In this podcast I talk with a student who is about to take the IELTS for a sixth time and is quite fed up, frustrated and confused over what needs to be done to PASS IELTS!
Her questions are below in italics, followed by a summary of my answer.
Q1 What speaking strategy should I use to improve my score?
1. I’ve taken the test 5 times, getting 6,5 in the last 4 tests (6 in the first one). Every time I try a different strategy without any improvement. I don’t know what my weak points are. Some teachers have recommended me to use high level vocabulary, but I’ve lost fluency when I’ve done that. Others had recommended speaking as in the daily way, and maybe it has been too simple. Others say that I should improve my pronunciation, but I find it really hard, because I can improve with some words but I can’t do it with all of them. It would take me years.
I was surprised Gabriela was at a 6 because she spoke well, no gaps, confidently and with great vocabulary. So I asked twice whether she was nervous or confident in the exam, and both times I didn’t get an exact answer, I got a story or some information related to her situation. The problem was that she didn’t listen 100% to the question. I suggested she does more practice tests and pays TOTAL attention to the question, this way she will be able to score higher.
Q2 In the exam, how can I speak with the same confidence I speak with my friends?
2. I feel I speak well can I talk with friends, but in the test I tend to speak different. I usually speak very fast in Spanish and I tend to do the same during the test, even after trying to speak slowly (maybe it’s because I’m nervous). This is taking me back because when I speak fast I don’t have so much time to think and organize my answer. What advice can you give me to speak as I do with my friends?
Three strategies, firstly breathe more, use pauses while speaking to slow yourself down. Secondly, if the nerves are causing you to speed up, perhaps a structure to follow would help you relax. I the speaking confidence course, there is a whole chapter about using examples and stories, this will provide you with opportunities to use more unique vocabulary in a natural high scoring fashion. Thirdly, you could use a strategy professional athletes use called visualizations, whereby you envisage / imagine yourself talking slower to the examiner. You do mental rehearsals of the exam and how you want the exam to happen. This technique is very powerful and hardly ever used, especially by students. Here is some info about it.
Q3 Is there an easy and fast way to improve pronunciation?
Talk a little louder, a little slower and it will be easier for people to understand you. You could also ring English speaking companies and talk with them, ask them about products, etc and if they don’t understand, you will have to change your pronunciation until they do!
Another strategy could be to download podcasts of material that interests you, such as a podcast about technology, from a Native English speaker. Then try and mimic their style, repeat entire sentences as you hear them, copy the speed, style and pronunciation. Then try and incorporate it in your way of speaking so you sound more like a native English speaker.
Q4 Transition words?
Is it necessary to use transition words in the test to get extra points? In Spanish, I barely use them. I’ve thought this might be taking me some points.
Gabriela referred to an earlier podcast in which an interviewee suggested structuring the talk using transition words such as “Firstly…. Secondly…. Thirdly…. ”. I think the message here was to use a structure for your answer, not exactly those specific words. In the IELTS Speaking Confidence course, there is an entire module dedicated to giving answers in a structured style that increases your score.
Q5 Sequence the answer for Part 2?
Should I follow a sequence in part 2? I have a friend who answered his questions in a very structured way, by saying: in the past I used to… nowadays I… I think that in the future. For me it didn’t sound natural but he got an 8 in the speaking.
It’s difficult to say whether the structure helped the student get the Band 8, or if it were other components such as his vocabulary, or pronunciation. However, as said before, having a structure for Task 2 will help considerably because you won’t have to worry whether you are going to get maximum points. The above structure sounds like a good strategy, but it must sound natural otherwise the examiner may spot the “sequence” and not award the points.
Q6 Do I have to answer all the questions of the cue card in part 2?
YES work through them all, each bullet point, and for each point try and say a few sentences, sharing details and personal stories to show the examiner your vocab. By sharing examples and telling personal anecdotes you give yourself the opportunity to use more unique vocabulary in a natural style -which the examiners love.
Q7 Should we try to avoid repetition of words and expressions?
For example, if I already said “I think it is important…”, I shouldn’t say the same in the test.
Try to avoid it but don’t worry because this will probably make you more conscious of the word. For example, if I say “don’t think of a pink elephant” you will most likely think of a pink elephant just because it’s now present in your mind.
In the course Gabriela has, an IELTS Speaking practice test is included, so I suggested she recorded it and after listening identify words that are repeated. Then look for synonyms so as to increase her vocabulary and reduce the chances of repetition next time.
Gabriela has enrolled on the Speaking Confidence Course at SentenceGuide.com and also at the Writing Course – Jump to Band 7 or it’s free. Next we will talk about the writing exam, specially Task 2.
Then in a month’s time I think she will take the IELTS speaking exam and hopefully we will have another IELTS success story! Let’s see!
For more info on IELTS Vocabulary, click here.
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