Why improving your English is key to increasingTOEFL and IELTS scores

Hi, this is Mike, and in this blog post I’m going to explain why improving your English is probably the key to improving your TOEFL or IELTS test scores, and to introduce a new course we’re developing to help you achieve your goals.

If you’re taking TOEFL or IELTS, you may have experience of ‘hitting a plateau’. This is when your score stops going up for an extended period of time. You keep practicing and taking the test, but your score just doesn’t change. It’s a very common problem, but why does it happen?

Basically, when this occurs it’s usually because you’ve reached your limit in terms of your English. It’s important to remember that TOEFL and IELTS are (very accurate) measures of your English level. So if your knowledge of English and ability to use it are too low, you’re not going to increase your test scores beyond your limit, even if your strategy is really good.

To help students overcome this issue, the Curriculum and Instruction team at Agos is currently developing and piloting a new course called ‘Essential English‘, which you can join from April 6th 2019.

We’re designing the course specially for TOEFL and IELTS students who are currently scoring 70-89 (TOEFL), or 5.5-6.0 (IELTS) who need to improve their English.

If this sounds like you, then check out the first in our series of videos about the course here. For more information, please visit the Essential English home page here. You can also register for a free demonstration lesson here on these dates:

Saturday 16th March, 14:30-16:00

Saturday 30th March, 15:00-16:30

Saturday 6th April, 14:30-16:00

Hope to see you soon!

Mike Thundercliffe, Manager Curriculum and Instruction, Agos Japan

 

Grammar for IELTS Writing – Using a variety of complex structures – by Danny Robinson

Hi everyone, my name is Danny and I teach IELTS classes here at Agos.  Today I’m going to give you some advice about how you can start to show more grammatical range in your writing.

Why is using a range of grammar important?

To achieve the higher bands for the IELTS Grammatical Range & Accuracy criterion (Band 6 or above) in writing, you have to show that you can accurately and flexibly use a variety (range) of structures, including complex structures. If you only use simple structures, you will be limited to a 5 for this criterion.

This means that you need to be very aware of the structures you are using, otherwise it is very easy to just use the same patterns again and again.  Here are some strategies for avoiding this.

Strategy 1: Changing the order of the sentence

There are many ways that sentences can be structured.  So one of the simplest methods of avoiding too much repetition and showing grammatical range is to simply change the order of the different language “chunks” that make up the structure you are using.  Here is an example of this using a sentence from a typical Task 1 graph analysis essay:

 Over the period shown, the number of crimes committed by children under 15 years of age increased significantly to just over 30% of the total reported in 2010, rising from around 10% in 1990.

 This can be changed to the following sentence, which expresses exactly the same ideas:

Rising from around 10% in 1990, the number of crimes committed by children under 15 years of age increased significantly over the period shown to just over 30% of the total reported in 2010.

Strategy 2: Change the verb forms

Slightly changing the grammar of the verbs can create another different structure:

 Increasing significantly over the period, the number of crimes committed by children under 15 years of age rose from around 10% in 1990 to just over 30% of the total reported in 2010.

Strategy 3: Using a good balance of sentence lengths

However, also remember that good writing is about clearly and precisely expressing what you want to communicate as simply and efficiently as possible.  Unnecessary complexity can also be a problem.  A balance is best.  You should always aim to express yourself in the simplest and clearest way possible while considering the complexity of the idea or information you are expressing.  If you can achieve this balance, it should also have the positive effect of making your writing more engaging for the reader.

A useful starting point for assessing how well you are achieving a balance between clarity and efficiency, as well as showing that you can use complex structures accurately and flexibly, is by considering sentence length.  A series of long complex sentences with several subordinate clauses is just as boring to read as several short simple sentences, and again, may actually reduce clarity by being unnecessarily difficult.

  • Avoid adding subordinate clauses for their own sake:
 The process of industrialization has resulted in the raising of the economic performance of many of the poorest countries in the world.  

 This can be changed to the following sentence, which expresses the same ideas more efficiently:

 Industrialization has boosted the GNP of many poorer countries.

While this first sentence demonstrates impressive complex grammar it isn’t really necessary to express the writer’s point.  It is OK to include some sentences like this, but if all your sentences are this length, your writing may become overly complex and difficult to read.  Also, you will be more likely to make errors, and you will probably find it difficult to include everything you need to say within the time limit of the test.

  • Break up long sentences when possible:
 The immediate effects of reducing government support for the unemployed would probably be to cause protests from charities, to make richer people who pay higher taxes happier, and to scare people on lower incomes, who have long benefited from such programmes.        

 This can be changed to the following sentences, which express the same ideas more clearly:

 Reducing government unemployment support would probably have three immediate effects. Firstly, it would cause protests from charities. Secondly, richer people who pay higher taxes would be happier. Lastly, it would scare people on lower incomes, who have long benefited from such programmes.         

  • Combine short sentences

Equally, if you have a series of one or more very short sentences, see if it is possible to combine them, without losing clarity, by using conjunctions and/or punctuation.  In fact, sometimes this might actually improve clarity as well as efficiency:

 Television can be a useful educational tool. It is a tool that prevents education.

 This can be changed to the following sentence, which expresses the same ideas more clearly:

 Television can be an educational tool, but it may also prevent education.

How can I improve?

Achieving the best balance between showing a range of grammar knowledge and flexibility, without allowing your language to become overly complex and difficult to read requires a lot of practice.  Here are some things you can do:

  • Study different grammar patterns
  • Analyse model answers to see how other people use a variety of grammar
  • Read and analyse texts related to common IELTS topics that you can find in English newspapers and a variety of online sources
  • Apply some techniques to answer real IELTS questions

With study and practice, you can improve your grammatical range and flexibility, and so achieve your IELTS writing scores.  Good luck and perhaps I’ll see you in class soon!