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Learning to use prepositions correctly is one of the most difficult tasks facing English language learners. In fact, along with articles it is usually the final thing that a student masters before becoming 100% proficient. The problem is that we use prepositions in so many different ways. We use them to show place (The cat is under the table), time (I will meet you on Sunday), and to help create phrasal verbs (I ran out of time in the exam). In fact, there are so many different preposition rules that it would be impossible for me to teach them all in one blog post. So, today, I want to focus on just one type: dependent prepositions. We’ll start with a short explanation of what they are, and then you can download a FREE My IELTS Classroom printable handout to practice!
Well, let’s think about it – what does the word “dependent” mean?
UK /dɪˈpen.dənt/ US /dɪˈpen.dənt/
needing the support of something or someone to continue existing
Essentially, dependent prepositions exist because they are attached to the word that comes before them. Or, very simply, when you use certain words in English, you HAVE TO follow them with a specific preposition. Why? I have no idea! There is no logic to this! You just have to learn that some English words are always followed by a particular preposition and without them, the sentence is not complete.
What types of words do dependent prepositions follow?
Good question! Dependent prepositions can come after three types of words: adjectives, verbs and nouns. Let me give you an example of each (and check if you knew which preposition should follow each):
after an adjective (I’m interested in photography)
after a verb (Many young adults still depend on their parents)
after a noun (There is no solution to the problem)
The problem is that we don’t always use the same preposition after each type of word – you can be interested in, but keen on, or aware of! All three of these words are adjectives, but each is followed by a different preposition! This is the problem! While these words join naturally in my native-speaker brain, it can be hard for learners to remember which prepositions follow which words. In fact, amongst the My IELTS Classroom students, I have noticed over the last year that even my very high-level learners (people scoring 7.5+ in the writing exam), still make basic errors with dependent prepositions.
How can I learn dependent prepositions?
So, this leads to the question, how can I learn which preposition goes with which word? Well, do you remember learning irregular verbs when you were an elementary student …..
see / saw / seen
teach / taught / taught
put / put / put
Dependent prepositions are pretty much the same – you simply have to roll up your sleeves and memorise them. Obviously, this is not an easy task, which is why they cause so much trouble for students. But, fear not, I have put together a worksheet to help you! Yes! I was tired of correcting the same mistakes again and again in my student’s essays, so I have made a handout that contains the most common word dependent prepositions combinations for IELTS test-takers. Yes, I went through over 500 essays to find the mistakes that kept repeating again and again, and put them all in one place:
All you need to do is print the hand out, and fold it so that you can’t see the answers. Then, look at the sentences and try to guess which preposition should go in each space. Remember, you need to look at the word before the space, as this is what dictates what the preposition will be.
If you get the answer correct, you can write the preposition in the space. If you don’t, put the worksheet away and try again the next day. If you do this every day for a week, you will soon be able to remember all the dependent prepositions (there are 40+), and this could make a dramatic difference to your lexical resource / grammatical range and accuracy score on exam day!
If you liked this lesson, you will LOVE my 9-hour My IELTS Classroom IELTS Grammar course, which contains lessons on 22 of the most useful B2/C1 level grammar structures for IELTS students
The introduction of the new IELTS computer-based test has given students a new option in terms of the way that they sit the test. However, it has also raised the question, which test is right for YOU? Many articles have appeared that outline simple differences between the tests (“it is quicker to type” and “good for people with bad handwriting” are the most common comments!) But today I want to take deeper look from a pedagogical perspective into which is the best format for test-takers. First though, let’s get some basic facts about the CB test out of the way:
IELTS Computer-Based Test Facts
The components of the computer-based test and the paper test are EXACTLY THE SAME i.e. you will still be tested in reading, listening, writing and speaking (and you should note that speaking will still happen with a live examiner)
All of the question types are EXACTLY THE SAME so don’t think, for example, that you can avoid Headings Match questions in the computer-based test or not have to tackle a map in listening! All the questions are still there!
The computer-based test has EXACTLY THE SAME LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY as the paper-test – I find it hard to believe that I have to write this, but of course there is no difference in difficulty!
The marking criteria for both tests is EXACTLY THE SAME, so you still need to focus all of your attention on the IELTS band descriptorsfor writing Also, your writing is still marked by a human examiner!
In short, in terms of what you are being tested on and how your results are calculated, the IELTS computer-based test and the traditional paper test are EXACTLY THE SAME.
Which is best for you – IELTS on a computer or IELTS on paper ?
However, even though the only difference between the IELTS computer-based test and the traditional paper test is the method in which it is delivered, I do still think that the different tests suit different students. Let me show you why by going through each part of the exam and looking at the pros and cons of the computer-based test so you can decide with is best for you, starting with the area in which I think it makes the most difference:
IELTS Computer-Based Test: Writing
It is quicker to type on a keyboard than write by hand. This is the most obvious benefit of the computer-based test. Hardly any of us write by hand in our day-to-day lives anymore, and I personal struggle to write quickly and clearly with a pen and paper. (Although the examiner NEVER assesses your handwriting, so legibility is not a concern!) I guess writing 250 words by hand would take me roughly 10 minutes, but I can type that much in less than 4 (yes, I am pretty speedy). As time is a concern for most students, those extra 5 or 6 minutes can make a huge difference in terms of thinking of ideas or checking for errors. So, if you are a fast-typer, then you will obviously gain time using a keyboard. However, although this is the most obvious benefit (and the only one that other teachers usually give, I do NOT think it is the most important)…….
You can edit your work more easily. For me, this is the BIGGEST ADVANTAGE of the computer-based test. NOBODY WRITES IN A LINEAR WAY ANYMORE. Computers allow us to make quick changes to our writing, which means we often start sentences without knowing how they are going to end because we can delete phrases or try new words or move bits around until a sentence feels right! That is the beauty of writing on a computer – it allows us to edit as we write. And, not this is what our brains are used to! Nobody sits down anymore with a pen and writes a whole letter without making one change! And yet in the paper-based module that is what you pretty much have to do. You have to know how your sentences will end before you start writing them because you don’t have time to sit and rub out every time you change your mind! But nobody has that skill anymore! In the computer based module, you can move one idea from the first paragraph to the second with just a cut and paste. Or you can go back and change a verb or replace a word with a better synonym. In short, you can write in the jumpy cut and paste style that we are all used to today. For this reason alone, I believe that the computer-based test is better for 99% of students. However, the other big plus is that ……..
You can review your work more effectively. Not only is it faster to type your work on a computer, it is much easier to revise what you have written. This is because everything is in a relatively small space and in a font that is uniform. In contrast, in the paper-based tense you have to decipher your handwriting and go back and forth between pages. This makes errors harder to find (especially small, costly ones like subject / verb agreement), and increases the likelihood that you will repeat words or even ideas without realising it.
You don’t have to count your words! Yes, the computer-based test has an automatic word count. In a way, this is not really such an issue any more since IELTS removed the automatic penalty for under-length scripts. However, it is still important to write essays that are well-extended and having the word count there in front of you at every step of your writing makes a big difference!
However, despite these four major advantages, there are still drawbacks that students should consider.
Not good if you can’t touch type! When I was at school, we had special lessons to teach us how to type on a typewriter (true story!) Today, I take it for granted that everybody can touch-type. However, if you are still using two fingers on a keyboard, then I would stick to the paper-based test!!!
There is no spell-checker in the IELTS computer-based exam. Now, obviously you don’t get a dictionary in the paper-based test, so at first glance it might not seem a problem that you don’t have a spell-check in the computer test. I mean, in both you have to know the spelling of different words, right? Well, this is true. However, I am a native speaker with pretty good spelling, but I still make A LOT OF MISTAKES when I am typing that I don’t make when I am writing by hand. Remember the advantage of typing is that it is quicker? Yes? Well, it is also MUCH MORE INACCURATE. You might know how to spell a word, but it doesn’t mean that your fingers can accurately type it. Take for example of the word “advantage”. I know how to spell it but almost every time I type it, I add an extra “n” before the “ge”. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA! It seems that my muscle-memory for typing that word is just wrong! Plus, not only do we now have to worry about typing errors, but unlike in our everyday life, we don’t have the luxury of that lovely red line appearing under words to show us that we have written them wrongly. But, guess who does have spell a spell checker? THE EXAMINER!!! I have never examined test scripts written in the computer-based module, but I am 99% sure the first thing the examiner who is marking writing does is switch on spell check and BOOM reveals all of your spelling errors! That means you are going to have to check your work VERY CAREFULLY for typing errors. And, if you are a BAD SPELLER. Well, there is no more attempting to “hide” poor spelling with bad handwriting (yes, examiners know what you are doing!) Now, there can be no ambiguity if a word is spelt correctly or not. So, if you are a BAD speller, then you might find it better to stick to the paper-based test. A good way to try is to write an essay with your spell-checker switched off and then switch it on – if the whole page goes red, well, the paper-based test is best for you!
New problems with punctuation. All of the students who join my marking service type their essays before sending them to me. And, over the last couple of years, I have seen some really strange punctuation errors when people type (errors that do not exist when people write by hand). I am not 100% what IELTS does about this (I mean, can you punish a student in the computer-based format for a mistake that cannot be made in the paper-test?), but this is something you should be aware of too. The two most common mistakes I see are:
– Leaving a space before a comma , or full stop . (like in this sentence)
– In addition, Having a capital letter after a transition signal. (like in this sentence)
IELTS Computer-Based Test: Reading
If the computer based test has the most obvious benefits for the writing part of the exam, then I would say it has the most obvious drawback for the reading part. Here, most people are concerned that they will not be able to highlight or underline parts of the text as they read. I have to admit, for an old-school teacher like me, this does seem like a serious concern. I have always relied on underlining parts of the text to help guide me. Now, it is true that you can highlight words on the screen and make notes, but for me this is not the same as being able to do it by hand. If nothing else, it is slower.
Also, reading on a screen is different to reading on paper. On a computer, it is easier to skim and scan as you can can use the mouse to scroll through the text quickly, and much of what we do on a computer is scanning. Think about it – every time you Google something and search through the results, you are practicing scanning! However, I personally find it harder to read in detail on a computer. This is because when we read from a screen, we can only see one small part of a text, so it is harder to form an overview of the general idea of the text. I think that this could have a big effect on your reading, particularly when it comes down the reading questions that test your ability to summarise information, like headings match questions. As headings and information match questions are the most difficult in the text, I feel the benefits we gain from fast scanning are outweighed by the inability to see the text as a “whole” on a computer.
However, without more research, all of this is just my personal opinion. Here I think it comes down to personal preference. Do you work in a job that requires you to read on a screen? Yes? Then you will probably be fine taking the computer-based module. Do you wear glasses and find it a strain to look at a back-lit screen for 3 hours at a time? Yes? Then you might want to stick to the paper-based test. The key is actually TRYING the CBT to find out!
IELTS Computer-Based Test: Listening
Headphones. That is the biggest thing for me. I have bad hearing and would struggle in an exam room with 20 – 100 other candidates listening to a single CD being played through dodgy speakers! Yes, there are test-centres now where you can take the paper-based test that have headphone for the listening part, but for me, sitting in front of a computer with your own headset and nobody in your peripheral vision is the biggest plus here.
Plus, when you are looking at a computer screen, you are less-likely to get distracted. I have always found that the hardest part of the listening test is keeping focussed for 25 minutes. When I was still teaching in real classrooms, I used to do the Cambridge tests with my students so that I could understand where students went wrong or why they chose the wrong answer. However, there were countless times when I missed an answer because I was watching what the students were doing, or thinking about the next activity, or even just planning dinner!!! Having a computer screen to focus on and no pencil to doodle with should stop this happening!
Finally, one of my students also made the interesting point that when you take the test on a computer, your head is in an upright position because you are reading on the screen in front of you. As this is how we listen in the real world (i.e. not with our head down looking at a piece of paper), it feels more natural to listen in this position. I am not sure of the science behind this claim, but it does feel true to me.
However, like always, there are drawbacks. The main one for me is again the fact that you can’t underline key words. This is very important in listening as the key words act as a guide to help you follow the dialogue. It is true that you can highlight words (like in the reading exam), but for me this isn’t quite the same as simply underlining with a pencil and might be more distracting than helpful.
Also, in multiple choice questions, crossing out answers that are WRONG is the easiest way to find the correct answer. Without this option, MCQs will be much more difficult (and they are difficult enough as it is anyway!)
Finally, you will only be given TWO MINUTES to check your answers at the end of the test instead of the two minutes in the paper-based test. I don’t think that this is good or bad as most of the answers in the computer-based test will be automatically recorded (i.e. when you choose a multiple choice option, the computer remembers it for you) but poor spellers who need this time to correct mistakes might suffer.
More General Points to Consider when Deciding Between the IELTS Computer-Based Test and the Paper Test
the computer-based test might be more expensive in your area (I know that it is around £30 more expensive to sit the computer-based test in the UK)
the computer-based test might not be available in your region
the computer-based test is held more frequently in some test-centres than the paper test (which could be useful if you have a visa deadline or need to apply for PLAB)
the results of the computer-based test appear much more quickly (3 – 5 days as opposed to 13 days for the paper-based exam). Again, if you are on a tight-deadline, this could make a big difference
OK – that is everything I have to say about the IELTS Computer-Based test. Which is right for you? Well, the only way to really know is to try one and see! And, whichever option you choose to take, My IELTS Classroom is still the bet place to help you prepare!