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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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The essay in this video was written by IELTS Examiner C. This question was seen recently in Sydney:

These days many people prefer to rent rather than buy their own house. Why is this this so? Discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of renting or buying, and give your own opinion.

Give reasons for your answer and examples from your personal experience where appropriate.

Here is the essay as it appears in the video:

In most major cities in the west, people are opting to rent a home instead of buy. This is mostly because house prices have increased dramatically while personal income has not, a trend that means mortgage repayments now account for a much larger share of income than in the past. Renters have more disposable income every week than buyers and this is a big attraction. However, in my opinion, this is a false economy and in the long run I believe that the advantages of buying a property greatly outweigh the short-term savings to be made by renting.

While it is certainly cheaper week-by-week to rent than pay a mortgage, the renter misses out on the large capital gains to be made when buying a home. When I took out my own mortgage on my two-bedroom apartment, my repayments on a $400,000 loan were about $600 a week, compared with $500 for rental value on a similar property. However, over the past three years my apartment has appreciated by more than $250,000, greatly outweighing the $15,000 I would have saved by renting. In addition to this, my mortgage payments secured an acquisition of property that will remain valuable for my family into the future. Financial growth of this sort is not possible through renting.

Renters do not only lose out on capital gains, they also lose in terms of security and peace of mind. The roof over their heads once their lease is over is always at the mercy of the landlord, who might at any time decide to sell the property. The landlord can also put up the rent when they feel the market warrants it. Further, unless the renter invests their savings judiciously, the money they save will be frittered on day-to-day life, leaving them very much poorer than the buyer once retirement looms.

In conclusion, while a first mortgage will cost more each week than renting, the advantages of buying, including capital appreciation and housing security, greatly outweigh the short-term savings to be made by renting.

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Just 60 minutes to better IELTS Speaking!

Click here to download an MP3 copy of the conversation.

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Band 9 writing under an X-ray!

Thanks to ‘Examiner C’ for this model. Here is the essay as it appears in the video:

Many people think that public celebrations (like national holidays, festivals, etc.) are a waste of money and that the government should spend these funds in a better way.

Do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answer and examples from personal experience where appropriate.

National holidays cost countries and their governments a lot of money. Wages need to be paid to employees despite their absence from work, and a national loss in productivity is experienced. For these reasons, some people suggest governments do away with holidays and instead spend the money on worthy projects. While this might seem at first to be a practical suggestion, I disagree strongly for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is axiomatic that a country’s production of goods declines when workers are not working; however, this is a tiny part of a much larger economic picture. Productivity is a function not only of hours worked but also of energy, drive, and morale. Thus, national holidays, which give workers a chance to relax and to celebrate aspects of their country and their lives, make for a happier and more productive workforce. In Australia, for example, the long weekend is a tradition that helps to unify society by making all feel rewarded and valued in a common enterprise and identity. It is for these reasons that labelling public celebrations ‘a waste of money’ cannot be supported.

Further, having the financial means to start new national projects is a good thing, but the question of apportioning funds in a manner that an entire society agrees is ‘a better way’ is simply unrealistic. A further consideration is the ramifications of pressure put on workers to work 52 straight weeks a year, a policy that could lead to stress-related illnesses and serious social problems. As this shows, the cancelling of public holidays and redirection of funds is an implausible suggestion.

In conclusion, I must affirm that while it is tempting to realise the short-term increase in productivity and savings that would result from abolishing public holidays, the overall cost greatly outweighs the gains.

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A former examiner wrote this band 9 essay…

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Here is the essay as it appears in the video:

Many people believe that a large proportion of a country’s health budget should be diverted from treatment to spending on health education and preventative measures. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Give examples from personal experience where appropriate.

Modern medicine has evolved along two lines: prevention and cure. Many believe that too much emphasis is placed on the latter and that the balance of national health spending should shift to prevention. I am inclined to agree; however, my support is with the stipulation that an imbalance in the other direction should be avoided.

Many modern diseases that require pharmaceutical or surgical intervention, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are induced by poor lifestyle choices. There is an abundance of evidence that these conditions are brought on by such factors as smoking, excessive dietary fat and sugar, and a lack of physical exercise. I have myself lost several family members to cancers and heart disease caused by smoking. Because the cost of treating these diseases is very high, and the prognosis uncertain, the need for preventative intervention is clear.

Fulfilling this need could be exercised in a number of ways. For one, the government could provide more health and fitness centres, and mount a public awareness campaign to encourage people to use them. In addition to this, taxes could be placed on excessive salt or sugar in processed foods, and special taxes could be added to tobacco products to discourage their use. I believe that measures such as these will in the long term dramatically reduce the incidence of certain deadly diseases.

However, it should be remembered that not all examples of modern disease are preventable or predictable, and it is critical to maintain research into cures for all diseases. Thus, in diverting health spending from treatment to preventative measures, countries should encourage a balanced approach to help extend lifespans and maximise quality of life. Prevention may be better than cure, but it can never wholly replace it.

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