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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

About Writing and Speaking Criteria

So what are the Writing and Speaking criteria?
Writing and Speaking criteria are similar: both include a judgment on a candidate's vocabulary and grammar. In Writing, candidates must also describe, analyse, and argue well. In Speaking, pronunciation plays a major role. To achieve a high band in IELTS, it's important to understand exactly what marking criteria are.

Writing criteria 
There are four criteria for Writing. They're the same for Task 1 and Task 2. In brief, the criteria are:
  1. Task Fulfilment [Also called Task  Achievement or Task Response: Answering the question fully]
  2. Coherence and Cohesion [Word, sentence, paragraphs joined smoothly; a logical order throughout]
  3. Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar)
Each criterion carries the same weight. This is significant because, when asked, most candidates believe grammar is the most important thing in writing.
While each criterion is worth the same, a large amount of research has shown that one criterion-Lexical Resource, called Vocabulary in the book-is most difficult. 
This is because English vocabulary is vast. The most common problem IELTS candidates have is that their vocabulary is limited. 
It is boring, repetitive, childish, or inaccurate. Perhaps the tone of their language is also inappropriate. Essentially this is due to their not ever reading much in English. 
Reading exposes you to vocabulary most quickly. Probably, learners need to do three times the amount of work on vocabulary than they do on any of the other criteria to improve. This book reflects this necessity with a large number of activities on Vocabulary.

As previously mentioned, candidates don't have a breakdown of criteria on their report form. But let's look at a typical score sheet an examiner has. This is for Writing for Task 1:
Task Fulfilment                     
Coherence & Cohesion          

The candidate gets 5.5 for this task.
(By the way: there are no half bands within criteria.)

Here is Writing score sheet for Task 2:

Task Fulfilment                     
Coherence & Cohesion         

The candidate gets Six for this task.
Task 2 is worth 60% of the final mark; Task 1, 40%. The candidate above ends up with a Six as a Writing band.

Basically, Vocabulary was this candidate's weak point, and if it had been a Six anywhere, he or she would have ended up with 6.5 for Writing. 
Now perhaps it's a small difference between Six and 6.5, but let's say you're from Nepal, and you want to do an MA in Canada. 
The university you've applied for asks for 6.5 for IELTS Writing for direct admission. If you get a Six, then you need to do an eight-week English-language course first. 
That's another two months of your life you have to pay for and live through before starting your MA. If you're from Nepal, that could mean a lot of money.

Speaking criteria 
There are also four criteria for Speaking. Unlike Writing, where the tasks are rated separately, there is only one score given for the candidate's whole Speaking test. In brief, the criteria are:
  1. Fluency and Coherence [The ability to keep speaking; accurate use of linkers; sound logic]
  2. Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar)
  4. Pronunciation
You can see that there's no Task Fulfilment criterion. This means the examiner doesn't judge the content of the candidate's answers-the candidate can say pretty much anything he or she likes. If you want to say your mother's an astronaut on the International Space Station and your father's Bill Gates' best mate, that's fine, as log as your English is correct.
Like Writing, each criterion is worth 25%.
Generally, candidates still find Vocabulary problematic. Fluency is also a challenge because it's possible the candidate has never spoken for so long in English. Also, almost no teachers or textbooks focus on fluency. ( Is it anywhere in the table of Contents of your best mate's IELTS book?) Depending on what your first language is, pronunciation may be difficult. If you're German, it's not so hard; if you're Vietnamese, it's hell. Let's say you're from Ho Chi Minh City, and you want permanent residence in Australia. Currently, the Department of Immigration requires a Seven as a minimum for Speaking to get any points towards residence. Frankly, that's going to be extremely tough because time and time again even if you're really good, you'll get :

Fluency & Coherence 

Overall Band = 6.5

Hopefully this book will give your pronunciation a boost.
If you've read this far, you've realised that IELTS is not just a matter of learning the question types (any old book deals with those), but more importantly understanding the marking criteria for Writing and Speaking. If you look at the table of Contents of this book, you'll see how each criterion is pulled apart and practised here. Then we put them all together for the practice test.

Friday, June 3, 2016

How is IELTS marked ?

How is IELTS marked ?
On the day of the test, the speaking is marked by the examiner who interviewed the candidate. 
The writing is marked by another examiner. Listening and Reading are calculated by a clerk who is not a Speaking or Writing examiner. Therefore three different people evaluate one candidate's performance. Among other things, this reduces corruption as the examiners and clerical markers seldom know each other.
As we have just learnt, IELTS uses bands. Do you remember this candidate?


Overall band = 6.5

Another candidate might get:


Overall band = 5

The majority of candidates have most skills or modules in the same band. if a candidate has one test that is two bands different from another, his or her paper is marked again, and the higher of the two marks becomes the new score.
For example : a candidate gets:

Overall band = 5.5

If his or her writing is marked again and is still a four or becomes a 4.5, then the Overall Band remains a 5.5. If a four goes up to a five, then the new Overall Band is a six. All this happens before the final report is sent out.

Listening and Reading
These two test are made up of 40 questions each that are either right or wrong. 
There are no half marks. The marking of these is fairly easy, but they are marked twice for accuracy. There are multiple versions of the Listening and Reading test. Each version differs slightly in its degree of difficulty. 
They are all pre-tested. As you already know, Academic and GT Reading test are also different. Here's a guide to the scores needed for some bands for Listening and Reading. 
Since there are so many versions of these test, this table is approximate.

Writing and Speaking
As you can imagine, Writing and Speaking are harder to mark than Listening and Reading since each candidate will give different answer. Candidates will, however, have common features, which determine their level.
For Writing and Speaking, these common features are described by special criteria at each band. (Look up 'criteria' in your dictionary now.)
This book, McGraw-Hill's IELTS, is based on criterion marking, so it's important to understand how it works. A great many candidates prepare for IELTS without having any idea what they are being judged on, and so can't improve their performance effectively. Here, the criteria will be described and analysed. 
For example, pronunciation is a Speaking criterion, but it's likely you've got only a vague idea what pronunciation means. 
Once you've understood what many things really make up pronunciation, then you can start learning how to pronounce English well.
Remember this?

Overall Band = 6.5

There's nothing about criteria on this report-nothing to tell you how the examiners reached their conclusions. A candidate knows only in a general sense that his Listening is stronger than everything else. He probably has no idea why his Writing got a Six.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Getting Started - IELTS Test

Test: Academic Listening
How long does the test take ? 40 minutes. A recording lasts for 30 minutes. There are 10 extra minutes to transfer answers from a question booklet into an answer sheet after the recording has finished.

What is its format ? Around 40 questions in four section. Each section has 10 question. Each question is worth one mark. Questions are easy at the start and become more difficult as the test progresses. On  a test day, all candidates listen to the same recording and have the same questions, but these recordings and questions differ from test to test. There are different versions of all IELTS tests.

What question types are there? The following may be used: Multi-choice (choosing one answer from three possibilities. Multi-matching (choosing more than one answer from a list of up to seven possibilities). Choosing a graphic. Note /Table /Sentences / Summary completion (filling in gaps). Labelling maps or plans. Providing one-to three-word answers.

Test: Academic Reading
How long does the test take? 60 minutes. Candidates transfer their answers as they read. There is no extra time.

What is its format? Around 40 questions in three passages. Passage 1: (13 or 14 questions). Passage 2 : (13 or 14 questions). Passage 3 : (13 questions). Each question is worth one mark. 
Questions are easy at the start and become more difficult as the test progresses. 
Words to be read in the passages: 2500-2750. (With questions, there are around 3500 words.)

What question  types are there? The following may be used: Multi-choice (choosing one answer from four possibilities). 
Multi-matching (choosing more than one answer from a list of up to seven possibilities). Choosing a graphic. Note /Table /Sentence / Summary completion (filling in gaps). 
Labelling maps or plans. Providing one-to three-word answer. Completing a summary by choosing words that are given in a long list. Indicating which paragraph contains information. 
Choosing True / False / Not Given for facts. Choosing Yes / No / Not Given for views or opinions. Choosing headings. Labelling a diagram or a flowchart.

Test: Academic Writing
How long does the take? 60 minutes.

What is its format? Two short pieces of writing called tasks. Task 1: A report or description of a table , chart, process, or other visual input. Words to be written: at least 150. 
Task 2: An essay on a social or academic topic that is given. Words to be written: at least 250. 
Task 1 is easier than Task 2. Task 1 is worth 40% while Task 2 is worth 60%. 
On a test day, every candidate gets the same two tasks, but these differ from test to test.

What question types are there? 
Task 1: Describing a visual input that could be one, two, or three graph, tables, or charts; two plans or maps; or a process. 
Task 2: Essays that discuss one or both sides of an issue, or offer solutions to a problem are the most common.

Test: Academic Speaking
How long does the test take? 11-14 minutes.

What is its format? There are three parts. Part 1: (4-5 minutes). 
The candidate is asked one set of questions on personal information, and two sets of questions on simple topics. 
Part 2: (3-4 minutes). The candidate is given a random specific topic, has one minute to think, then two minutes to talk about it. There may be one or two short questions at the end. 
Part 3: (4-5 minutes). The candidate is asked more general questions connected to the topic of Part 2. A single band is given at the end of this. In part 1, candidates may be asked the same questions, but in parts 2 and 3, each candidate gets different questions. 
These will be similar from test to test. Part 1 is easy; Part 2, more difficult; and, Part 3 is rather challenging.

What question types are there? Questions in parts 1 and 2 are personal; in part 3, they are more general or abstract. Any topic of general interest may be discussed. 
Candidates need to: agree or disagree; assess; compare; describe; explain; express possibility and probability; justify an opinion; narrate; speculate; suggest; and, summarise. 
Additional skill include: the ability to self-correct; to circumlocute; to paraphrase; and, to ask for clarification.

Test: General Training Reading
How long does it take? 60 minutes. Candidates transfer their answers while they read. There is no extra time.

What is its format? Around 40 questions in three sections. 
The first two sections are divided into two parts, so there are five different texts to read in total. Each questions is worth one mark. 
Questions are easy at the start and become more difficult as the test progresses. Words to be read in the passages: 2000-2300.
 (With questions, there around 3000 words.) Note: There are fewer words in the GT than the Academic test, but candidates need to get more correct answers to be awarded the same band.

Test: General Training Writing
How long does it take? 60 minutes.

What is its format? Two short pieces of writing called tasks. 
Task 1: A formal or semi-formal letter. Words to be written: at least 150. 
Task 2: An essay on a social topic that is given. Words to be written: at least 250.

What question types are there? 
Task 1: Letters off: request, advice, offer, complaint, congratulation, or opinion are the most common. Task 2: Essays that discuss one or both sides of an issue, or offer solutions to a problem are the most common.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

About Introducing IELTS


What is the IELTS exam?

The international English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the world's largest exam, and as its name suggest, it is used to test English language for college and university entrance, as well as for immigration or registration with professional bodies.
There are two kinds of IELTS tests: the academic test for further study and the General Training (GT) test for immigration.
There is no pass or fail with IELTS. Instead,there are bands that show a person's level. 
These bands range from 0-9. A Zero is a candidate who didn't come for the test; and a Nine is a native speaker-someone whose English is perfect. A five is a person who makes a lot of mistakes but can generally be understood. A Six is still an intermediate speaker, whereas a Seven is starting to get good. An Eight has perhaps only five or six errors in his or her 650 words of writing, and in the speaking test, makes only very occasional errors. 
A six is not that hard to score, but a seven takes years of intensive study and usually residence in an English speaking country.
The bands are used by different institutions or authorities. If you want to attend university in many English-speaking countries, you need at least IELTS 5.5-the more famous the university, or the course, the higher the score you need. If you want permanent residence in canada, you need a seven. If you are a nurse and you want to continue nursing in australia, then you also need a seven overall, including a Seven in Speaking. 
IELTS has full and half bands, meaning that a person who gets 6.5 is better than a Six, but not yet a Seven. 
One thing to note about these scores is that it's rather easy to go from a four to a 4.5, or even a five to a 5.5, but to progress beyond Six takes much longer. There are also candidates who never reach Six. You can't just take the test, take it again, and again and again, and hop on the fifth attempt you'll be handed a 6.5. 
No. You've got to fit the description of 6.5 in order to get it.
If you'd like to know which nationalities or first languages currently achieve which scores, go to the IELTS website: There's plenty of interesting data there as well as free practice materials.

What are the four parts of the test?

IELTS is made up of four sub-tests. candidates do all of them on one or two days . 
They are, in the order that they take place: Listening, Writing, and Speaking. The four tests are equally weighted, or if you think of it another way: worth 25% each. A band is given for each one, and there is also an average or Overall Band. 
A candidate receives a report within two weeks of taking the test with five scores on it like this:

Overall Band = 6.5

You can see that the candidate above was best at Listening and worst at Writing. Reading and Speaking were the same. 
The majority of candidates receive of report like this. It's very rare for one skill to be much better than another.
But what was the Listening test? What did the candidate need to do for writing?
Read the table below about the IELTS Academic test to understand exactly what happens.
GT is the same as Academic for Listening and Speaking, but a little different for Reading and Writing. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

About Test Scores of TOEFL iBT

Score Scales

The TOEFL iBT test provides scores is four skill areas:

Total Score           
The total score is the sum of the four skill scores.

Rating of Speaking and Writing Responses
Responses to all six Speaking tasks are digitally recorded and sent to ETS. The responses from each test taker are scored by three to six different certified raters. 
The responses for each task is rated on a scale from 0 to 40 according to the rubrics on pages 188-191. The average of all six ratings is converted to a scaled score of 0 to 30.

Raters listen for the following features in test taker responses:
  • Delivery: How clear was the speech? Good responses are fluid and clear, with good pronunciation, natural pacing, and natural-sounding intonation patterns.
  • Language use: How effectively does the test taker use grammar and vocabulary to convey ideas? Raters determine the test taker's ability to control both basic and more complex language structures, and use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Topic development: How fully do test takers answer the question and how coherently do they present their ideas? How well did the test taker synthesize and summarize the information in the integrated tasks? Good responses generally use all or most of the time allotted, and the relationship between ideas and the progression from one idea to the next are clear and easy to follow. 
It is important to note that raters do not expect test takers' responses to be perfect. Even high-scoring responses may contain occasional errors and minor problems in any of the three areas described above

Responses to all writing tasks also are sent to ETS. The responses are rated by two certified raters and the automated scoring system on a scale of 0 to 5 according to the rubrics on pages 200-201. 
The average of the scores on the two writing tasks is converted to a scaled score of 0 to 30.
  • The response to the integrated writing task is scored on the quality of writing (organization, appropriate and precise use of grammar and vocabulary) and the completeness and accuracy of the  content.
  • The independent writing essay is scored on the overall quality of the writing: development, organization, and appropriate and precise use of grammar and vocabulary.
It is important to note that the raters recognize that the responses are first drafts. They do not expect test takers to produce a well-researched, comprehensive essay. For that reason, test takers can earn a high score with a response that contains some errors.

Score Reports 
TOEFL score report provide valuable information about a test taker's readiness to participate and succeed in academic studies in an English-speaking environment. Score report include:
  • four skill scores 
  • total score
Scores are reported online approximately 10 days after the test. Test takers can view their scores online at no charge. 
Colleges, universities, and agencies receive paper score reports if the test taker has selected them as score recipients. (A paper copy of the score report is mailed to the test taker only upon request.) Test taker score reports also include performance feedback that indicates whether their performance was high, medium, or low, and describes what test takers in each score range typically know and can do with the English language.

Score requirements 
Each institution sets its own requirements for TOEFL scores. 
Test takers should consult their target institutions to determine their specific TOEFL score requirements. A list of colleges, universities, and agencies that accept TOEFL scores and a list of institutional score requirements reported to ETS can be obtained at

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

About the TOEFL iBT Test - Writing Section

Academic Writing Skills

In all academic situations where writing in English is required, students must be able to present their ideas in a clear. well-organized manner. 
The Writing section measures your ability to write English in an academic setting.

  • Often, students need to write a paper or an essay response about what they are learning in their classes. This requires combining information they have heard in class lectures with what they have read in textbooks or other materials. This type of writing is referred to as integrated writing. In this type of writing, students must:
  1. Take notes on what they hear and read, and use them to organize information before writing
  2. Summarize, paraphrase, and cite information from the source material accurately
  3. Write about the ways the information they heard relates to the information they read
For example, in an academic course, a student might be asked to compare and contrast the points of view expressed by the professor in class with those expressed by an author in the assigned reading material. 
The student must successfully draw information from each source to explain the contrast.

  • Student must also write essays that express and support their opinions. In this type of writing, known as independent writing, students express an opinion and support it based on their own knowledge and experience.
For example, students may be asked to write an essay about a controversial issue. The students use part, personal experience to support their opinion.

In all types of writing, it is helpful for students to:

  1. Identify one main idea and some major point that support it
  2. Plan how to organize the essay (For example, with an outline)
  3. Develop the essay by using reasons, examples, and details
  4. Express information in an organized manner
  5. Use effective linking words (transitional phrases) to connect ideas and help the reader understand the flow of ideas
  6. Use a range grammar and vocabulary for effective expression
  7. Use grammar and vocabulary accurately; use idiomatic expressions appropriately
  8. Follow the conventions of spelling, punctuation, and layout


The total time for the Writing section is 50 minutes. 
Test takers write their responses to two writing tasks. Responses are typed into the computer and sent to ETS, where they are scored by both certified raters and the automated scoring system.

Monday, April 4, 2016

About the TOEFL iBT Test - Speaking Section

Academic Speaking Skills

Students should be able to speak English successfully in and outside the classroom. The Speaking section measures your ability to speak effectively in academic settings.

In classrooms, students must:

  • Respond to questions
  • Participate in academic discussions with other students
  • Synthesize and summarize what they have read in their textbooks and heard in class
  • Express their views on topics under discussion
Outside of the classroom, students must:
  • Participate in casual conversations
  • Express their opinions
  • Communicate with people in such places as the bookstore, the library and the housing office
The Speaking section is approximately 20 minutes long and includes six tasks.
  • The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks on topics familiar to you. They ask you to draw upon your own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding. However, you can respond with any idea, opinion, or experience relevant to completing the task.
  • The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks where you must use more than one skill when responding. Two of the tasks require you to read, listen and then speak in response by relating the information from the reading and listening material. The other two tasks require you to listen and then speak in response You can take notes and use those notes when responding to the speaking tasks.
Like the other sections of the test, the Speaking section is delivered via the Internet. For all speaking tasks, you use a headset with a microphone. Speak into the microphone to record your responses. Responses are digitally recorded and sent to ETS, where they are scored by certified raters.

Source: The Official guide to the TOEFL Test - Fourth Edition

Sunday, April 3, 2016

About the TOEFL iBT Test - Listening Section

Academic Listening Skills

The Listening section measures your ability to understand spoken English. In academic settings, students must be able to listen to lectures and conversations. Academic listening is typically done for one of the three following purposes:

Listening for basic comprehension

  • Comprehend the main idea, major points, and important details related to the main idea (Comprehension of all details is not necessary.)
Listening for pragmatic understanding

  • Recognize a speaker's attitude and degree of certainty
  • Recognize the function or purpose of a speaker's statement
Connecting and synthesizing information
  • Recognize the organization of information presented
  • Understand the relationships between ideas presented (for example, compare/contrast, cause/effect, or steps in a process)
  • Make inferences and draw conclusion based on what is implied in the material
  • Make connections among pieces of information in a conversation or lecture
  • Recognize topic changes (for example, digressions and aside statements) in lecture and conversations, and recognize introductions and conclusions in lectures
Listening material in the test includes academic lectures and long conversations in which the speech sounds very natural. You can take notes on any listening material throughout the entire test.

After the listening material is played, you both see and hear each question before you see the answer choices. This encourage you to listen for main ideas.

There are four question formats in the Listening section:
  • Traditional multiple-choice questions with four answer choices and a single correct answer
  • Multiple-choice questions with more than one answer (for example, two correct answers out of four choices or three answers out of five choices)
  • Questions that require you to order events or steps in a process
  • Questions that require you to match objects or text to categories in a chart
Source: The Official guide to the TOEFL Test - Fourth Edition

Friday, April 1, 2016

About the TOEFL iBT Test - Reading Section

Academic Reading Skills

The Reading section measures your ability to understand university-level academic texts and passages. In many academic settings around the world, students are expected to read and understand information from textbooks and other academic materials written in English. The following are three purposes for academic reading:

Reading to find information
  • Effectively scanning text for key facts and important information
  • Increasing reading fluency and rate
Basic comprehension
  • Understanding the general topic or main idea, major points, important fact and details, vocabulary in context, and pronoun references
  • Making inferences about what is implied in a passage
Reading to learn
  • Recognizing the organization and purpose of a passage
  • Understanding relationships between ideas
  • Organizing information into a category chart or a summary in order to recall major points and important details
  • Inferring how ideas throughout the passage content
Reading Passages
The passages cover a variety of subjects. You should not be concerned if you are unfamiliar with a topic. The passage contains all the information needed to answer the questions.

All passages are classified into three basic categories:
  • Exposition
  • Argumentation
  • Historical
Often, passages present information about the topic from more than one perspective or point of view. This is something you should note as you read. Usually, you are asked at least one question that allows you to demonstrate that you understood the general organization of the passage. 
Common organization types that you should be able to recognize are:
  • Classification
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Cause/Effect
  • Problem /Solution
Reading Question Formats
There are three question formats in the Reading section:
  • Questions with four choices and a single correct answer in traditional multiple-choice format
  • Questions with four choices and a single answer that ask test takers to "insert a sentence" where it fits best in a passage
  • "Reading to learn" questions with more than four choices and more than one possible correct answer.
Source: The Official guide to the TOEFL Test - Fourth Edition