and culture are inseparable, I disagree with the idea that life would be better with fewer languages in the world.

(269 words)

A few points:

  1. You don’t need to start with “nowadays” or something that means the same thing!
  2. I don’t think you should put your opinion in the introduction, unless you know you won’t finish in time. Be neutral, acknowledging both sides to the argument, in the introduction, and then present your view in the conclusion.
  3. Remember, if you are running out of time, you must write a conclusion. A good thing to do is to make your second body paragraph in to a list of bullet points, like this:

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language.

  • Lose language = lose identity
  • Resentment towards some nations
  • Lead to diplomatic issues

Now, write the conclusion and spend some time on it!

You will lose fewer marks for doing this than you will for writing complete body paragraphs without a conclusion!

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 1)

Test 4 Task 1

The line graph outlines energy consumption in the USA from 1980 to the present day, with further projections up until 2030. Use is recorded in quadrillion units and is divided in to six categories, almost all of which display a general increase over time.

For the entirety of the period covered, petrol and oil usage is the highest. In 1980, 35 quadrillion units were used, and this dipped a little initially before rising steadily to a projected peak of 50 quadrillion units by 2030. This rate of increase is matched by that of coal, whose usage climbs from around 16 quadrillion units to just over 30 quadrillion units over the same period of time. This means that, by 2030, it is expected to be the second-most used fuel, whereas in 1980 natural gas usage was higher, at 20 quadrillion units. However, usage of this fuel is expected to remain at 25 quadrillion units from 2015 until 2030.

At the other end of the spectrum, nuclear fuel and solar / wind fuel usage is not predicted to change drastically, with increases from 3 to 8 and 3 to 6 quadrillion units respectively. In slight contrast, usage of hydropower, which was also 3 quadrillion units in 1980, dropped very slightly to approximately 2.5 quadrillion units in 2011, and it is not expected that this level of usage will change in the future.

(205 words)

A few points.

  1. In the introduction, explain what the X and Y axes display – time and quadrillion units.
  2. If there are any trends that are the same, make reference to that – coal / petrol and oil increase at a very similar rate.
  3. Similarly, highlight contrasts. Coal and Natural Gas change places between 1980 and 2030.
  4. Decide how to group your information. Here, I’ve decided to group three high and three low together in paragraphs.
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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 1)

Test 3 Task 1

The two pie charts from the year 2000 detail historic population age in Yemen in Italy, and there are a further two charts providing a comparative projection for 2050. There are three age groups represented, with both countries displaying a decline in the proportion of younger populations and a converse increase in older populations.

First of all, in 2000, the majority of people in Yemen were aged 0-14, with 50.1%, compared with 46.3% 15-59 year olds and only 3.6% of people aged 60 plus. In Italy, however, child population is much lower, with only 14.3% of people aged between 0 and 14. This leaves the vast majority of people (61.6%) between 15 and 59, and a much higher proportion (24.1%) of people aged over 60.

Looking ahead to 2050, the Yemeni population is predicted to alter significantly in age, with 15-59 year olds expected to be in the majority, at 57.3%, compared with 37% 0-14 year olds and 5.7% over 60. In Italy, however, the percentage of both 15-59 year olds and 0-14 year olds will have fallen by 2050, with projected figures of 46.2% and 11.5% respectively. This then means that proportion of over 60s will have increased dramatically, almost doubling to 42.3%, which represents by far the largest predicted change.

(179 words)

In this model answer, I have chosen to divide my paragraphs in to 2000 / 2050. However, you could also choose to divide them in to Italy / Yemen. If you do this, then you can use language to describe change over time in each paragraph (increase / decrease). I have also chosen to clearly represent every figure as a percentage, but you could use roughly / approximately etc. and talk about double / half.

 

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 2, Task 2)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teachign sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Write at least 250 words.

It is natural that school curricula will alter and develop over time. At present, the idea that there should be some kind of community-based programme integrated in to school time has been suggested. This could bring about a number of clear advantages, but not without a few potential issues.

Working for one’s local community is without doubt a valuable use of time. If this were part of high school programmes, children and teenagers would learn the value of mutual care and of contributing to the area in which they were born and grew up. It would be grounding for those of higher privilege, and would add diversity to overly-academic schedules, which have come in for criticism in recent times for not being practical enough.

However, there are those who will argue that school time should be spent on more traditional subjects. It is true that mathematics and language skills are integral to a child’s ability to progress in life beyond school, and that a balance of scientific and artistic subjects has always served to enable success in the world of work. It could be said that interference in this balance is unnecessary, and that community-based work should be allocated outside of school time under parental guidance.

In conclusion, I am inclined neither to agree nor disagree to any particular extent. This is principally because, while I appreciate the need for high school children to contribute to society outside of their schools, I am not sure if this should be prioritised above or alongside academic pursuits.

(265 words)

The conclusion – the question says “to what extent do you agree or disagree” – sometimes you will find that you just aren’t sure! As long as you can explain this, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to be in the middle (see the first sentence, but with an explanation).

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 2, Task 1)

Test 2 Task 1

The bar graph displays figures related to the amount of telephone calls that were made in the UK between 1995 and 2002. These figures have been divided in to three separate categories, with an overall pattern of increase over time in two of the three categories.

With regards to calls made from mobiles, the figure in 1995 was the lowest of all the categories, with under 5 billion minutes. However, this figure proceeded to increase steadily at first, reaching 9 billion minutes by 1998, and then more sharply to a final total of roughly 45 billion minutes in 2002. While national and international – fixed line calls displayed a similar upward trend, the increase was far more slight, with 37 billion  minutes in 1995 and just over 60 billion minutes in 2002.

In contrast, local – fixed line calls did not increase year on year. Despite posting the highest figures in every year, the number increased from 1995’s total of approximately 72 billion minutes to a peak of 90 billion minutes in 1999, but it had fallen back to about 72 billion minutes again by the end of the period.

(170 words)

5 useful phrases.

  1. An overall pattern of increase – remember to find a general observation in the introduction for task 1. In this task, almost all the figures increase.
  2. With regards to – this is another way to say “looking at”
  3. Roughly – remember, we can use words to show that we can’t see the exact number: roughly / approximately / about / around are all good. “Almost” and “nearly” mean “just under” and “just over” means “more than”.
  4. A similar upward trend – this means “also increases”
  5. It had + v3 ……by – this is good grammatical range. If you talk about an increase or a decrease, you can mention the final year in the range and use past perfect + by + end date.
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Using the future in Writing Task 1

This is a very short tip on using the future in IELTS Writing Task 1. Let’s look at an example chart.

Line Graph Future

This is a typical example of a graph that starts in the past, but ends in the future. This is a bit more tricky than a graph in which all the information is in the past, because you need to change your grammar depending on the section. However, it’s a good opportunity to increase your mark for Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Here’s what we can add in:

Introduction

So, we start with our typical “The graph shows…” section. Something like:

The graph shows financial data, separated in to revenue, charges, borrowings and grants and subsidies, as a monetary figure in millions of dollars. 

So, we have explained the Y axis. we now need to explain the X axis, specifically, that it starts in the past and finishes in the future.

This information runs from 2012 to the present day, and includes a projection for 2016 to 2022.

The word “projection” is a financial word meaning “prediction”. We could also use “estimation”.

Body

So, we could separate our paragraphs in to 1) Past until now and 2) Now in to the future. That would help us divide up the grammar to keep it simple – past in body paragraph 1 and future in body paragraph 2. What are our choices?

  1. will

We can use “will” + infinitive as a simple option. Here’s an example:

From 2016 until 2022, the rates revenue figure will consistently increase from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million.

Fine, but a bit simple, so we can’t use it for the whole paragraph.

2. Is + past participle + to + infinitive

There are a few different participles we could use: estimated, predicted, expected, projected. Example:

After 2015, the rates revenue figure is expected to continue its growth, from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million at the end of the period.

Very nice because it’s simple, you can use the same structure but just change the past participle each time, and it includes a passive.

3. Future perfect (will + have + past participle)

Possibly the highest level way to express the future in IELTS. We need to look at the very end of the graph, so that we imagine that the increase / decrease has already happened. This is exactly what we do for present / past perfect as well. We can do this by using “by”. Look at the example:

The rates revenue figure started increasing in 2014, and, by 2022, it will have reached a peak of just under 2500 million.

An excellent piece of grammar to include – just remember to use “by + end of graph / end of increase or decrease” and then talk about the change that will have happened at that point in the future.

 

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me!

 

Simon

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Prepositions in IELTS Task 1 Writing

OK, let’s take a look at a few prepositions, and a really easy way to remember how to use them.

  1. to / from

In task 1, you will use “to” if you are talking about change. So, if something goes up or down, we use “to”. Look at the example:

The number of people rose to 800,000 in 2011.

So, we use “to” for changes, and we use it to describe the second number – the number at the end of the increase / decrease.

We also use “to” with “from” – like from 400,000 to 800,000 – again, we are talking about the end number. If we want to talk about the start number, we use “from”.

2. by

We use “by” similarly to “to”, so when we talk about change. This time, however, we are thinking about the difference between point A and point B. Here’s another example:

Number of people, 2001 = 55

Number of people, 2005 = 60

The number of people rose by 5 from 2001 to 2005.

So, we also use “by” for changes as well, but to talk about difference.

3. at

We use “at” to talk about numbers that haven’t changed over time. Look at this example:

The number remained steady at 25 for about five years.

So, “at” is used in the opposite situation to “to”.

4. with

We use “with” when we just want to talk about one number, at one time, with no changes. Here’s an example:

The highest number was in the 16-25 age group, with 500,000.

Conclusion

So, here’s the simple way to remember:

to – change, second number
from – change, first number
by – change, difference between first and last

at – no change over time

with – one number, no movement in time

Good luck!

 

Simon

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Is the IELTS exam fair?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. In a twist of fate though, it’s the most recent post from the brilliant “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian, referring to the stress and pointlessness of the current exam climate in mainstream education that has led me to finally put finger to keyboard (link below). IELTS is the monopoly, THE exam for students wishing to enter our universities. But is it fair? Does it truly live up to its claim that it assesses students’ ability to cope with life at a British university? Do any exams really contribute positively to education?

With the IELTS exam, this is largely a question of time. There have been no significant updates to IELTS in years, and it’s not just the format; most other EFL exams are now available to sit online, which at least more closely mirrors motions that students actually go through in modern universities. IELTS as a paper exam falls down somewhat before you even inspect the content; who handwrites essays? This is a problem in mainstream education as well, but there are arguments for handwriting as a skill with younger students writing in their own language. In EFL, how many students will actually ever use handwriting – especially on an essay level – other than for sticky note reminders on their fridges? Online, yes. Emails for work and to friends, the general language of the Internet, and TYPING essays. But spellchecking and autocorrection is an advanced tool nowadays, with the grammar counterpart not far behind. Surely retaining 25% of marking criteria for grammar and 12.5% for spelling in writing is redundant and provides an unnecessary obstacle to success?

To further compound the problem with the writing paper, task 1 is a ridiculous exercise. Students analyse a graph which looks like it was drawn in the 1980s. No part of this task replicates anything that 99% of these students might actually do at university or in real life. Even the final 1%, the maths / economics students, of which there aren’t many coming in from the typical IELTS countries, wouldn’t realistically analyse a graph in this way, because it in no way requires objective thought, exophoric comparison or real “analysis” anyway.

Adding spelling in as the main criteria for the listening exam on top of this just seems to be deliberately unfair. I know a great many English people can’t spell very well. Does it really matter that much? Is a student going to read back through their lecture notes and penalise themselves for a missing letter, or a misheard minimal pair? Granted, the listening test contains some isolated tasks that replicate real university life, especially the task 4 lecture note-taking, although students were even using their phones to record lectures when I last attended one in 2003. I imagine this is even more common nowadays, and obviously students can replay audio of a lecture again and again if there is any difficulty with comprehension, rather than being told that they “will not hear the recording a second time”.

The reading paper is the worst of the lot. The time pressure is absurd, so much so that students training to take the exam are taught how to AVOID reading, because there isn’t time. They scan, match shapes and numbers and fill in gaps. Not one of the tasks actually requires a critical response, or any in-depth reading, and the third paper is about a technical subject, often from New Scientist, that will in no way match the subject that the student actually wants to study at university. I can honestly say that I can’t find a single redeeming feature about this section of the exam. Why can’t students sit an integrated skills paper, with a reading and summary section, like the ISE exams? Why can’t they answer some critical thinking tasks? The cynical answer to the second part is that it would require IELTS examiners to undergo extra training or retraining in order that they an accurately assess a critical response. Ultimately, I have seen nothing to suggest that Cambridge want to spend a single penny on improvement in any area of the exam, and they are unlikely to as long as they are an accepted monopoly.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out here that the speaking test is quite good. The two-minute presentation and the discussion / opinion-based questions give the students a good work out, although it’s a shame that they don’t adopt an FCE / CAE approach and get two students in at once for a seminar-style discussion. Still, it is a reasonable exam, and the marking emphasis is (correctly) on fluency and ability to communicate rather than being pernickity over minute accuracy.

The danger of exams such as this is that, because they don’t really test ability in realistic situations, teachers then prepare students to pass said exam, rather than upskilling them in real-life tasks. This could be said of secondary school exams as well as IELTS, but this doesn’t make it right. The added external pressures that students receive from governments, workplaces or family, mean that they are also happy to be taught to pass an exam in this way, and they become interested only in this. I can say that I have seen students leave IELTS preparation courses with a lower level of general English ability than they had when they started, but they are happy because they’ve ticked off the entrance criteria for their university of choice. Bearing this in mind, surely IELTS is actually detrimental to a student’s ability to survive at university, and is therefore negatively affecting the skills gaps on university courses that it was put in place to close? And if so, why haven’t universities noticed this?

I imagine that I am writing this in vain, but I am also pretty sure that I’m not the only one having these thoughts. I’d love to hear from more people about their experiences either with EFL or mainstream examinations. I also hope that if this strikes a chord with you, you’ll share it. Maybe someone far more important than I will read it.

 

Simon

Secret Teacher link: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/aug/08/secret-teacher-i-know-my-students-wont-get-the-results-they-deserve

 

 

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Multi-tasking in a foreign language

Note: Students, if you find this article difficult to understand, read the part about exams!

What is linguistic multi-tasking? When do we encounter it? And how is it tackled in the classroom? In this article, I’ll go through the idea of skills and skills teaching in a bit of detail, and look at the challenges involved as well as the areas in which teachers can aim to develop their students.

Skills

In language teaching, when we talk about “skills”, we are referring to four things: Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. We can divide these up in to two categories: receptive (from the word “receive”) and productive (from the word “produce”). These words refer to how we are interacting with language. The two receptive skills are reading and listening, because the language comes to our eyes or ears through text or audio, and the two productive skills are speaking and writing, because we produce the language ourselves, either orally or on paper. As language students, we ideally want to improve all four skills to achieve both receptive and productive fluency.

Challenges

When we try to improve a skill, we face a number of problems. The problems could be systematic – this means that with our productive skills, we might struggle with parts of the skill; pronunciation (speaking), spelling (writing) or vocabulary, grammar or discourse (both). These aren’t the only problems though. We might also find it hard to perform the skill itself. Here are some possible problems:

  • Fluency – it’s difficult to speak without stopping regularly.
  • Expression (circumlocution) – I don’t know a word and I can’t explain it
  • Comprehension – there might be too much text / audio, or it might be too fast or advanced in level.
  • Structure / Coherence – it might be difficult to write in paragraphs, or to organise spoken ideas.
  • Recall – It’s difficult to remember what was said / written about, because I’m not very good at taking notes
  • Inference – I find it difficult to use context to guess meanings of difficult words

There are, of course, many others, and teachers should work on helping students acquire the techniques to improve their skills. However, there is another level to this: if each individual skill is difficult, how on earth are we supposed to perform two skills at the same time?!

Multi-tasking

Here are a few examples of times when you need to multi-task.

  1. Conversation – listening (to the other person or people) and speaking (replying, conversing)
  2. Ordering – reading (a menu) and speaking (talking to the waiting staff)
  3. Lectures – listening (to the lecturer) and writing (taking notes)
  4. Research – reading (the material) and writing (again, taking notes)

It’s fair to say that number 1 is the most common, but what links these scenarios? Notice that they all require you to use one receptive and one productive skill at the same time. Generally, we are OK at this in our own language, and can pick this up in a second with correct training and practice. But what happens to our brains when we try to combine two receptive or two productive skills at the same time? Give it a try. Try writing an email while having a conversation. Try reading a book while listening to the radio.

Was that easy? I’m guessing your answer is “no”. It’s pretty simple – if we listen and read at the same time, there is too much information coming to our brains at the same time. Similarly, if we write and speak at the same time, we put pressure on ourselves to produce twice as much language as we usually would in a particular space of time. Granted, some people can do it, but it isn’t a majority, and the percentage of those who can drops significantly in a second or third language.

The Problem with Exams

So, where are these situations in which we are pushed in to combining two receptive or productive skills together? The answer is that, in general, they don’t exist. This is firstly because communication is about direction; we give and receive. If we need to give or receive twice, we just extend the interaction, rather than doing it all at the same time. It’s also about avoidance. We can usually avoid these situations by having a measure of control over our communicative environments (although this often requires classroom training in a second language). Unfortunately, exams take away this control and put us in strange situations, which aren’t always reproduced in real life. I personally think that those parts of exams are therefore not very useful, but whether I like it or not, they exist. Here’s an example which we come across in Cambridge Exams (FCE, CAE, IELTS):

A listening exam with a multiple choice section. The question and the choices account for a lot of text – too much to remember in a short time.

So, in this situation we are being trapped. We don’t have enough time to read and remember all the information in these questions, so we find ourselves reading while listening to the audio. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult!

An Exam Solution

I’ve had a lot of success with focussing students more on note-taking. Not only is this a real-life task (as mentioned before, lectures and meetings both require this), but it helps prevent this situation. Here’s how:

1) Student reads the questions and focusses on their meanings and keywords. They don’t really look at the multiple choice options for more than a couple of seconds (reading).

2) Student listens and takes notes (listening and writing).

3) After the listening, student matches their notes to the multiple choice options (just reading).

At no point is the student completely engaged in reading and listening at the same time. The student can make notes in English or their mother tongue (depending on preference), and they can use shorthand, abbreviations or spider diagrams – all of which can be taught and practised in class.

In the classroom

It is clear, then, that there is more to teaching skills than perhaps we acknowledge. Yes, it’s all well and good to teach a speaking or a listening lesson, but do we teach them in conjunction with each other as preparation for real-life experiences? I’m not suggesting that this would necessarily work with lower-level learners, but as students approach fluency and competency, they need to be challenged with real-life scenarios. Part of this is recognising and implementing strategies to avoid overload by extending conversations to avoid double-receptive or double-productive situations, or by learning to take notes in exams to minimise a clash of tasks. It is also accepting that receptive and productive skills often run parallel, and then receiving training on how to deal with this fact.

In light of this, I’m going to be publishing some ideas for real-life, “multi-skills” classes. If anyone out there has got any resources / ideas on this, I’d love to see them. In the meantime, watch this space.

 

Simon

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Learning in Chunks – just a question of lexis?

It is not exactly revolutionary of me to mention the word “chunk” within the subject of ELT. It has been long established that vocabulary needs to be presented less as individual discrete items, but horizontally, so as to include and acknowledge collocation. Words are indeed the key to communicative language, but prepositions, adjective / noun or noun / verb combinations, and high-frequency connections are the glue that holds it together. Without these things, it is impossible to achieve any real level of productive fluency. None of this is in debate.

There is a particular part of this that is starting to interest me, though. It isn’t the fact that we ought to draw attention to collocation, or words “in chunks” though. It’s the implications of “chunking” for a learner. Chunking isn’t, in fact, just a method of expansion, for as it encourages learners to observe vocabulary in groups rather than individually, it also facilitates the breaking down of full, multiple-clause sentences, in to manageable, bite-sized chunks (Michael Lewis, The Lexical Approach). Again, not a new observation. But is the idea of “bite-sized” usable in other skills?

At this point, I’m going to switch to reading tasks, specifically, academic reading. As an IELTS teacher, I watch a lot of struggle. Students are faced with daunting amounts of text, answers hidden amongst technical terms and “distractors”, and a time limit that would have most native speakers struggling. Often, the sheer volume of text is enough to guarantee demotivation, and, ultimately, failure. I’ve looked at techniques, of course. We’ve scanned, skimmed and inferred until blue in the face, but often it just isn’t enough. Perhaps they aren’t up to it yet. Or perhaps they encounter problems because the task, not the text, isn’t “bite-sized”.

Let’s look at a typical task in an IELTS reading exam. True / False / Not Given questions typically present themselves in order in the text, and require the student to scan and skim in a linear fashion, albeit not necessarily having a clue about the percentage of the whole text covered by the task (unless there is a clear, “scannable” keyword). In general, students are presented with about seven questions, and 800 words of text. They then proceed to read question 1, scan the text, find the answer, write the answer, and repeat for question 2 et cetera. Of course, if they can’t find an answer, they don’t really have a point of reference from which to continue moving forward through the text. In other words, it is difficult to establish linear movement, and can result in time-costly rereading and doubling back. In an incredibly time sensitive exam (1 hour, 3 texts, 2400 words, 40 questions), this is not exactly ideal.

Now, let’s say that a student approaches this in a slightly different way. Upon receiving the task, they break the questions, and then the text, in to bite-sized chunks. They draw a line under question four, and look at questions 1-4 as a separate task. They are not only breaking the task down, but they are also immediately acknowledging that they are likely to be looking at less of the text; the first four-sevenths, roughly. Granted, this is still not exact enough to be comforting. The next stage then, is to isolate the text in a more precise way. The student scans for a keyword match in question 1. They aren’t looking necessarily to find the exact answer at this stage, merely to highlight the area of text in which the answer lies. They draw a line indicating where the text relating to questions 1-4 starts. The next part is to do the same again, but instead of doing this for question 2, they do it for question four. Once they have drawn this second line, they have created a text box, in which four answers lie. The text box is considerably smaller, and therefore less daunting, than the original text, and task, as a whole. They then go through the standard question-answering techniques as they are usually taught. This process is then repeated with questions 5-7, again focusing on isolating “answer-heavy” text, and eliminating time-wasting and a general feeling of being overwhelmed by volume.

While early in my research in to the benefits of this, results so far have been good. Not only have 100% of my students responded positively to this concept, which I believe is more than half the battle (for I am a disciple of the affective filter), but success rates in linear tasks have also gone up considerably in over 80% of these students. I am keen to acknowledge that reading methods and techniques are very much individually subjective, and, as a result, it is difficult to say that there is a “right” way. However, if learners feel that they can approach a task with more confidence than before, I am positive that this will directly contribute to an improvement in results alone, as so many learners are beaten before they step on to the pitch, to use a famous sporting analogy.

I’d love to hear from teachers and students who would like to give this a go. My contact details are on this site. Get in touch, and help me answer the following question: “Can we use the idea of chunking as a reading test technique in general English and exam settings?” And, even more interestingly: “Is there a practical use for a technique like this outside of the environment of comprehension-based tasks – could chunking improve reading ability as a whole?”

 

Simon Richardson

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IELTS Reading – Guess work?

Anybody out there who has completed an IELTS reading knows that guessing is sometimes unavoidable. It is true that it is better to write something than nothing, but is there such a thing as an educated guess? I have a suggestion.

Let’s look at True / False / Not Given, or Yes / No / Not Given questions. Now, let’s imagine that you have scanned the text, gone through the questions, found the place where the answer is likely to be, and you still can’t find it.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they just put “Yes” for everything, or that they randomly guess. I’m going to disagree. I think you should always guess Not Given. Here’s why:

1) If you randomly guess every answer, there is a possibility you will be wrong every time.

2) If you guess the same answer each time, there is a much better chance you will get a minimum of 1 answer correct, as IELTS exams vary the answers between the three options. I have never seen a task in IELTS that doesn’t include at least one answer from each option.

3) Why Not Given? Well, two reasons. Firstly, if you are looking for an answer and you can’t find it, maybe it’s because the answer isn’t there! I think you should trust your ability and have a confident mind. Tell yourself that you didn’t find it because it is Not Given, write it and move on, confidently. Secondly, Not Given answers are a task that is specifically an “IELTS task”. Therefore, the exam papers will always contain at least one answer per task that is “Not Given”.

I think you give yourself a chance of free points this way. Choose Not Given! Be confident!

 

Simon

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A word on IELTS test centres

I don’t know why I haven’t written this before to be honest. Please read this carefully!

It does NOT matter which IELTS centre you take the test at. You will not get a better mark in one centre than another because some centres are “easier”. It is a complete waste of your time and money travelling to a different centre to take the IELTS exam. Stick close to home so that you have more time to get a good night’s sleep and wake up in a familiar place. Please remember these things:

  • The examiners marking you are trained, experienced teachers. They are reassessed every two years and their marking is regularly checked to make sure that they are doing their jobs well.
  • Writing and Speaking tests are double marked so that the final bands are accurate
  • If somebody you know got a good mark at one centre, it’s because they deserved it! It isn’t because they did it at an easy centre.

I hope that this message reaches some people. I know that the IELTS exam is stressful, but the best way is to relax the day before. Extra travelling won’t help.

Good luck!

 

Simon

 

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IELTS Reading (mini-tip) – what order do you answer questions in?

Let’s think about tasks such as True / False / Not Given, sentence completion and short answer questions. You will find that the answers can be found in the text in order. But are you using this fact to your maximum advantage?

Have a look at this short example text below.

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Questions 1-4

1. Chilies became popular as soon as they were brought into Europe.
2. Capsaisin damages the mouth.
3. Chilies can be part of a birds diet.

 

4. Smaller chillies are generally hotter than larger chillies.

 

OK, so of course, we start off looking for information for question 1. (You can find it in line 3: “immediate sensation”) – so we mark it TRUE (not T, not Yes!)

But what next? In a longer text, I find that sometimes students perform better when the next question they answer is question 5, not question 2.

WHY?

Pretty simple, really. Sometimes, the final answer can be found a long way before the end of the text. (In this case, you can find the answer in line 1 of the second-to-last paragraph – “The smaller chillies tend to be the hottest”) If you can find the final answer position, you can then trap the remaining answers in between questions 1 and 5, so that you reduce the area of text that you have to scan. See below: Blue – question 1 answer / question 5 answer. BOLD = text containing answers 2-4.

 

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Have a try of this next time, and remember: IELTS is about finding a technique that you are comfortable with. There is not one “correct” way – if this tip works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. There will be another way that you are happy with.

 

Simon

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 2)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

It has long been a priority of educational authorities to widen and improve the overall experience of pupils. To that end, a recent suggestion has been made that children should be involved in community service tasks such as charity work or neighbourhood improvement as a mandatory part of their schooling. While this could be seen as a waste of school time, there are clear benefits which can not be ignored.

It could be argued that children today do not spend enough time learning, and that compulsory extra-curricular activities would only further decrease study time. Although community work is important, homework and self-study time would have a more direct benefit on the education and exam results of a child, in turn providing the opportunity for academic advancement to university. Alternatively, this time could be spent on physical exercise and team sports as a way of combatting the increase in free time activities which promote laziness, such as computer-based gaming or chatting. Moreover, neighbourhood tasks should be being undertaken by council employees, rather than being forced upon the younger members of a community. These issues could therefore form a valid argument against the incorporation of such activities in to school curricula.

However, the importance of children learning social values through experiencing and contributing to community spirit should not be ignored. Charity work would teach them to support one another in later life, and any activity related to improvement would teach them the importance of contribution to one’s own local area, thereby simultaneously discouraging anti-social or criminal behaviour. Furthermore, becoming involved in mentoring younger children would arguably promote a stronger sense of team spirit than merely engaging in competitive sport with age-group segregation. Therefore, it would be an excellent idea to consider some kind of monitored social activity to encourage personal growth in teenage pupils.

In conclusion, while it is understandable that the idea of community service may cause concern due to a perceived lack of educating, I strongly believe that these activities would teach children at high school level to be more rounded as individuals, as well as better able to positively contribute to society in later life.

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IELTS Writing – avoiding pronouns and vagueness

In IELTS writing part 2, it is important to make your final opinion in the conclusion clear, by using “I”. However, in the rest of the text it is often a good idea to present opinion as though it is fact – this includes the final sentence of the introduction. Let’s look at a few examples, using the following question (from Cambridge Book 9 Test 3)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

1) Let’s imagine that I agree with this statement. I might write an introduction that looks like this:

In order to help children to understand the importance of community, people think that it would be beneficial for them to do some things in their neighbourhood as a mandatory part of their schooling. While some people say this is a waste of time, I believe that this idea has enormous potential.

 

Let’s look at the bold sections in order.

People think –> This is an example of vague language. “People” is a non-specific group, so we can change this in one of two ways. 1: specify a particular group of people, like parents or education experts. 2) Use the passive: “it has been suggested that…”

Some things –> Again, too vague. Using the word “things” suggests to the examiner that you don’t know the specific words, or a good synonym for “community service”. Either repeat the phrase, or think of a synonym, like “tasks”

Some people say –> Again, this is vague. A better way to phrase this might be “While there are those who may…” This is still vague, but a little better. You could also write “While there are is a case to be made for this being a waste of valuable time”

I believe –> The problem with using “I” in the introduction, is that it will make it look very similar to your conclusion. If you use passive or an “It” sentence here, it will make your conclusion stronger.

Here’s a rewrite of that introduction.

In order to help children to understand the importance of community, it has been suggested that it would be beneficial for them to do certain tasks in their neighbourhood as a mandatory part of their schooling. While there is a case to be made for this being a waste of time, it is clear that this idea has enormous potential.

 

Here are two more examples of words and phrases you could use in your essay

It is believed / said that… (instead of People / They believe that) –> It is often said that the most is not made out of the time a child has at school.

There is / are… (instead of a pronoun) –> There are a number of reasons to support the idea that children will benefit educationally from doing community work.

 

Do you have any example sentences you would like to rewrite or share here?

 

Simon

 

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Cambridge IELTS 8 Writing Model Answer (Test 1, Task 2)

The question is here: Test 1 Task 2

In the life of a child, constant learning is not only a must but a natural way of life. This is often split in to learning at school and learning at home. Clearly, both parents and teachers have a role to play in the education of a child, but with the issue of educating a child in how to become a balanced member of society, there has been some debate as to whether teachers or parents should be taking the most responsibility.

Firstly, at school, children are effectively members of a community including peers and teachers. In order to succeed in primary and secondary education, they need to be aware of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As teachers act as mentors and overseers in this environment, it is appropriate that they should be the ones to ensure that their students appreciate and adhere to the expectations of society, both inside and outside school. The experience of being at school ought to enable them to interact as part of a team, while being respectful and appreciative of others, and these skills are transferable to the outside world. Therefore, teachers should be acknowledged as playing a vital role in this area of development.

However, education does not begin and end in schools. Parents should always be the first point of contact and trust for children, and this means that they are responsible for planting the initial seeds of accepted behaviour, as well as providing real-world perspective, which often can not be accurately represented in schools due to the necessity for certain rules applying only within the walls of educational institutions. Evidently then, the role of a parent is absolutely key from a very early age.

In summary, children require guidance in all walks of life, whether it be at school or at home, and it is the responsibility both of parents and educators to provide this and to liaise with each other in order to ensure the best possible introduction to society and accepted behaviour for the children in their care.

Word Count: 339

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Cambridge IELTS 8 Writing Model Answer (Test 1 Task 1)

You can find the question below:

Test 1 Task 1

The pie chart and table illustrate the main reasons for farmland degradation worldwide and in three continental regions respectively. Overall, there are three main reasons for this decrease in productivity, with Europe being the most seriously affected.

First of all, from a global perspective, over-grazing is the biggest cause of deterioration, with 35%, which is slightly higher than deforestation and over-cultivation at 30% and 28% respectively. The final 7% is attributed to “other” reasons.

The three principal reasons for agricultural decline are then split by region in the table, and it is notable that Europe’s percentages for deforestation and over-cultivation are significantly higher than either Oceania or North America, with 9.8% compared with 1.7% and 0.2% respectively for deforestation, and 7.7% compared with 0% and 3.3% respectively for over-cultivation. However,  11.3% of Oceania’s land degradation is attributed to over-grazing, whereas Europe’s percentage is roughly half this at 5.5%, and North America’s is at 1.5%. This means that the total land degradation percentages stand at 5% for North America, 13% for Oceania and a much higher 23% for Europe.

(164 words)

Let’s have a look at the phrases in bold.

1) Overall: This is an important part of Task 1. Remember to include a sentence in your introduction (or as a conclusion), which makes a “general” observation. You don’t need to include any numbers or percentages.

2) with 35%: If you are struggling to fit your numbers in to the same sentences as your comparisons, sometimes using “,with…” can be quite useful. Writing a new sentence that just includes one statistic would mean a short sentence that would break up the flow of your writing.

3) respectively: A great word for task 1. You use it to show the order of your numbers if they are separate from the things they refer to. For example: John and Jane are 12 and 10 respectively. This means that the first number matches the first name and the second number matches the second name, so John is 12 and Jane is 10. You usually finish a sentence with “respectively”.

4) However: You need to find comparisons to make. Here, most of the percentages are in a similar order – Europe is higher than the other regions, but there is one figure where this isn’t true. Find that number and use a “but” linker to make a comparison.

 

 

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Writing Model Answer (Test 1 Task 1)

Have a look at the attached document. Remember, it’s important to cover the main changes in enough detail, so in this kind of essay the paragraph describing “after” will be a lot longer than the paragraph describing “before”. Don’t worry – that’s not a problem!

Simon

IELTS 9 Writing 1 Model

 

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Using Thinking Hats for IELTS

This is a useful perspective for both students and teachers, so I’ve put it in to several categories.

You may have read my earlier article about using thinking hats to create balanced arguments (see here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-oB ) – you’ll need to read this first.

What I’ve done here is write a colour-coded structure to agree / disagree and problem / solution essays, using the colours to show the structure and writing explanations instead of answering a question. I’d love to have some feedback on this – my classes have responded very positively.

I’ve attached the colour-coded essays as word documents in case you have any trouble viewing.

Thanks

Simon

IELTS Hat Writing