IELTS writing exam, you may be required to describe a process diagram. This
will be part of writing task 1, a section in which you might normally expect to
encounter a line graph, bar chart, or table.
a process diagram might fill you with fear, but you shouldn’t worry too much.
They always look much more difficult than they really are. While process
diagrams may seem much harder than line graphs or bar charts, they are usually
quite simple, and if you can avoid panicking, you should be able to write a
lesson, I’m going to show you a step-by-step guide to describing process
diagrams for IELTS.
Analyse the Question
all, as with any IELTS writing question, you must take a few minutes to analyse
the question before you begin writing. Let’s look at an example question:
The diagram below shows how electricity is generated in a hydroelectric power station.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and making comparisons where relevant.
Here is the
And here is
how it will look on the exam paper:
So what do
you need to do? The question tells us in pretty simple terms what the diagram
is about, so we should read that first. In this case, it is all about
generating (making) electricity. We can see from the picture that this is done
using water (hydroelectric power).
Identify the Stages
are analysing the diagram, it is important to break it into different stages
and put them in the correct order. Sometimes this is very easy… but sometimes
it can be a little difficult. Looking at our example diagram from above, we can
identify the following stages:
Water flows from river into
Water flows through intake to power
Turbines turn to generate
Electricity sent to national grid via
Water flows into lower level
Water returns back to upper level at
want to label the diagram this way:
Note that the
order of events is not always 100% clear, and sometimes two or more things may
happen at the same time. In the above example, I have listed #4 and #5
separately, even though they basically happen together. I did this because in
my description I would like to link the electricity generator to the power
lines because I feel that this is a logical connection. The excess water is
more incidental, and would then be mentioned after.
Finding the Right Vocabulary
students panic when they see a process diagram because they think that there
will be some complicated vocabulary that is needed. For example, there are sometimes
diagrams about complex industrial or ecological processes… Can you imagine how
difficult those would be to describe?!?!
actually they are not that difficult. In fact, process diagrams usually contain
most of the vocabulary that you need to describe them within the diagram. You
just need to make some small alterations to the grammar.
this video about how to describe a process diagram using the vocabulary
included on the diagram:
How to Describe a Process Diagram [IELTS Writing Task 1] - YouTube
to our example from above, we can see that there is already a lot of
information in the diagram, and we can use this to describe the process without
having to rely on our own knowledge. (Let’s face it, most people don’t know the
precise language required to talk about hydroelectric dams.)
We can see
that the words “generate” and “generator” are already included on the diagram,
and these are key to understanding what is happening. Another word, “flow” is
written on the diagram, and this refers to the movement of water.
In order to
avoid repetition, you might want to think of synonyms of these words:
It is worth
noting that “pump” is not exactly a synonym of “flow,” but it can contextually
have a similar meaning when considering this diagram. You can also think of antonyms
(words with the opposite meaning). An antonym of “flow” is “hold back.” You can
see how I have used these words in my sample answer below.
While the passive voice is not very common in English, it is extremely common when people describe process diagrams for IELTS. This is because the passive voice is used when we don’t know who or what is doing an action, or don’t need to say. It is also useful when we put emphasis on the object of an action. For all those reasons, we really need it for this sort of task.
example, rather than saying “______ generates electricity,” we can instead say,
“Electricity is generated.” This is useful because we don’t know who is
operating the power station, and we are not allowed to guess at this sort of
thing in IELTS. If we wanted to include the fact that the process results in
the generation of electricity, we could say it in one of two ways:
The flow of water through a dam
Electricity is generated by the flow
of water through a dam.
one is passive voice, and it puts emphasis on the result, which can be more useful,
especially if we are focusing on this in the introduction to our essay.
A dam holds water back from its
The water is held back from its
natural course by a dam.
second example is passive and puts emphasis on the water, which may be more
important in that context. It also adds a degree of formality, as passive
structures are a feature of formal writing.
we can mix active and passive voice to give some diversity to our language:
water flows into a lower reservoir,
but at night it is pumped back up
through the system to the upper reservoir.
example is active and the second is passive. In the first example, the water is
more important than the reservoir, and having an active structure shows the
relationship more clearly. Water —-> reservoir. In the second, we don’t
need to say what is pumping the water, and we want the water to be more
important, so we use passive voice.
Here is a
video about using the passive voice in IELTS writing task 1:
How to Use Passive Voice for IELTS Writing Task 1 Process Diagrams - YouTube
Here is my
sample answer to the question and diagram above:
The diagram depicts a hydroelectric power station, and shows how electricity is generated by the flow of water through a dam and other component parts. Ultimately, water flows from one reservoir to another, producing electricity that is sent to the national grid.
Firstly, water enters a reservoir from a river. The water is held back from its natural course by a dam, underneath which there is an intake pipe that is open during the day and closed at night. During the daytime, water flows down, via gravity, to the power station, which is housed below the dam. In the power station, the flowing water spins a generator, which produces an electrical current that is then distributed via power lines to the national grid.
Once the water has generated this electricity, it flows into a lower reservoir, but at night it is pumped back up through the system to the upper reservoir, ready to begin the process again the following day.
One of the reasons why IELTS writing is so much more
difficult than the others parts of the exam is that it includes punctuation.
Knowing how to punctuate an essay correctly is something that even most native
English speakers cannot do.
There are lots of punctuation mistakes that can be made, just as there are lots of mistakes in using tenses or spelling. However, among the most common – and most misunderstood – is an error called the comma splice.
Today, we will look at what it is and how to fix it.
What is a Comma Splice?
A comma splice is when two independent clauses are joined by a comma and nothing else. For
skills are really important, people respect those who have lots of leadership
What is the problem here? Well, we have two main clauses:
skills are really important
respect those who have lots of leadership qualities
These are both independent
clauses, and that is the problem. Independent clauses can be attached to
each other in only three possible ways:
Leadership skills are really important; as such, people respect those who have lots of leadership qualities.
Those three ways of writing a sentence are all perfectly
acceptable. However, when two clauses are joined with just a comma, it is
considered a comma splice.
Are Comma Splices a Problem in IELTS?
The short answer:
In the IELTS writing exam, punctuation is important. [Here is a guide to punctuation for IELTS.] You need to be able to punctuate correctly in order to do well. This is because a quarter of your grade comes from grammar. The marking is divided up like this:
Task Achievement / Response (25%)
Coherence and Cohesion (25%)
Lexical Resource (25%)
Grammatical Range and Accuracy (25%)
It is that last part that will cause you problems. In order
to succeed at Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you will have to be able to
punctuate with some accuracy. Don’t worry – you don’t need to get it absolutely
perfect in order to score Band 7.0. However, you will need to avoid some big
mistakes like the comma splice.
As such, you need to figure out what a comma splice is so
that you can recognize that you have made the mistake, and then figure out
exactly how to fix it.
How to Fix a Comma Splice
The first step to fixing a comma splice to know that you
have made a mistake, and it is therefore important that you understand exactly
what a comma splice is.
When you find a sentence that suffers from a comma splice,
you will need to change it by one of three ways:
Alter the sentence in the ways listed above.
Add a full stop to make it into two sentences.
Turn the complex sentence into a compound one.
Let’s look at how that can be done.
Here is another example of a comma splice:
Small communities might be that piece of the
immigrant home that was missing, keeping their local traditions and mother
tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
In this sentence, we can clearly see that there are two
independent clauses. They are joined only by a comma, and this is a big
mistake. We can change it according to the above methods:
Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing, as keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
(here I have added a coordinating conjunction – “as”)
Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing. Keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
(in this case I have made two sentences by adding a full stop)
Small communities might be that piece of the immigrant home that was missing because keeping their local traditions and mother tongue is definitely important to remind them of their roots.
(now the sentence is a compound one as the second clause has become a dependent clause)
I cannot change the above sentence by adding a conjunctive
adverb because none fit. Sometimes this is the case, and you will need to
change the sentence according to what can logically be done.
Let’s look at a second example with more possibilities:
That car part was for public use, the old
one became the staff car park.
That car park was for public use, while the old
one became the staff car park.
(this is now a compound sentence)
That car park was for public use; however, the
old one became the staff car park.
(here we have a suitable conjunctive adverb)
That car park was for public use; the old one
became the staff car park.
(these clauses are short enough to be divided by
just a semi-colon)
That car park was for public use. The old one
became the staff car park.
(we can also make them into two sentences!)
That car park was for public use, and the old one
became the staff car park.
(often it is easiest just to use a coordinating
Note: Adding just a semi-colon can be problematic.
Technically, the two clauses must be very close in meaning, and usually the
must be quite short, in order for this punctuation to be acceptable.
Getting Better at Punctuation
Punctuation is really hard, but it is not impossible to
learn. In fact, if you dedicate yourself, I think you could learn most of the
rules in one or two days, and then spend a few weeks practicing to get really
good at them.
I recommend that you read my book, Grammar for IELTS:
It contains all you really need to know about punctuation
and clauses. Once you have read this, you should be able to avoid comma
splices. If you make one by accident, hopefully you can find it and fix it like
I showed you above.
If you need help with your IELTS writing, consider using my writing correction service. It is the easiest way to figure out what mistakes you are making so that you can avoid them in future. Using my service will put you on the fast-track to IELTS success! Send me an e-mail at email@example.com if you want more details.
I started this website more than 3 years ago to provide free IELTS materials to any student who needed help. Around that time, I also started the TED-IELTS Facebook page as a way of reaching more people.
Today, the Facebook page crossed over the an important milestone: 5,000 followers!!!
I know that is not a huge amount, but it is important to me because these are not paid followers. These are real IELTS students who use this site and the Facebook page for real IELTS preparation. The Facebook page has grown slowly over these three years, but it has been an organic growth, and I have been happy with it.
Six months ago, I started the IELTS Speaking Partner group. It is a meeting place for like-minded IELTS candidates who need speaking practice. I have tried to keep it safe and healthy for all its users, although this has been a huge challenge. Every day, 50-75 spammers and scammer attempt to join the group! It is an exhausting task, but I am determined to keep the group pure so that it remains different from all the other terrible IELTS Facebook groups.
Later today, that group will cross over its own milestone: 20,000 users! Wow! I am amazed by its growth, and I have hope that it will reach 100,000 users within a few months. However, it will be a big challenge keeping it safe. I need all my followers to please report any malicious users.
I hope that you will consider following these Facebook communities. Daily practice is essential to improving your English skills, and by using Facebook to get reminders or assistance you are setting yourself on the course to success!
Matt Cutts is a Google engineer, and in this TED talk from
2011, he gives some interesting advice about how to change your life. This is a
very short talk, lasting about as long as an IELTS listening section 4 passage.
Let’s use it to practice our listening skills.
Watch the video once and answer the following question. (Answers
are at the bottom of the page.)
What is the speaker trying to tell his audience?
a) They should always try to change themselves.
b) It only takes 30 days to change the world.
c) They should try something new for 30 days.
d) Everyone should try to write a novel.
Now listen again more carefully, and decide whether the
following statements are TRUE or FALSE.
2. You can get rid of a bad habit in just 30 days.
3. He remembered more of his life during these 30 days.
4. He climbed up Mr. Everest.
5. He wrote a 15,000 word novel.
6. It is better to make big changes than small ones.
Finally, set the video to play from 01:29 and then listen
again. As you listen, you should fill in the blanks below:
I also ____7_____ that if you
really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days. Have you
ever wanted to ____8____? Every November, tens of thousands of people try to
write their own 50,000-word novel, ____9____, in 30 days. It turns out, all you
have to do is write _____10______ a day
for a month. So I did. By the way, the secret is not to go to sleep until
you’ve written your words for the day. You might be _____11____, but you’ll
finish your novel. Now is my book the next great American novel? No. I wrote it
in a month. ______12_____.
In his TED talk, Matt Cutts uses some common, everyday
language that might help you in IELTS speaking. Right at the beginning, he
I was stuck in a rut
What do you think this means?
“Stuck in a rut” means to be doing the same thing every day
and not being happy about it. If you don’t like your job and you feel like you
are making no progress, you might say, “I’m stuck in a rut.”
Later, he says,
the months flying by
What about this? Can months fly?!
In English, we sometimes say “time flies” when it seems like
time is going past very quickly. Another expression is: “Time flies when you’re
having fun.” If I said that “The months flew by” then it means that those
months seemed very fast to me, and maybe I don’t remember them very well.
A bit later, he describes himself like this:
desk-dwelling computer nerd
A “dwelling” is a house, but it is also a verb that means “to
live somewhere”. In this case, we are joining it with the noun “desk” to mean “someone
who lives at his desk”. A “nerd” is someone who is socially awkward and maybe
loves computers too much.
Finally, he said that he tried to write a 50,000 word novel
This is a strange expression. Maybe you have never heard of
it. If I do something “from scratch” it means I have started from the very
beginning. For example, “I made this dinner from scratch,” means that I made it
from the most basic ingredients, with no pre-made parts.
You cannot realistically learn English in 30 days, but you can develop habits that can help you. If you follow Matt Cutts’ advice, you can implement some changes in your life that will help you do better at IELTS. For example, set aside some time each day for learning new vocabulary or speaking with a language partner. These things will not make you fluent in just 30 days, but that time might help you turn them into regular habit that will see you eventually becoming fluent.
I often encounter students who want to know whether they
should use British English or American English in their IELTS tests. Sometimes,
when I am marking an essay as part of my writing correction
service, I have to leave a comment about it because it is a surprisingly
important issue. In this article, I will explain the differences between
British and American English and which one you should use in the IELTS exam.
British vs American English
First of all, let’s ask the obvious question: What’s the
difference between British and American English? Maybe some of you didn’t even
know that there was a difference. After all, it’s still English, right?
However, there are regional differences in languages. There
is accent, for example, and also dialect. People in Scotland sound different
from people in Canada or South Africa or Australia. However, what we’re really
talking about today is whether there is a major difference between British and
American English – not just in terms of accent, but other areas.
There are indeed some differences, and although they are
quite minor to native speakers, they might appear confusing to IELTS students
who are learning English. One of the biggest differences between British and
American English is in spelling. In fact, you have probably noticed before that
there are some words that appear to change in terms of spelling, and maybe you
wonder why it happened.
British vs American Spelling
Let’s take the word “neighbour,” for example.
Does that look strange to you? Or does it look normal?
How about this one: “neighbor”?
The first word was in British English and the second was in
American English. Isn’t that interesting? Well, actually, the Americans dropped
the “U” in many words. You can find out why in this
Here are a few more examples:
You can see that in each word, the British add “-our” while
the Americans just make it “-or”. That’s not too hard to remember, right?
Another common one is the “-re” ending in British English,
which the Americans have changed to “-er”. Here are a few examples:
Another really common area of difference between British and
American spelling is in the use of “-ize” endings. Basically, these are
elements of American English, whereas in the UK we tend to use “-ise”. This is
also true with “-yze/-yse” endings, although these words are a bit less common.
You can see this in the following table:
**Note: This is also true when these words turn into nouns:
Finally, the last difference between British and American
English that will be of interest to IELTS students is the trickiest one. The
examples above are actually pretty easy to remember. You could summarise them
However, this last example is harder, and even some native
speakers make mistakes with it!
Basically, if a word ends in a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) and then
the letter l, in British English we double the l when changing the form. Americans
don’t do this, and they keep the single l. Let’s take “travel” as a good
example because it is such a common word.
There are many more differences between British and American
spellings, but I think that the ones I have explained above are the most
important for IELTS students to know. If you want to study more on this topic,
you can check out this
post on the Oxford English Dictionary website.
Can I Use American English in the IELTS Test?
The answer to this question is simply: Yes! You can use
American spellings in the IELTS writing test or an American pronunciation in
the IELTS speaking test. You can also fill in answers for the reading or
listening exam in American English, if that is the correct answer.
In fact, it is perfectly acceptable to use either British or
American English in the IELTS exam. Both of these are considered correct and
acceptable forms of English, and IELTS examiners are trained to give equal marks
to candidates using British or American spelling.
However, the most important thing is that you don’t use both British and American spelling in
the IELTS exam. This would be considered a significant error. You can use 100%
American spelling, or 100% British spelling, but not a mix of both.
The reason why you can’t use both American and British
English in the exam is that these are considered separate forms of English. The IELTS is an international exam
(that’s what the I stands for in the abbreviation) and as such you can use
either form of English, but you cannot mix them together. If you wrote “colour”
in one sentence and then “realize” in the next, you would be penalised for
mixing your spellings.
As soon as you use British English, the examiner will
mentally acknowledge your work as British English. Therefore, if you switch to
American English, any words spelling this way would be considered misspellings,
and you would lose marks for Lexical
British vs American Accents in IELTS
The IELTS test is an international English test and you will
hear different accents during the listening exam, or when speaking with
different examiners. (You can read about the different accents on the official
IELTS website.) For example, you may hear Irish accents and American
accents communicating during a listening passage, and then you might speak with
someone from London during your speaking exam. You would be expected to
understand all these different accents, as they are all representative of the
Practice by listening to British people speaking.
Being able to follow these different accents is really
important, so make sure that you don’t spend too much time focused on any one
accent during your IELTS preparation. It is really common for people to do all
their listening practice to the BBC News and only become familiar with British
English, or to fixate on American movies and only learn American English.
However, there are lots of different accents you would need to know. Many people
struggle to understand Australian English, for example, and yet it is likely to
appear during your IELTS exam!
Do you Need to Speak with a British or American Accent?
Quite simply, no you don’t need to speak with any particular
accent during the IELTS speaking exam. The speaking rubric states that the
IELTS examiner must be able to understand you clearly, but it makes no mention
of accent. You should be able to express all your ideas easily, and your words
should be clear and simple to understand. This means placing the correct stress
on each word and saying the right sounds. However, a Japanese or Nigerian
speaker may still retain their accent and that it absolutely no problem.
I made a video last year about this topic. When you have
some free time, you should watch it. It will tell you everything you need to
know about IELTS and accents:
Does your accent affect your IELTS score? - YouTube
Words that are Different in America and the UK
In a previous section, I talked about differences between
British and American spellings, but did you know that we often use completely
Actually, these days most British people would understand
American words because of TV and movies, and some Americans also understand
British words, too. However, for an IELTS student it can be a little hard to recognise
Here are a few examples of words that are different in the
USA and the UK:
There are many, many more of these words, but I have
collected the ones above which might possibly appear in the IELTS exam. To be
honest, if there is a word that would be completely different in British or
American English, the IELTS examiners would probably avoid it or make its
meaning clear. For example, you may be listening to a passage in the listening
test and the speaker may mention “sneakers.” They might then say, “that’s what
American people call trainers.”
Find new words in a dictionary.
In the listening exam, you may also hear people giving
directions or explaining the different parts of a town or university campus. In
this section, it is normal to hear words describing streets or buildings. In
fact, these can be different in British and American English. For one thing, as
you saw above, the word “pavement” is changed to “sidewalk” in American
English. A “roundabout” is called a “traffic circle”.
It is much more common to hear British words in the test as
it is more or less a British exam. Although you will hear American accents, the
words you read and hear will probably be from British English rather than
If you were required to write down one of those words, it
would be perfectly acceptable to use either the British or American word in
most cases. Only if you were required to actually use a word from the text
would it become important which one you chose. For example, if two people were
talking about playing football at the weekend, and you had to fill in a gap
using words from the text, you could not
say that they will play soccer.
How to Prepare for IELTS – British and American Words
It can be really confusing learning both British and American
words for IELTS, but actually it’s not that difficult, and I would recommend
that you don’t worry too much. If you have a balanced approach to studying, you
will probably hear both accents in your daily listening practice, and you will
probably read both types of word during your reading practice.
I don’t think that it’s really necessary to learn both sets
of spellings, as you can just use one consistently throughout the whole exam.
As I mentioned before, the biggest problem is mixing American and British
spelling together! That is something you should definitely avoid in the writing
As long as you consider all these words as just part of the
English language, you should be fine. In the beginning, it might seem strange
that some people say, “I live in a block of flats,” while others say, “I live
in an apartment building.” However, as long as you know what these mean, you
are doing just fine. Don’t worry so much about the origin of the word or
At a certain point, you will be quite advanced in your IELTS
studies and looking to score higher than band 7. This is the time when it might
be worth paying attention to the differences. At this stage, spelling one word
in British English and another in American English will cost you a few points,
and so your score might be affected. However, below a band 7 it probably doesn’t
I always recommend to my students that they take a balanced
approach to studying for IELTS (which I outline in this
article). That means looking at all sorts of resources instead of fixating
on just one type. I think that this would help you a lot for preparing to learn
British and American English because if you are looking at all sorts of books,
podcasts, TV shows, and so on, then you will hear lots of different types of
English, and you will learn a diverse range of words.
There are some differences between British and American
English, even though they are mostly the same. In the IELTS exam, you can use
either form of English, but you should not mix them together. Learning both
British and American English can be achieved through a balanced range of IELTS
study materials, but you could probably just study British English and succeed,
as this is the main branch of English used for the IELTS exam.
more important – to know many words or to be able to use words with a high
degree of accuracy?
purposes of succeeding in IELTS, it is best to be accurate with your words. By
that, I mean you should be able to use the correct word for each situation
rather than an incorrect word. This may seem obvious, but in fact many IELTS
students get obsessed with learning as many words as possible, and they don’t
focus on how to use them. The problem there is that you may have learned an
interesting word, but if it is not accurately used, then it is just another
mistake in your essay, and it may cause your score to be reduced.
How to Learn IELTS Vocabulary [Best Methods] - YouTube
As an IELTS
tutor, I see this every day. My students often write a passage using the most
advanced vocabulary that they know in order to impress me, but doing so causes
them to make completely incorrect sentences. Sometimes the inaccuracy is so
extreme that a perfectly good sentence, which would have helped them achieve a
very high score, becomes utterly unreadable. Take for example, the following
Since the mid-1990s, the internet
has changed the way that people communicate.
Communications technology increases
at a rapid velocity since its foundation during the ultimate decade of the
sentence is better?
Sentence #1 is far better than sentence #2.
Sentence one presents a fact in a simple, grammatically correct way. Sentence two, on the other hand, is written in very poor English. The grammar is wrong because the vocabulary chosen is not correctly used. This is an obvious example of a student who is desperate to achieve a high band score, but is doing it in completely the wrong way. He simply does not understand that longer words do not equal a higher band score.
why so many students make this mistake is hidden in the IELTS marking rubric.
Look at these excerpts from the document:
uses a wide range of
uses a wide range of
uses a sufficient
range of vocabulary
uses less common
uses an adequate
range of vocabulary
attempts to use less
clearly see that it is important to have a “range of vocabulary,” and to lack
that range would result in a lower band score. However, it is important to
remember that no specialist knowledge is required for IELTS. You will never
encounter a question that requires you
to know complex scientific terminology, or to explain difficult economic
concepts with obscure words. To have a “sufficient” range means that your words
are capable of covering the topic (which will be fairly general) without the
reader being unclear about your meaning.
example, let’s say you are asked about technology, which is a common IELTS
topic in all parts of the exam. You should be able to talk about the basics of
computers, knowing words and phrases like the following:
/ uploading / streaming
/ desktop / notebook / tablet
engine / website / app
the internet / browse a website
Technology Vocabulary for ESL and IELTS - YouTube
would be helpful if you know some really advanced language, and a computer
expert might find this particular topic very easy to discuss. However, it is
not necessary to know such advanced words and phrases. Having a sufficient or
wide range of vocabulary does not necessarily require expert language.
most important phrase from the table above is:
common vocabulary/ lexical items
This is the one that causes the most problems. All over the world, lazy teachers and lazy writers and lazy YouTubers are busy telling people that in order to score highly in IELTS, you need to use “less common” words. They go to a dictionary or thesaurus and pick some obscure language, and then teach it to their students.
is that “less common” doesn’t mean “incredible obscure.” It simply means a word
that is slightly less common than the most obvious choice. For example, instead
of saying that there are “many people” in some place, you could say that there
is “a high population density.” Instead of saying that a band has “many fans,”
you could say it “has a dedicated fan base.” You see, we are simply upgrading
our language a little without using completely obscure words.
Part of the
issue is that when you encounter a very uncommon word, such as one you found in
a thesaurus, then you may not know how to use it. As I said before, accuracy is
more important than range. Let’s say you want to talk about teachers
disciplining children and you think of the word “strict.” This is a perfectly
fine word for IELTS, but many students would prefer to attempt a more difficult
word. They think of synonyms for “strict”:
Synonyms for strict.
As you can
see, we have many words in English, and so you often have a choice of which to
use in a given situation. But can all of these be used to replace “strict”? Most
of them can, but not all of them apply to people. Some of these synonyms of
“strict” refer to a strict rule or law rather than a strict person. Some of
them are very formal, while others are very informal. Some of them imply a high
degree of strictness, while others tell us that a person is only somewhat
It is thus important that we don’t simply learn lists of vocabulary in order to give us a better “range” or to have more “uncommon words” to use. Instead, we need to be able to use our language with a high degree of accuracy and appropriacy. This is particularly important because Lexical Resource overlaps with other marking criteria. For example, using a difficult word might cause a student to make a grammatical error, or slip in terms of coherence. It might even, in extreme cases, cause a misunderstanding of the question. As such, mistakes in vocabulary can cause a loss of points in Grammatical Range and Accuracy, Coherence and Cohesion, or Task Achievement.
Today, we are going to look at an IELTS speaking part 2 cue
card that asks you to describe a prize.
More specifically, it will ask you to describe
a prize you have won. In other words, it can’t just be any prize that you
know, like a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.
As you probably know, there are many different things you
could be asked to describe in IELTS speaking part 2, such as:
What would you call a “prize”? Well, the physical prize may
be an object like a trophy, but we’re probably going to be describing an event
or a memory.
The Cue Card
First of all, let’s look at the cue card. Remember that
there is no way of predicting what is going to be on an IELTS cue card. Even if
you are prepared for a certain topic, you cannot know for sure exactly what the
cue card will say. Perhaps you studied hard and prepared to describe a prize…
but in the actual IELTS exam, the specific details on the cue card may be
different from what you studied at home.
In other words, it is really important that you read the cue
card carefully. Here is the one that we will examine today:
Describe a prize you have won.
You should say:
– what it is
– what you had to do to win it
– how many other competitors there were
and explain how you felt after winning it.
Analyzing the Cue Card
So what do we need to do exactly?
We need to:
Talk about a prize.
Any prize? No. One that we have won.
Give information about the prize.
Explain how we won it.
Say how many other competitors there were.
Describe our feelings after we won the prize.
Remember that for IELTS speaking part 2 it is perfectly fine to go off-topic a little
bit. This is very different from the writing exam, where you should always stay
on-topic. You can aim to deal with each of the points on the cue card, but then
add your own ideas as well. This will help to pad out your answer and make it
more personal and detailed.
What if I Have Never Won a Prize?
Hmmm… This is a difficult part of IELTS speaking to deal
with. Of course, not everyone has won a prize before… So how can you answer
this sort of question? It seems unfair, right?
So what does that mean in terms of giving your answer…?
I strongly recommend that you try to answer the question as fully as possible and stick as close to the cue card as you can. This will help you to structure a logical answer that uses an appropriate range of language.
Of course, if you have never won a prize before then there
really only two things you can do:
Talk about something else.
Of those two things, I think talking about something else is easiest. In this case, you could possibly begin your speech by saying:
To be honest, this is a difficult question for
me because I’ve actually never won a prize before. However, I competed in a
competition about six years ago to win…
After this, you would talk about a time you almost won a prize. Now this is not ideal, of course, but if there is no category in the marking criteria for Task Response or Task Achievement, then how could the examiner mark you down?
(This raises the valid question of whether you ever need to
talk about the content of the cue card. If the examiner is only listening to your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, then
surely you could just talk about anything!
However, my feeling is that you would be knocked down for vocabulary because in
that case your speech is not directly on-topic, and therefore the language used
would fall foul of certain rules regarding Lexical Resource. Still, it is an
interesting point and I would love to hear from the British Council about
As this is asking about something from your past, you will certainly need to use the past tenses to answer it fully. You probably won’t need all of them, but it is best to be familiar with each of the four aspects of the past tense in order to excel at IELTS.
(Hey, maybe you should get a copy of this book to help you
learn more grammar for IELTS…)
In terms of vocabulary, your first thought should be other
ways of saying “prize”. Some synonyms (or very closely related words) include:
If you won a physical trophy, there are certain words like “crown”, “plate”, or “shield” that may potentially apply, depending on what it looked like. Otherwise, you might talk about a “cash prize” or a “certificate”.
You also will need words such as “to win”, “to achieve”, and
“to be victorious”.
Once you have decided what you would like to talk about, you
should make a few notes. I have, in previous articles and videos, talked about
how to make short, effective notes. Basically, you should not attempt to write
down full sentences, but rather aim to note just a few key words. These may be
words that will help you remember what to say, important words of vocabulary,
or general ideas that might want to include in your speech.
As I would like to show you how to answer a question to
which you don’t really have a perfect answer, I am going to pick something that
I didn’t win. In other words, I will
say that I have never won prize before, and instead answer with something very
My notes might say:
Competed but not victorious
I will talk about a time when I participated in an event that had prizes, but which I did not win. In order to make this relevant to the cue card, I will explain clearly to the examiner at the beginning of my speech that this question did not leave me with any possible direct answer, but I will do my best to answer it nonetheless.
Note: I have highlighted some useful vocabulary related to the topic.
My marathon medal.
Before I begin to describe this situation, I must say that I’ve never actually won a prize before, and so this cue card doesn’t really apply to me in a direct way. However, I will still attempt to answer it as best I possibly can, given the circumstances.
I’d like to talk about a time when I competed in a marathon, even though I was not victorious. This was about four years ago, and I had decided that even though I had no experience in running, I would attempt to train for a marathon in about six months. It was obviously a huge challenge, but I dedicated myself to it, running almost every day.
When the day of the marathon arrived, I still wasn’t sure if I could finish it. I had gotten injured at some point and my training had really declined, but I still wanted to give it my best shot. For me, on a personal level, just finishing the marathon would be a tremendous victory.
I started running and completed the half marathon quite easily, but soon after it became really tiring. I persevered and finally stumbled across the finishing line in about 5 hours. If you know anything about marathons, you’ll know that’s not a good time! But I was still proud of myself, and it felt like a major personal triumph.
I got a medal at the end, which I suppose was a sort of prize, even though there were hundreds of people who finished ahead of me. Afterwards, I felt really proud of myself but I was in a lot of pain for about four days as my feet and legs recovered from the exertion.
When you are given the cue card, you only have one minute to
prepare your answer. Don’t panic if it seems difficult. Make a quick choice,
think carefully about how to explain yourself, and then speak slowly but
confidently. Even if your answer is not exactly what the cue card demanded, you
will still be able to dazzle the examiner with your excellent English skills.
In the IELTS writing exam, there are many possible questions you may be asked and it is worthless trying to predict them. However, you should definitely seek out old questions in order to understand 2 things:
Common IELTS topics
The style of IELTS questions
Unfortunately, the internet is awash with terrible, fake IELTS questions! That’s because so many people want to make money from IELTS that they write stupid questions and post them online to attract you to their website.
This may not seem like a big problem because even a fake IELTS question can be useful for practice. However, many of them are not in the IELTS style or include some bad grammar in the question. By studying from these fake questions, you can actually develop some bad habits of your own.
I have put together a list of IELTS writing questions below. I encourage students who participate in my writing correction service to choose questions from this list before writing an essay for me to correct. These questions are a mix of genuine IELTS questions and ones that are very similar to the real IELTS questions.
I have divided these into three categories:
Task 1 [General]
Task 1 [Academic]
Task 1 [General]
A friend you made while you were studying abroad has written
to ask you for help in finding a job in your country. You have heard about a
job in a local company that might be suitable for him/her.
Write a letter to this friend. In your letter
Tell your friend about the job and what sort of
work it involves
Say why you think the job would be suitable for
Explain how to apply for the job
Your local council is considering closing a sports and
leisure center that it runs, in order to save money.
Write a letter to the local council. In your letter
Give details of how you and your friends or
family use the center.
Explain why the sports and leisure center is
important for the local community.
Describe the possible effects on local people if
the center closes.
You work at home and have problem with a piece of equipment
that you use for your job.
Write a letter to the shop or company which supplied the
equipment. In your letter
Describe the problem with the equipment
Explain how this problem is affecting your work
Say what you want the shop or company to do
You work for an international company. You have seen an
advertisement for a training course which will be useful for your job.
Write a letter to your manager. In your letter
describe the training course you want to do
explain what the company could do to help you
say how the course will be useful for your job
You and some friends ate a meal at a restaurant to celebrate
a special occasion, and you were very pleased with the food and service. Write
a letter to the restaurant manager. In your letter
give details of your visit to the restaurant
explain the reason for the celebration
say what was good about the food and the service
There have been several complaints about the reception area
where visitors to your company arrive. Your manager has asked you to suggest
how the reception area could be improved.
Write a letter to your manager. In your letter
describe the complaints that have been made
say why the reception area is important
suggest how the reception area could be improved
You are working for a company. You need to take some time
off work and want to ask your manager about this.
Write a letter to your manager. In your letter
explain why you want to take time off work
give details of the amount of time you need
suggest how your work could be covered while you
Your local public library wants to make improvements to
their services and facilities. In order to get ideas from the public, they have
asked library users to send them suggestions in writing.
Write a letter to the librarian. In your letter
Describe what you like about the library
Say what you don’t like
Make suggestions for improvements
Task 1 [Academic]
The graph below shows usual water usage (in millions of
cubic meters) by industries in a country in a year.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
The first graph below shows the weight (in tonnes) of fruit produced by a farm during each month in 2013, and also the amount (in tonnes) of fertiliser used. The second graph shows the volume of rainfall in each month (in millimetres.) Write a report summarising the information. Select and describe the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
The graph below gives information from a 2008 report about
consumption of energy in the USA since 1980 with projections until 2030.
Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the
main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
The diagram illustrates the volume of electricity produced and consumed in ten countries in 2014.
The following bar chart shows the different modes of transport used to travel to and from work in one European city in 1960, 1980 and 2000.
worth nowadays seems to be judged according to social status and material
possessions. Old-fashioned values, such as honour, kindness and trust, no
longer seem important.
extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
All cars that burn fossil fuels should be banned and
electric cars should replace them.
Do you agree or disagree?
Some people prefer to spend their lives doing the same
things and avoiding change. Others, however, think that change is always a good
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.
growing number of gyms and fitness centres, more and more people are leading a
sedentary lifestyle in the modern society.
problems are associated with this? What solutions can you suggest?
think that environmental problems should be solved on a global scale while
others believe it is better to deal with them nationally.
both sides and give your opinion.
Scientists and technology experts seem to be more valued by
modern society then musicians and artists.
To what extent do you agree?
The prevention of health problems and illness is more
important than treatment and medicine. Government funding should reflect this.
To what extent do you agree?
In recent years, many small local shops have closed because
customers travel to large shopping centers or malls to do their shopping. Is
this a positive or a negative development?
Using a computer every day can have more negative than
positive effects on young children. Do you agree or disagree?
Some people believe that children should not be given
homework every day, while others believe that they must get homework every day
in order to be successful at school.
Discuss both sides and give your opinion.
Some people think that women should not be allowed to work
in the police force.
Do you agree or disagree?
Some parents buy their children a large number of toys to
play with. What are the advantages and disadvantages for the child of having a
large number of toys?
In some countries, more and more adults are continuing to
live with their parents even after they have completed education and found
jobs. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Shopping is becoming more and more popular as a leisure
activity. However, some people feel that this has both positive and negative
Why is shopping so popular?
What effects does its increase in popularity have on individuals
and on society?
With a fast pace of modern life more and more people are
turning towards fast food for their main meals.
Do you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Some people say that parents should encourage their children
to take part in organized group activities in their free time. Others say that
it is important for children to learn how to occupy themselves on their own.
Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
Successful sports professionals can earn a great deal more
money than people in other important professions. Some people think this is
fully justified while others think it is unfair. Discuss both these views and
give your own opinion.
In many countries, people can eat a wide variety of food
today. As a result, they eat food from other regions instead of local food.
Do you think the advantages of this development outweigh the
Some people say that the increasing business and cultural
contact between countries brings many positive effects. Others say that it
causes the loss of national identities. Discuss both sides and give your own
Many businesses think that the new employees who have just
graduated from schools lack interpersonal skills, such as working with
colleagues as a team.
What has caused this and what are the solutions
to this problem?