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.

Making Plans and Predictions

Making Plans

What is the difference between “will” and “going to”? Or the difference between “going to” and present continuous? I’ve drawn a picture that I think shows these differences clearly – click on and save the picture to see it in a larger size.


So, what does this picture tell us?

  1. “will” is used to talk about future events that we haven’t planned yet. We haven’t planned them because this is the first time we’ve been told about them, or the first time we’ve thought about them. Two examples:
  • “I’ll help you with those books” – I’ve seen someone having trouble so I’ve offered to help
  • “I’ll come with you” – I’ve just been told a friend is going on holiday and I’ve decided I want to come.

Of course, we could use “might” or “may” if we’re less sure about the decision.

2.   “going to” is used when a plan has been made, but the future event is still quite far away in time (see example) – so we usually make the time very clear (“I’m going to see Harry Potter at the cinema next Saturday”) – this means I’ve already bought a ticket, so I made the plan some time before I said this.

3.   Present Continuous is used when the event is planned and is really soon. We often use this to talk about events that are happening on the same day. Remember, we must specify time, because if we don’t then the listener will understand that we are talking about something happening now! Example:

  • “I’m seeing Harry Potter later” – I know that this is soon, and therefore unlikely to change
  • “I’m seeing Harry Potter” – This is happening now, so you’re talking to me while the film is on

4.   We also use Present Simple to talk about future events. In this case they are happening very soon, they are extremely unlikely to change, and they are usually actions / events that we can not control. For this reason, we often talk about schedules (transport, for example) because they are on a timetable and being controlled by other people. Example:

  • “The train leaves from Platform 6 at 7:30pm” – this train will leave with or without me!

So, you can see that as you read down the page on my picture, you become more sure about the event as it gets closer to happening (have a look at the arrow).


OK, now lets look at how we can make a similar picture for making predictions



Again, there is an arrow showing that as the event gets closer, you become more sure of your prediction. So, “going to” is a prediction we make when the event is almost happening, or is almost 100% certain. Example:

  • “Manchester City are going to win” – I say this after 45 minutes of the match, when Manchester City are already winning!
  • “Manchester City will definitely win” – I say this before the match, so it’s a prediction made with less evidence.

Notice that we can’t use present continuous / present simple to make predictions!

I hope this helps you! As always, email / comment with any questions!





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

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.



Cambridge Exams – Writing a Report / Proposal

A common question in Writing Part 2 is to write a report or proposal. This short article will give you two tips.

  • Structure

The accepted structure is headings and sub-headings. Have a look at this:


Start with “The purpose of this proposal / report is to…” or a similar phrase. Then, outline what you are going to be writing about – you can basically paraphrase the question and signal what is going to come. Don’t make any of your points yet!

Findings / Positive Points / Specific Subject Heading

Remember to structure this using sequencers (firstly, furthermore, additionally…)

Another heading with another subject (if necessary)

Same as above

Recommendations / Problems / Solutions

Often, part of this kind of task is to suggest improvements or solutions, so here you are directly addressing the previous paragraph(s) and again, sequencing your ideas clearly.


Don’t forget this paragraph! A brief summary “Overall…” and a positive statement to finish.

Take a look here for some model answers: CAE-10-TESTS-Model Compositions


  • Language

Remember, the language you need here is neutral. I like to think of it as BORING. This means no colourful adjectives (amazing, superb, wonderful), no exaggeration or emotion (I really believe, it is absolutely / completely / totally…). Instead, use modals, passives and objective language. Think about the language used in terms and conditions of contracts. Not very interesting!


Remember to write between 220 and 260 words for CAE!



CAE Speaking – Structures (Also for FCE / CPE)

I’ve been doing a lot of CAE exam preparation classes recently, and I’ve noticed that a lot of people are making three similar mistakes. This short article will hopefully help you avoid them. NB: These tips also apply to FCE and CPE, although the tasks I have chosen are CAE tasks.

1) Don’t feel you have to say too much in Part 1

It’s quite normal to learn the idea that “speaking more is better” at schools. This is only partly true. If you are asked a very simple question (Where do you live?), then it is unnatural to say something like this:

“I live in Barcelona, a city in the North of Spain. It’s a large, cosmopolitan city with a population of several million, and has a remarkable landscape including beaches, mountains and a fascinating mixture of architectural forms”

Does that answer the question? Really, you’ve answered the question “Can you tell me a bit about your city?”

Don’t feel the need to go too far in this part – just answer the question: “I live in Barcelona, a major city in the North of Spain”. Save the other information for when you’re actually asked about it!

2) Don’t spend too much time “describing” in Part 2

So, with Part 2, you are given three pictures and have to choose two to talk about / answer questions on. Have a look at the example below:

Compare the educational settings

Describe how they are feeling



A good start here is to make your choice first: “I’m gonna go for the first and second pictures…”

Remember, from here you have about 55 seconds to do three things:

  • Describe
  • Compare
  • Interpret

Of these, the easiest is describing, so this is the part that should take the least time. Have a look at the example below:

“In the first picture, the two students are engaged in some kind of practical experiment – groupwork in a science class, whereas the setting in picture 2 is a lecture, so the students are passive – listening, rather than active – doing.

That’s enough for describing! Now for interpreting:

“Well, I reckon that the students in picture 1 are feeling pretty motivated – learning by doing is supposed to be really effective, and being able to control a process and see its results can be quite exciting. Also, as a small group, they can interact with each other and are probably quite good friends as they’ve chosen each other, so they’re probably happy and quite comfortable too, whereas, in the second picture, obviously they’re not talking. It’s possible that they understand everything that is being said perfectly, and they’re interested and listening intently, but it could also be the case that they are confused by some things, and not in an environment in which they can ask questions, which can be a bit daunting. It’s a less relaxed environment and requires a lot of concentration and discipline, so I guess they probably aren’t feeling as good as the two students in the first picture.”

Much longer! You could signal that you are going to finish by including a brief comment on your own feelings:

“Personally, I would be happier in the situation of picture 1, because…”

Good! Now, if you’re the “second speaker…”

Don’t waste time describing what you see – speaker 1 already did this. Immediately try and interpret, using the question you are given. Remember, you only have thirty seconds!

3) The “making a decision together” part of part 3 is more important than the general overview of the pictures!

Take a look at the example below:

How do these pictures show the role of computers nowadays?

Which picture best reflects the difference computers have made to our lives?



  • You don’t need to describe every picture – just give a general picture (example below)

Well, these pictures show that computers have basically infiltrated every part of our lives – from work at home, to children’s games, education and even retail systems. Everything is now computerised!

That’s enough! The other speaker can agree / disagree / add a bit to what you’ve said, but after that it’s time to focus on the second task, in which you have the opportunity to get the most marks for “interactive communication” (20% of your mark for this exam).

Make sure you take the opportunity to speak, but also give the other speaker a chance. Here are a few strategies.

  • I want to speak: Say “mmm…”, “yeah” or “but” while the other speaker is talking. They will hear this and naturally give you a chance at the end of their sentence – you don’t need to start talking (this is interruption and will lose you marks)
  • I want to give the other person a chance: Ask a question: “What do you reckon?” “Don’t you think?” “So, do you think that….?”  Asking questions is an important part of acknowledging the other person.
  • I made my decision really early, but I want to consider other pictures: Phrases like “But then again…”, “Although…” and “Mind you…” allow you to reconsider, or move on to other pictures – make sure you use the 3 minutes and don’t finish early.
  • We have finished: A question, or a statement: “So, we’ve decided that this picture is…” or “So, have we come to the conclusion that…?”

I hope these help. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

Good luck!



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!


IELTS 9 Writing 1 Model


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: ) – 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.



IELTS Hat Writing


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


Background statement – introduction
Thesis statement – introduction

Topic sentence – body
Supporting statements – body
Concluding statement – body

Summarising statement – conclusion
Judgement statement (opinion) – conclusion

Some experts believe that it is better for children to begin learning a foreign language at primary school rather than secondary school.

Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages?

In a world where the concept of physical distance has been greatly reduced due to technological advances and globalisation, it has become increasingly beneficial to be proficient in a second language, especially in the workplace. As a result, there has been some discussion regarding the optimum age for exposure to a second language in schools with many suggesting that earlier is better, a view which, in my opinion, should be supported by education authorities.

Firstly, the idea that children should be introduced to a second language at an early age is supported by the principle of learning speed being inversely proportional to age. There is no doubt that capacity for learning is extremely high at primary education level. Younger children are able to hone pronunciation skills more quickly and in conjunction with their own natural improvement in their first language. Furthermore, fear of failure does not usually manifest itself in 7-11 year-old children, meaning that productive skills can be practised more freely in a low-pressure environment inspired by trial and error, which is proven as an effective language learning method and lends support to second language teaching at primary level. 

On the other hand, there are aspects of language learning that are difficult to study closely at a young age. While grammar is largely acquired naturally in one’s first language, an understanding of a second language is typically more heavily reliant on a mixture of theory and practice, which can be more difficult to encourage in younger pupils with a lower concentration span and less-developed critical thinking skills. In addition, it could be argued that the main focus in primary schools should be on arithmetic and first language proficiency, with the introduction of a second language proceeding the development of these traditional key skills. Accepting other subjects as priorities would naturally delay second language learning, with high school being a natural introduction point for such subjects. 

While it is clear that mathematical skills as well as first language literacy are vital, the importance of speaking a second language surely means that there is more pressure on children to speak two languages at a younger age. As a result, it is my strong feeling that primary school curricula must include an emphasis on encouraging second language exposure as early as possible. 




IELTS Speaking – Finish your Part 2!

“And…er… that’s it…”

Have you ever finished your two-minute topic like this? How did it feel? I imagine there was a bit of silence as the examiner tried to work out if you had finished. It doesn’t need to be like that (it shouldn’t be like that!) Here are a few ideas to help you.

  • Sequence your ideas

If you are telling a story then you should be looking to use phrases like this:


I remember when… / There was this one time… / I’ve got this story about when…

Setting the scene

It was (date) and we were / I was…. / So, I remember that I / we were -ing…

Moving On

Next / After that / Then / The next thing that happened was / So then


In the end / At the end / So anyway / Finally

Do you know any more?

Remember to finish your final sentence with a decreasing tone to your voice, so that the examiner can hear you have finished.

Here are some sequencers you could use when giving your opinion about something

Statement – your main topic

Well, I think / I reckon / Basically / I believe that…


I guess that’s because / It’s all down to /

Sequencing – moving on

Also / I also think / Furthermore / Not only that, but


So, basically I / So yeah, that’s what I think / In brief / To recap / To put it simply

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples. The sequencing language is in bold. Read and think about what the topic is. Do you think the speaker would be successful? Try reading some of the sentences aloud – practise saying some of the sentences more and more quickly, but focus on a natural rhythm – remember, fluency DOES NOT mean speed!

1. Telling a story

I remember when I went to a really nice park with my best friend. It was about 4 years ago, I think, in the Summer, and… it was hot… So anyway, I remember we were walking along through like a forest-y bit, y’know, and then we realised that… it was… we were all alone and it was actually a bit dark. I…er… then I said to him, like, something like “This is a bit creepy – do you wanna get outta here?” and then he was like “Wait, did you here something?” and then there was like a creaking sound, which was really scary. So the next thing that happened was we were looking around trying to work out what was going on, and we saw some bushes moving. I think we were just creeped out because we were young and making each other more and more excited…er… scared. Anywaythen we like walked really slowly up to the er… bush, and we were crouching so that it was likely anyone would see us! Aaaaand… when my friend finally plucked up the courage to look in the hedge, in the end it was just two squirrels fighting – it was so embarrassing!

2. Giving an opinion

Well, I think that video games will pretty much take over our lives, to be honest because…well… technology and virtual reality has become so important in every day life. You can see examples of this in cinema, the home, even the street…all around us. Anyway, I think kids have come to expect a certain level of reality and…of absorption… immersion in a game. They, y’know… get bored and stuff really quickly… and  I guess it’s all down to what you’re used to. I reckon not only that, but that we’ll have VR headsets and 3d gaming in most first world houses within the next ten years, and then kids will refuse to leave the house. Also that kind of technology will be used in the workplace – y’know, for meetings and conferences, so people will go out less. So, to put it simply, I guess that technology has become the most important… thing in our lives, yeah.

Remember – your speaking test isn’t just about grammar, or speaking quickly. It’s also about being able to have a conversation in English, and part of that is signalling to other people either that you want to continue speaking, or that you are about to finish.

Thanks for reading and good luck!



IELTS Listening – Vowel Problems (Mini-tip)

Do you speak a language where the vowel sounds are different from English when we spell words?


English A = /eɪ/ like way     E = /i:/ like me       I = /aɪ/ like why       O =  /əʊ/ like no       U = /ju:/ like university

Spanish A = /æ/ like cat      E = /eɪ/ like way    I = /i:/ like me           O = /ɒ/ like what     U = /u:/ like food

Other problem letters can be g / j and f /v.

In part 1 of the listening, you will often have to listen to people spelling names and addresses, and you will have to write the correct spelling of these words. This can be a problem if your alphabet has sounds which are mixed up with English sounds.


I saw one of my students today write the sounds of the vowels and g / j at the top of her question paper right at the beginning of an IELTS listening practice paper. She is Spanish and she wrote:

a = ei   e = eeeee    i = ai   o = phone    u = you     g = jeeee     j = jay

She then got the correct answers on the part 1 spelling, having previously found these really difficult!

Give it a try!


IELTS Writing – Expressing possible future results

I often say that IELTS only ever deals with problems! Seriously though, the writing Part II tends to address global issues, as they are subjects that everyone can relate to. When you are writing about problems or issues in your body paragraphs, it is often appropriate to point out what could happen in the future as a result of these problems. In this case, a good paragraph structure would be:

Topic Sentence – The opening point of your paragraph

Explanation / Example – being more specific or giving an example

Implication – what this problem means and how it will affect us

Conclusion sentence – as with other written paragraphs, restating the Topic Sentence.

Here’s a simple example, using the university entrance system as an example:

Topic Sentence: University entrance is becoming more difficult due in part to the increase in prices.

Explanation / Example: Over the last ten years, it has been noted that the fees have increased tenfold in the UK.

Implication: The issue is that a continued rise at this rate could make it affordable only for the richest citizens, meaning that the class divide is further highlighted. (Use of “could” to show future possibility)

Conclusion Sentence: The possibility of this therefore means that cost has become the foremost discussion at university board meetings.

Now, have a look at the sentences below. There are 12 sentences, which belong in 3 paragraphs. Try and find the topic sentences and the conclusions by matching ideas. Then, look for implication sentences by scanning for future language and use these steps to put the paragraphs together. Here is the question:

What are the challenges that workers face in the modern workplace?

This is therefore a current and growing issue because of ever-increasing life expectancy.

Furthermore, the recession has lead to reduced salaries as well as less incentive schemes.

This means that there is increased pressure on potential employees to possess more specific skills than before.

Consequently, national financial issues are affecting the standard of living as well as overall happiness.

A further example of a challenge in the workplace is the lack of promotion opportunities.

Firstly, technological advancements have resulted in some unskilled, blue-collar work now being done by computers or machines.

The result of this is that competition for places is higher and job seekers are now under more pressure.

With the retirement age being so much higher than in previous generations, high-level roles are now occupied for longer and management turnover is very low.

Therefore, it could be said that technology has caused as many problems as it has solved.

This has lead to job satisfaction and security being at a low point.

Of course, morale and motivation in the workplace is then lower than it has been previously.

This then means that the workplace becomes saturated at middle and low levels as well, resulting in a lack of options for the unemployed.


Once you’ve finished, you can download the answer here:

Three Body Paragraphs

Now, try and write your own paragraphs, answering this question:

What problems are caused by global warming?


The IELTS Exam

Not sure what to expect? Not sure if you want to, or need to do the IELTS exam? This article will tell you what you need to know – I promise not to make it confusing!


IELTS (pronounced “eye-yelts”) stands for International English Language Testing System is an exam that is internationally recognised by universities, immigration departments, professional organisations and a large number of businesses. While there are other well-known English Exams (FCE, CAE, CPE, TOEFL, TOEIC), IELTS remains the most widely recognised and therefore a very good choice for you if you want certification of your English level.

What’s in the exam?

Below is an overview of what exams you will do, and what you can expect to find in the papers:


The Listening paper is in 4 parts, and lasts 30 minutes. At the end, you have 10 minutes to write your answers on an answer sheet (see example here)

IELTS Listening Answer Sheet


You will only hear each recording once, but you will have some time to look at the questions before you listen, and then to check your answers after listening. Spelling is very important – even a single letter wrong will mean that the answer is marked wrong. Have a look at my spelling article for the listening paper here:

  • Part 1 is a conversation between two people. You will have to listen for personal details – names (which will be spelt), numbers, dates, addresses etc. This is the easiest part of the exam.
  • Part 2 is somebody talking to a group of people, giving information semi-formally. This could be directions, dates, a map, a table to complete or some multiple choice questions.
  • Part 3 is a conversation involving three people – usually some university students with a tutor. The subject will be academic. you can expect multiple choice and sentence completion here.
  • Part 4 is the most difficult part, and is part of a lecture about something academic. You will need to complete lecture notes, flow diagrams and sentences with words you here.


The reading paper is in three parts. Usually, the third text is the most difficult. Each text is about 800 words and the exam lasts one hour. The answer sheet is very similar, but unlike the listening you do not get extra time to transfer your answers.

For more information on what to expect, have a look at my reading article here:

REMEMBER: If the exam paper asks you to write “True, False, or Not Given”, then write exactly that. T, F and NG are not acceptable. Similarly, if you asked to write A-G instead of words, make sure you do this! Spelling is important again.


The writing paper is in two parts.

Part 1

This part is 20 minutes and 150 words long. You will need to report the most important numbers and percentages from one of the following:

  • A bar graph


  • A line graph


  • A pie chart


  • A table


There is also a chance you will get a paper asking you to describe a process of how something works or is done.



In part 1, you are only reporting facts. This means you don’t put your opinion, and you don’t write a conclusion


Part 2

In part 2, you are given 40 minutes to write 250 words about an academic topic, giving your opinion. You could be asked to write about advantages and disadvantages, agreeing or disagreeing, benefits and drawbacks or problems and solutions. For each of these, you must write:

  • An introduction
  • Two or three body paragraphs
  • A conclusion

With both parts of the writing, the word count is very important. If you write less than 150 / 250 words, you will lose marks. The examiners will mark you in the following areas:

Task Achievement

  • Did you answer all parts of the question?
  • Did you reach the word limit?
  • Is your paragraphing clear?

Coherence / Cohesion

  • Do your sentences and paragraphs connect together logically?
  • Do you use linking words and ideas?
  • Are the words in your sentences in the correct order?

Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource

  • Have you used a good range of vocabulary without repeating yourself?
  • Is the vocabulary related to the topic and the task?
  • Is your spelling good?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Is your grammar correct?
  • Have you used a range of different grammatical structures?

Remember to put your opinion at the end of part 2. For more information see my articles on writing: Introductions: Body paragraphs: Conclusions:


The speaking test is the final part of the exam. It can happen any time within seven days of the other papers. It is split in to three parts, and lasts a total of 11-14 minutes.

Part 1

This is like an introduction. You will be asked some general questions about your life, studies, interests etc. Make your answers as full and friendly as you can!

Part 2

In this section, you are given a topic and one minute to prepare. You then need to speak for two minutes. The subject will always be something related to your experience. For some examples, look here:

For each topic, it is important to answer every part of the question. You must speak for a minimum of one minute – of course, two minutes is better.

Part 3

This part is a discussion. The examiner will ask you some more questions related to the topic from part 2. This time, the questions will be more global, and they may engage you in a conversation. Look at the follow-up questions here (the first parts are examples of part 2): Again, try to give full answers and include reasons for your answers.

In the speaking, the examiners are marking you on the following:

Fluency / Coherence

  • Can you speak without much hesitation?
  • Do your sentences make sense?
  • Do you have a natural rhythm?

Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource

  • Do you have a wide range of vocabulary?
  • Can you use topic-specific vocabulary in a number of situations?
  • Can you explain yourself if you don’t know a word?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Can you use grammar accurately?
  • Can you make the right choices in order to communicate the meaning you want?
  • Can you use a wide range of different grammatical structures?


  • Can you pronounce words correctly?
  • Do you use connected speech and natural contractions?
  • Do you have a natural tone and range of pitches?
  • Do you sound “English”?

Take a look here for some advice: (fluency) and here (Questions)

What are the possible marks?

IELTS is marked from 0.0 to 9.0, with marks going up in stages of 0.5. If you want to do the following, these are often needed:

Foundation course – 4.5-5.0
Undergraduate course – 5.0-6.0
Masters Course – 6.0-7.0
PhD – 7.0-8.0

If you want to see how these match (approximately) to the CEFR scale, have a look below:


In your language classes, A1 = Elementary, A2 = Pre-Intermediate, B1 – Intermediate, B2 = Upper Intermediate, C1 = Advanced and C2 = proficient.

When should I take IELTS classes?

Before you start studying for the exam, you need to have a good level of general English. Because of this, it isn’t a good idea to have IELTS classes until you have finished / nearly finished Intermediate level.

When you are ready, it is important to have these classes. You need to practise specific techniques and use real exams before you will be ready to sit the exam.


I hope this information has helped you. For information about booking and sitting the exam, have a look here:




Recording Vocabulary – Notebooks

This article is for students and teachers.

How do you record vocabulary at the moment? I see hundreds of students do it like this:

English Word                                                        L1 Translation
English Word                                                        L1 Translation
English Word                                                        L1 Translation

The fact is, this method doesn’t give you enough information about a word. You need more!

Think about these questions:

  1. What does this word actually mean? 
  2. How do I pronounce it?
  3. What kind of word (Noun / Adjective / Verb etc.) is it?
  4. Does it belong in a word family?
  5. Are there any words that connect (collocate) with this word? And words that don’t?
  6. Can I use this word in a sentence that’s useful to me / my goals?

Students often try to take too much new vocabulary and it ends up being lost because it isn’t memorable. Ideally, you should try to learn ten words a day. No more. And if you cover the words in enough detail, then you will remember them, and you will be able to use them effectively.

Let’s look at an example:

You read a text and find a new word: INTEREST

1. You need to find a meaning in English that you can understand. Here’s one:

“The feeling when you want to know or find out more about something”

2. How many sounds? Where is the stress?

/’ɪntrəst/ – so the word has two sounds, not three. The stress is on the first sound, and there is a weak (lazy) sound before “st”.
If you don’t know these symbols, you could also write “in-trest”

3. INTEREST is a noun.

4. Interesting (adjective) – something that makes you feel interested. Disinterested / Uninterested (Opposites) Interest (verb) – something can interest you. Example: Rugby interests me.

5. Interested + in –> I am interested in reading. NOT interested about / for. Interesting + NO PREPOSITION / OBJECT.

6. I thought that yesterday’s lesson was really interesting.
     I’m interested in finding out more about vocabulary notebooks.

Now I really know this word, and I can use it in many different situations correctly. Here’s what that looks like when you put it together:

Interest /’ɪntrəst/ or In-trest (noun) – The feeling when you want to know or find out more about something

Interest (verb) Interesting (adj) – something that makes you feel interested (adj)
Opp: Disinterested / Uninterested

Interested+in à I am interested in reading.
Interested about / for

Ex: I thought that yesterday’s lesson was really interesting.
       I’m interested in finding out more about vocabulary notebooks.

Putting this together

Now you need to start thinking about recording vocabulary by subject. Maybe INTEREST would go well with vocabulary about free time / likes and dislikes. Recording it with other words from a similar subject helps you make connections and will help you organise your learning a bit better. Have a go!

For Teachers

Try introducing this idea to students and doing a few examples with them. Get them working together, sharing words that they have made “Lexical Notebook Entries” about. Set a few as homework and gradually work it in to classes as expectation. Use it in tests too! It is time-consuming, but it will help cut down on errors and confusion, as well as helping set realistic goals for lexis learning.

Have a look at Teaching Collocation (Michael Lewis, 2000) for more information. 




IELTS Listening – Matching Tasks

Have a look at this task. I’ve found that it can sometimes confuse students because there is a lot of information to follow. A few simple tips should help with this task.

Listening Task Type 6

You can’t remember all the information in A-G, so stressing about keywords and synonyms won’t help much. Instead, have a quick read of the questions, then forget them!

  • As you listen, make a few notes next to each name as it appears.
  • After the end of the task (during your 30 seconds checking time), match your notes to the letters. Then, complete this part during your ten minutes transfer time at the end of the test.

My current students have found this technique very helpful – give it a go in your next class or self-study period!


IELTS Reading – Paragraph completion (word choice)

Here is a step by step guide for completing this kind of task. Remember to practise these steps until you have memorised them! Take a look at the task below.

It is a common 9 ……………….. that only men suffer
from colorblindness. On average 10 ………………..
than ten percent of men have this problem. Women
have two 11 ………………..  For this reason it is 12………………..  for a woman to suffer from  colorblindness.
myth a little less
X chromosomes defective genes
fact slightly more
exactly less likely
more probable

Often, the first thing you think is “what shall I read first?” In this case, the first thing to do is think about your grammar knowledge – just like you do in the listening exam during your preparation time. What kind of words do I need? What are the most logical answers?

9 – must be a singular noun

10 – something related to the percentage – must be “more” or “less”

11 – a plural, countable noun

12 – needs an adjective

Does this knowledge help you? Now look at the text here What you want to do is pick a keyword from the first sentence of the question, and match that to something in the text. Look at the beginning of paragraph B and you can see “men” and “colorblindness”. Now all you need to do is match a word or a synonym to one of the possible answers (you can see the word “myth” very early on – the answer to question 9).

Now complete the other three questions.


  1. Read the question and look at the grammar first
  2. Match a keyword / keywords from the first sentence to a location in the text
  3. Match synonyms or exact words to words in the box

So, in this task you don’t need to understand very much at all – you are just matching a few words and synonyms! Good news!


IELTS Reading – Heading Matching

Here is a step by step guide to answering these questions. I think that heading matching is the easiest task, so I always advise you do it first if you see it in the exam!

Heading Match

1) Have a look at the attached document

2) With a heading matching exercise, the first thing to do is read the first two sentences of each paragraph and try to match any keywords / synonyms to the questions. Do this for each paragraph.

3) At the end, if there are any you still can’t match, then go back and read two more sentences.

4) Be quick! If you can match two keywords or an idea, you don’t need to read any more, so don’t! Remember, if you’ve read four sentences and you still don’t know the answer, don’t waste your time – go to the next question and leave this one.

Have a look at the first two sentences of each paragraph. I’ve underlined the key words that show you the answers:

A: The role of governments in environmental management is difficult but inescapable. Sometimes,
the state tries to manage the resources it owns, and does so badly

(Answer v)

B: No activity affects more of the earth’s surface than farming. It shapes a third of the planet’s land
area, not counting Antarctica, and the proportion is rising.

Here, the answer isn’t clear, so I started reading the third sentence, and found World food output per head

(Answer vii)

C: All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts. For example, land clearing for
agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation;

(Answer ii)

D: Government policies have frequently compounded the environmental damage that farming can
cause. In the rich countries, subsidies for growing crops and price supports for farm output
drive up the price of land.

(Answer iv)

Here’s the example:

E: In poor countries, governments aggravate other sorts of damage. Subsidies for pesticides and
artificial fertilisers encourage farmers to use greater quantities than are needed to get the
highest economic crop yield.

(Answer vi)

F: A result of the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations is likely to be a reduction of 36 per
cent in the average levels of farm subsidies paid by the rich countries in 1986-1990.

(Answer i)

Good luck – remember to give yourself one minute per question, and don’t overread – match ideas, be confident and move on to the next question!


Thinking Hats – can you present a balanced opinion?

One of the most difficult things to do in another language is think critically, evaluate a statement, and present an argument – in speaking or in writing – that is balanced. One of the skills you need to learn is the ability to think “What would someone else say about this?” and then present an idea that could be the opposite of your own. Let’s look at an example – an IELTS question I saw recently:

Increasing the price of petrol is the best way to solve growing traffic and pollution problems. To what extent do you agree or disagree? What other measures do you think might be effective?

The chances are that you look at this question and think “Yes” or “No” quite quickly. But are these the only options?

Meet Dr Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats:


The idea here is to put on a hat and deliberately think in a different way depending on the hat’s colour. Let’s try it. The easiest, and often the automatic thoughts, are yellow – positive and black – negative.

Yellow: This is a positive step. The benefits of this are that fewer people would be able to rely on petrol and would have to seek alternative modes of transport, thus decreasing traffic.

Black: This is not an appropriate solution to the problem. It will serve to widen the class gap and leave many people currently reliant on petrol-based transport unemployed.

Red: The increase in price would cause significant stress in those already struggling financially.

Green: While this is not a viable solution, the possibility of making carpool lanes more widespread would encourage people to share one vehicle, rather than all drive separately.

White: Statistics show that the amount of cars on the road is increasing year on year. However, it would be difficult to implement a sudden price rise without providing a figure related to affordability versus need.

Blue: While carpooling and financial incentive are possible, they will ultimately fail, as car ownership has become part of human consciousness, and this will be almost impossible to change.

So, you can see that you have 6 possibilities:

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Considering emotions
  • Alternatives
  • Summary
  • Statistics – available and required

If we expand these hats a bit, there are several words that you can use as “triggers” for critical thinking. Have a look at the picture below. You may need a dictionary!


OK, now have a look at these two statements:

  1. School buildings have no future – the advances of the internet mean that all forms of education and study are now able to be done from home.
  2. Strict punishments should be put in place for the parents of children who commit crimes.

Try and write six sentences for each – one sentence for each hat.

A note for IELTS

Where can we use these hats? Think about the written exam:

White – Part 1. You can only use the white hat in part 1!
Black / Yellow – Part 2, body paragraphs. Ideally, one body paragraph should contain a black idea, and the other a yellow idea.
Blue – Part 2, conclusion. In your conclusion, you summarise the main ideas and then present your final view.
Green – A paragraph about solutions would be green. You definitely can’t use the green hat in your conclusion!
Red – A paragraph about personal experience or public reaction to an idea would be red. Don’t forget how something would make people feel, or affect them.

Now take a look at the next article, which shows how the colours fit together in an IELTS writing task:

A note for Teachers

I’ve found these work well in IELTS classes – once students have read about them and you’ve done some soft practice as a class, you can get them to either work in groups, with one hat per group, or get them to produce six sentences on their own. After that, they can share and compare. I’ve also found that an activity that works well is getting them to read out their sentences without saying which hat they were intending to use, and seeing if students can match the correct hat to the sentence.

Enjoy, and remember: email me at with questions, sentences etc!


IELTS listening – spelling tips

As you know, incorrect spelling in the IELTS listening results in a wrong answer. Even one letter wrong will mean a wrong answer. Here are a few tips to help you.

  • Dates – write the dates like this: number + ordinal + month, so…… 14th January. Get in to the habit and then you won’t confuse yourself by having too many choices. Then, make sure you can spell the months. These are:

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Now, check you know the days!

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday

There are other ways to write the dates that will get you marks, but I think it’s sensible to choose one system and stay with it.

  • Pronunciation practice – part one. There will almost always be a number than ends in ‘-teen’ or ‘-ty’ because the pronunciation difference is quite small. Practise saying these: 15 / 50, 16 / 60 etc. Notice that the stress on ‘-teen’ words is on the second sound and the stress on ‘-ty’ words is on the first sound.
  • Spelling practice – I have heard teachers tell students that if there are any names, then they will be spelt for you. This isn’t completely true. Names will be spelt for you unless the sound matches the spelling, or it is a common word that you should know. Learn how to spell these surnames:

Smith, Jones, Walker, Brown, Green, Davis, Johnson

Now, take a look at this map (click on it and it will enlarge):

IELTS listening map spelling

You can see lots of street names here. If you look at all the streets that start with “Harold”, the second words are very common. You need to learn the following:

Mount, Avenue, Crescent, Road, View, Walk, Place, Grove, Terrace, Street, Place, Rise

Don’t worry about the meaning – it’s not particularly important. You will be expected to spell these without help though.

  • ‘s’ or no ‘s’?! You need to listen carefully to check if words are plural or not. If you miss the ‘s’, you will lose your mark.

Just to check…. can you spell these words (and do you know what they sound like)?

Accommodation (uncountable), language, university / universities, fortnight (learn this word – it means “two weeks” and often appears), budget, assignment, essay, square, government, authority / authorities, library / libraries, scientist, luggage (uncountable)

I hope this helps you!


IELTS Writing Part II Focus – Introductions

Let’s focus on three different types of writing part II question:

1) Advantages and Disadvantages

2) Agree or Disagree?

3) Solutions to a problem

The introduction to your essay is actually quite simple. You need to include two things:

  • A “background” sentence – one that restates the main title and gives a general picture of the topic
  • A sentence that shows what you are going to put in your body paragraphs

Let’s look at the first title.

It is becoming more and more difficult to escape the influence of the media on our lives.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in a media rich society.

This title, like most in IELTS, comes in two parts. The first part is the background, and this is what you use to write your first sentence. Here’s an example:

It is undeniable that the presence of media is now further reaching than it has ever been, due in part to the portability of information. Because of this, it has become almost impossible to live a life free from its influence. 

So, the meaning is similar to the question, but has a possible cause added in. Now, I need to make it clear what each body paragraph will contain.

While the ease of access to information is a clear benefit, there are also drawbacks in the form of reduced privacy.

Now the reader can clearly see that my body paragraphs will be:

1) Benefits, starting with ease of access to information

2) Drawbacks, starting with reduced privacy

I’ve written about 60 words – if you can aim to write 40-60 words in your introduction, it will set you up clearly for the rest of the essay.

Now, take a look at the other two titles and their introductions. Can you see where the “background sentences” finish and the “body preparation sentences” begin? Can you predict what will come in the body paragraphs?

Machine translation (MT) is slower and less accurate than human translation and there is no immediate or predictable likelihood of machines taking over this role from humans.

Do you agree or disagree?

              With globalisation has come a greater need for international communication. One way in which we successfully communicate with speakers of other languages is through computerised translation. However, this method has been criticised for its inaccuracy and there is a belief that human translation will supersede machine translation for the foreseeable future. That said, there are also those who believe the opposite to be true, due to rapid technological advances.

Remember: Your language doesn’t need to be as complicated as this. Focus on accuracy first.

Here’s the final example.

Countries such as China, India and Japan have unsustainable population growths. In fact many experts are of the opinion that the population ‘explosion’ which is now a very worrying concern, is the most serious threat to life on this planet. 

Give some suggestions to address this problem.

             In the Far East in recent times, there is a serious issue with rapidly increasing populations. It is believed by some that further increases could have implications for the continued existence of humanity. However, there are some tried and untried solutions, such as child limits, education and government incentive programmes, which could provide a solution.

Have a go at writing new introductions to these yourselves – Email me if you want me to look at them: