In this culture, every one wants to focus on 'tests', and it is a common belief that to prepare for a test, you need to just practice them, and use them, and keep practicing them and using them. The IELTS test is like exercise; just keep using them and you'll get strong. Hmmmm, in this post, I’ll look at the …

“We use original IELTS Tests; we’ve got old IELTS Test material” syndrome.

Sounds good, right? Well, it sounds BAD to me. Let’s think about it. Original tests? What does this even mean? Original IELTS Listening and Reading Tests are not made available to the public, and cannot be ‘leaked out’ by students (since they involved too many words). So, ‘tests’ here means either IELTS speaking or writing.

If ‘original tests’ means ‘speaking tests’, then it is probably Speaking Topics, either old ones, or ‘live’ ones – that is, real speaking topics given to the teacher or school by students who do the IELTS test. But how does knowing these 'real' or 'original' topics help you? The only thing you can do with these is to memorise answers, but if you do that in the IELTS Speaking Test, the IELTS examiner will certainly …

  1. identify your answer as memorisation, and ignore it,
  2. change the topic as soon as possible to get to your ‘real’ speaking,
  3. think about how your ‘flat’ memorised pronunciation, or exaggerated theatrical pronunciation suggests IELTS 5 (= ‘limited range of pronunciation features’ [Source: the public version of the IELTS Band Descriptors],
  4. realise that you are a fabricator – a person trying to trick their way to a higher mark.

Do you think that last item is a good message to give? Also,remember that ....

  1. there is a very large number of speaking test topics in use at any given time, certainly too many to memorise or deal with,
  2. these topics are regularly changed,
  3. the topics are ordinary ones which anyone could think of – that is, they don’t offer any super-secret highly complex piece of essential IELTS insight – they are just topics!

Isn't it obvious that the best approach is to practise and develop the skills of speaking, and that can be done with any IELTS-like topics (which are just ordinary topics, as Point 3 states). In order words, just practice talking, and that can be done with a variety of material. But this material can be designed to actually improve your skills. Isn't that the real key to improving in IELTS? 

Just using 'old/original/real' speaking test topics runs the risk of making you sound like a robot (hence, the above picture), and in the third part of this series, I'll give a very personal classroom story showing how bad such an approach is.

[To be continued in the next post.]


Find the meaning of the underlined words, also repeated below.

  • to be leaked out (v)
  • to exaggerate (v)
  • theatrical (adj)
  • to fabricate (v)




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