Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 16, 2011

Case Study 6 – Another IELTS Doctor

This is my sixth case-study in the series. Like the others it illustrates a journey we both took to reach a particular language goal. Like the others the benefit gained was mutual. In this case I had a very reluctant student but it was a strange situation as he did seek me out but then felt he could go it alone.

Although I promised to describe my online work with IELTS students in subsequent posts I felt that this was an interesting case and wanted to share it with you. Now I promise the next case will deal with an online student!

See the other posts:

Case Study one – Mehmet (project manager)

Case Study two – Stepan (IELTS – doctor)

Case Study three – Maria (company relocation to UK )

Case Study four – Takeshi  (IELTS – doctor)

Case Study five – Ayesha (IELTS – doctor)


Case Study Six – Salim

My sixth student in the series was also an IELTS student and a doctor. Salim was from Syria. He had been living in the UK for some time and was very fluent in spoken English.  He had spent some time at school in the UK so his English skills were quite polished.

When I first met Salim he was about to take the test for the second time. He was worried about his reading and just wanted a lesson to go over some techniques. He was very confident about the exam and was certain that only the reading would be a problem.  This was unusual as mostly it is the writing that people want to have checked. I asked him about writing but he hadn’t brought any to the lesson and said that he was fine. He was looking for an overall band of 7. Working on just one part of the exam is not something I normally like to do, I like to make sure that all parts of the exam are on track as none of them work in isolation and the reading and listening impact on the writing and speaking. By integrating the study the outcome in all parts is more assured. I was a little concerned that he was concentrating so much on this one part.

He told me that he would be able to get a high score in speaking and listening and that if he managed to improve his reading then the writing would not be a problem.  This seemed logical but in my opinion as an IELTS coach I felt that in order to be safe in the result ‘all balls needed to be in the air’ at all times. We agreed to disagree and spent the lesson on the reading. I got the impression he was there reluctantly and felt deep down that he didn’t really feel that he needed help but his friends, some of whom had worked with me, had urged him to come.

After the lesson I wished him luck and asked him to let me know his result. I heard nothing more from Salim.

A few months later he called me and asked if he could come to see me. It transpired that he had not got the score he required and the thing that had let him down badly was his writing. He told me that he thought he had been a little over-confident (even arrogant – his words) and now realised that he needed to work more systematically and not try and get the score he needed ‘by numbers’.  This tendency to rely on one or two papers to get the desired result is a high risk strategy and also flies in the face of the whole point in preparing for IELTS in the first place – which is to make sure that you have the required language level for the job that you are going to do (or the course of study you are going to undertake). There is little point in getting the required IELTS result by the skin of your teeth and then struggling through your course or putting your new job in jeopardy because your English is not the best it can be.

I have also worked with several doctors after they have secured their job because they were having problems with English actually in the hospital. Passing the IELTS in only the beginning and in the medical field there is a lot of colloquial language that you will meet which can cause a lot of mis-understanding!

The second meeting

When we met for second time we decided to take a holistic approach and look at all parts of the exam and also language level. As I mentioned before Salim’s English was very fluent and he was a confident speaker, he didn’t, however, have a lot of control over register and tended to speak in a very colloquial manner which is not always appropriate for every type of communication. This was affecting both his speaking performance and his writing.

The study plan

This is a pattern I use with IELTS students both face to face and online.

The week’s work would consist of exercises both IELTS and general English (to improve vocabulary, fluency, structure etc..) that I would give Salim to do at home. Salim would produce, at his best band 7  level, a Task 1 and Task 2 every week. We would meet face to face for two hours (online is usually 1 hour) once a week to go over the writing, do speaking practice and try out some listening and reading.

This approach worked well. We covered all aspects of the exam so everything was up at band 7 level. We improved Salim’s flexibility in his choice of formal and informal language and he became comfortable with this. His reading got better and better and his writing was not just left to chance any more. He was able to used more formal language in his speaking and felt more confident about tackling even the most unusual topics.

After a month he  took the IELTS again and got 7s across the board. Not only had he managed to pass the IELTS exam with flying colours, but he had also improved his English to such a standard that he knew when he started to work at the hospital he would not have any problems at all and would be able to deal with any situation!

I met Salim almost a year later in the street. He was working at the hospital and he was really enjoying his job and his life. He was with a group of friends some of whom were also preparing for IELTS. He greeted me and again thanked me for my guidance and said to his friends.

“Don’t be arrogant, do as your teacher tells you – that is the best way to get a good IELTS score!”

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂




November 3, 2009

Advanced students – case study 2

Here is my second case study in the series.  As with the previous story,  this is a student I worked with who had a particular goal for his English language.

(These case studies are real stories of success but they also illustrate the trials and tribulations of the journey the student and I took to reach their goal. The experience in each case was as rich and rewarding for me as it was for them.)

One of my teaching hats is that of IELTS coach. Basically, I work with IELTS students who need a specific banding (usually overall 7 / 8 or a 7 in each part) and who have not yet managed to attain that score. Some of my students have taken the test several times. At this stage they cannot really be helped in a class as their needs are very specific to them. (you can contact me via Gapfillers if you are in this position!)

Student 2 – Stepan

The first lesson

Stepan was a highly qualified anesthetist from the Ukraine. He had worked in a senior position and had come to the UK to gain experience in hospitals here. Due to his experience and status he was able to work in a hospital as long as he scored a band 7 in each paper on the IELTS exam. This is not an easy thing to do and Stepan had taken the exam twice and failed to achieve 7 in all parts.

The main problems for Stepan were speaking and writing. At the first lesson we completed an example of each of the papers and I was pleased to see that in the listening and reading sections he was consistently scoring 7. His speaking was, however, quite stilted although he had quite a wide vocabulary and the writing was achieving a band 6 or less.

Although Stepan was living in London, he shared a flat with other Ukrainians and didn’t speak English at home. He had a part-time job at night as a receptionist in a hotel which should have given him the chance to practise speaking but didn’t.  It appeared that he spent a lot of time at his books and didn’t take opportunities to speak to incoming guests.

His writing was mostly conceived in his own language and translated using a bi-lingual dictionary.

I suggested that he make more of his opportunities to speak and write his next essay without the aid of his dictionary. He seemed unconvinced as it was his belief that the language spoken out in the street was not formal enough for an exam. He also felt that his essays should be a showcase for his knowledge of English vocabulary. This, coupled with his rather ancient dictionary, caused his essays to sound rather like Victorian melodramas.

The course

I realised that I could call on Stepan’s application and dedication but I was not sure that he would be willing to take my advice.

I scouted around for old IELTS books that he would not have come across and tried to stretch his listening skills with more demanding examples (not only IELTS stuff). This way he could keep improving these areas and, I hoped, see the correlation between listening and speaking and reading and writing.

To address the speaking I decided to make these segments more ‘chatty’ and get him to talk a bit more about himself and his life.

The writing was the biggest challenge. I put him on a diet of  newspapers for models and said that we would read his essays out loud sentence by sentence and I would challenge everything that wasn’t clear and he would have to justify to me his choice of grammar, vocabulary or idea. I also forbade him to use his old bilingual dictionary.

Breakthrough one

Stepan realised the importance of speaking to people. He thought about moving flats but this wasn’t feasible so we set up some strategies for engaging in conversation with people who arrived at the hotel. Using some simple opening phrases he was able to start conversations and soon his speaking became less stilted. He began to enjoy the conversations themselves and saw them less as an exercise and soon his speaking became more spontaneous and fluent.

Breakthrough two

Although reading Stepan’s work sentence by sentence each lesson was very difficult for us both as I was worried about undermining Stepan’s confidence and he was depressed by the number of sentences that I questioned, we gradually began to get more cohesion into the essays and they became more fluid and meaningful. After a few weeks we were only stumbling over one or two sentences. The newspaper models helped him and gave him more vocabulary and greater agility in his use of structure. Finally he was producing good, well written, essays and now all we needed to do was add a gloss of sophistication in terms of vocabulary and set phrases.  (see my postings on writing for information on this:  7 virtues to help you write well7 deadly sins to avoid in writing and warning: mistakes cost marks)

A set-back

Stepan arrived one day for his lesson and told me that he had booked his IELTS exam. I wasn’t sure he was ready yet but he was keen to go ahead and try. This was in the days where you had to wait for 3 months before you could re-sit! We did as much as we could before the exam and he took it. Unfortunately, although his reading, speaking and listening got the 7,  his writing got 6.5 (better than his previous 5). He was, obviously, disappointed but resolved to apply again immediately and continue studying. It was coming up to Christmas so we agreed that we would meet again in the New Year.


Stepan didn’t contact me in the New Year. He had gone home to visit his family and was arranging for them to come to the UK.  He was also busy working and organising a hospital placement for when he was able to work.

He called me to ask one or two questions and then in February I received a letter telling me he had taken IELTS again and got his 7s (with an 8 in listening!).

Now he could begin work, bring his family to the UK and start a new and exciting phase of his life.

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