IELTS Intel

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The IELTS Intel Newsletter provides advice on how to avoid common errors, strategies for studying and approaching different question types, vocabulary, model responses, grammar and complex sentence exercises, and webinar replays.

TOP TIPs for Writing

What’s the best structure for IELTS essays?

How many paragraphs should my essay have?


Q. How many paragraphs should my essay be?

I strongly recommend 4 paragraphs for all essay types. The reason is that it’s very difficult to develop more than 2 body paragraphs in the given time of 40 minutes. The templates below are based on many years of experience training students. They are not the only way to structure your essays, but in my opinion, they are the best way given the constraints of the IELTS examination:

  1. For agree/disagree essays, the 2 body paragraph cover the 2 supporting reasons for your position.
  2. For 2 perspectives plus opinion essays, the 1st body paragraph summarizes the perspective you disagree with while the 2nd body paragraph summarizes the perspective you agree with and indicates that this is also your opinion.
  3. For advantages/disadvantages essays,…

READ MORE: What’s the best structure for IELTS writing?


Why is IELTS writing so hard?


Q. Why have I been stuck on Band 6.5 in writing for so long? All my other scores are much higher!

  1. The main reason is that writing is the hardest skill to develop. In speaking, sentence structure and vocabulary matter much less: the listener can’t tell where one sentence ends and another begins. In terms of vocabulary, our spoken vocabulary is MUCH smaller than our written vocabulary.
  2. Band 6 is intermediate level English. Band 7 is advanced level English. Any content development issue, vocabulary problem, or grammar mistakes that cause ANY confusion for the reader will automatically prevent you from reaching Band 7.

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Q. Some people in other programs say they went up a Band really quickly, after only a few lessons. Is it true that you can go up one Band quickly?

Maybe. It depends on whether you have an IELTS problem or an English problem. I recently helped one student go up 1.5 Bands in writing after ONE class. This is the kind of student that teachers like to show off in their ads, but this is NOT a typical student!

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How do I improve my writing?


1. Read a lot of well-written texts.

“Reading ability and reading experience consistently correlate with writing skill.”

Stotsky, 1983

One of the first questions I ask new students is what they read and how much they read. Too often, the answer is “I don’t read anything except social media and whatever my teachers make me read.” Imagine wanting to paint but never going to art galleries. Imagine wanting to golf but never studying how professionals play. Imagine wanting to make movies but never watching any well-made movies. Impossible.

The brain is a pattern-recognition machine. Learning how to do something requires internalizing a massive number of effective models before you can successfully produce your own work. To become a good writer, you have to read A LOT of well-written writing, and you have to PAY ATTENTION to what you are reading. You have to NOTICE how a text is structured and how sentences are structured, and then APPLY those techniques to your own writing.

This IELTS course includes dozens of Band 9 models written by current and former IELTS examiners. Students do powerful, traditional modelling exercises to help them internalize the content development, structure, vocabulary, and grammar of these models. These are the same types of exercises that countless professional writers have used to develop their own skills, and the techniques work 100% when you do them consistently and frequently. You then apply what you have learned in your own writing, which is checked by the teacher. You receive feedback and revise your work, which is then re-checked. At that point, any remaining mistakes are corrected and suggestions are given for improving diction. This is the same system used by professionals, who present their work to an editor for several rounds of critique.


2. Read your work aloud.

Every language has its music, its rhythm, and this is something you internalize SUBCONSCIOUSLY. When students submit their writing, I identify problem areas. I often watch as students make corrections. During the revision process, they are doing something that they do not do while writing their first version: they are reading the problem areas out loud and relying on their ears to tell them what SOUNDS good.

The study of language shows that people are in trouble if they have to operate by conscious rules. The ear, in the last analysis, is the most trustworthy and powerful organ for learning syntax (syntax is the “arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences”).

Peter Elbow, English teaching methodology researcher, 1985

Many authors give student writers the same advice. You know more grammar than you think you do. The problem is that when you are writing, you are relying on your eyes, on the visual language centre in your brain. But the visual language centre is too fast – it focuses on meaning and doesn’t care about how it all sounds. This is how you are able to speed read – your eye jumps from key idea to key idea, ignoring all the transitional and structural language that isn’t essential for meaning. But this is no good for the editing stage.

For the editing stage, reading out loud (even if quietly) forces you to slow down and LISTEN to what you’ve read. It’s just like listening to a musician play. Even if you don’t know how to play that instrument, if the musician hits the wrong note, it just SOUNDS wrong. Similarly, if any part of your writing sounds awkward, you know you need to revise it. Don’t overthink it – just try easier grammatical constructions or simpler vocabulary until you come up with something that SOUNDS good.


3. Master grammar and complex sentences.

It’s only when grammar has been mastered that writing becomes automatic. It’s only when grammar has been mastered that you can focus on content and message coherence. For lower level writers who have not yet mastered grammar, the basic problems with grammar interfere with their ability to produce good ideas because they are overly focused on HOW to communicate, rather than WHAT to communicate. When the writer’s focus is constantly on how to arrange words and conjugate them, the quality of the message suffers. It’s like learning to ride a bike or drive: when you are constantly worried about how to avoid falling or crashing into something, you can’t enjoy the journey, which is what writing should be – an enjoyment of the journey of crafting your message. In other words, you can’t think effectively when you are focused on form rather than meaning.

You can’t focus on two things at the same time. When writing or speaking, you can’t focus on form and meaning at the same time. Before you can fully focus on your message, you must master grammar and complex sentences so that grammar becomes automatic.

TOP TIPs for Grammar

How important are complex sentences for IELTS?


Q. How important are grammar and complex sentence training for IELTS?

Grammar training, especially complex sentence training, is extremely important not just for writing and speaking, but also for listening and reading comprehension.

  1. For writing and speaking purposes, you only need to know seven complex sentence structures.
  2. To improve listening and reading comprehension, you need to know 18 complex sentence structures. If you don’t know these structures, it’s very difficult to understand how different parts of a long sentence go together. I promise that this is not complicated. You have already seen and heard these structures thousands of times (but without realizing what they are) – this training just helps you clearly understand them. With a little bit of practice, it becomes MUCH easier and MUCH faster to read complex texts and to listen to higher-level English.
  3. A full grammar course that includes all the verb tenses and all the complex sentence structures is included. You can go through it on your own step-by-step, but because every student already has a lot of knowledge about grammar, grammar and sentence structure lessons are only assigned based on mistakes that you make.

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 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.

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Click here to view the grammar and complex sentences curriculum covered in this course.

TOP TIPs for Test Preparation

How long does it really take to prepare for IELTS?


Q. How long does it take? How much writing do I need to do? Can I go from Band 6 to Band 7 with feedback on a few assignments?

Your feedback was more elaborate and was custom-tailored to each student, which indicates how much you actually care about your students.”

Dr. Akeil A.F.

Research by Cambridge and CCLB (Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks) shows that it takes the average student…

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Q. Why have I been stuck on Band 6.5 in writing for so long? All my other scores are much higher!

  1. The main reason is that writing is the hardest skill to develop. In speaking, sentence structure and vocabulary matter much less: the listener can’t tell where one sentence ends and another begins. In terms of vocabulary, our spoken vocabulary is MUCH smaller than our written vocabulary.
  2. Band 6 is intermediate level English. Band 7 is advanced level English. Any content development issue, vocabulary problem, or grammar mistakes that cause ANY confusion for the reader will automatically prevent you from reaching Band 7.

READ MORE


Q. Some people in other programs say they went up a Band really quickly, after only a few lessons. Is it true that you can go up one Band quickly?

Maybe. It depends on whether you have an IELTS problem or an English problem. I recently helped one student go up 1.5 Bands in writing after ONE class. This is the kind of student that teachers like to show off in their ads, but this is NOT a typical student!

READ MORE


How important is vocabulary building for IELTS? A lot of websites say I don’t need to worry about learning new words.


Q. How important is vocabulary building?

If you’re already getting Band 7 in every skill area except writing, you don’t need to worry much about vocabulary building.

However, listening and reading comprehension are really vocabulary tests, and guessing words from context DOES NOT WORK if you don’t already know at least 90% of the vocabulary.

For that reason, a powerful vocabulary building system is included in this course. It’s an AI vocabulary app that includes words that frequently appear in academic texts, the kind of texts you will get on IELTS. Because it’s AI, it learns which vocabulary is easy for you and which vocabulary you are struggling with – it then reviews the vocabulary you’re struggling until you finally learn it. This is the most effective vocabulary study buddy on earth! It’s the same system used by Harvard Medical School to help doctors memorize key concepts.

We don’t only use the AI-powered vocabulary app. We also provide PDF vocabulary lists and track learning through short digital quizzes, which let you know how well you are studying. ONLY WHAT GETS TESTED GETS IMPROVED! If you’re not testing yourself, you have no way of knowing if your studying is effective or a waste of time.

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Q. What’s the best way to study vocabulary for IELTS?

The best way to study vocabulary for IELTS is to use the system developed by Toronto IELTS Prep, which incorporates best practices in cognitive science to help you remember new vocabulary.

Principle #1: Test yourself!

Most people review vocabulary lists without testing themselves. This makes you more familiar with the vocab, but you don’t know if you actually remember it or not. The TorontoIELTSPrep.com program has built-in quizzing for vocabulary development: you test yourself and learn at the same time. Vocabulary you don’t know very well or that you got right by guessing is immediately reviewed. The system learns which vocabulary you’re having trouble with and reviews it more often.

You are automatically prompted by email reminders to review your vocabulary. This vocabulary review happens frequently for new words and then more and more rarely based on a scientifically-developed schedule. Review is spaced out in short bursts to maximize learning.

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