Do you want to find specific information about different IELTS lessons?

Question Mark by Horia Varlan via Flickr (creative commons)

Question Mark by Horia Varlan via Flickr (creative commons)

I’ve had a lot of emailed questions and comments from students  who want to find out more about a specific lesson that they have read. If  you  want to find out more about a specific topic, please use Search by Tags . You can do this 2 ways:

  1. At the bottom of each post, there is a section that says Posted in: followed by a  list of tags (topics) that you can click on. This will bring you to all the posts that have been tagged for that topic. For example, if you want to know more about how to write introductions, click on the introductions tag.
  2. On the right side of the page of each post, you’ll see a box that says “Search by Tags” under a box that says “Check my essay”. This Search by Tags box is filled with tags (topics) of different sizes – the bigger the size of the word, the more posts there are under this tag. Click on a tag to see all the posts related to that topic.

If there are topics not covered, feel free to email me or comment and I’ll try my best to write a post on it.

Good luck everyone!

(If you see at the bottom of this post, I’ve tagged everything.)

Practice your English through the news

Day Ninety Eight Dustin Diaz via Compfight

The more you listen to or read English news, this is what happens:

  • You start to recognize more vocabulary words and phrases and in different contexts (situations in how the word is used)
  • You start to recognize different sentence structures
  • You learn more about common topics that are useful for your exam. You learn about different viewpoints that you can use in writing your essays.

Here are some good general news websites:

Another useful tool is  Google Alerts. Set up alerts to specific topics or words/phrases that come up in the news or blogs and it will send you an email about it.

These are just a few news sites especially catered for English language learners. If you find some that are useful, please add them to the comments below and I’ll include them in the list.

So have a go and make it a habit to read and listen to news every day, even for 10 minutes a day. Take note of anything new that you’ve learned. This could be a vocabulary word, or an idea or viewpoint about a popular topic as you might be able to use that idea in your essay writing.

Useful websites for general knowledge on topics for IELTS

One of the rare non-Apple laptops seen in an otherwise cool park full of cool peopleCreative Commons License Ed Yourdon via Compfight

I have students that are worried that they may not know enough general knowledge on certain topics. They may know a lot about entertainment or information technology, but they may not know anything at all about sports or nuclear technology. It’s a good idea to be prepared with some ideas about different topics, and a good way to do that is to read or watch/listen to the news and online magazines.

Here are some good general news websites:

Another useful tool is  Google Alerts. Set up alerts to specific topics or words/phrases that come up in the news or blogs and it will send you an email about it.

If you know of a good one to add to the list and share, please write in the comments below. Thanks!


Strategies for IELTS Listening Section 3 – Conversation between 2 or more speakers

Section 3 of the IELTS Listening module involves 2 to 4  people discussing an academic topic. This section requires more careful attention to the conversation or argument being expressed because of the academic topic.

General listening test strategies:

  • Preview the questions – look at any pictures, diagrams and read the questions. This will help you to familiarize yourself to what you’ll be listening to. By being prepared with some knowledge of what to anticipate, you will know what to expect and what to listen for.
  • Read the directions carefully for each question. Fill in the gaps questions require you to write a limited number of words (i.e. “No more than 3 words or No more than 2 words”).

Some tips:

  • Because there are  two or more speakers, it’s important you are able to distinguish between the different speakers from the very beginning (know who they are) as well as understand what they are saying.
  • Remember to check which speaker is focused on in each question.
  • Questions usually follow the order in which you hear the information

Here’s a sample listening task from along with sample test questions.

Here’s how I approach answering those questions:

1. I read the directions that tell me I am completing sentences and can use only up to 2 words.

2. I read each sentence to get an idea of what the conversation will be about and who might be talking.

From skimming these 4 questions, I’m expecting a conversation  about an Open University course. I know it’s about balancing work and studying and that one of the speakers is a woman named Rachel  who overall enjoyed it. I already know a lot about the conversation without even hearing the recording!!

3. I  quickly identify  (underline) key words to listen out for that indicate that I will hear the answer very soon.  You can also guess what could go in the blank to finish the sentence. For example, an adjective or noun, or a specific name or time period or place, etc.

4. You may not  have much time to do all this thoroughly, but it will give you a head start. Also remember, the questions follow the order of the recording, so you can also analyze questions as you’re listening to the recording.

** Now, I’d like you to take the time now to listen to the recording and to answer the 4 sentence completion questions here. Listen to it ONCE only. Check back here to see how you did!**


Now I’ll go over my answers to the example questions for the  recording:

Studying with the Open University demanded a great deal of 27 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a noun (great deal of ….)  that students must have in studying with the Open University. I can anticipate  a word like “time”, “effort”, etc. What I hear Rachel say is, “I needed to maintain a high level of motivation. . .”. This fits nicely. Also note: a great deal of … is similar to a high level of

Studying and working at the same time improved Rachel’s 28 …………………… skills.

I’m listening  out for when Rachel (the woman) speaks and what she has improved in. I hear her say, ” Another thing was that I got very good at time-management because I had to fit time for studying round a full-time job.” This fits nicely. Also note: got very good at is similar to improved.

It was helpful that the course was structured in 29 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a description of the course. “Structured” refers to how it’s organized – usually weeks, months, terms, semesters, years, or something similar to that. I hear ” What makes it easier is that the degree is made up of modules, so you can take time off between them if you need to. ” Although I was expecting a time period, “module” refers to a part/unit of something – like the 4 modules of the IELTS exam.  So “modules” fits nicely. Also note: degree is similar to course; and was structured in… is similar to made up of

She enjoyed meeting other students at 30 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a place where she enjoyed meeting students, because the sentence uses the preposition “at“. I hear her say, ” from time to time there are summer schools. They usually last a week. They’re great, because you meet all the other people struggling with the same things as you…” This fits nicely. Also note: “all the other people struggling with the same things as you” refers to other students.

So to recap, it’s really important to:

  • preview and familiarize yourself with the questions as much as you can
  • identify key words to help you listen out for your answer
  • either guess or think of the kind of words you expect to fill the gaps
  • be aware that you won’t hear the exact same words as written in the question. You’ll hear similar expressions and phrases.
  • listen actively and take clear notes as you’re listening.



Strategies for Section 2 IELTS Listening – Talk by a single speaker

“Listen to Me” by keela84 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Section 2 of the IELTS Listening test is a monologue (one person talking) based on a general subject in a non-academic situation, such as a short talk on healthy eating or tourist information or a sales presentation.

Here’s a link to a practice test for section 2 from the British Council.

Your questions could be filling in the gaps in sentences/notes or on a form or diagram/chart, or multiple choice.

Filling in a chart or diagram:

  • Read the instructions carefully and be aware of how many words you can write for your answer.
  • Look at the heading(s) for columns and rows in a table, look through the questions and identify key words that will help guide what you will be listening for
  • Look at the gaps and try to predict what word could fill in the gap based on what you’ve skimmed in the questions or diagram/table. To predict the possible answer for the gap – think of the type of word it could be – such as a noun, adjective, verb or adverb.
  • Be aware that you may not hear the exact same words as the key words you’ve identified from your questions from the form you have to fill in. Be prepared to listen out for similar expressions or different ways to express the same thing.

If you listened to the practice test for Section 2 from the link I gave above, here are some notes I’d like to point out:

In questions 11-14:

Notice the words you hear are different from the words used in the statements.

  • For example, Q11 says “if you do not have an appointment”. In the recording, you hear the speaker say that xx is available for “drop-ins”, which refers to people who don’t have appointments.
  • Another example is the statement in Q12, which says, “if it is your first time seeing a counsellor”. The speaker says “if you have never seen a counselor before …”
  • So as you can see, these are different ways to express the same thing – be prepared to listen out for this.

In questions 15 – 20:

  • You are filling out a table of notes, make sure you understand the headings in both columns and rows to know what to listen out for.
  • The gaps follow the recording, so don’t worry about having to jump around. Tackle each one at a time in order. If you missed one, keep moving so that you don’t miss the next one and end up getting lost.
  • Take advantage of the time given to skim over the questions and try to predict the answer that could fit into the gap. For example, Q18, in the Anxiety Workshop, you see ” ___________, breathing techniques, meditation, etc.” for Q18 as content of the workshop. What word(s) (remember, the instructions say no more than 2 words) can you guess that would fit in with meditation and breathing techniques to reduce anxiety? Note it down to the side – you may actually hear the word you predicted!