How often do you get to hear an official Cambridge Examiner share some valuable advice for IELTS Speaking part 3?
Not often at all I imagine.
Well, did you know you could also work online with this examiner? In a private Skype class?
First have a listen to this great interview and learn how to:
-Correctly expand your answers.
-Determine what the examiner is looking for.
-Judge whether your answers are relevant.
Of course there is plenty more, have a listen :
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Really? That’s something I didn’t know.
Yeah. If you want to sound like a Yorkshire person you’d just drop the article. “Pass the salt, would you?” instead of “Could you pass the salt?” or “Could you pass me the salt?”
You are now listening the IELTS Podcast.
Ben: So you said that you work as an examiner?
Marry: Yes, I’ve been in Cambridge ESL examiner for 14 years. I haven’t… I don’t do IELTS though. I don’t examine because I’m also a Central Exams Manager for our center. So my plate’s pretty full. IELTS examiner is much more demanding. I do prepare students for IELTS. I’ve been doing that for the last 14 years as well. But I don’t examine IELTS. I examine up to proficiency level. All levels would of the Cambridge exams.
Ben: I see. So when you are doing the questions, for example if you are preparing a student for the IELTS speaking… When you do the follow-on questions after the cue card, what are you looking for? Are you testing weak areas that you’ve heard before? Just to clarify or just checking higher echelons of their ability?
Marry: By the time you’ve reached that section of the exam, during the exam with students speaking, you’ve got a fair impression of what their mark is, what… they should be in what Band. In that part, the follow-up questions, I usually try to see if I can give them a better mark by seeing how well they’d expand it and what vocabulary resources they can pull into that section of it. If I’m not sure about a mark and I’m thinking possibly they might be 6.5, then I look at those follow-up questions, the vocabulary resource, grammatical resource, relevance, cohesion, coherence, I look at all those points to see, is he a 6 or a 6.5. If I’ve sort of decided this person is a 6.5, as I said before, I look at that last part to see if he’s capable of doing more. And there I would look at vocabulary resource and how well he expands on these questions, and how well he develops them. What their responses are, exactly.
Ben: Excellent. You said relevance. Could you tell me a bit more about relevance, please?
Marry: Relevance means to be able to… I mean, there’s no right or wrong it’s usually with follow-up questions. Relevance means that it’s related to exactly what I’ve asked. The question that I’ve asked this person. Did they directly answer on that topic, and they don’t just scurry jumping off, you know. How they go around, if they answered the question directly. They can expand on it but when they’re expanding and give examples of it, again, the example and expanding of that question should be relevant to the question. Not just things that… Like something about the environment and then they just try and put anything in about the environment. Relevance to the question that the question that they’re asked, that’s the question they’re answering.
Ben: I see. So the key, really, is to expand on the actual original question, and keeping it very relevant at the same time.
Marry: Well, see some students try to impress you by saying a whole lot of things about… They look at the general topic of like the question. They keep the keyword out of it and just answer to that keyword, and not actually answering the question.
Ben: I see.
Marry: That takes time. And as an examiner I’ve been able… even though I don’t do IELTS… I mean proficiency level is pretty much in a high level. So when we get to the part for this where we’re going follow-up questions or general questions about a theme or the topic, you see this happening to students that deserve to pass proficiency where they get a good mark, would be relevant. They will be coherent. They’ll be answering the questions. Others will just sort of blabber on using the keyword and saying anything to just try and impress you, using vocabulary resource, lexical resources, or grammatical resource, but without really answering what we’ve asked them.
Ben: I see. So it’s really a case of listening and determine very precisely and exactly, what was actually said in the first place.
Marry: I think that part it, yes. In the cue cards, you’ve got the opportunity to sort of give you an example of their language abilities and their lexical resources and that. Because you have to answer what the cue card said but there’s the opportunity to say a few more things. But with the follow-up questions, questions that are directly related to a certain thing or a certain topic, and you need to expand on that question only.
Ben: Excellent advice. And could you give… When you train your students, how do you train them to expand on answers?
Marry: On questions like that? Well usually we do some sort of brain storming beforehand. I’ll say “the topic’s going to be environment.” I’ll just say “environment” I don’t say anything else, for example. So they have to sort of build up through everything they’ve done there. Resources and that. Or we build up a word bank. Or we they do some research and they do some homework and then they find different ideas. And then in the follow-up lesson I would just had selected different question than with general questions (environment) and then becoming more detailed, more specific questions, and see how they respond. Depending on how they respond I will either interrupt them as they’re answering and they start sort of blabbering on without really saying anything, and stopping them and sort of saying “Let’s try again from here,” if they’re on the right track, I just suggest “You’ve done a good job but you can do better by doing this,” and depending on what they’ve answered and how they’ve answered, I guide them from there. Be more careful with your syntax, be more careful with your vocabulary you used, don’t try and use vocabulary you don’t know how to use. Because I found… This happened with Greek students. I don’t know with other students. This is something I’ve come across a lot with Greek students. They learn they’re very good at remembering vocabulary and learn the vocabulary. But then they just try to put it into a phrase or into a sentence without really using it properly.
Ben: Like forcing it.
Ben: I see.
Marry: So they’re throwing these little idioms or colloquial expressions, where they’re stampeding it. And I definitely do not allow my students to do that. If anything, we spend a lot of time talking. Talking, talking, talking. And I prepare them by just generally asking many questions. They’re not just questions from exam books. Any sort of question that is… That is how I prepare them. And before then we actually go into the actual part where they do a whole speaking exam, as it is in the exam. “I want to explain to you the whole part 1, part 2, part 3,” until we’ve done a lot of preparation right beforehand.
Ben: I understand. I see. Now, when you said that you… You said it was common for the students to learn or memorize new vocabulary, you don’t recommend them forcing. So you’re basically saying it’s better to play it safe. Use your trusted vocabulary that you know how to use well, rather than stretch it a little bit in an attempt to impress the examiner.
Marry: Oh, no. I’m not saying that exactly. No. I mean yes, do that. I mean play it safe but if you’re going to use some words only to impress without being sure how to use, then don’t use it. Don’t try to impress me by just trying a hell of a word without actually knowing how to use them. Learn some vocabulary, develop it, and sometimes we come up with… Because there’s different levels of students you can push students depending on how good they are. See that they are using good vocabulary and they’re using it correctly then you can push them with that a little bit further.
Ben: Okay. Alright.
Marry: But I do always suggest that if they find difficulty or they’re not absolutely sure of the questions, my recommendation is that it’s better off playing safe and communicate correctly, and be relevant rather than being irrelevant.
Ben: Okay. That’s sound advice. Sound advice. And you said that when you are examining, you see a lot of students making mistakes especially with their vocabulary. Could you give some examples of more common mistakes you see when you are performing as an examiner?
Marry: Grammar, tenses, are pretty much are a common mistake. And another common mistake is word order. Syntax.
Ben: Of course. Yeah.
Marry: It’s not possible to compare with… Okay, I prepare IELTS students from other countries but as an examiner I’ve been basically on the… being the examiner with Greeks students only. So I can’t… We get certified every year. We see different videos from different countries. Some students. But yes. So if we’re looking at the bulk of the students which I have examined, those would be probably the common mistakes. Tenses and word order or grammar syntax.
Ben: Right then. And if you are preparing a student who have those problems, how would you help them overcome it?
Marry: Well it depends on what degree it is. If you’ve reached the level like your proficiency and you’re still making mistakes on basic tenses, then I wouldn’t recommend you to take the exam. No, I wouldn’t. I don’t. I’d rather students stop coming to me, while me sending them off and they fail. I want them to do their best of course, and not everyone is going to succeed the first time. So basically, through exercises. Grammar and that are word big theory going through some of basic theory. If I notice it was a common mistake, it was a mistake in 1/10th for example the present perfect. It wasn’t a general thing, it wasn’t all tenses but it was maybe 1 or 2 tenses, it would be going back again to the basics, looking at the theory. But I don’t just do theory as in “I’ll explain the present perfect is used for this and this.” I always use examples as we go along. I’ll say “Present perfect means something that’s related to to the past, and it still exists now, or may exist now.” And then immediately it would be an example.
Ben: I see. I see.
Marry: I still firmly believe in getting students lots of examples as you’re teaching whatever it is, and getting them to actually participate through the lesson all the time. I found by doing that you get to the state where the students will look for things for you. They will check their mistakes. They will check and think “I don’t think this is right. Marry?” Sometimes the students do that. And as for very very weak students, basics and lots of drill exercises especially about grammar. That would be the only way that you can overcome some of those problems. And the same goes for word order because that is part of grammar.
Ben: I see. I see. And for a student whose studying at home, what activity could they do if they haven’t got an access to an online teacher or a language academy? Any recommendations?
Marry: Yeah. BBC quizzes. Actually I’ve noticed lately, more and more sites come up. It’s not just preparations for exams. There’s lots of them. The British Counsel’s got learning English sites. And on those sites there’s ones for kids, teenagers, and adults, so depending on their age. Learning English at BBC, they’re great exercises. And it’s stuff that you can do just for a couple of minutes. And quite a few (most of them) had an explanation (not all of them) of course. I would suggest something like that to someone that didn’t have access to a language academy. Or online teacher for a start. And then possibly to try and find someone at a later date. Because do you really think you need to have the contact with a teacher? Whether it’s online or in an academy. You definitely need it at some stage. There are unique cases where they are self-taught and self-learned. But I don’t think it’s the majority. I hope not all or I’ll be out of a job.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve met a few, well, one or two self-taught students. And there was one guy, he learned from a machine and it was so obvious when he talked. It was embarrassing. But yeah, I definitely agree. Up to a certain level, you can get there, and also…
Marry: I think it’s basically starting off. Basic English and for some adult who hasn’t had English lesson for years and wants to get back into it possibly by doing this. They could go over the stuff they have already done and learned. But yes, they definitely need the contact with an English teacher. And English teachers that know what they’re doing. Because unfortunately, I don’t know what it’s like in Spain but unfortunately here in Greece it’s a tragic situation. Sometimes the damage that certain teachers do when they come to you, it’s so bad that it’s really hard to undo the damage.
Ben: Oh, what a shame. What a shame. That’s horrible. That’s sad. Yeah, well over here in Spain… I’ll just quickly say and then I’ll let you go… But at the moment it’s quite really strong demand for teachers. The good side is lots of people are learning. But the down side is there’s a few cowboys coming over. Like Bart who were serving beers in the U.K. and they land in Spain and immediately they’re an English teacher. It’s a bit of a start. I mean what can you do? You just got a few wits about you. You know? Just get it all checked.
Marry: I think in the long run though that sort of clings out after a while. Because I’ve noticed some people they might ring me out ask about me and they go off to someone else because it’s cheap or something. It’s more economical here than anything else. And when it comes to the crunch though, when they want to take the exams, they come to the…
Marry: To the professionals.
Ben: Well I’ll let you go because obviously…
Marry: Right then. Thank you very much, Marry. For the listeners, if you want to get in contact with Marry, have a look at the… go to the site, do a search for Marry and you’ll see all her contact details there. And yeah, that was an awesome interview. Thank you very much, Marry.
Marry: Thank you very much, Ben. It’s so good to meet you.
Ben: You too. All the best. Take care.
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