Free IELTS Help and Tips Blog!

6 February 2016

New student result

Review Review Review!

The IELTS writing part 2 takes 40 minutes to complete, however I tell all my students to see if they can complete the test in 35 minutes.

In this way, you can spend 5 minutes reading through your text carefully and ask yourself the question "Does it sound natural?, does it sound as if a native speaker would say this?".

You will, ask my students find, identify many errors with articles and prepositions and can add more extensive vocabulary. Most of all you need practice doing Part 2 and becoming familiar with the topics that come up again and again.

If you would like my help, I offer private 1-to-1 Skype lessons. I am accepting new students, please email me or visit my site to find out more information.

25 January 2016

New student results!

9 January 2016

Student latest results

24 November 2015

Avoid getting lost in the listening section

Listen out for words that can indicate what stage of the recording you are listening to, e.g. words such as ’to start off with’, ‘my next point’, ‘to summarise’. By caching these words, you can establish what part of the tape you’ve reached if you become confused -this will match with the order of questions.

 Remember also not to simply listen for the set of words that appear in the questions- the test is designed to test your overall understanding of the context and so it’s not possible to get a good score doing this. 

The IELTS listening has a special format that is a little unusual but has great benefits for the candidate.  First, as you might expect, you hear instructions and a sample question to get you into the flow of the test. Then you have time to read the questions in section 1, listen to section 1 and answer the questions. This allows you time to really be listening without worrying about structuring a perfect answer on the test sheet. You can then do the same for sections 2, 3 and 4. 

Lastly, there are 10 minutes in which you will be able transfer your answers onto the answer sheet.

24 September 2015

A great way to assimilate new vocabulary

Kick things off by choosing a newspaper article on a subject that genuinely interests you- be it fashion, TV or anything else- and maybe not an article that’s so long it feels so intimidating!

Read through it and find 5 words that you want to learn and feel are totally new to you. Look at the context in which they are written and write them down.

Now goto Macmillan Online Dictionary which displays lots of examples of the usage of this word. Now try to make sentences yourself. Practice as much as you can and feel confident getting these into your memory so you can use them in the test (and whenever you want to articulate something in English) 

Check for prepositions, adjectives or phrases that are frequently tied to your selected words and learn those too. Finally, you’re ready to retell a summary of the article you’ve just read using those 5 new words.

For Skype IELTS lessons please visit my site and email me.

17 July 2015

Sounding like a native when you speak

When learnng a language a very good goal to set oneself is to sound as native as possible.

My first tip is this: Listen to a podcast or BBC news report - then try to shadow or try to imitate the speaker. Record yourself doing this process. It takes time but ear will naturally adjust.

Another good tip is to notice that native speakers drop certain sounds so that they can speak faster and communicate easier.You just need to make sure it’s the right sounds; otherwise you could lose marks for pronunciation. 

When you have two words that finish with the same consonant sound (not necessarily the same letter, but the same sound) natives will often remove the first consonant – for example, ‘black cat’ or ‘white tin’ would be said ‘bla-kat’ and ‘whi-tin’. Simply finish the first word with the start of the second one- it’s a much smoother way of speaking. 

Also, when a word finishes with a vowel and the next starts with a consonant, we roll these two together to create a new syllable. That means that the phrase ‘not at all’ is actually pronounced ‘no-ta-tall’ by natives, and this allows you to push the words together and speak faster. That’s a common habit in many languages, so maybe it’s familiar to you. Knowing this will help you a great deal in your IELTS listening where you will likely hear phrases said in this way, and won’t be thrown off. Try it out yourself and see how natives react to the way you sound.

If you would like 1-to-1 private lessons with me contact me!

23 June 2015

IELTS Power writing

In Task 2 of the Writing test I would like to recommend you use the British Council’s personally- devised strategy. 

They’ve called this the POWER method 

Planning, Organising, Writing, Evaluating and Revising. These are great steps to take, but they seem a bit obvious, right? Well there’s certainly more to it than that. In your planning stage, be careful to analyse the full question- not just the key words but every word in the question.

Following that you have the chance to clarify the specific topic- for example if the question asks about bad habits, you can say that you are using smoking and drinking as your basis for the question. 

If the question has two parts, tackle them in separate paragraphs but plan to compare and contrast your results in your final, concluding paragraph and bring everything together. Before you begin writing, make sure you have a clear opinion or viewpoint on the issue- you need this in your essay from the very beginning. 

A useful approach that makes your essay feel easy to read and well organised is to use an idea >explanation>example format that helps your audience follow your argument. Finally, revise your work, specifically looking for silly mistakes that easily get onto the paper even though you know they’re wrong- such as missing the ‘s’ from third person verbs or from plural nouns.

Hope that helps, If you would like 1-to-1 private lessons with me contact me!

30 April 2015

Tone of Voice

Under pressure in the Listening test, it’s tempting to choose an answer just because you heard some of the words it includes during the recording. But, watch out- the speaker might have been using a negative and so the opposite of this answer might be true. How can you spot that? 

Well a good start is to listen to the tone of the speaker’s voice. Normally, our voices rise when we are excited, but if the speaker’s tone descends it could mean that they’re giving a negative. You’ll know when someone is asking a genuine question, too, but the way their voice rises at the end, whereas a polite comment that just asks for agreement like ‘nice day, isn’t it’ won’t rise in that way. 

With this information even in the worst case scenario that you miss some of the words in your listening, you can make an educated guess at the answer.

For a private 1-1 Skype lesson with me please visit my site (FREE trial available)

25 March 2015

The fine art of prediction

Seems unfair, doesn’t it, that you’re the one being tested and yet it’s still your job to predict the upcoming questions? But, as I’ve mentioned before, some pre test exposure of the listening test is easy to do (contact me for a lesson:-) that this really is your best answer for success.

Going into a bit more detail, then, here’s what you should be asking yourself as you skim (look through quickly) the questions:  

Who is probably talking and to whom? And then: which specific topic will they be discussing? These questions will direct you to the most useful predictions possible. 

Beware, in your response, of the ‘not given’ option- a somewhat-nasty idea of the examiners’ that makes it much more difficult for confused learners to guess between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and get a good score through luck. I suggest first looking for information to confirm or contradict and only if you can’t justify either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should you consider a ‘not given’ which is unlikely to be the correct answer for the majority of questions. 

You are welcome to book a free trial 15 min lesson with me.

2 March 2015

The ends of numbers

If I could change one thing about English, to make life easier for everyone, I think I might choose making numbers easier to distinguish in English. 

So many numbers begin with the same stem, it’s hard to catch exactly which ending is being said when you have options of ‘four’, forty’ and ‘fourteen’ and yet these are numbers of wildly different size.

In day to day interactions, native speakers often make this mistake too, so it’s common to exaggerate the ending of  an important number so that it’s really audible when speaking on the phone, or to say the digits of the number after you’ve said the word ‘I’m bringing forty, that’s 4-0, friends to yours party!’ 

But, let’s face it; the IELTS recordings are not helpful like that. There is, however, a magical way to increase your chance of hearing the number right. Focus on the stress: numbers ending with ‘teen’ place some emphasis on the second syllable, making it louder and longer, but those ending in ‘ty’ leave that last syllable unstressed, short and quiet. 

Ask a native speaker to say ‘thirteen’ and ‘thirty’ and you should hear a clear difference and hopefully be able to match your knowledge with the correct number in the exam. 

Foe IELTS lessons with me contact me on my site! 

8 February 2015

Getting started with writing a letter

If you’re faced with a letter-writing task in the IELTS, it could feel quite unusual as not many of us write letters these days!

The IELTS examiners might not be particularly modern, but until they start asking students to write sample tweets, you need to be ready for this.

My first tip is to decide the level of formality you need as soon as you've read through the material- you can list some formal/informal language you want to include on the side of the page so you don’t forget. 

Tip two is that your letter needs to be structured like an actual letter. This basically means it must have paragraphs and letter-style greetings. Sometimes I see students spending lots of time writing out a sender and recipient address, with the date etc as if it were a real letter- don’t waste your precious exam time! 

Simply write ‘sender address’ in the top right corner and ‘recipient address’ a little below it on the left- that’s where these details are written in the English-speaking world. The final tip, for now, is word count. Experts recommend writing a minimum of 175 words- the reason being that the examiners deduct marks for anything shorter than 150 and some words may not count towards your score- particularly if they are copied from the question paper.

Look out for more tips on all sections of the IELTS, including letter-writing! 

If you would like Private IELTS lessons, book a lesson with me!

7 January 2015

Expressing your viewpoint

It seems like the IELTS examiners are really interested in your opinions, doesn’t it? They seem to be always asking- in the Speaking test, in the Writing test and even in the reading. You want them to be impressed, not snoring in their chairs when they hear your pearls of wisdom and you want have some interesting points of view. 

Native speakers don’t just say ‘I think’; in fact, I see no harm in banning ‘I think’ from your vocabulary. See how smart you can sound by instead saying ‘As far as I’m concerned’ (notice that you should use a comma after this phrase if you are writing) or even ‘it appears to me that’ for a real air of importance! 

If you’re asked about something that involves a debate, or any formal topic, see what reaction you get from ‘I would argue that...’ or ‘from my perspective’ (again you’ll need a comma with this one) which invites other people to see things the way you do- which is the way it should be, right? A really awesome phrase that make you sound your best might be ‘I am inclined to believe that’ or ‘I am inclined to agree that’ which offer a less definite opinion, but still show off your English skills very nicely.

26 October 2014

Gap fills and heading matching

Sometimes in the IELTS, the examiners smile upon you and give you questions that effectively guide you in skim reading and reading for gist- these are your greatest weapons! 

This type of question tests your ability to read quickly and still gather useful information, so always choose to do these first before other tasks. Using the quick reading techniques we’ve discussed you should be able to completed gap fills and heading matching exercises quickly and this will allow you to speed through other types of questions because you already know the key subsections of the passage, and already know which paragraphs contain what information! 

It’s a great way to cut down on wasted time and to make some reading that you would need to do anyway score you some points. 

For Skype IELTS lessons please visit my site and email me.

5 October 2014

IELTS - Words with a schwa - Writing test

There are a group of difficult words in English that are difficult for native and non-native speakers alike to spell because they are pronounced with 1 or 2 flat schwa /ə/ sounds instead of any sound that could give a clue to their spelling. 

Learn their spelling carefully so that in your IELTS writing you can have them so well known you don't have to think about the, as poor spelling is a fast way to lose marks and create a bad impression. 

If you didn’t know these words were pronounced with schwas, substitute a bland ‘uh’ sound for the vowels that are in bold- this will give you really proficient pronunciation ahead of the speaking test too! 

Here are a few of the usual culprits: definitely, blatant, excellent, category, medicine, separate. Practice makes perfect!

I can help you practice this and many other things to make you confident in the test. Please visit

19 September 2014

Speaking Part 3 Tip

For some students when they are doing Part 3 of the speaking test - things can get quite lengthy and the examiner might start to look at the clock. 

This is expected, and in some ways it is a good sign that you are enthusiastic about what you are talking about.

 Here are a few phrases to smoothly finish what you are talking about and make it look like you meant to do that all along!

 ‘So to reiterate, my response is...’ recognises all that you’ve and makes it clear exactly what your position is (even if you have wandered from what you were talking about). 

Try also ‘And therefore my main point is’ if you’ve made so many different arguments that things have become complicated.

Also ‘and lastly I’d have to say that’ is also a great way to finish things off. 

These phrases will just make everything appear smooth and sound like you are in control and give a great appearance of confidence.

If you would like 1-1 private lessons with me please contact me through my website.

2 September 2014

Limiting the length of writing task 2

Examiners suggest limiting your response to writing task 2 to 260-280 words even if you are tempted to write more. 

Think about it, more writing will require more time and that needs to be balanced against your need to write the rest of the exam. 

It is also true to a certain extent that the more you write, the greater room for errors to creep in and influence your writing. 

Besides, if you have planned your writing carefully you will be able to meet the guidelines for the task, show off varied grammar structures, vocabulary and idea organisation all within a nice, brief word limit. See how it works for you.

Please contact me if you would like online private lessons

27 August 2014

Give yourself thinking time

In certain parts of the IELTS Speaking test you are expected to answer unprepared questions off the top of your head. It can be challenging because you can’t know exactly what they’ll ask, and sometimes your mind goes blank and you don't know what to say.

This might sound worrying, but there’s a great way to give yourself some breathing space and even score some extra points (if you’re lucky). Have some phrases ready that you can say to buy some time, and you’ll be glad you prepared! 

If you base these on what native speakers say when they don’t know an answer and you could also get some points for fluency.

My recommendations would be: 

  • ‘Interesting! That’s not something I’ve considered before, however...’ 
  • I can’t say that has occurred to me before, but...’ 
  •  ‘that’s a new one for me, I just need a moment to put my ideas in order...’

This will help you to regain some balance and sound very natural.

Please contact me for private Skype lessons

22 August 2014

Practise Flash-reading

Have you heard about the latest craze for getting information from the paper and into your brain at record speed? It’s called flash-reading and it could revolutionise your performance in time limited situations such as the Reading test. 

Flash-reading involves trying to elicit the maximum amount of information within a short time frame e.g. 30 seconds by learning to gather information instantly from heading, sub-headings and the beginning of paragraphs.

I have found this technique very useful to absorb information and I try to teach a simplified version to my students. 

Another good exercise, is to practise simple breathing techniques that can lower your stress before the test and also with a calm mind you can be much more efficient.

Please contact me for 1-1 lessons over Skype.

14 August 2014

Matching hard verbs with the right prepositions

In the IELTS test, every word counts, so it's important to pay close attention to your prepositions.

You’ll need to have them mastered as well as you can. Even some of my advanced students have problems with prepositions so it is just a matter of practice.

A good tip is to take a piece of A4 paper and fold it in half lengthways.
Once that’s done, write tricky verbs on one side and their illogical prepositions on the other. Keep testing yourself until you know them by heart, and if you get stuck you can easily unfold the paper- but don't cheat!

Here are some classic mistakes

Incorrect sentence : She is ill since last week.
Correct sentence: She has been ill since last week.

Incorrect sentence : She has been working since three hours.
Correct sentence: She has been working for three hours.

Incorrect sentence: I have not played football since a long time.
Correct sentence: I have not played football for a long time.