IELTS TOP TIPS #7

Academic Writing Task 1: Two must-haves

 

Ughhhhh, don’t you just hate this part of the exam? Graphs, charts, diagrams, numbers, percentages; what a nightmare!

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The good news is that there are 2 simple things you can do to avoid disaster.

Before we look at them, here’s a quick recap of the scoring system:

You are scored on 4 criteria: Task Achievement, Coherence & Cohesion, Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. The maximum score in each criteria is 9 and the minimum is 0.

So, perhaps your grammar game is strong, your vocab is varied and interesting, you’ve got some nice linkers and references in there…

BUT

Have you included these two crucial things?

  1. A CLEAR OVERVIEW
  2. DATA

THE OVERVIEW

An overview is a sentence or two in which you describe the main trends, differences or stages. It is essential if you want to score over 5 in Task Achievement. Look!

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You should signal your overview by starting it with, ‘Overall, it is clear that…’ So, even if it isn’t perfect, at least the examiner will give you some credit for attempting it.

Easy, right?

Just one more thing; there’s a difference between a band 6 overview and a band 9 overview. A good overview (band 7/8/9) shouldn’t be too vague or too detailed.

Let me demonstrate:

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Too vague: 

Overall, it is clear that there were changes in the food teenagers ate during the period.

Too detailed:

Overall, it is clear that Australian teens ate fish and chips 100 times a year in 1975 but this fell to about 40 in 2000. They ate pizza and hamburgers fewer than 20 times a year in 1975 but by 2000, they were eating these meals more than 80 and 100 times annually respectively. 

Just right:

Overall, it is clear that although fish and chips were the most popular fast food among Australian teens in 1975, by 2000, this dish was consumed the least. The consumption of pizza and hamburgers, however, rose dramatically throughout the period.

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DATA

Again, omitting this can limit your TA score to band 5:

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Another easy fix: make sure to include actual figures (data) in your description of the key features, just like this:

There was a dramatic increase in the consumption of pizza by teens from around 5 times per year to over 80 times between 1975 and 1995.

Of course, different graphs show different types of data; it could be percentages, dollars, kilometres… It doesn’t matter. The important thing is to include some data to back up your descriptions.

To recap:

  1. Write an overview – signal it clearly and include the main trends, differences or stages.
  2.  Use data in the body paragraphs.

Success!

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Now go practice 🙂

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert, Melbourne

 

IELTS TOP TIPS #6

Writing Task 2: Get off the fence

Did you know that if the Task 2 question asks for your opinion and you don’t give it, you cannot score above band 3 in the Task Response criterion?

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BAND 3!!! Scary right? But it’s easy to avoid that disaster. How?

GIVE YOUR OPINION.

It is simply not enough to write, ‘Some people think X. Other people think Y. It is a difficult question.’ The examiner is looking for what you think.

The easiest way to present a clear position, as required for band 7+, is to take a strong stance. In other words, agree completely or disagree completely. Your true opinion is irrelevant. Remember, this is an English test, marked according to strict criteria and the bottom line is: no clear opinion, no band 7. So forget about phrases like, ‘I agree and disagree,’ ‘Yes and no,’ or, the examiner’s worst nightmare, ‘There are two sides to the coin.’ Band 7+ requires a clear position throughout so state it in the intro, support it through the body and repeat it in the conclusion.

Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 10.02.10 am.pngOf course, your position can be nuanced. For instance, in response to the question, ‘Should advertising aimed at children be banned?’ you might argue, ‘Yes, but only junk food ads,’ or, ‘No, but there should be stricter rules regarding the ad content and frequency.’

To sum it up, if you get an essay with the instructions:

  • What is your opinion?
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree?
  • Is this a positive or a negative development?
  • Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages

then don’t sit on the fence.

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See the strong position in this band 9 opinion essay about sport in school.

Check out the Writing Task 2 marking criteria here.

Read more about how your IELTS writing is marked here.

 

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert, Melbourne

IELTS TOP TIPS #5

Speaking: Improving your pronunciation

In IELTS Speaking, pronunciation is worth 25% of your score. As you’re speaking, the examiner is thinking about things like:

  • Phonemes: Are all the English sounds pronounced correctly?
  • Linking: Are the words linked together naturally?
  • Chunking: Are there pauses in the correct places?
  • Intonation: Is the voice going up and down in a natural way?
  • Stress: Is the word and sentence stress correct?

There are 2 big problems examiners often encounter which can be easily fixed:

1) flat speech

and

2) fast speech

Tips: If your speech is naturally flat and robotic, pretend you are on stage singing. Force your voice to go up and down, to be more dramatic than usual. Let your inner star shine! Listen to TED talks and podcasts. Mimic the way the speakers use intonation to express themselves. You won’t believe the difference!

If you’re a fast talker, the solution is simple: Slooooooow dooooooown, pause more and give important words some space. This doesn’t mean pausing after every single word but pausing (or micro-pausing) after chunks of meaning (verb phases, noun phrases etc).

Watch how Michelle Obama uses intonation, stress and pausing to engage with the audience here.

 

IELTS TOP TIPS #4

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Reading: Get active

How many times have you read a page of a book or a paragraph in an article and had to return to the beginning to read it again? We all do it in our native languages and, of course, in our 2nd languages too. It’s a bad habit that that can cost you time and points in the exam.

In IELTS reading, there is enough time to read everything but there is not enough time to read everything 2, 3 or 4 times. So, the key is to train your brain to read actively. That is, ensure that as you read, you are really absorbing and making sense of the text. To read efficiently, you need to overcome that bad habit of going backwards and re-reading.

Tips to improve your active reading skills:

  • Read dramatically (in your head!). Imagine you are giving a speech. Emphasise key words and don’t rush. Speed is useless if you haven’t understood what you read.
  • Push forward. When you finish a sentence or a paragraph, resist that urge to go back and read it again. Keep moving forward. Practice with paragraphs first, then full texts.
  • Use your pen. Underline, make notes, draw stars, arrows, happy faces, sad faces etc. in the margins. Develop a code or system that is meaningful to you.
  • Summarise. Practice writing brief summaries of paragraphs in your own words.

Remember, active reading is a skill that takes time to develop. Don’t panic if it doesn’t improve overnight. Investing time now in improving your reading efficiency will ultimately help to lift your score in this section. Plus, you’ll get through your novels twice as fast!

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert, Melbourne

IELTS TOP TIPS #3

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Writing: speed copying

Find a piece of text you would like to model your own writing on. It could be an article on a topic of interest, an essay you have written and re-edited or it could be a model essay your teacher has given you. If it is your own writing and your own ideas, make sure it is a polished piece of writing that has been edited and redrafted at least three times with the help of a teacher.

Set your timer for 3 minutes. Copy the text as fast as you can. Stop at 3 minutes. Count how many words you have written. Set the timer again and copy the same text for 3 minutes. How many words did you manage this time? Try a third time. 3 minutes. Count the number of words. Did you write more the third time? Are you beginning to remember common phrases?

This kind of practice can speed up your hand-writing as well as help you to learn new phrasing and formal English expressions.

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert, Melbourne

IELTS TOP TIPS #2

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Writing: 2 simple ways to dramatically boost your score

An IELTS examiner marks your essay according to 4 criteria; Task Response (TR), Coherence & Cohesion (CC), Lexical Resource (LR) and Grammatical Range & Accuracy (GRA). If you want to score 7+, you need to score well in all 4 criteria.

The good news is, there are some super simple ways to lift your scores.

  1. Answer the question! Obvious, right? But you wouldn’t believe how often we see candidates who miss half the question, write off-topic or fail to give a clear opinion. If you miss part of the question, you can’t score over band 5 in TR. If you are asked for an opinion and you don’t give it, you won’t score more than band 3 in TR. BAND 3!!
  2. Write in paragraphs. Again, so simple. Make sure you always have an introduction, 2-4 body paragraphs and a conclusion. Visually separate your paragraphs by leaving an empty line so the examiner can clearly see the breaks and ensure each body paragraph has a clear central topic. No paragraphs = band 4/5, illogical paragraphs = band 6.
  • See the Task 2 IELTS marking criteria here.
  • See a band 9 essay here. Note the three body paragraphs to deal with each of the three questions.

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert.

 

 

IELTS TOP TIPS #1

Top Tips 1

Writing and Speaking: Google is your friend!

“I don’t know anything about ….” We hear this all the time from test takers. No need to panic!

Whatever the topic is; GM food, anorexia, factory farming – someone has already thought about it, written about it, spoken about it. If you can’t do an IELTS preparation course, you can use Google to find ideas for essays and to read up on topics you’re unfamiliar with. Remember, you don’t need original ideas in the exam – but you do need ideas.

Tip: Use “The Age” “The Guardian” or “BBC” in your Google search to find relevant, high-quality articles. Choose 1 or 2 articles and read for ideas but also for vocabulary chunks that you could use in your writing and speaking tests.

eg:

Google GM food

 

  • See a list of common IELTS topics here.
  • See a sample band 9 essay and a related article that inspired the writer here.

 

Written by a Bayside IELTS expert