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:
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/fce_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.
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):
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/worldservice/learningenglish/).
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.
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!