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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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

August 20, 2011

IELTS Myths

I have worked with IELTS students for many years and over this time students have told me many things about the IELTS exam that I term ‘myths’.

The reason I consider them to be mythology is because they are mostly not true and secondly they can become a huge distraction to students who are preparing for the exam. At best they are harmless pieces of  ‘folklore’ but sometimes they can actually be detrimental and act against good performance in the exam.

So here are 10 IELTS Myths (there are plenty more) all of which have been said to me by my students quite recently. I want to explain to you why you should ignore these and stick to the real work of preparing successfully for your exam!

In this post I would like to explode some of these myths and explain why IELTS candidates should ignore them.

 

 

So here are my top 10 myths:

  • You can get a higher band at X centre

When I was an IELTS examiner in London some years ago,  this belief used to amuse me. I often examined with other examiners who attended various different centers. We would meet each other at different centres and so wherever students went for their IELTS exam the same examiners would be there! There are many more centres nowadays but examiners do still move around.

Secondly, examining the IELTS  is standardised and all examiners do a lot of training to ensure that they are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ i.e. all giving a standardised result. Wherever you take the exam you will get the same experience and chance.

  • Some examiners are stricter than others

If you take on board what I’ve said above then this cannot be true. All examiners have to give all candidates the same experience and they train rigorously for this.

All examiners want you to be successful and get a good score but they can only score what you give them on the day!

  • Only x number of candidates will get a high band at each centre

Every IELTS candidate has the same chance and if you perform well enough to achieve a high band then you will get a high band.

The way to make sure that you get the band you want is to prepare well, make sure that your English is at the right level and not waste time worrying about these things.

  • If I pause for more than 10 seconds in the speaking I can’t get a high band

This could be a very dangerous thing to believe because it means that you are counting time instead of thinking about how you perform in the speaking test.

I am quite sure that the examiner is not checking the length of your pauses. If they were doing that they would not be paying attention to what you say and then they would not be able to score you at all! If you think about this it is ridiculous.

It is true that if you hesitate too much then your speaking will not be fluent and that will affect your score. Instead of counting pauses though, make sure that you can answer the questions fluently. Counting the length of your pauses can only interfere with your communication and I am sure that it will end up being stilted.

  • Certain centres will not give high bands to candidates from x country

This is a new one on me. Examiners only check passports to see that you are the person you say you are. Their role is to test your English performance and not to make judgements about your nationality. IELTS examiners have no control or influence over visas – they are simply assessing your English.

  • I have to include these words (usually a list) in my task two or I won’t get a high band

Sadly I have seen essays that are ‘word-packed’ and often the communication is lost. The most important thing about the essay is that you answer the questions in a communicative and convincing way. You are at liberty to use any words and phrases you wish and,of course, if you use a range of good vocabulary that will hep you with your final score but throwing words at the essay just because you think they will impress the examiner is a dangerous thing to do. Using words appropriately and sensibly to give your essay some sophistication will get you marks but throwing words at your essay willy-nilly because you think they will earn you marks won’t help you at all.

It’s better to spend your time broadening your overall vocabulary and perfecting your writing style so that you are able to use new words in the right way.

  •  I have to keep practising the IELTS practice test to get a good band score

This can be a very boring and limiting way of preparing for the test. While it is important to prepare for the IELTS and understand what is expected in each part of the test, you need to remember that this is a test of English and the better your English, the better your chances of doing well. Don’t limit yourself to IELTS tests use the great wealth of English language material on the internet to help you too.

  •  IELTS is the most difficult English exam

IELTS is actually a very straightforward exam – there are no tricks. It tests your ability to use English in certain tasks at a certain level and that is all. There are many tests of English for many different purposes and if you are well prepared and have the right English level (this is very important – you need to be band 7 to get band 7) then IELTS is no more difficult than any other exam.

  • If the examiner doesn’t like my opinion I won’t get a high band

The examiner’s job in the writing and speaking is to see if you are able to present ideas and arguments in good English and to test that those ideas are plausible and backed up so that they are convincing. At no time will the examiner judge your ideas (as long as they are sensible and fit in with the question).

You are in control of your speaking and writing not the examiner. You should use this position to demonstrate your excellent use of English. If you are waiting for the examiner then you will not perform as well. Take the lead and convince the examiner of your opinions.

  • I have to give the examiner the answer they want in the speaking

This tallies with the above myth. The examiner has a list of questions that they will ask you but it is your job to take those questions and use them to demonstrate your English. The examiner has no idea what your answers will be and they also have no idea in their head of  an answer that they want – that is your job. They will simply listen and mark you according to how you managed to respond.

 

So my advice is not to listen to these myths they will not help you. You should concentrate on what will help you and that is sustained, regular practice in both your English language and the IELTS exam preparation.

 

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

May 19, 2010

Preparing for language exams

I’ve just been helping my 11 year-old daughter prepare for an end of term French test. I was ironing and she was at her books. We practised some short dialogues about the weather, transport, time etc.. did some drilling on pronunciation, new words and word order and then the usual recitation of irregular verbs. Two weeks ago another daughter took her GCSE French oral exam. This was a little more involved, we practised dialogues on given topics and I sent her a couple of questions in French during the day as text messages and she responded. Our big area of grammar was tenses.

My reason for describing this is not to give you an insight into domestic bliss in our household or to boast about my dedication to my children’s education. In fact I have two older daughters, now working, neither of whom speak any language other than English (cobblers’ children and all that). No, in fact it got me thinking about language exams and approaches to language exams and what activities might be most productive when facing a language exam.

I’d like to explore first what language exams are. In my opinion, they are simply benchmarks showing staging posts along a journey of developing and enhancing skills. They show that at some stage a particular level of skill was reached. That doesn’t mean to say that someone is still able to demonstrate that level and herein lies the rub! Skills can get rusty if you don’t keep practising them. I don’t see a language as an academic pursuit (the literature and other studies around language such as linguistics, philology etc.. are excluded here). To me it is akin to learning to drive, or playing a musical instrument or even achieving a certain level of physical fitness.  Language development starts small and then grows. See how any baby develops language and you will see this. It is ‘additive’ in its nature. You cannot enter at Upper Intermediate level and expect to perform well (let me know if this has happened!). We start with a foundation (however you choose to learn) and then build on this. The more you build the better you get just the like the more you drive the better you become.

(see my post ‘Are some people better at learning languages than others?‘)

OK  so how is this important for exams? It is important because language exams in my opinion need a different approach – I don’t believe you can ‘revise’ for a language exam in the same way that you would revise for a history or a medical exam. You need to practise for a language exam and the more practice you get the better you will be. OK this is trite stuff you may think – it’s obvious.  If so, then why do I see time and time again students going over and over practice tests instead of getting out and about in the language! Practice tests are more about exam technique than they are about language proficiency. Why do students have a slot in their revision timetable for ‘English’/’French’/’German’ revision? Why do my students, when I return their corrected writing to them, put it carefully in their folders where it never sees the light of day again and why am I told when I set about the present perfect tense for the umpteenth time, ‘we’ve already learned this!’ – been there, done that. The truth is you need to keep going there and doing that and each time you do, push your usage a bit further forwards. If you are guilty of some of these then take heed – you could be making the process far more difficult than it needs to be!

So, some top tips for preparing for language exams:

  1. Don’t make the exam the be all and end all of your language learning.  In fact, I think you should be thinking something like “I’ve really made good progress here, perhaps I’ll consider taking an exam.” –  rather than -“I need to get FCE, CPE etc.. when can I take the exam!”
  2. Don’t leave your exam preparation until the last minute – make sure you go over areas that you are not sure about immediately after your lesson/online session.
  3. Make sure you do something each day (it’s like learning the piano or improving your fitness level – 10 minutes per day is better than 30 minutes once a week). Try something like Gapfillers word of the day or daily practice.
  4. Do things you enjoy – all language learned is relevant it really doesn’t matter if it didn’t come up as an IELTS topic last year! In your speaking and writing tests YOU ARE IN CHARGE  use any language you like as long as you address the topic (and remember it doesn’t have to be true!)
  5. Be critical of yourself – don’t accept mediocre, if you are not sure ask or test it out.
  6. Jump in and try using phrases, words and new grammar the feedback will tell you if you’re on the right track – best to find out now before you use it in your exam!
  7. Use the internet – no excuses now for not having enough exposure. Listen to videos on your favourite subjects (that way you’ll be involved in something you enjoy too). Read, watch, listen, find grammar and vocabulary exercises – bookmark the ones you find useful so you can come back again.
  8. Try and think in your target language – do this during your short daily practice (see my post on Thinking in English – how to make it happen)
  9. Make sure you are a bit better than the exam requires you to be that way you’ll be more relaxed when you take it.
  10. You should use the exam to demonstrate your ability – make sure you have things to say/write. Make sure you learn language that can be adapted to different topics and scenarios

With as much exposure to and practice in the language as possible and an approach to your study that is both systematic and enjoyable, you should pass the exam with flying colours!

January 18, 2010

10 top tips for improving IELTS Scores

Having done a lot of work with IELTS students (in fact eons ago I administered the Davies Test which was a pre-cursor of IELTS!!) I felt it might be useful to pass on a few ideas I give my own students who are preparing for this test.

In the next 3 posts I plan to give an overview of the way to approach the tests and then look in more detail at Reading and Writing and then Speaking and Listening.

Most of the students I work with need to achieve a band score of 7 or 8 and in some cases they require a band 7 in each part of the test. This is no easy task and in order to be successful you need to be prepared for not only hard, but also smart work.

If you are preparing for this test:

  •  How do you feel about it?
  • What is your experience?

Please share your thoughts on IELTS in the comments box below.

I am sure that much of what I say in this overview you will have heard before but it is tried and tested and should be given consideration.

Three Golden rules for IELTS:

  1. Remember it is a test of your English language ability.
  2. The better your English language skills,  the easier it will be to approach the test.
  3. Concentrating on IELTS books and IELTS practice tests alone is not the best way to prepare for the exam. 

This may sound obvious, but the emphasis should be on improving your language skills not practising for test.

The test is a means to an end not an end in itself and the danger of only concentrating on the test is that you are not seeing the wood for the trees!

ie: You may be lucky enough to pass the IELTS with the score you need but you will not be adequately prepared for what comes after it – your course, your job etc…

  • How do you feel about this advice? Do you agree?

7 more things you can do to make you better prepared for IELTS:

  1. Use the language around you. If you are in an English speaking country then this is easy. If not then use the internet.
  2. I you have the chance, join an English speaking club where you can practise your speaking regularly (this could be a book club, cultural exchange or a hobby club) – or start one yourself with other ‘IELTS’ friends and have one rule – ‘English only’! See if you can invite native speakers to give short talks at your meetings. The value is in the speaking and trying to improve fluency.
  3. Do one English activity every day – listen to the radio, watch a film, read a magazine or newspaper article, have a conversation in English. Make it something that you are interested in and then ENJOY it!
  4. Volunteer to do something where you have to speak English – read to the children at your local primary school, help some high school students with their English etc… (if you live in an English-speaking country there are many opportunities – go to your local library to find out.)
  5. Join an online community. There are several to choose from, try out a few and see which you like. My own is Gapfillers, everybody welcome!!
  6. Practise little and often. Choose one activity at a time – for example reading, and really concentrate on that during your daily practice.
  7. Make sure you understand why things are wrong, go over any mistakes and learn from them. If you have a lot of mistakes then do the exercise again.
  • If you have other tips that you can add here please share them with us.

Here are some other posts that might be useful:

Here are some exercises you might like:

In my next post we will look at ways of  approaching the IELTS Reading and Writing tasks.

Why not subscribe to the rss feed on the right of this page so you don’t miss any 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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