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Ben: Twenty four tips you can use right now to improve your IELTS Writing score. Hi there, I’m Ben Worthington from IELTSpodcast.com and you make recognise my voice form other English learning websites. And in this podcast we’re going to focus strictly on the Writing Task. We’re going to look at both, mainly on Task 2 ‘cos that’s the most difficult and we’re going to go through twenty four tips, real fast. You might need a pen and paper just to write them down to make use of them.
Quick piece of advice. Choose one or two tips and apply them OK? Don’t worry about applying twenty four tips right now ‘cos just, it’s very difficult to do that. Pick one or two, write them down, use them then listen again and grab some more tips or extract the most useful ones.
Now this podcast is divided into three parts.
What you should know before you do the test, before you do the exam.
The practice for the exam.
And then what to actually do in the exam.
Now, it’s important to know what to do before the exam because. I don’t know if you follow football but, recently Pelegrini, the manager for Manchester City erm. He was tot- I don’t know if he was totally oblivious or if he forgot but he forgot about the scoring system in the Champions League and as a result he didn’t encourage the team. He didn’t go for a kill on one the rival teams during the knockout stages and in the end Manchester City ended up in a difficult group stage. So what I’m saying is that you may think that you’re aware of the format of the exam but it doesn’t hurt to go over it one more time.
I’ll just go very quickly and I’ll be sharing lots of tips as you go through it. So bear with me and eventually we’ll get to how to practice and what to do during the exam.
Right. I’ll go through this as quick as possible as well. So it’s important that you understand the test format. Task 1 and Task 2 you’ve got sixty minutes. Depending on your ability with Task 1 and Task 2, you want to spend appropriate time. If you’re having lots of problems with Task 2, maybe spend about forty five minutes instead of the generally recommended fifty minutes and spend fifteen on Task 1, and even ten if you’ve got it under control. And then you can spend the rest of the time constructing the essay, which isn’t an easy task.
So, let’s have a look at the criteria. Task response, task achievement. They’re really important. Very important! Make sure you’ve completely understood the question. If you can, classify the question. We’ll go into more detail on that later. But read it a couple of times and make sure that you’ve got err a good idea of what the question is asking. Erm sometimes a sentence, or two sentences are written before the actual question, and that’s just to distract you. So be aware of that. If you find a sentence that doesn’t really respond. You’re thinking that’s a bit confusing. It’s there on purpose. It’s a distraction. Like one of the tutors said on the earlier podcasts, the Writing Test is a reading test and this applies especially when you’re reading the question for the writing test so be aware of that. Cohesion and coherence.
Does the essay flow? Does the introduction mention the points you are going to use in the paragraph? Because it should. Should the conclu- does the conclusion reflect the introduction? Because it should. And just a quick tip here. Do not, in general. Do not put any new information in the conclusion. It’s not necessary.
Third point: Lexical resource. This is your vocabulary. What the examiner want to see, especially for around Band 7, 8, is top-specific vocabulary. This means vocabulary that is specifically related to that topic. For example if your question is about environmental problems in the Western World, don’t say something like “the air is bad in Manchester” or something. Say “Manchester suffers from air pollution.” And air pollution is a specific word that you’re only going to find when you’re talking about the topic of the environment so try and find those words and make a note of them. And an extra tip for the Band 7, 8 students, those students aiming for that band. Try and use your collocations, your collocations are groups of words often found together. I’ll give you some examples. Legal system, academic writing, higher education, prime rate, global warming. Use those collocations and as soon as you find some, make a note of them because they’ll be very useful in your exam.
I almost forgot: Grammatical range and accuracy. This is perhaps one of the most important. This is perhaps the most important point. Because, if you can’t write a grammatically correct sentence then the examiner’s not going to be able to read your essay, is not going to be understand it. So it’s going to be almost impossible for them to evaluate whether the exam, whether you essay is cohesive, if it’s coherent, and perhaps most importantly, if you’ve understood the question and answered the actual task. If you’ve actually answered it adequately. So, be very meticulous when considering your grammatical range and accuracy. One way to get this under control is to get your essay checked, which you can do at my site IELTSpodcast.com. And, but if you already know how to write an essay and you’ve got the other parts under control and it’s just your grammar that’s a problem, I’d recommend a good proofreading service. It’s called proofreadmyessay.co.uk and that’s a good, honest service. It’s quite economical as well and they’ll give you a free trial as well so there’s no risk in there. Have a look at that.
Now, moving on. Let’s have a look at the General Test. Task 1 in the General Test. Now this is going to be asking you to write a letter. This is relatively easy because you’re going to get a few bullet points. And each bullet point should correspond to a paragraph. Maybe you can put two bullet points together in your essay to form one paragraph but you’ve basically got your plan in front of you. Follow those bullet points. For example, if it says “write a letter of complaint2 and in the letter you have to write bullet point 1 what happened; bullet point 2 what you expect to be done; bullet point 3 when you expect it to sho- it to happen. So, if you’ve got three bullet points, three paragraphs. Job done. Use the correct language. If it’s a formal letter, semi-formal or neutral. There’s an earlier podcast all about letter writing. Just go on to the site and have a look, have a look for that. And that’s relatively simple ‘cos you’ve even got the special letter writing vocabulary and phrases, dear sir/madam, please find attached. All those kind of err sentences which is. It’s basically it’s own language you just memorise those sentences. Job done. Of course used in context.
Now then. Academic Test task 1. This is a little bit trickier. Erm, basically because there’ll be a lot of information, very little time. Erm perhaps one of the most important one, points here is that you use the correct language. Yeah? If it’s a line graph you use the language of change. If it’s a pie chart you’re going to use the language section, share, market share if necessary. And then, err especially related to bar charts you want to pay attention to the tense. When was the graph produced? So when, what date does the information correspond to? OK and then use the appropriate tense. Past, present or future.
Now moving quickly on, we’re going to start discussing the practice. This is what you should be doing for your preparation. Practice makes perfect. You’ve heard that a million times hence the presentation of Sir John but anyway.
This is important and I’ll tell you why because one, you need to get into the daily habit of doing this, yeah. If you can write something every day erm your chances of succeeding will improve significantly, especially if you’re getting feedback but more on that in a second. And yeah, you start using the sentence structures, grammar principles. Err just a side note here. If you’ve got time and patience and determination, what you can do is start writing out sample essays word for word. Pen and paper. Old school. And if you’re looking for sample essays, go to IELTSpodcast.com and there you’ll find a sample essays section and you’ll find lots of sample essays. Copy out word for word and you’ll start to absorb the structure. It’ll take a while but trust me this works because I’ve used it for, for my Spanish.
Now then, the next point.
Learn to generate ideas. This is especially important for Task 2. What you need to do is practice brainstorming. You need to practice this because it’s a skill you need to do that you need to produce in a quick fashion when you’re in your exam, so you need to practice it a lot. How do you practice it? You do a lot of brainstorming. Erm OK. So. When you see the actual topic, when you see the actual question, you need to start generating those ideas. So that’s why it’s important. And then of course you organise and structure these ideas into your essay. To do this effectively, you need a plan. Err if you go to IELTSpodcast.com, there you’ll find a Sentence Guide which has a full, step-by-step instruction err process to go through with instructions to follow, but first you need to have the ability to generate ideas. There’s err. If you go to IELTSpodcast.com forward slash, there you can download two hundred and fifty IELTS Task 2 questions. You’ll also find twenty Band 9 sample essays in the same PDF. If you can and. If you can generate ideas to two hundred and fifty questions, then I promise you, your mind will never go blank again in any exam you do. Specially the IELTS exam, OK.
Lot of work there, but, no pain, no gain.
Let’s carry on. So, another useful tip which you need to practice is to be aware of the question types. There’s four types of questions for IELTS Task 2: Opinion, Problem and Solution, Two Part Question and Discuss Plus Opinion. If you can classify these questions, if you can classify the question you’ve got on your exam paper, then you can take the appropriate action in order to get the full points for Task Response. Erm being able to classify it, isn’t that difficult but it requires a different response. I go into this in more detail in the Sentence Guide and it’s not the podcast to go into that right now. Perhaps in the future.
Next one: get feedback. Get feedback for your essays. You do need to be correcting the yourself but it’s not very reliable because in reality, you don’t know the mistakes that you’re making. If you knew them, you wouldn’t make them, so it’s like a catch twenty two. You can ask a teacher. Your could also ask a friend. You can find people who’ve done the exam before and just ask them to have a look at your essay. Ask them what’s wrong, what’s right. Be careful not to get too confused about it though. OK. Take every piece of advice with a grain of salt and check that idiomatic expressions [inaudible] if you’re worried about that.
A really good, economical service you can use is proofreadmyessay.co.uk and they even do a free sample. So what you can do is just send your essay to them and they’ll have a look at it. They’ll just look at the grammar side of it. Like I said before, grammar is perhaps one of the most important parts there. It is the most important part of the four, so probably work checking that out. proofreadmyessay.co.uk
Now, going back to the topic about generating ideas. You need to read read read. Go to the BBC, go to the Guardian, go to The Economist, go to the Financial Times, go to Nature. A Million resources. Fill you head up with ideas and it becomes much easier. Read daily. This will help you pick up new sentence structures, new vocabulary, erm specially if you’re actively reading. This means going through with a pen or a highlighter or on a computer copy pasting, building a resource. Building your own dictionary writing down the words.
Now, what’s very common unfortunately, is that students can recognise a lot of words but the are unable to use them in their Writing and their Speaking. And this is called. What happens is that the words you recognise are in your passive vocabulary; the words you use are in your active vocabulary. So, the trick is, not the trick, but what you have to do is move those words from your passive vocab to your active vocab. How do you do this? Quite easy really. Every new word you learn or you see or you hear should be written down and put in your personal diary, put in your dictionary, your own dictionary of words. Try to get the whole sentence as well. This way you can be sure you’ll use it correctly. Then try to use it. Use it in your speech or in your writing. Of course this goes back to getting feedback as well. Make sure you check it, that you’ve used it correctly if you’re using it in your writing.
Erm as a side note, one very useful tip for acquiring new vocabulary and acquiring it efficiently is to use your ebook reader. Erm Amazon Kindle have a good one, Kobo have an OK one, I’ve got a Kobo but, bit of a pain to honest. But have a look at the Amazon one, yeah. And the reason why these ebook readers are really handy are because when you, when you’re reading the text, you can just double click the word, and you’ve got the dictionary definition; you’ve got examples of the word in use and if you’re interested in linguistics and etymology, you can find the root of the word or the origin of the word. If it’s Latin, if it’s Germanic, and all the rest of it.
And another side note. We’re gonna move on quickly, sorry about this. Erm finding out the origin of the word, where it comes from and why it is like that is erm, helps you to remember it as well.
So, moving on, now. Controlling the Monkey Mind. What does this mean? It means building your focus muscle. This is important because in the exam, if somebody coughs, or if something happens, or if the exam centre is in the city centre near a main road which can happen, there’s going to be noise, there’s going to be distractions and it may harm your concentration. So you need to have erm. You need to be able to concentrate and focus. One technique is to go to I don’t know a coffee shop. Starbucks or university dining room and start writing Task 2 or Task 1 without interruptions and pure focus. If you can do it in those environments, doing it in the test centre will be easy. This is just a small tip but, if you increase the amount of small tips that you’re using they’re gradually building up. This with the daily habits. What you’re doing is you compound then and you just increase you chances and for a lot of students, it’s on a knife edge. They’re so close to getting a 7; so close to getting a Band 8. The little tips like these help you get closer and closer and the reason I’m saying do it in an exam in a coffee shop or university thing is ‘cos you get accustomed to it.
And, I’ll just tell you a quick story. There’s a book called The Art of Learning. The Art of Learning. Really good book. Tells you about this, the guy who writes about his own personal experience being a chess master and playing against all the chess greats. And when he was a kid, he used to play in these chess tournaments and he used to play Russian students. Russian chess players. And what they used to do, to disrupt his chain of thought, would be at critical points in the game, they’d give him a real kick underneath the table and this would really offend him. His shin would be hurting; he would be distracted and he’d lose his train of thought, his power of focus and then make a silly move. And, the examiner’s not going to kick you underneath the table, I hope. If he does that it’ll be kind of cruel. But erm, what I’m saying is in the book, that this chess master later went on to be a Tai Kwon Do master but anyway. He learned to be atone with the distractions. He learnt to accept it, to go with the flow and take it as part of the game and eventually overcome it. To beat the distraction. That’s important.
Now then. Learn your time management techniques. Wear a watch during the exam. Most of the exam sites and the blogs, IELTS sites, say spend twenty minutes on Task 1, twenty minutes on Task 2. That’s logical maybe if you’ve got Task 1 under complete control and you have some problems with Task 2. Maybe you should spend ten minutes on Task 1, and fifteen minutes on Task 2. The key here is to experiment. Do plenty of practice tests and find out which works best for you.
Now, going back to the vocabulary. There’s a quick tip here. If you want to increase your vocabulary, what you need to do is learn the suffixes and prefixes. This is a very quick way to increase your vocabulary because, if you put a prefix on to a word, then you’ve changed its meaning and perhaps you’ve already got a list of root words that you know and then you put these prefixes or suffixes on to the word and it doubles the vocabulary. Let me give you an example. The most common ones are out. As in outmanoeuvre or outgun, or re as in reforestation or un or mis or dis or over. For example, understand: misunderstand. Classify: unclassify. Stabilise: destabilise. Erm supply: oversupply. Weight: overweight.
You need to be careful though. Find out the meanings because some of the meanings are opposite, some of them mean to do again, like reforestation means to do again and over means like in excess. Erm I don’t know. George Bush is overweight for example. I don’t know if that is true. Maybe it is I don’t know. Depends on the Texas diet.
Right. Now. Third and final section. What to do in the exam. I’ve gone over these points once or twice. Erm maybe quickly so I’ll go into more detail now. We’ve of course lots of tips, plenty more tips. So, stick to the topic. Don’t go off. Don’t go off topic, like we mentioned before. Do not memorise your answers. If you need to memorise anything, you should memorise your plan. What you’re doing. Your process. If you don’t have a process or a step by step er methodology, you can find one at IELTSpodcast.com and look for the Sentence Guide. IELTS Task 2 Sentence Guide. There you’ll find a complete process to follow. Makes it really simple.
Your handwriting must be legible. Quick tip here to improve your handwriting. Erm, for the
h’s, the t’s, the b’s, the d’s, the l’s, you can extend the stem, that’s the long part of the letter. And if you extend it, exaggerate it a little bit and keep the other words, the other letters a little bit smaller, makes your writing look a little bit classier and easier to understand. I do this with my err, with my handwriting, especially for official documents because my handwriting is a complete and utter mess. So, I do this and I’ve also of course extended the g’s the y’s, th q’s, and this is just a little tip, specially for those who are not completely comfortable with the Romanic alphabet. Erm, of course, do not, when you’re writing your essay, do not use your arrows or instructions. Your essay should be clean and should follow a logical order. If you’ve got a good plan, and you’ve got a good process to follow, you’re obviously not going to need all the um arrows and instructions.
Next point. Step by step process to go through. This is just for the questions. Now, when you get the questions, you need to spot the man idea, classify it like I said before, underline the key words, start generating ideas and examples. We’ve talked about ideas and examples before,. Having examples is important because they lend credibility to your arguments. If you don’t know how to make examples, you can find a full tutorial about that in the, on my site IELTSpodcast.com. And, if you sign up for the newsletter you’ll also get a whole tutorial dedicated to that, and on the Youtube channel.
Now, stick to the word count. This is important. 150 words for test 1, 250 for Test 2. A common question is, how do you know how many words to write? This is common particularly for students who aren’t that familiar with the Romanic alphabet. Quickly though. I’ll just go through it. Count how many words you have in a line, in one line, and then multiply that by the amount of lines you have, then you’ll get a quick idea. After three or four essays you’ll start getting a general idea about it. So, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Now, more advanced material now. Be concise and succinct and avoid repetition of course. So here we use different words when writing a paragraph to avoid repetition as I said a second ago, using a logical order. Now, here’s a good tip for being succinct. Avoid redundancy. Redundancy means when you’ve got a word that adds nothing to the sentence. I’ll give you an example, “I totally agree” means the same as I agree. If we agree it’s one hundred percent so totally is redundant. It’s totally redundant. Sorry, my jokes just get worse. Anyway, I’ll give you a proper example, “Countless impoverished nations who basically lack money, are unable to pursue a dignified life.” This means the same as countless impoverished, countless impoverished nations are unable to pursue a dignified life. What I’m saying is we do not need “who basically lack money” because it’s surplus to requirements. It’s unnecessary because we’ve said impoverished, which means a lack of money. So, avoid redundancy. Check your essays for redundant words.
Now, like said before, keep your paper clean. Organise it well. Good handwriting,. A good plan will get you through that. Don’t use the words that are in your questions. Try and think of synonyms that’ll get you points. And rephrase instructions using different ways. A good way to get this skill is to practice paraphrasing. Now, we’re almost coming to an end here. Revise your paper. This is very important. Very important. Because here you can pick up five or ten percent.
Erm now the three most common mistakes the student will make when writing, and I can say this with one hundred percent confidence because I’ve marked hundreds of essays. And the most common mistake, mistakes are: third person singular, forgetting the s, plural singular agreement, people, are, men , man, woman, women, is, are, all of those. And the dreaded articles. In a podcast err one of the earlier podcasts, I think one of my IELTS teacher, she’s called, she went through a really thorough way to avoid having problems with the articles.
And finally. If you’ve been doing lots of practice, erm, and you’ve been checking your essays a lot, hopefully you’ve made a personal error list. This is just a list of mistakes you usually make when you write and essay that you personally make. And when you finish your essay, what you want to do is start right at the bottom and work up sentence by sentence, looking for those specific mistakes, correcting your essay so the examiner doesn’t have to. This will give you five to ten extra points if you manage to do it and do it well.
Now, we’ve almost finished the podcast. I just want to say one more thing. Good luck to all the students taking their exam this week. Pretty certain you can do it, specially if you’ve been listening to the podcast. Erm if you’ve got any problem and you’re struggling with one certain point, send me an email: [email protected] or [email protected] either of them will work. Send me an email and I’ll reply. I always reply. I don’t think. If I didn’t reply send it again but I think I may have missed maybe five in the total time I’ve been running the site. Anyway, that’s irrelevant. Good luck in the exam. If you need any more help send me an email and I’ll be on it. So thank you for listening. And remember to sign up to the email list. Sign up and I can send you more information. I’ve got tons more. More podcasts as well.