Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

February 15, 2012

My IELTS Speaking Test is tomorrow – Can you help me TODAY?

This is a cry that I get often.  I really don’t understand why people leave it so late. Going over the exam procedure, making sure that you know what to do and when things are happening, checking the times etc.. is one thing you should do the night before, but trying to address the whole speaking test the night before or even in the days before the exam begs the question – should you even be doing the exam?

In actual fact my advice to students the night before their exam is (when they have checked the points mentioned above) to relax, watch a movie, read a book or magazine (in English) and go to bed early!

Frankly I would not be prepared to give this kind of last-minute coaching for two reasons. Firstly it wouldn’t be helpful and I don’t want anybody investing their time and money in something that isn’t going to help them to succeed and secondly, I have a feeling that if the result wasn’t the one wanted then I’d probably get the blame! So, my BIG message to all IELTS students in this post is please, please don’t leave things to the last-minute.

If you take a driving test do you get into the car the day before for the first time? Language is a skill the more you practice the better you get generally. Speaking is the most fundamental part of a language and you just need to find opportunities to practice. If you can’t speak well how on earth will you manage in your new country, your new job, or your new study? That’s what the IELTS is testing! Do you have the right level of English to succeed in the venture that you are embarking upon?

Your approach to preparation in the IELTS tells me a lot about how you will succeed. I meet students who are organised, who have a plan and who create a process for their learning and their preparation. They balance their general English practice with their IELTS test practice and know that it is impossible to get a good band without both. They are usually successful. I also meet students who keep on just ‘having a go’. This approach to the IELTS exam is VERY EXPENSIVE and will not guarantee you success. If you do not get exposure to English except via the Cambridge practice tests then getting a high band score is going to take a VERY long time and in some cases where a student’s English is not of a high level it will be impossible.

There are no short cuts. Either you have the language or not and no amount of IELTS practice can make up for a lack of good English language skills just as really great language may still not get you your score if you don’t prepare well for the exam itself.

So, particularly in the speaking, make sure you give yourself the best chance and start to practice as soon as you can and way before you go into the exam.

When it comes to speaking there is no substitute for actually doing it, getting out into the world and creating opportunities to use English with other people. These don’t have to be English native speakers – you can practice with other people who speak well or with other IELTS candidates who are looking for the same band score as you.

Yesterday I was speaking to Zakir from Pakistan. He is taking his test this week and he told me how in the last test he only scored a low score but wanted to get a 6 or 6.5 this time. His strategy for improving his score is to speak every day with a friend who is about the same level and they go through the test pretending one of them is the examiner and the other the IELTS candidate. They choose lots of topics and ask and answer the questions as if it were the real exam. They also take some time to chat as well. I was amazed at his level of fluency and confidence through using this simple technique to improve his speaking.  If you don’t have the chance to speak to a teacher, join a class or converse with English speakers then a simple arrangement like this will really help you to get some fluency and use your English.

On my Gapfillers site I encourage members to find speaking buddies – other members who are on the same IELTS journey who they can connect with on Skype in order to practise the speaking. I also run speaking workshops where we practise the test and talk about how to approach the speaking using practice exercises to improve performance. The speaking may only be a short part of the test but I really feel that it is one in which you can have a lot of influence over your score so it’s really worth making that extra effort to make it good!

So, here are some tips to improve your speaking:

  • Find speaking buddies to practise with
  • Record yourself – it’s good to hear how you sound and this will help you to hear where you hesitate or where your speaking might not be clear
  • Take any opportunity you can to speak – join a local English club or start one yourself! Look for an online one or start one yourself
  • Choose some topics write them on bits of paper, fold these up, put them in a container – everyday choose one at random and speak about it non-stop for 1 minute (then extend to 2 minutes) Choose some ‘silly’ topics like oranges or purple shoes etc.. if you can manage 2 minutes on this then the IELTS Part Two will not be a problem
  • Don’t stick to IELTS books go beyond this and just get out into the world to found opportunities if you have a wider experience then you will have much more to say in the IELTS exam
  • For pronunciation find recordings of poems or other short pieces and try to imitate the speakers – record yourself and compare

Finally, look at the video at the top of this post. There is a question at the very end. Make sure that YOUR answer is YES!

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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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 29, 2011

What should you do if you don’t get the IELTS score you need?

 Sometimes it happens, you study hard, you know you have ”all your ducks in a row’, you are really prepared, motivated and ready for the exam but somehow, for some reason you don’t get the result you need and it’s a BIG BLOW.

Some of my own students have experienced this and I shared the disappointment with them, especially as I really knew that they had everything they needed at their fingertips to pass with the band they wanted. Something had gone wrong on the day and the task in hand now would be to do a post-mortem and then decide on a way forward.

So here’s my plan of action that you can put in place when your exam doesn’t give you the score you want.

1. Firstly, be assured that you HAVE NOT FAILED, you haven’t quite got your target score but if you have scored 6.5 instead of 7 then that is a VERY good score! Allow yourself to feel disappointed, angry, despairing, whatever emotion you feel – go through this – you have to get over the disappointment before you can move on. Talk to whoever you feel you need to talk to or hide in your room for 3 days if that’s what you need to do – get it out of your system!

2.  After the initial hurt has passed you should feel more inclined to think about the exam – what happened? I think this stage is important as unless you address where you made the mistakes it’s very difficult to move on in a positive way. Ask yourself these questions:

  • was I really ready for the exam (did my teacher advise me against taking it, for example?), be honest
  • what happened in each paper; did you finish, did you say enough in the speaking, did you do something new or different, how much guessing did you do, were you too anxious, or even too confident – try to get an overview of the day
  • how did you feel about the questions were they straightforward, were they difficult,
  • how were you on the day – did you feel rushed, were you confident, too nervous, petrified etc..
  • try to get a picture

3. Now it’s time to ‘get back on your bike’ and try again – but with the knowledge and experience you have gained from this last experience.

4. From your analysis of your exam you should have an idea where you might have performed less than your best and this is what you must address while not allowing the other areas to drop.

  • work on these ‘problem’ areas in more detail
  • put a study plan in place
  • if you need only revise one area and the score was close, set a provisional (or actual) date for your next exam
  • if you had more than one lower score then you may need to go back to the drawing board and find out what is going wrong – perhaps get some professional help
  • if this keeps happening then you will have to change the way you are approaching your preparation – it could be that you are becoming an expert at a particular score and you need to ‘up your game’ to move away from this

5. Maybe you can’t work out what went wrong and you came away from the exam feeling very confident that it had all gone really well. It can be dangerous to be over-confident and it might be worth checking with a teacher that you really have the skills at the level you want. If this is confirmed then it was probably a fluke and you should keep up the practise but go back and take it as soon as possible (this is especially the case if all scores were very high except one e.g. if you got 3x band 8 and a 6.5 which was unexpected). If, on the other hand, your teacher thinks that your English level is below your desired band score then you need to get more English language practice and you MUST address this first.

6. Finally ‘don’t give up’. This is a setback and if you are on-track for the score you need you WILL get it. Keep focused, keep improving your skills and keep motivated. Every day you will be improving and IELTS is only the starting point for your future so none of the preparation you do will be wasted, it will all help you when you need to use the language day in, day out on your course or in your job.

Here are some other posts that might help you when you are feeling fed up and want to give up your IELTS dream:

 How to keep motivated in language learning

 Setting SMART goals for your English language learning

 Is learning English becoming overwhelming?

Check out the IELTS category (on right of this page) for more posts on IELTS 

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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