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 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

November 18, 2011

6 things to remember when writing IELTS tasks

1. The purpose of the IELTS writing is to demonstrate YOUR ability to write coherently in ENGLISH on a given topic

It is very important to bear this in mind when preparing for the exam. This is one of your chances in the IELTS exam to take control (the other being in the speaking) and demonstrate your great ability in English and to write good English so don’t waste it! 

Make sure that you give a lot of preparation time to this and, if possible, get a teacher to help you especially if you are looking at bands 7 and 8. The teacher will not only mark your essays but will also help you to improve it by showing you how to develop your writing to ensure that you get the band you want.

2. The key to IELTS writing is effective preparation and practice.

I know that many IELTS students work VERY hard on their IELTS but I have also met many who, despite this hard work have not been able to achieve their goal. Your practice has to be effective to work for YOU.

If you need to get band 7 you HAVE to understand what a band 7 essay looks like, what it contains and how it feels to write one. You need to know this in your muscle!  To do this you need to produce one and this may take 2 or 3 hours but it doesn’t matter, once you have it then you will not go back to your old way of writing again.

Less is more with writing – quantity does NOT necessarily produce quality. It is better to work for a long time on ONE essay than produce 4 at once. If you have an IELTS teacher or coach then they will tell you when you have managed to get your band 7 essay down. If not then you will have to rely on models. Model essays are YOUR key to great writing and don’t rely simply on the good essays of your friends, they will have mistakes. Look at what you are reading for the IELTS reading – here are great models! You can find model essays for IELTS everywhere;  study them and really go deep and find out what a band 7 truly is!

Don’t try to second-guess what the examiner is looking for.

Your job in the writing is to say “Look at my great writing ability at band 7. See how I have managed to express this topic really well and given you lots of good language to assess” it isn’t to think “I wonder what the examiner would like to see in this paragraph”.

The exam is not about the examiner, it’s about you. I can tell you that all examiners want you to do well. I know this because I have been an examiner myself and I really wanted every essay to be good and to get whatever band the candidate required. It’s sad when you see essays that have lots of silly mistakes, or weren’t planned properly or are too short or aren’t finished. Sometimes you can see that the person really has ability but they haven’t demonstrated it.

See the exam as an opportunity to demonstrate your great English rather than a ‘test’ and you’ll be much more confident.

3. Please Plan, don’t just dive in!

“There isn’t enough time to plan” I hear this all the time, yet planning well actually ‘saves’ you time! With a good plan the essay almost writes itself  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using. Without a plan you are trying not only to make sure you use good English, the right vocabulary, great structure and not too many mistakes, but also the ideas you want to express as well, all as you go along and all in about 20 or 30 minutes – that’s a lot to ask!!

A good plan will give direction to your essay and state the points you want to make  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using to express these ideas on paper.

4. Think in English

When I was learning French at school a teacher told me “If you don’t know it don’t use it!” This is very good advice – translating from your own language most often fails and you will end up with English which can at best sound ‘odd’ and at worst be gibberish thus losing you many marks in the process.

If  the idea in your head is only in your own language and you don’t know the word or expression in English then either come up with another idea or think of words you DO know that you can use to express this. I understand that you can express things in a very erudite and confident way in your own language and that you want to come across in your writing as an educated and knowledgable person BUT look at point 1 here – it’s your ability in English that is the most important thing in this exam NOT your knowledge!

In fact, if you can train yourself to think in English then your chances of producing great writing are better.

The way to do this is to immerse yourself as much as possible in English as you prepare for the exam. Read newspapers, journals, books. Listen to radio programmes, watch films and documentaries. Develop a deep and meaningful relationship with English and great things will start to happen. Firstly you will learn a lot of things using English as a vehicle and secondly you will begin to absorb the language naturally as your exposure to it increases and soon you will be thinking about ideas and topics straight into English and NOT via your own language.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of work and IELTS preparation on top too! Well, yes it is a lot of work but isn’t it worth it to get what you need? Why are you taking the IELTS anyway? Isn’t it to get you somewhere where you will be working or studying in ENGLISH every day? IELTS is simply your gateway, once you arrive at your destination you are going to need FAR MORE English than the IELTS needs so get started in this way and ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

( see my post  – Thinking in English – How to make it happen)

5. Try things out during your preparation period

In order to produce a wonderful piece of writing you need to experiment a little. All writers create several drafts of their work before they publish. This blog post has taken me quite a long time to produce as I have been revising and adding things. Obviously in the exam you have only one chance but if your preparation has really prepared you for that one chance then you’ll have no problem. On the day of your test you should know how you are going to tackle the questions, whatever they are – there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises!

The time for experimenting is in your preparation time and to get a good band you really should,try and do this. From your reading and studying of model essays and other texts you will find a host of new vocabulary and sentence types. You should choose the ones that you like or the ones that impress you and use them in your own writing. Be creative, test things see how they fit, see what the result is and then ask someone to check and see if they have worked.

Questions I always ask my students when they give me writing to check is ‘Are you writing in the same way as you did before?’ and ‘Has the way you approach your writing changed?’ I always expect the answer ‘yes’. There wouldn’t be any point in working with me and then doing the same old things. I am always pleased with the ‘yes’ answer because it shows me that their work is growing and developing and getting better and that’s what should happen. I also love it when students try things new, even if they don’t work – you have to fail to grow and when better to do this than with a supportive and experienced person to help you to use these words and phrases in the correct way.

6. Timing comes towards the exam date

Many IELTS students I meet are worried about getting their writing tasks done in the time allowed (1 hour) and spend much of their preparation time racing against the clock, doing essay after essay as fast as possible. This is putting the cart before the horse! My daughter learns the piano and her teacher keeps telling her to get it right first and then speed up. This is my advice for you also. Once you know exactly what you are doing you can easily get this done in the time and even faster leaving you extra time to check. This is what you are aiming for. So make sure you start with the content and quality of your writing and don’t worry about the time – that will come when you are ready with your perfect band 7 essay every time!

Writing is the part of the exam that most people struggle with but with some disciplined and effective practice it will soon become a joy to you to write these tasks and when you are looking forward to it then you have achieved what you need.

Here are some other posts that might help with writing:

10 Ways to increase your vocabulary

Warning! Mistakes cost marks

7  Deadly sins to avoid in your writing

7  Great virtues to help you write well in English

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 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

August 24, 2011

Advanced students – case study 5 – IELTS doctor

 This is my fifth 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 this case is slightly different as it involved an intensive 2-day study followed by on-going tutoring via the internet up until the exam.
 
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

My fifth student in the series was also an IELTS student and a doctor. She was slightly different from the other doctors I have mentioned as she was a recently qualified doctor and had just arrived in the UK as a newly wed looking to pursue a career as a doctor in the UK. Her husband was already working in a hospital here.

Ayesha had recently taken the IELTS before getting married and moving to the UK but had unfortunately not got the band score she needed. In the few months she had been living in the Uk she had started to prepare again for the test. She soon realised that in order to prepare adequately she needed help from a specialist teacher and that is when we became acquainted. In fact it was her husband who contacted me. Being very busy in the hospital, he was looking for a weekend course where Ayesha could get an intensive boost in English and then continue preparing by herself up to the exam date. As she had only just arrived in the country she was too nervous about travelling on her own so I was more than happy for them both to come together.

 They arrived late on Friday evening, I collected them at the station. We had a light supper and then they retired to bed.

The first lesson

We started bright and early on the Saturday morning and started to go through each part of the test. I soon discovered that Ayesha’s main problem had been lack of preparation particularly in the speaking and writing papers. She had assumed that the speaking would simply be a short conversation and told me that she had the impression that the examiner was wanting her to say more but she didn’t know what to say.

The writing also needed a little work to get to band 7 and there were a few grammar areas to address.

We decided to concentrate for half a day on each part of the exam:

  • Listening – we worked through different types of listening material both IELTS and non-IELTS and talked about techniques and strategies for the exam
  • Writing – We looked mostly at analysing the title and then creating good plans for the essay. On Saturday evening Ayesha produced both a Task 1 and a Task 2 for me to check.
  • Speaking – Ayesha’s spoken English was quite good but lacked breadth. We went through the test and practised each part and also talked about how she could get more practice – being in England meant that there were opportunities to do this but Ayesha was a little nervous about joining groups or clubs. We agreed that we would speak on the phone as part of the follow-up and she would try and speak more to her neighbours and other people that she ‘knew to say hello to’ (this is someone you don’t really know very well but see from time to time).
  • Ayesha’s reading score had also been very good but as she was looking for an overall score of 7 we felt that we could improve this to boost her final score..

The study plan

We worked from 9 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. and then again from 2.00p.m. until 5.00p.m. During each session we concentrated on one area of the test.

There was a little time in the late afternoon to get out for a short walk which gave us time to talk generally – something which is important for fluency.

There was also time during our meals together (with both our respective husbands) to have more conversation.

Ayesha’s husband had brought work with him to complete and my husband took him out for a while to see the local area.

The weekend was a good way to get an overview of  useful test strategies from Ayesha’s point of view and I was able to see where her strengths and weaknesses were in each part and provide a study plan for her to follow going forward to the actual test. We did this on the final afternoon.

So armed with a plan, some websites to check out and I hoped, a little more confidence, I took Ayesha and her husband back to the station for their return journey home.

During the few weeks that followed we spoke on the phone and also communicated via email. She also sent me more writing which I corrected and returned. Where there were language problems I sent supplementary exercises to help and gave her a daily dose (using Gapfillers) of general language skills work to keep developing her English skills.

She had also made friends with one of her neighbours who, on hearing about the IELTS test offered to meet regularly so that Ayesha could practise her speaking – if you don’t try these things you’ll never know what might have been!  This was a real boost to both confidence and fluency.

A month or so later Ayesha took the IELTS she called me and told me what the questions had been – they were all fairly standard and some of them were things I had given her to do in her practice. She felt very upbeat and thought that the test had gone well.

A couple of weeks later I was in the car when my phone rang and I saw that it was Ayesha so I knew that this would be her result. She had got an overall band score of 8 (3 x 8 and 7.5 in Writing – amazing) !! She was so excited and could now move on with the next stage of her preparation to work in the UK as a doctor.

This is Ayesha’s  final email to me after the exam.

I am happy to send my score card and to dedicate my success to your guidance and the emotional support. I have booked my plab1 exam on feb.11th and started preparing for it. hope I will pass that exam too with your blessings.thanks a lot                                                 

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 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

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