Here are a few myths (false beliefs) about IELTS.
1. In speaking and writing tests, I need to have good ideas and points
This is wrong. The examiner is interested in your English, not in your ideas. So, even if you don’t know anything about a question, you can still get a good score if you just beat around the bush. Speak, expand your points and you get a good score.
For example, for a question ‘What are the qualities that a good business person needs?’, you can say ‘Well, I don’t think I know much about running a business. I’m a nurse by profession and this area is totally new to me. People run business – all sorts of business. Even we have lots of women doing business and succeeding. They must have certain qualities and abilities, business skills. But I’m not sure what qualities they must have’. The above answer has no points, but has some good sentences. That’s all you need.
Similarly, in essays, your arguments may not be groundbreaking or worth a million dollars. Even if your ideas are not very good, if you write them clearly and then support them with examples, you stand to get a good score.
2. I must use a lot of uncommon words to score well in writing and speaking.
Again wrong. You are more likely to get a good score if you use vocabulary related to the topic.
And what is vocabulary related to topic? Well, if you are writing about pollution, words like emissions, greenhouse gases, greenhouse effect, privately owned vehicles, improved public transport etc. are words related to the topic.
My advice is you must try to learn writing different sentence structures rather than focusing on learning a lot of words. Different sentence structures mean both simple and complex sentences. If possible, add different tenses also. See the two answers given to a question like,
‘Where do you live?’ in speaking test. Can you tell which is a better answer?
Answer 1. “I live in ……(town name). It is a medium sized town. It is about 10 kilometers from the city centre. I live there with my family. It’s a nice town.”
Answer 2. “I live in ……(town name) which is a medium sized town, about 10 kilometers from the city centre. I’ve been living there with my family for the last 8 years. It’s a cosy little town with all the facilities like schools, shops and a relatively good transport system.”
It is clear that the second is better because it has several good sentences and different tenses.
3. Write long essays to get a good score
Wrong again. Do not write long essays. Write between 260 and 290 words. Why? Because it takes a lot of effort to write a good essay. That is, you need to write a mixer of simple and complex sentences, good topic sentences, write your main arguments clearly and then develop them. Well, to do this it takes time. If you plan well, take time to write good sentences with good vocabulary, most probably, you won’t be able to write more than 270 words. Otherwise,
you must be very good at essay writing.
4. It is good to repeat the words from the question
Some students repeat the words from the question especially in speaking. That’s not good. For example, if the question is, “What was your favourite subject when you studied in school?”
Avoid saying: ‘My favourite subject when I studied in school was Biology.’
Better say ‘I liked Biology in school. I found the subject easy and enjoyed studying it.’
Why the second answer is better? Because that answer is your own. In the other, you borrowed so many words from the question and there is nothing original in it.
Same is the case with essays. Do not copy long phrases from question in the introduction to essays. Instead, try to rephrase the question.
5. Body language is important in speaking.
Wrong. The examiner checks your English and is least interested in your body language. You don’t get any marks for body language. But normal body language is expected since you can’t sit like a statue and talk. Also, if you think moving your hand or shoulders will help you express better and more naturally, go ahead. But the examiner will not mark you on it.
6.You must not pause or stop while talking on the topic in part 2
Some candidates ‘freeze’ or are suddenly lost for words and pause for several seconds before they can continue. They feel they will lose score because of this. That’s not correct. We are humans and it’s difficult for most people to continue talking for two minutes on a totally any topic. The examiners understand this. So relax. Stop if you wish, don’t get nervous. Pause think and continue. And if you wish, you could even add ‘Well, I have run out of ideas, I don’t know what more to add’.
What if I don’t have anything more to add, and the examiner is asking you to continue talking?
Remember, the examiner needs you to talk so that they can judge your English. So, if you are lost for ideas, you can tell about an incident related to the topic. Or, maybe say something related to what will happen in the future.
7.If I talk off-topic, I will not get any score
Wrong. Once, in his IELTS exam, one of my students was asked to talk about ‘A sport you like’. But he spoke about ‘spot’ that is, a place he liked. The card clearly spelt ‘sport’ but he made the mistake. At the end of the talk, the examiner pointed out the mistake, and he thought he would lose marks. But when the results were announced, he got a 7 band for speaking. Even though he spoke off topic, he had spoken well and he was judged on the English he spoke.
So, don’t worry too much about ideas or points, just talk.
8. If I take my test in a village, I am likely to get a better score
Don’t waste your time and money travelling to some remote town where there is an IELTS test centre, in the hope that the candidates there would speak poor English and you stand a better chance. This won’t work. The examiners are trained to mark you on the basis of your language you produce. If other candidates spoke poorly, it won’t make a difference.