IELTS Complex Sentences

Q. Some people say I only need to know a few complex sentence structures to do well. Is that true?

No, it’s not true! You MUST master complex sentences and grammar to improve writing, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and speaking.

Understanding a language is about pattern recognition, and sentence structures are the main patterns in English. You MUST be able to recognize these patterns INSTANTLY so that your brain can focus on the meaning of what you see and hear. Otherwise, if you don’t know these complex sentence patterns, your brain will not know the difference between important content words and unimportant structural words. This is because every complex sentence has a lot of structural vocabulary that doesn’t really mean anything; it just shows the relationship between different ideas in a sentence.

As part of the course, you get free access to a powerful course on the most common complex sentence structures in English.

  1. Master the 7 complex sentence structures you need for Band 7 writing and speaking.
  2. Learn to recognize 18 complex sentence structures for a massive improvement in reading and listening comprehension. A full grammar course is included to help you master 12 active voice verb tenses and 8 passive voice verb tenses.

Seven different Speaking Task 3 question types require different grammar in their response structures.

  1. Describing the past and present
  2. Comparison and contrast
  3. Cause and effect
  4. Critiquing an opinion
  5. Giving your opinion
  6. Predicting the future
  7. Discussing conditional and hypothetical scenarios

As well, complex sentences are patterns you MUST LEARN. The 18 most common patterns are taught in this course: you need to RECOGNIZE all of them to improve your reading and listening, but you only need to master 7 of them for Band 7 writing.

This will greatly improve your reading and listening comprehension because it will help you see and hear how sentence parts are chunked together. The structure of English writing will no longer be a mystery!

Working memory is limited; long-term memory is unlimited. This is why you have to master complex sentences.

Working memory is limited to about seven items, and it can process even fewer at the same time, about 2 to 4 new items. However, there is no limit on processing items that are stored in long-term memory. This is why it is critical to master complex sentence structures and grammar.

Broadly speaking, vocabulary is divided into content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) and structural vocabulary, which consists of articles (a, an, the), prepositions (in, after, throughout), auxiliary verbs (will be, has been, could have been), and discourse markers (moreover, in the second place, unfortunately). Research shows that skilled listeners and readers focus on content words while unskilled listeners and readers focus on all words. Why is this? This is because skilled listeners and readers know the structural vocabulary very well and it is processed subconsciously – they don’t need to think about it so they can just focus on what’s important. In contrast, less skilled listeners and readers don’t know enough vocabulary to know the difference between important and unimportant words, so they focus on all of them without discrimination.

This is like learning to drive: when you’re first learning to drive, you’re focusing on your feet on the pedals, your hands on the steering wheel, looking at your three mirrors, minding your speed, and trying not to hit anything. Once you get better at driving, you’re doing all those things automatically so you can focus on other things like listening to the radio or having a conversation. It’s the same with structural vocabulary: your brain processes it automatically and subconsciously so that you can focus on the message, rather than just the meaning of individual words.

On an examination like IELTS, many tips refer to skimming/speed reading. Skilled readers certainly skim/speed read, but they do so effectively because their brain is automatically processing the structural vocabulary so the content words jump out at them. This only works based on your reading skill. You can’t speed read if you’re focusing on the meaning of basic words. Recently in class, we did a reading comprehension quiz: it was two pages (about 1300 words), at a grade 14 level (which is typical of IELTS reading comprehension texts), and students had 20 minutes to read it and answer the questions. One new student spent the entire 20 minutes just reading the text and didn’t answer a single question. This is a reading speed of 65 words per minute compared to a skilled reader’s typical reading speed of roughly 250 words per minute. His working memory was maxed out just trying to make sense of the text. Reading speed on its own is a good predictor of your readiness for IELTS (i.e. your readiness for the real world): a 1300 word text at a university level should take you about five minutes to read.

Thus, if you don’t immediately know the meaning of most words in the text, and if sentence structure is causing confusion, then reading comprehension won’t happen fast enough. There is a reason they only give you 20 minutes per text: if you had all day to read the text and you had a dictionary, you would certainly get 100% on reading comprehension. But that’s too slow to be useful, which is why there’s a time limit. You must have high level vocabulary knowledge and thorough sentence structure understanding.

What’s your reading speed for texts at the university level? Have you timed yourself?