Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A Bite of IELTS - a primer for the speaking test - a new book by me.

This year saw an important event in my academic life a book that I co-authored with a Chinese colleague was published on February 1st 2015 in Beijing. The book is entitled (In Chinese) A Bite of IELTS. ( have it listed a A Tongue of the  IELTS). Basically the premise behind the book is that many Chinese students who take the IELTS test get stuck on band 5. They find it very difficult to move beyond a band5 simply, we believe, because of the approach they take to studying for the test. It is not unknown for Chinese students to buy sample answers for the test and they simply try to memorise the answers to simply repeat them should they be lucky enough to get that question in the exam. 

The IELTS speaking test is broken down into three parts. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  Lets have a quick look at what each part entails. 

Part 1. This is where the examiner introduces himself and asks the student to identify themselves. The examiner then carries out a short interview asking some questions on various topics. This lasts about 4 to 5 minutes.

Part 2. The examiner provides the student with a written task card.  This is an example:

You should say
        Who the person is
        When the person visited you
        What you and this person did together

        Explain how you feel about this visit

The student has one minute to think and make notes about this question. Then they have to speak for 1 to 2 minutes about the topic.  The examiner might follow up with one or two questions about the topic. 

Part 3.  This is a two way discussion where the examiner will want the student to discuss more abstract issues and concepts which are thematically linked to the topic used in Part 2.  This lasts 4 to 5 minutes. 

The problems faced by many students when they take this test is that there is an ingrained culture of learning the shortcuts and tricks to get a high score rather than investing time in learning English to the standard expected by universities in the West.  Students get stuck on band 5 because they have often purchased model answers off the internet and memorise the answers. When they get to the exam and are asked to speak they often use a monotone voice. The monotone voice is a consequence of not paying attention to learning stress and intonation whilst memorising the answer. On the day its also a consequence of the effort of remembering the answer and actually speaking so there is not any cognitive ability left to add stress and intonation to the voice. 

My Chinese colleague, Sam, has actually taken the IELTS test about 20 times researching how the tests work and how the different examiners influence the setting. He also continues to carry out exit interviews with students to get an idea of their experiences.

From this research Sam developed a method to help students move past the IELTS band 5 barrier.  In short what we attempt to do in this book is to use a formula for building an answer which is based upon the students own experience.  We argue that by using personal experience a student doesn't have to think about situations they have no experience of.  (It is also important to note at this time that many 16 and 17 year old Chinese students have led very sheltered and protected lives so their memory bank of lived experiences is very small). Also, when recounting personal experience, it is easier for the student to add emotion to the voice - thus fulfilling the intonation and stress requirements. 

The premise is that if the student uses the formula and then adds to that framework their own personal experiences then they are able to speak more confidently and fluently around the topic areas. This method has been very successful with many students that Sam and myself have coached going on to increase their IELTS scores from the band 5 where they were stuck to band 6.5, 7 and above. 

If you are interested in the book you can purchase it on Chinese websites and on Taobao 

ISBN 9787300205298

or contact me if you are in China the price is 45rmb plus postage. 

A couple of pages in the book. I wrote the English  - Sam wrote the Chinese.

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