IELTS Speaking

The speaking part is usually a conversation about you, your plans for the future, your past studies, the reason for which you are taking the IELTS, your country, your town. Therefore be prepared for these subjects. You should prepare something to say about them. In addition, the examiner will show you a card with an argument you are supposed to discuss. The thing you have to remember is: use easy words and expressions if you are not very confident and everything will go well. To be able to comunicate what you think is far more important than doing it with a perfect English accent. Therefore, don't worry if your pronunciation is not exactly a British one. That's not the main point. Your understanding of what the examiner says and the ability to comunicate without grammatical mistakes is more important. The conversation usually lasts 15-20 minutes and will be recorded. Don't panic about that!
The Speaking part of the test have been changed on July 1, 2001. It is now made up of three parts (this is the description of the test taken from the official IELTS website):
In Part 1 the candidate answers general questions about themselves, their homes/ families, their jobs/studies, their interests, and a range of similar familiar topic areas. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

In Part 2 the candidate is given a verbal prompt on a card and is asked to talk on a particular topic. The candidate has one minute to prepare before speaking at length, for between one and two minutes. The examiner then asks one or two rounding-off questions.

In Part 3 the examiner and candidate engage in a discussion of more abstract issues and concepts which are thematically linked to the topic prompt in Part 2. The discussion lasts between four and five minutes.
  • Tip from Ros (March 2001):
In the speaking section of the test you are often asked for your opinion about something. For example, if you are a student studying in Australia, the examiner may say; ‘What do you think of Australia?’ Most students would have an opinion about this but they often wouldn’t know where to begin. REMEMBER whenever you are asked for your OPINION about ANYTHING you can always give both the ‘positive’ and the ‘negative’ aspects of the subject in question. So your answer would go something like: ‘Well, I like Australia because the people are friendly and the pace of life is slow, HOWEVER I don’t like the hot weather and shopping hours are too short.
You will get a better score because you have made a COMPARISON about what is good about Australia and what is bad. Also you have opened the way for the examiner to ask you about the weather or shopping in your country.

IELTS Writing

There are two writing tasks and you can use an hour to write both. The first is an analysis of a chart, a graph, a table or something similar. The second is a composition about an argument of general interest. It is suggested that you spend 20 minutes on the first task and 40 on the second. I always used more than 20 minutes for the first and about 30 for the second, but you have to decide on your own strategy on the basis of your abilities. Use your time in an intelligent way: remember you have to compose two different tasks and you can't devote too much time to the first (or the second). You can decide to start with the analysis or with the composition. It's up to you. However, remember to read both titles before you start writing. In this way your subconscious will start thinking about the second task while you are writing the first.
Now let me give you some suggestions about the tasks. First of all you have to write at least 150 words. This doesn't mean you have to count the words. The best thing to do is the following: when you write as practice before taking the real test, count the words. In other words, you have to know how long a text you write is. Don't write less than 150 words. However, a composition of 200 words will be perfect; a composition of 300 will be too long and boring for the examiner. In this task you have to present the data shown in a graph (or somewhere else) in a formal way. Try to understand the main points and write about them. In addition, try to explain the reasons of the trend shown: for example if the graph shows that in the last decades the use of cars has increased and the use of bycicles has decreased, you should say something about the possible reasons of this phenomenon. A possible organisation of the work could be the following: devote a paragraph to the introduction (say what you are going to write about); write a second paragraph describing the graph; use a third paragraph to explain the trends. Of course, this is just an example. The point is: you have to organize your work before writing. When you start writing you already have to know what you are going to write.
The suggestions about the number of the words and the organization are valid for the second task as well. The difference is that you have to write at least 250 words for this task. Use the first minutes to think about what you are going to write. Remember: ORGANISATION. You can decide your own way to write the composition; the following is an example: an introduction to write something general about the argument; a first paragraph to write the arguments of those who support a position; a second paragraph to write the opposite arguments. A conclusion with your own ideas about the problem. Try to avoid mistakes in grammar and make a composition in order: the paragraphs have to be clear. Leave a line between them.

IELTS Listening

The listening part of the test is the first you will encounter. It is divided into four sections with increasing difficulty. The main problem is that you will be allowed to listen to the cassette just once. Usually you have to write something you hear (a telephone number, an address, a name, etc.). Some questions are multiple choice. The total number of questions you have to answer is 40. More than 30 anwers right means a good mark, but sometimes you may get an acceptable mark even with 27 or 28 correct answers. The first suggestion is the following: write the answers as you hear them. Waiting could be a mistake because later you will not to remember the answer, particularly if you have to write something, and you won't get the chance to listen to the same piece again. You will have the chance to read the following questions before listening each section. Use this chance: in this way you will be able to concentrate your attention just to the part  you are interested in. In fact you do not have to understand everything if you want a good mark. You need to understand just what answers you have to give. Do not lose time trying to understand everything. You always have to know what question you are waiting for: when you hear the answer write it at once or, if you do not understand it, start reading the next question and waiting for the answer.
At the end of the listening test you will have 10 minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet: use those minutes to complete the answer sheet and try to write something in all the 40 spaces even if you are not sure of the correct answer. A wrong answer is as wrong as no answer: so try! You could be lucky!
IELTS material is in some countries difficult to find. To practice your listening I suggest you to buy or borrow  a library Proficiency test. I found the listening part of Proficiency tests more difficult than IELTS, even though there you can listen to the pieces twice. If you are used to doing difficult tests, you will find the real exam easier! Of course try to listen as much as possible to people speaking in English: films with subtitles are very useful. If you live in England use page 888 of Teletext on television: most of the programs are subtitled. If you live in Australia you should watch "Behind the news" on Channel 2. It is very good for Listening practice.
  • Tip from Ros (April 2001):
Between questions you, as the test candidate, are given 30 seconds (1) to check the answers to the section just completed and (2) 30 seconds to read the section which you are about to do. Since time is given at the end of the test to check all your answers, I suggest that you use all 60 seconds to read the next section. Do not waste time checking your answers at this point. One of the biggest difficulties of the IELTS listening test is that you have to read and listen at the same time. Try to read as much as you can during the 60 second break as this will help you to listen for the specific information you need to answer the questions.

IELTS Reading

In the reading section, the problem is the time. You are supposed to read three passages and to give a total of 40 answers. You have one hour. Therefore you can devote just 20 minutes for a passage, which is sometimes not enough time. First of all: use just 20 minutes for each section: if after 20 minutes you do not have some answers, guess and pass to the next question. Remember: you won't have extra-time at the end of the hour to transfer the answers to the answer sheet. Therefore write them on it at once: this is an important difference from the listening section, where you will be given time to transfer your answers.
Second: read  the questions carefully before reading the passage: this is very very important. If you read the passage without knowing the questions, you will waste your time. Here is a useful procedure: use 3-4 minutes to read the questions; use 10-12 minutes to read the passage and to answer where you can. In this way you should be able to find a lot of answers. Use the last minutes to find the answers in the text that you did not find when you first read the passage. Usually, but not always, you will find the answers in order.
Third: read the instructions given carefully: if you are asked to answer a question taking no more than two or three words from the text, then an answer with more words is definitely wrong. Sometimes you are given a sentence and you have to write YES if it is true according to the text, NO if it is not, NOT GIVEN if the information is not in the text. Remember: ACCORDING TO THE TEXT. You have to be very precise: sometimes just a word in the passage can make you have to decide between two alternatives. 
Other times the text is divided into a number of paragraphs and you are asked to choose a title for each paragraph from a list of possible titles. In the weeks before the exam, test when you read an article in a newspaper or in a magazine, try to give a title to each paragraph. The title is usually the main point of the paragraph. This will help you very much.
  • Tip from Ros (May 2001):
Read the following text and try to answer the question you will find at the bottom.
One day my family and I decided to try windsurfing. We went for a few lessons first (only 5) which gave us some idea of the techniques to use when trying to windsurf. After our introductory course we hired a board and off we went for a day at the sea. Although we were not very good, we knew HOW to practice to improve. We only knew this because of our introductory lessons. Just watching others do it would not have been helpful at all, in fact we would have become frustrated and given up. Reading other peoples model essays is a bit like this. When you read it you think 'it seems so easy' but when you try you find out that it's exasperatingly, frustratingly, anxiety provokingly DIFFICULT. Like the poor people who had no lessons to learn to windsurf, you too feel like giving up. REMEMBER THIS: We only needed 5 lessons to learn enough to be able to HELP OURSELVES. We will never be champion windsurfers, just as you will most likely never be able to write English like me and I will never be able to write Chinese (which I am trying to learn) or any other language, like you. THE GOOD NEWS IS: you don't have to - you only have to get through the IELTS test. We didn't aim at being champion windsurfers - we only wanted to have fun. You, like us, only need to be given some techniques and away you will go. A WORD OF CAUTION: If I had only one hand, for example, I would not have been able to learn to windsurf. If you do not have the basics of English you will be in the same position. However, if you do have the basics all you need is the techniques to tackle the IELTS. MY VIDEO WILL HELP YOU WITH THIS.
After reading the message decide which of the following would be the best heading for it:
(a) The IELTS test and wind-surfing are similar.
(b) The best way to succeed in the IELTS is to get some help from an expert.
(c) The IELTS Tutor will help you to do well in the IELTS
Which one is the best heading (a), (b) or (c). 


Skills for the Speaking Module

Before the test begins, the examiner will check your identification. For security reasons you will be asked to bring your passport or some other photographic identification. You will be asked to sign your name, which will be matched up with the photograph and signature on your IELTS application form.
The test will then be conducted in five phases, which we will now describe in turn.
Phase 1: Introduction
In Phase 1, the examiner will first introduce himself or herself and will invite you to do the same. You may be asked some general questions about your background, family, home or personal interests.
SKILL      Greeting the interviewer and introducing yourself.
Phrases you could use:
  • Good afternoon. My name is    (name)    .
  • Hello. My name is   (name)  but most of my friends call me   (shortened version of name/nickname)   .
Think about questions that the examiner might ask about the personal information you provided on the application form. With a partner, take turns interviewing each other with questions based on this information. Try to give full and comprehensive answers to each question.
Phase 2: Extended discourse
In phase 2, the interviewer will encourage you to speak for a longer period of time on a familiar topic. You may be asked to speak on topics related to your country, such as customs or lifestyle, and your personal involvement with these. The aim of Phase 2 is to show the interviewer that you can describe something, tell a story, give information or directions or express your opinion without relying on the interviewer to help you through the task.
The idea is for you to talk and give as much information as you can. Do not simply answer 'yes' or 'no'. Remember, the interview should be like a conversation. Do not memorise responses. If you appear to be reciting from memory, the examiner will interrupt  and ask a different question.
Before you begin preparing for Phase 2, you may wish to make a list of topics related to your country, culture, lifestyle, personal interests, etc. Once you have completed such a list, form questions that relate to each of the skills for this phase. Think about possible questions that could be asked.
With a speaking partner, practise interviewing and being interviewed. Try to give full and comprehensive answers to each question.
SKILL  Providing general factual information.
Questions you may be asked:
  • What are some important festivals in your country?'
  • What kind of climate does your country have?'
  • What are some of the main industries in your country?'
SKILL  Expressing your opinions and attitudes.
Questions you may be asked:
  • What do you enjoy about the traditional music of your country?
  • What do you think are positive and negative aspects of your country's education system?'
  • Would you prefer to live in the city or in the countryside and why?
SKILL   Describing a place, event or situation.
Questions you may be asked:
  • Could you describe the village/town/city in which you grew up'?
  • What happens during (cultural event, such as Chinese New Year/Christmas) in your country'?
  • Could you tell me how you like to spend your leisure time?'
SKILL   Comparing places, events or situations.
Questions you may be asked:
  • How is (city where candidate is studying) different from (candidate's home city)?
  • What is the difference between shopping in (city where candidate is studying) and shopping in (candidate's home city)?
  • What do you like most about living in (country where candidate is studying)? How does that compare with (candidate's home country)?
SKILL    You should be able to give directions and instructions.
Questions you may be asked:
  • Could you tell me, in detail, how you got from your home to the test centre this morning?
  • If I had to catch a train or bus in (candidate's home city) what would I do?
  • If I were to meet (an important older person) in your culture, how should I greet them to be polite and show respect?
SKILL    You should be able to re-tell a story or a sequence of events.
Questions you may be asked:
  • What happens in (an important festival) in your country?
  • What is the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you?
  • What did you do when you were preparing to leave (candidate's home country) to come to (country of study)?
SKILL   Explaining how or why something is done.
Questions you may be asked:
  • Why do people do what?(referring to something just mentioned)
  • Could you tell me more about the procedure involved in (the topic under discussion)
  • How do people celebrate the New Year in (candidate's country)?
Phase 3: Elicitation
In Phase 3, the interviewer wants to ascertain how competent you are at gaining information on a given topic.
You will be given a card. On this card will be written a brief outline of a particular situation. The card will state your role and the role of the interviewer. You need to ask questions to find out more information. The card will suggest things for you to ask but these are only given to you as a guide. Do not feel compelled to follow these suggestions if you have ideas of your own.
You are responsible for starting the conversation and, to some degree, developing and directing the flow of dialogue.
To prepare for Phase 3, select one of the exercises from the Practice work cards below. Practise asking questions with a partner.
Phase 4: Speculation and attitudes
In Phase 4, the interviewer will converse with you in greater depth on a particular topic. Topics that may be discussed include your plans for the immediate and long-term future and the impact that these may have on you and your family. Your opinion about, attitude towards and reasons for your particular future plans may also be discussed.
The interviewer may not understand or agree with some of your responses. You may be asked to expand or elaborate on some point that you have made, so be prepared for such a response. Being prepared, however, never means memorising set responses.
During Phase 4, the interviewer will allow the discussion to become more complex. He or she may refer to other comments you have previously made so you may have to defend your opinion or give a more detailed explanation of an idea you have already mentioned.
Before you begin preparing for Phase 4, you may wish to make a list of your future plans under the headings of academic, professional, personal and possible conse-quences of these plans. Also, make a list of topics that relate to your personal interests in life as well as a wider rangs of topics relating to your country, profession and specific area of study.
SKILL   Discussing your future plans.
Questions you may be asked:
  • Tell me what you plan to do when you finish your undergraduate studies.
  • Have you thought about which university you would like to study at and why?
  • How did you come to choose (a chosen area of study)?
  • Would you ever like to have your own business? Why or why not?
Here are some key phrases you could use: 
In the future
I hope to 
I would like to 
a foundation course.
a master's degree.
In a few years
I intend to
I'm planning to 
graduate from
study at 
the University of Sydney.
Astoria College.
In two years
what I have in mind is to 
major in 
explore the area of
International Trade.
Within three years
I imagine I will
a BA.
an MA.
an MBA.
a PhD.
SKILL    Expressing your feelings, opinions and attitudes.
Questions you may be asked:
  • What are your thoughts about (controversial issue)?
  • How would you feel if (a controversial issue) were to happen in the next three or four years?
  • You seem to support (a controversial viewpoint). Why is this?
  • Have you ever had to choose between (X) and (Y)? How did you make this decision? How did you feel as a result of your choice?
SKILL   Explaining why you made certain decisions in the past and giving reasons for your plans for the future.
Questions you may be asked:
  • How did you know that you wanted to become a (candidate's choice of profession)?
  • When did you decide to study overseas? What influenced you to make this decision?
  • Why have you decided to study (candidate's choice of study)? How will this help your future career?
SKILL   Expressing agreement and disagreement.
Questions you may be asked:
  • I agree with you to a point on this matter, but could you expand on it a little more, please?
  • I'm not quite convinced by what you are saying. Could you develop your idea more for me, please?
  • I'm sorry I don't quite understand what you are trying to say. Could you put it another way, please?
Phrases you could use when agreeing:
  • Well, of course ... Naturally ... I couldn't agree more ...
Phrases you could use when disagreeing:
  • I'm sorry. I can't agree with you ... I don't really think so ...
  • That may be so but ... Unfortunately, I have a different point of view ...
SKILL   Discussing hypothetical situations and speculating on future events.
Questions you may be asked:
  • How do you think having a degree from an overseas university is going to help your job prospects when you return to (candidate's home country)?
  • Do you think that the time spent studying in a foreign country is going to benefit you personally? If so, in what ways?
  • How do you think your country benefits when students return from studying abroad?
SKILL   Following and responding to changes in tone and direction in the interview.
Questions you may be asked:
  • Do you have any regrets about choosing (candidate's choice of profession) or (candidate's choice of country in which to study)?
  • If you could repeat the year of your life, what would you do differently?
  • What advice would you give other students planning on (studying overseas)?
Phase 5: Conclusion
This is the final section of the assessment and will naturally follow on from Phase 4. The interviewer will let you know that the interview has come to an end, wish you good luck and say goodbye.
You can prepare yourself for this phase by becoming familiar with common expressions of leave-taking, noting them and practising responses to them.
SKILLS    Noting that the interview is finishing and saying thank you (with a smile!).
Phrases you could use:
  • Thank you very much.
  • Goodbye.
  • See you.
Coping with the interview
There may be times in the interview when you may not understand what the examiner is saying because he or she may be speaking too softly or too quickly. Perhaps the examiner may be using words or phrases you do not know. At these times, do not be afraid to assert yourself. Ask the examiner to speak more loudly, more slowly or to use other words. Also, do not hesitate to ask the examiner to repeat his or her words at any time.
Phrases you could use:
  • Could I ask you to speak more loudly please?
  • Sorry but I didn't catch that. Would you please repeat what you just said?
  • I'm not quite sure what you mean. Could you explain it to me?’ 

Skills for the Writing Module

In Task 1 of the Writing Module, you are given about 20 minutes to write a minimum of 150 words.You are asked to look at a diagram, table, graph or short piece of text and describe the information in your own words. There are three important steps you should follow: preparation, writing and editing. These steps will help you to write a coherent and well organised essay in the time given.
Preparation (about 2 minutes)
You need to spend 2-3 minutes working out exactly what you are going to do. You should pay attention to the following points:
  • Study the question carefully. Most Task 1 writing involves writing a report which describes some information given. You may wish to note the instructions with a high-lighting pen.
  • Think carefully about the topic. Outline some pertinent points.
  • Ensure that your ideas are arranged logically.
Writing (about 15 minutes)
When writing a Task 1 report, include:
  • introductory sentence
  • body paragraphs (1-3)
  • concluding sentence (optional)
Introductory sentence
The introductory sentence explains what you are describing, for example:
The table compares the population growth and interstate migration in each Australian state for 12 months to the end of 1994.'
The graph shows the growth of computers in Australia between 1975 and 1995.'
The pie chart represents the proportion of gases contained in natural gas.'
Body paragraphs
When discussing the date presented in the task, identify significant trends and give examples that relate directly to the given information to support your statements. If you are explaining a process or an object and how it works, you need to group your information so that it follows a definite logical order.
Remember that the use of verbs expressed in the present passive voice is often appropriate when giving a description of a process or procedure, for example:
Coffee beans are pulped to remove their casing. They are then soaked in water, rinsed thoroughly and dried. After the beans are sorted, they are roasted in a kiln and blended. Next, they are packed and dispatched to shops and supermarkets.'
Concluding sentence (optional)
A simple concluding statement could include any of the following, where relevant:
  • significant comments
  • a potential solution
  • an overall summary of the ideas
  • future implications.
Editing (about 2 minutes)
Make sure that you have followed the instructions carefully. Be sure that you have written what you intended and that no important ideas are missing.
In the last few minutes, check for obvious errors, such as spelling or grammatical errors.
All too often students begin planning or even writing their answers in the IELTS Writing Module before they understand what is actually expected of them. Following the steps below will help you to plan a well-structured and coherent essay or report that addresses the given task.
You may wish to spend about 5-7 minutes working out exactly what you are going to do. There are five steps to consider.
  • Study the question carefully. Most task statements or questions have a key instructional word or words telling you what to do. Note these words with a highlighting pen.
There are also key topic words which point to the most important parts of the question. Underline those words too. Ask yourself how the key words relate to the given instruction.
  • Think carefully about the topic. How do you feel about it?
  • Establish a point of view and list some points for development. The answer normally takes the form of a short essay. The word essay' comes from an old French word essai which meant to attempt or try out', or to test'. In an IELTS Writing Module Task 2 answer, your purpose is to develop your point of view in a convincing way.
  • Decide which points will be written as topic sentences. Think about how they will develop into paragraphs.
  • Ensure that your points are arranged in a logical order.
When you are writing a Task 2 answer, a structure based on the following elements could be used (summarised in the flow chart opposite).
Introductory paragraph
The introduction of a Task 2 answer should begin with a general statement or idea of your own that takes into account the key topic words or their synonyms. The last sentence of the introduction should include a thesis statement which shows the point of  view or direction that will be taken in the answer.
Body paragraphs
Body paragraphs each consist of several sentences that are arranged in a logical way to develop a main idea. You can expect to write about 2-4 body paragraphs for a Task 2 answer. Each of these contains an appropriate connective word to ensure a smooth transition between paragraphs. This connective is then put in a topic sentence which is the main point of the paragraph clearly stated in a sentence. Every sentence in the paragraph must be directly related to it. Try to develop every paragraph adequately. This may be done through the use of examples, explanations, detail, logical inference, cause and effect or making comparisons or contrasts. There are many different ways to organise your ideas for body paragraphs. Be confident of the ideas you choose.
The conclusion
A good conclusion serves several purposes:
  • It indicates the end of your essay.
  • It gives your final thoughts and assessments on the essay subject.
  • It weighs up the points in your essay and should strengthen your thesis statement.
  • Do not simply repeat your opening paragraph. This appears too mechanical and superficial.
  • General statement
  • Thesis statement
  • Topic sentence including connective word
  • First supporting sentence
  • Second supporting sentence
  • Third supporting sentence
  • Final assessment with concluding connective
Editing (about 3-5 minutes)
In the last few minutes, you should check for obvious errors, such as spelling or grammatical errors. Be sure you have written what you intended and that there are no important ideas missing.
Study the checklist for editing. It lists points to think about when checking your essay. Become familiar with the list so that you will know what to check for in the actual IELTS Writing Module. 
Checklist for editing
1. I have used accurate grammatical structures, for example, consistent verb tenses, subject-verb agreement, accurate word formation (especially of nouns, verb and adjectives) and appropriate use of a' and the' as well as prepositions.
2. I have used a range of sentence structures.
3. I have used appropriate vocabulary.
4. I have used accurate spelling.
5. I have stated the main idea for each paragraph in a topic sentence and all the points are related to this topic.
6. I have used connective words effectively to link ideas so that the thoughts move logically and clearly from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.
7. I have developed each paragraph adequately.
8. I have supplied enough detailed information and sufficient examples or facts.
9. I have developed a definite point of view.
10.Every paragraph that I have written has definitely helped to address the task.

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