Read, read, and then read some more…

I have another piece of advice that comes out of a couple of lessons I had this weekend, I was talking to a student from China about the difficulties of having something to say for the essay writing task and for the third section of the speaking test. We were discussing the merits or otherwise of books such as “Ten days to the IELTS” which claim to help you “ace” the test without too much effort. If you read my previous post you may recall what I said which was to prepare regularly and consistently over a period of time and to forget these quick fix gimmicks. I had a similar conversation with a Russian learner yesterday about the problems of not having an opinion or the vocabulary to write about or talk about some of the topics in the IELTS.

My advice to them was two fold, either, as I have said, improve your general vocab and knowledge of world affairs by reading as widely as possible, such websites as The Guardian or The Economist for example. This is of course will take time but that in itself should be what you are aiming for anyway. The second tip is to research and prepare topic specific vocabulary and to think of possible questions based around your research for that topic.

For example, if you have bought some IELTS prep books you will have seen that certain themes come up every year, globalisation, education, environment, etc. So, if you research some of the common topics on the list below and see what the related issues and debates are around them and read and make notes on these things, then you will be ready to at least express some opinion for most questions you might be asked.

  1. Advertising

  2. Animal Rights: testing on animals, vegetarianism, zoos

  3. Cities: urbanisation, problems of city life

  4. Crime: police, punishments/prisons, rehabilitation, capital punishment

  5. Education: studying abroad, technology in education, education in developing countries, higher education, home-schooling, bad behaviour, corporal punishment, single sex education, streaming (grouping children according to ability)

  6. Environment: global warming, impact of humans on the environment, solutions to environment problems, waste/rubbish, litter, recycling, nuclear power

  7. Family: family size, working parents, negative effects on children, divorce, care for old people

  8. Gender: gender and education, gender and work, women’s and men’s role in the family

  9. Genetic Engineering: positives, negatives, genetically modified foods

  10. Global Issues: problems in developing countries, how to help developing countries, immigration, multi-cultural societies, globalisation

  11. Government and Society: what governments can do, public services, censorship, video cameras in public places

  12. Guns and Weapons: gun ownership and possession, police and guns, nuclear weapons, armed forces

  13. Health: diet, exercise, state health systems, private healthcare, alternative medicine, stress

  14. Housing and Architecture: state housing, old buildings, modern/green buildings

  15. International Language: English as an international language

  16. Money: money and society, consumerism

  17. Personal Development: happiness, success, nature or nurture

  18. Sport and Leisure: professional/competitive sport, sport salaries, sport and politics

  19. Tourism: positives, negative effects on environment, future of tourism

  20. Traditions and Modern Life: losing traditional skills, traditional customs

  21. Transport: traffic problems and solutions, public transport, road safety

  22. Television, Internet and Mobile Phones: positives and negatives, Internet compared to newspapers and books

  23. Water: importance of clean water, water supply, water should be free, bottled water

  24. Work: same job for life, self-employment, unemployment, work/life balance, technology and work, child labour

 To reiterate, the problem with some learners, and I have seen this many times, is not that their English is poor but that they have nothing to say about some issues. As a consequence, their essays and section three speaking suffers due to a lack of ideas and vocabulary. So don’t you get caught out! Do your research and think of at least one opinion for each topic, I don’t mean you should write down and memorise an answer. That is no good, the examiner will know when you do so, but you need to have some key words and concepts that you can throw into the discussion when required.

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