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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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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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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

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:

Listening

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: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-ov

  • 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.

Reading

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: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1P

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.

Writing

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

bar_graph_example

  • A line graph

line_example1

  • A pie chart

pie2

  • A table

uOtWljXUC_8hn9P5WoB0Qzl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9

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

ielts-process-bricks

 

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: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J Body paragraphs: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4P Conclusions: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5f

Speaking

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: http://www.goodluckielts.com/IELTS-speaking-topics-2.html

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): http://www.ielts-exam.net/ielts_speaking_samples/386/ 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?

Pronunciation

  • 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: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1v (fluency) and here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5l (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:

cefr2011a

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: http://www.ielts.org/test_centre_search/search_results.aspx

 

Simon