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Don’t stop at 7. Go and get that 9!

Dear Ryan,
Thanks to your guidance, I was able to increase my writing score from 6.5 to 7.5, and then to 8.5! I really don't believe I could have done it without you.
-Imam Mohamed

Hi Ryan,
I am so happy to inform you that I scored 7.5 in writing!
-Sunish Manalody

Hi Ryan,
Thanks for your help, I’ve scored band 8 in writing.
-Vladan Martinovic

Hi Ryan,
I prepared just by looking at your videos and scored 7.5! Thank you!
-Rahul Paldiwal

Hi Ryan,
I would like to thank you for your very helpful lessons. I finally got 7 in all modules and can now start residency processing for New Zealand!
-Kiran Kiccha

Hi Ryan,
I obtained a writing score of 8.5. Your videos were instrumental in helping me achieving this score. Thanks, mate!
-Carlos Flores

Hi Ryan,
Thank you for my 8.0 writing score. You ebook played a pivotal role in my success!
-Awais Butt

Hi Ryan,
I read your blog every day and scored 7.5 in writing!
-Vikrant Mahajan

I went from band 6.0 to 7.5 following Ryan’s coaching!
-Viacheslav Porotikov

(Model essay) Sample discussion essay response

Posted on January 29, 2012 by - 22 Comments

(This question seen on the General exam in Brisbane, Australia.)

Some believe that students who fear their teachers excel academically. Others believe students work better when they have a friendly relationship with their teacher. Discuss these views and provide your opinion.

Education styles vary from one place to another. Among some circles, it is felt that students who hold a modest level of trepidation for their teachers excel in their studies to a greater degree than students who consider their teacher a friend. Both sides of this argument will be analysed before a conclusion is reached.

On the one hand, many contend that better academic results are attained by teachers who instil a degree of fear in their students. High school instructors in Shanghai, for example, have an extremely rigid teaching style that involves disciplining students for every mistake they make, no matter how small. Although this system may seem callous, it gets results, as Shanghai’s high school students placed top in the world last year for an international standardised aptitude test. As this shows, students who are afraid of their teachers excel in their studies.

On the other hand, many people contest the above and argue that students who share friendly relationships with teachers work better. For instance, the American education system typically allows students to experience a much more intimate relationship with their teachers and many argue this helps implant young people with inspiration. As the US is the most innovative country in the world today, there may be some merit to this argument. Thus, it is understandable why many feel students learn to work better under this educational arrangement.

Following this debate, I agree that a teacher should be an approachable person that nevertheless induces a healthy sense of fear and respect in their students, and I hope this balance will be present in the teachers of the future.

(Video) Run through this video series to brush up on your grammar

Posted on January 28, 2012 by - 7 Comments

I’m very happy to see mrthoth is back making his videos on English grammar (which are by far the best I’ve come across online).  If your written grammar is weak, these videos are a must-see.  Visit his YouTube channel here to watch all 55 videos.

Grammar is a cornerstone of the IELTS writing process.  User mrthoth’s latest video ‘What is a verb?’ is a real straightforward look at how a complex English sentence can be built upon a very basic partnership between a subject and verb.  In the essays I mark every day, I often see students that try to write long, elaborate sentences in an effort to impress their reader.  The problem is that they do not fully understand very rudimentary grammatical practices.  Thus, they are trying to build complex sentence structures on a shaky foundation, which of course leads to problems.

Here is mrthoth’s ‘What is a verb?’:

(Article) Interpreting modest variations in IELTS essay questions

Posted on January 26, 2012 by - 39 Comments

Recently, IELTS Blog reported that the following essay question was seen on the Academic exam in Taipei:

Employers now tend to prefer employees with good social skills in addition to good qualifications. Social skills are getting more and more important compared to qualifications. Do you agree or disagree?

Wouldn’t it be nice if all IELTS essay questions were so straightforward!  Whenever I see ‘do you agree or disagree’ my mind relaxes.  I know immediately what my writing process is going to look like and how I am going to structure it.

However, the reality is that IELTS essay questions come in an infinite number of styles and there is a very good chance you will NOT receive a ‘do you agree or disagree’ type question on your exam.  In this article, I would like to discuss exactly how to interpret the modest variations in IELTS essay question wording and how they dictate the manner in which you need to respond.  (I am assuming that you have already watched my video series on how to structure argument and discussion essays.)

Firstly, as I’ve outlined in my videos, IELTS essay questions can be broken down into several parts.  For today’s lesson, we are concerned with the instruction words part of your question.  This is the part of the question that TELLS you to do something and is almost always the last sentence in your Task 2 description.  Common instruction words include:

To what extent do you agree?

Take a stance and support your opinion with examples.

Write an essay illustrating your position.

How do you feel about this?

Discuss all sides of this issue.

What should be done about this problem?

Do you think this is a viable solution?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

The problem students typically have with deciphering these types of instruction words is really understanding what is being asked of them.  Resolving this issue is not nearly as complicated as you might think.  The key is to look at your Task description and pose yourself a simple question:

Am I being asked to state a position or am I being asked to analyze something?

Your response to this question will dictate with accuracy the type of essay you need to compose.  If you are being asked to state a position, you will need to respond using argument essay structure.  If you are being asked to analyze something, you will need to respond using discussion essay structure.  It’s really that simple.

All too often, students allow subtle differences in wording confuse them.  For example, what is the difference between:

Do you agree or disagree?

and

To what extent do you agree?

The answer is: nothing!  Both sets of instruction words are asking you for a position.  One just states this request using a more complicated wording.  (If I had a dollar for every time a student asked me what the difference was between the above 2 questions, I would be a very wealthy person!)

So when we see a phrase like:

To what extent do you agree?

…we should realize that we are being asked to state an opinion.  Thus, structuring our essay to discuss different points of view would be awkward.  We would need to choose a structure that allows us to state clearly what our position is and why that position should be supported.  Therefore, an argument style of essay would be employed.

So what should we do if we see something like this:

How do you feel about this?

What should be done about this problem?

Do you think this is a viable solution?

First ask yourself, ‘am I being asked to state a position?’  If your answer is ‘yes’ (as it would be for all three of the above examples) then you know that you are going to need to write an argument essay, stating your opinion in your thesis.

How about these:

Discuss all sides of this issue.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

What are the merits and drawbacks of this problem?

As you can see, all 3 questions are requesting that we analyze issues.  Thus, we are best to respond using a discussion style of essay.  This style of essay allows us to state our position only after analyzing a series of data.

OK, so let’s assume we now understand how to respond to these sorts of questions.  But what do we do when faced with double questions, like these:

Do you agree or disagree?  Write an essay either supporting or refuting this statement.

What is your position?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of this situation?

Do you think this is more positive or negative?  Analyze all sides of this debate.

Although these sorts of questions may look tricky, they are not.  We simply follow our same pattern as before.  For each question, ask yourself:

Am I being asked to state a position or am I being asked to analyze something?

If your answer for both indicates you are being asked to state a position (as in example 1), respond using argument essay structure.

If your answer is that 1 asks you to state a position and the other asks you to analyze something (as in example 2), respond using discussion essay structure (don’t forget that discussion essay structure allows you to share your opinion at the end of the essay, and this is where you’ll state your position).

If your answer for both indicates you are to analyze, write a discussion essay.

Interpreting essay questions is not nearly as hard as it at first seems!  If you have an essay question in mind that is still stumping you after reading this article, please post it to the comments section and we can discuss it together.

(Please read) I am going to be without Internet access for 5 days…

Posted on January 19, 2012 by - 5 Comments

This weekend marks the beginning of Chinese New Year. This year I am going to be spending 5 days in the Chinese province of Anhui. Where I will be does not have access to the Internet.

To my online students planning to send me Task 1 or 2 responses over the next few days: if possible, please send me your work today (ryanthiggins@gmail.com).  If this is not possible, I will be checking my email once this weekend from Anhui (on Sunday night).  In China, however, Gmail appears to be blocked in most rural areas, so there is a good chance I will not be able to reply to you until I get home next Wednesday.  After I get back to Shanghai, there shouldn’t be any break in my work schedule until June.

Thanks for understanding!  Hope everyone has a pleasant year of the dragon.

Ryan

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Your IELTS Speaking will improve by the end of this video!

Listen to the conversation without the pauses: http://ieltsielts.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IELTS-Speaking-Mock-Test-2-Version-1.mp3

Here is a transcript of the IELTS Speaking demonstration seen in this video:

What is your full name ?

Good morning. I’m Ryan Higgins.

What should I call you?

Please call me Ryan.

Thank you. What country are you from?

I’m from Canada.

Please give me your identification.

Here you are.

Thank you. Now, in this first part, I’d like to ask you some questions about yourself. Are you working or are you a student?

I am a student.

OK. Can you tell me about your studies?

Sure. I am currently a fourth year student at the University of Toronto. I’m completing a Bachelor of Science and majoring in chemistry. I thought about doing a minor in English Literature to branch out my education a bit, but I decided against this when I discovered how heavy my chemistry workload would be.

Are you enjoying your studies?

Yes, very much so. This semester, I spend three days of every week studying in a lab, which I find interesting. My professors are terrific and very passionate about both chemistry and teaching. So, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from them. In fact, I’ve enjoyed them so much that after graduating I am going to pursue a Master’s degree.

Oh, that’s wonderful. And what do you plan to do with these qualifications?

Well, that’s a very good question. I’m sort of feeling it out as a go along. At times I think about perhaps becoming an academic and teaching at a university. I think the theatrics of instructing students in a university lecture hall would be exciting. But other times I think I would like to apply my skills to a research company, develop new chemical ways of doing things. That could also be interesting.

So, to answer your question, my plan is currently a work in progress.

IELTS Academic and General Task 2 - How to write at a band 9 level

Buy Ryan’s Task 2 ebook here: https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?i=929957&c=single&cl=166811

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Thank you. Do you have any hobbies or interests?

Yes, I do. I like to read a lot. I mean, read books unrelated to my studies. For example, I like reading about history. I’m currently reading a book on 20th Century American history that is quite good.

But aside from reading, I like to play ultimate Frisbee, which is a sport that is quite popular on campus. It involves a lot of running, so it is good exercise in addition to being fun.

Um, I’m keeping up with this TV show called Breaking Bad. My friends and I usually get together every week to watch the new episode.

So, I suppose those three things are what make up almost all of my free time.

Do people usually continue their hobbies when they get older?

I imagine many people do, although these hobbies may evolve. For example, people may continue the hobby of reading, but they may read about different things. I know I don’t read about the same things I did 5 years ago. I also think people experiment less as they get older. People find things they like to do and then continue to do them. So, to answer your question, yes, people continue their hobbies.

Thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about your life at university?

Well, I live on campus. I like living on campus. It is convenient for me to get to class. I also have a meal plan, which means I do not have to worry about preparing dishes for myself. I have several friends in my program, so we often form study groups to review what we learned in our lectures. We also use the university gym and library a lot. So, my university life is somewhat of a microcosm. Everything we need is here.

Is there anything you would change about your life at university?

Actually, very little. I suppose the residences do get a little chilly in the winters. Sometimes it can be a drag marching to class in wet snow. But, hmm, honestly, there are very few things I would change.

Do you ever interact with students studying in other programs?

Again, not really. Chemistry students at U of T often keep to themselves. We might on occasion meet other science majors. But, no, we sort of share a small existence among each other.

Thank you. Now I’d like to ask you to speak one to two minutes on a topic.

Normally, you would have one minute to plan your answer, but for the sake of this recording we are going to skip this step.

Your cue card reads:

Describe a special day in your life.

-What happened on this day?

-What events made this day special?

-What impact has this day had on your life?

Please share any details you feel help describe this day.

Remember you have one to two minutes to deliver this monologue. I’ll tell you when the time is up. Start speaking now, please.

I’m going to talk about my first day as a university student. My parents drove me from our home in Ottawa, so the journey took about 5 hours. I remember feeling a bit anxious because I didn’t know what to expect. It was also my first time living away from home, so this added to my nervousness.

Anyway, the day was special because it very quickly made me feel welcome in a new community. As you know, the first week of university is sort of a period of orientation, so it is a time when all of the second year students make all of the new first year students engage in crazy activities that help them make friends and feel welcome and get to know the culture of the university.

So when my parents and I drove onto the campus, we saw second year students wearing bizarre costumes and dancing in strange ways. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. They were singing strange songs and encouraging the first year students to get involved. We first year students were grouped into teams and given team T-shirts and instructed to do crazy things, like throw jelly at each other or make up a crazy dance on the spot.

The impact this day had on my life is significant. As I mentioned, I feel this day introduced me to an institution and to people I will be attached to for the rest of my life. It also showed me that taking people out of their comfort zone can help them quickly develop friendships with others.

So, overall, this day is a moment in my life I will always reflect upon fondly.

Thank you. Do you think it is important for universities to arrange this week of orientation?

Yes, definitely. As I mentioned, I think it helps people to quickly develop friends. Friends can really ease a person’s transition into university life. Because the bizarre games you play during orientation week happen on different parts of the campus, you rapidly get to know the layout of the university and where the different buildings are. So yes, I think it is very important for universities to dedicate a week to orienting students.

Thank you. Now I’d like to ask you a few more questions about moments in life. What do you think are the most important decisions a person makes in their life?

Hmm, that’s a deep question. Let me think for a second. Well, choosing a person to marry is of course a very big decision. You need to choose someone that shares the same values. Hmm, I suppose choosing a career is also important. I think it is vital that a person is passionate about the work they do. Spending your life doing a job you don’t really like would be depressing.

I suppose those would be the two most major decisions a person typically makes.

Do you think making these decisions is easier today than 25 years ago?

Umm…No, I don’t think so. I suppose people are more social today and there are more avenues for being social, so meeting potential marriage partners is easier. But I think that this actually makes it harder for people to settle down and get married. 25 years ago, people didn’t have so many options. Choosing a partner was easier.

And as far as a career is concerned, I also think there are way more options today than there were 25 years ago. So this can make the decision more difficult.

How about between cultures? Do you think making these decisions in one culture would be easier than in another?

Umm…let me see. Yes, I suppose so. Considering that in some cultures people aren’t able to make these decisions for themselves. In some cultures, a person’s parents decide whom they will marry and what they will do for work. I guess this may be easier, but I’m not sure easier is always better.

You mentioned that there are more avenues today for communication between people. Do you think this is, on the whole, a good thing?

I think the overall effect is a positive one. The exchanging of ideas is never a bad thing. It is accelerating the rate at which the human family is developing. I think it is also encouraging cultural exchange, which promotes peace between nations.

I suppose there may be a few small drawbacks. For example, I’ve heard that Internet addiction has become a serious problem among increasing numbers of young people in several Asian and I think even many western countries. It discourages face-to-face communication,

and this can cause all sorts of behavioural issues among young people.

But as I said, this small drawback is far outweighed by the benefits.

So do you think Internet use among young people is something that should be restricted?

I wouldn’t say “restricted”. It should be “monitored”. I feel young people should know how to use the Internet. Knowing how to look up information is a key skill in the modern world, so I feel completely restricting young people from using the Internet would be a mistake. So long as they aren’t using it excessively, I do not think Internet use is a very big problem.

How do you think people will communicate in the future?

I imagine that face-to-face communication will always have a role in basic human interaction. But, that said, I feel people are going to increasingly use electronic devices to talk with one another. Today, I use Facebook and my mobile to keep in touch with family and friends around the world. I think I talk to them by voice less than I would if I did not have tools like Facebook and Twitter and Whatsapp. So, I feel that in the future, electronic device use is going to become increasingly central to how we communicate with one another.

Are there any negatives to this trend?

Um, well, I suppose there are some negatives, but these negatives are far outweighed by the benefits. I suppose for people that communicate electronically the majority of the time, these sorts of people may feel nervous or awkward when in situations that demand face-to-face communication. But I feel the positives of using technology to communicate with others far outweighs the negatives. I mean, prior to the smart phone, I wouldn’t have been able to chat with distant friends throughout the day and send instant photos to them.

Thank you. That is the end of the speaking test. Students listening to this recording may now play the second version of this test to practice their speaking.

 

You construct a band 9 essay by the end of this video!

IELTS Academic and General Task 2 - How to write at a band 9 level

Buy Ryan’s Task 2 ebook here: https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?i=929957&c=single&cl=166811

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Here is the essay as it appears in the video:

Nowadays, all new town planning should include public parks, shopping malls and sports facilities. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Designing the layout of a new town is an extremely intricate process. The question of what should and should not be included sets the foundation of the town’s identity forever. In my opinion, the addition of public parks, shopping malls and sports facilities is essential to the incubation of community and the encouragement of healthy lifestyles. I thus agree that these items should be included when a new town is being planned, and I will share examples to prove this.

Firstly, public parks and shopping centres help new towns foster a sense of community. For example, my small Canadian town has a very nice park near its centre. At weekends, the open context of the park environment makes it possible for people to meet each other and create friendships. This sort of organic community building is seen in my hometown’s shopping mall, too. Shopping malls encourage interaction, and thus they are great forums within which people can mingle and have experiences that could evolve into friendships. Thus, the helpful role public parks and shopping malls play in the establishing of a new town is clear.

Secondly, sports facilities catalyse positive lifestyle choices among townsfolk. For instance, the central location of my small town’s football pitch is a regular reminder to people passing by that exercise is important. Children in the town are visually aware that sport is accessible to them, and thus they engage in physical activity regularly. This is a clear advantage to town designs that include sports facilities.

As the above shows, public parks, shopping malls and sports facilities are helpful in many ways to the establishment of a town. Their inclusion in the planning of new towns is thus highly recommended.

You choose the prepositions!

 

The essay as it appears in the video:

What are some alternatives to fossil fuels? Do you feel the world will ever stop using them?

Global dependence on fossil fuels continues to be a pressing problem in the modern world. Although environmentally friendly energy sources are available, market prices make these alternatives prohibitively expensive for most people. I argue that humanity will indeed stop using fossil fuels in the future, but this will only happen when the price of cleaner energy sources falls to a point of competition. This will be proved by looking specifically at current trends within solar energy and biodiesel consumption.

Firstly, the increased availability of solar water heaters has made solar energy prices competitive with fossil fuels in some parts of the world. For example, the mass production of solar water heaters in China has led to their adoption as a cheap alternative to water heated using coal. Because this trend comes as a direct result of financial incentive, it is logical to conclude that market shifts will eventually cause green energy to take the place of fossil fuels.

This phenomenon is further exemplified by alternative fuel types such as biodiesel. For instance, although still slightly more expensive than energy sources derived from fossil fuels, biodiesel’s steady decline in price over the past 20 years coincides directly with a rise in its sales in most parts of the world. As most experts argue, a massive shift to biodiesel consumption will occur when prices remain consistently below fossil fuels. Thus, worldwide dependence on fossil fuels can be expected to erode as alternatives become more economical.

As evidenced by these trends in solar energy and biodiesel consumption, humanity is gradually shifting itself from fossil fuels to more environmentally friendly energy sources, and I hope this development continues.

IELTS Academic and General Task 2 - How to write at a band 9 level

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Do the advantages trump the disadvantages in this IELTS essay?

[Note: The word ‘phenomenons’ appears in this video. This should be ‘phenomena’, as it is with reference to the scientific plural.]

More and more students are going to another country for higher education. Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages?

It is very common today for students to go abroad to complete their college or university education. However, this trend presents both advantages and disadvantages to the students and the institutions involved. These items will be analysed in this essay before a position is declared.

The advantages of rising foreign student numbers are numerous. For one, this trend encourages human collaboration and the exchanging of ideas. For example, a Canadian engineering student attending a Japanese university would bring ideas and perspectives different to those of their classmates, a phenomenon that enriches the university’s program and level of discussion as a whole. In addition to this, having studied outside their home country, this student would take valuable international understanding with them, an important second benefit that promotes peace and international friendship. As this example shows, students and the world at large benefit when higher studies are engaged outside the home country.

However, many would argue the globalising of higher education does have certain disadvantages. For many young adults, foreign students may represent a threat to both professional opportunities after school and the overall workforce of their country. In the US, for example, companies scout talent on university campuses, and at select times this means offering employment to a foreign student instead of a local student. Although this scenario does occur, its impact on local graduates and their employment opportunities has been sensationalised by the media and large personalities like President Trump. Moreover, it should be remembered that attracting the world’s most talented students increases opportunities for important phenomena like scientific discoveries. Thus, the disadvantages of students going abroad for higher education are difficult to define.

As the above discussion reveals, the advantages of globalised higher education much outweigh the disadvantages, and I strongly hope countries continue to encourage the growth of their foreign student bodies.

IELTS Academic and General Task 2 - How to write at a band 9 level

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