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(Article) Are you studying for your IELTS exam online? Increase your productivity with these FREE online tools!

Posted on April 16, 2012 by

Thank you to those of you who came out last night to chat with Ben (of http://www.ieltspodcast.com) and I about your IELTS exam questions. I think we all walked away from the evening with several helpful insights into how to prepare for the exam. If you missed the session, you can download a PDF copy of the entire conversation by clicking here.

After I logged out and was getting ready for bed (it was about 11 pm here in Shanghai at the time), I was struck by a realization: we had spent almost two hours talking about how to prepare for the IELTS exam and NO ONE mentioned using a textbook! I think it is safe to say that electronic media make up the core of any modern IELTS exam student’s study resources.

So in this article, I want to summarize and recap some of the resources that were shared over the course of our evening together. I hope they turn out to be helpful to you and that you make them a part of your daily IELTS routine. I’ll break this article up by exam section to make it a little more organized:

Reading

Ben’s advice was to learn to speed read, and he supplied a link you can use to help train yourself how to do this. Zap Reader is a program that takes any text and presents it to you word-by-word at a speed that you can adjust (by WPM, or ‘words per minute’). Using this tool, you can train yourself to read faster. I suggest you find a sample IELTS reading on the Internet, stick it into Zap Reader and see how much of it you can understand at varying speeds. Perhaps consider trying to do two articles a day for the next few weeks and monitor how your reading speed improves (please leave a comment to tell us by what degree your reading speed has developed).

For students who are at around a reading band 5 or lower, you may be interested to try the reading exercises available online from Pearson Longman (http://www.pearsonlongman.com/ae/marketing/sfesl/practicereading.html). There are several graded articles that provide you with online multiple choice questions to test your comprehension. For those of you higher than band 5, try the exercises available at ExamEnglish.com (http://www.examenglish.com/FCE/f​ce_reading.htm) for quick feedback on your comprehension level.

Most students wanted to know the answer to the question, ‘What strategy should I follow for True/False/Not Given question types?’ Ben and I concluded that if this is an area you are having difficulty with on the exam, it is most likely that you need to bolster your lexical resources. It is important to remember that question vocabulary often differs from the vocabulary you see in the passage. This tricks you into choosing ‘Not Given’ when in fact the answer is given, but worded in a manner you are not familiar with.

Listening

Last night, Ben stated that he feels people learn to listen best when they listen to something they enjoy, and I completely agree. So to strengthen your listening, consider listening to English podcasts on topics you find stimulating. Personally, I like to listen to podcasts on the following topics (perhaps these are of interest to you, too):

A History of the World in 100 Objects – I personally really enjoy listening to this podcast, and I guarantee it will introduce you to a plethora of new vocabulary.

Russian Rulers History Podcast – I find this show very interesting. The host has an American accent (which may not be the most helpful accent for you to study), but I think you will still pick up on a wide variety of English colloquialisms and academic vocabulary.

BBC World Update Daily Commute – This podcast is a digested version of world news that streams daily to your iTunes. Most episodes are only thirty minutes long and perfect for your trip to work in the morning.

If you are unfamiliar with podcasts or how to use them, you need to download iTunes and read this guide. As Ben pointed out, search for podcasts on topics you love: sports, economic news, history, the arts, or whatever you fancy. Doing this will make the daily chore of practicing IELTS listening much more enjoyable.

When you are ready to try some real listenings in the format you will see on the exam, engage the BBC’s Learn English section (http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservic​e/learningenglish/).

Writing

During the evening, we talked a bit about the good and bad sides of memorising cohesive phrases. Ben and I agreed that memorising phrases is alright in the beginning, but you’ve got to practice using these phrases over and over again until they become natural sounding.

What do I mean by ‘cohesive phrases’?

I am talking about those little parts of a language that link one idea to another idea. Some examples of cohesive phrases include:

It is obvious from this that… / On the other hand… / As is apparent… / What is clear from this is… / However, this is not the case when… / Following this trend is…

These are the sorts of phrases that make your writing sound fluent and will help to convince your examiner that you are a master of the language.

I also suggested that students write their own dictionary. This basically involves getting a notebook and jotting down all new words you see and the context in which you see them. Before long, you will have a very extensive list of vocabulary words that you can review to keep your skills sharp.

Speaking

Many students last night shared that they do not have access to native English speakers and thus practicing their speaking was a challenge. To these students, I suggest you listen to the interview Ben did on IELTS Podcast with Berni, an ex-IELTS examiner in this interview, Berni shares a number of very helpful tips on how a student can increase their ability to speak.

In addition to these resources, while chatting last night I shared a few of my online favourites:

Rachel (of http://www.rachelsenglish.com) is a great website you can use to hone your pronunciation abilities. She explains in detail exactly how to shape your mouth to perform certain English pronunciation patterns.

Jennifer (of http://www.englishwithjennifer.com) is an old friend of mine with a huge library of videos on everything ESL related. You may find many of her videos cater to more basic students, but I think even advanced IELTS students can benefit from her pronunciation-focused material.

Hope to see you at our next online chat session!

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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

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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

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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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