Category Archives: Exams

441. Andy Johnson at the IATEFL Conference

A conversation with Andy Johnson, talking about the IATEFL teaching conference, millennials, more tales of Andy’s appearance and the possibility of a WWE wrestling match between Andy and me.


Get 10% off all courses at London School Online.

Hello hello hello! I’m back from my trip to Japan. It’s great to be back. We had an amazing time! We did all the big Japanese things – we saw the cherry blossom, enjoyed lots of delicious food, explored parts of Kyoto and Tokyo, saw a mix of the busy metropolitan city areas and the more peaceful natural spots too and had an amazing evening entertaining Japanese LEPsters at a comedy show in Tokyo. It was an amazing and intense week, it was really great to be back in the country I called home for several years and I will be recording a couple of episodes about it soon and I will tell you all about the trip including descriptions of what we did, what we saw and how it all felt, so you can look forward to that.

In the meantime here is an episode which I recorded before going away on holiday.

This one is another conversation with my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, Andy Johnson, recorded on Skype while he was attending the IATEFL conference in Glasgow earlier this month.

Before we start that, let me just make a couple of announcements here at the beginning.


  • It’s LEP’s 8th Birthday!
  • British Podcast Awards – voting actually closes on 28 April. If you haven’t voted, please do it! If you have – thank you. I have a slim chance of winning this one so I need all of you to vote please.
  • My Teacher Talk at the British Council – make your reservation at
  • I’m also performing comedy on Monday in Paris – all the details on my page on Facebook for my comedy stuff – Luke Thompson – Comedy
  • Moscow LEPsters get together – Friday 21 April – I can’t actually be there, but I will be talking to the group via Skype – responding to some questions. Check Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club on FB for more details.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

This episode

In episodes 423 and 424 you might remember that I spoke to my former colleagues Andy Johnson and Ben Butler – English teachers from The London School of English. They were in Paris to take part in a teaching conference. We sat in the foyer of their hotel drinking overpriced beer and talked about loads of things including teaching, Andy & Ben’s presentations, millennials, teaching English for specific purposes, our teaching experiences and a few anecdotes about our appearances including a couple of funny stories about how Andy sometimes gets mistaken for Moby, the American musician.

They were fun and popular episodes, sparking quite a lot of discussion in the comment section, including a debate about who is the best teacher between Andy and me and how we should settle that debate by having a high-profile wrestling match… Yes, I know – that sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it.

Well, Andy is back in this episode today, and he’s at another conference – this time the English teaching industry’s biggest event, the IATEFL conference which this year is taking place in Glasgow.

Ben wasn’t available for this one – he was attending a session at the conference, but I spoke to Andy and asked him about this year’s conference and we continued our conversation about millennials from last time. You’ll also hear a couple of stories about what happened in Paris in November after we recorded our previous conversation and a number of other things, including the idea of us going head to head in a no holds barred wrestling match in order to determine who really is the greatest English teacher.

So without any further introduction, here is Andy Johnson in Glasgow.

That was my conversation with Andy. I hope you enjoyed it.

I just want to remind you that you can get 10% off all of the courses at London School Online. Just head over to and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout.

Also, Andy wanted me to let you know about a free webinar that they are putting on this Friday. If you’re interested in IELTS, check it out.

IELTS Workshop: Your questions answered
Friday, April 21, 2017 3:00:00 PM GMT (London time) – 4:00:00 PM CEST (Paris time)
This is the third in their series of free webinars. This is a webinar about IELTS and will take place on their eLearning platform, London School Online. It is suitable for anyone who is preparing to take the IELTS exam, or for teachers of the exam.

The idea is that you can use this webinar to get answers to your IELTS questions.

It’s being hosted by Daragh Brady, who I used to work with at LSE. Daragh is an excellent teacher who has wide experience in lots of areas, and he’s an IELTS examiner so he really knows all the ins and outs of this tricky but important English exam.

It’s totally free and everyone’s welcome but you do have to register.

Find the link here on the page for this episode or on the LSE Facebook page.

Click here for the LSE Online IELTS Webinar

Don’t forget also…

My teacher talk at the British Council in Paris. Thursday 27 April. I’ll be doing a kind of TED Talk about British Humour and Comedy. It’s also free and everyone’s welcome, but you need to register. You’ll find the relevant link on the page for this episode below.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

Thanks for listening!

Watch this space for some episodes about the Japan trip with some stories, comments about Japanese culture and descriptions of the comedy show I did in Tokyo.

Cheers! Bye.

Who do you think would win in a battle between Andy and me?


386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.


DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]


Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.


It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.


Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.


Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.


Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!



334. Interview with Craig Wealand (from InglesPodcast)

This episode features an interview with English teacher and podcaster Craig Wealand from Craig is originally from Essex in England, but now lives in Valencia in Spain where he works as an English teacher and Cambridge examiner for the British Council. Craig has been an English teacher for over 20 years, and for the last few years he has also been producing episodes of his learning English podcast, which won the award for Best Educational Podcast in the UK Podcaster awards last year. In the episode we find out about Craig, talk about his career, his teaching experiences, his podcasting and also I ask him some random “quick fire” questions, just like he does with guests on his podcast.

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Preamble (some stuff about swearing and vocabulary before the interview begins)

Before we get to the interview, I’m going to do a preamble where I mention a few things about swearing and vocabulary. This might take about 10-15 minutes. The interview is coming! A preamble is a ‘preliminary statement’ or ‘information that comes before the main content’ – before the main, “meat” of the episode. It’s a starter, essentially. This is a 3 course meal, this episode. You’ll get preamble, which is the starter. Then the main course, which is the interview, and then a desert, which is just some more info and announcements at the end. So, here’s the preamble. You don’t mind a preamble do you? Do you? No? Not really? Maybe a little bit? What’s that? Oh, “get on with it Luke?” oh, ok.

swearing-at-workA Note on Swearing in the Podcast

You should know that there is a little bit of swearing in this episode (just a couple of s- words in the middle of the interview). I know most of you don’t mind swearing but I thought I’d let you know just in case you’re particularly bothered by it.

I just want to mention these points about swearing though, just to be clear about it:

  • Swearing is pretty common in English language culture – but it’s still very rude if you use swear words in the wrong situations.
  • Usually, we just swear when we are with close friends, or in certain informal situations like at a football game, in a comedy club, or when we’re particularly angry – like when you’re driving and another driver does something dangerous on the road, or when you hit your thumb with a hammer, or something like that.
  • For you as a learner of English I’d say – just be aware of the impact of swearing in some situations and remember that, of course, you shouldn’t do it in business meetings (usually) or in classrooms, or with your host family or something. In fact, swearing is quite a subtle and complex art and if you do it wrong and in the wrong moment it can make you look really bad. I’d say – if in doubt, don’t swear.
  • However, I want this podcast to be an authentic reflection of natural English and so I include some swearing some times. My aim is not to offend anyone.
  • Personally, I’m not bothered by swearing. I am rarely offended by it, and in fact in the right circumstances I find it quite enjoyable.
  • But I know you might be listening with kids in the car or something, or you might not like these words, so when swearing happens in an episode I’ll just try to give you fair warning in advance.
  • For a while I used to bleep out swear words when they happened in interviews. You might have heard a “BEEP” instead of a swear word. Actually, I got a few messages saying “Why are you beeping out the swear words? I want to hear them? I want to be able to hear every word, especially the swear words!” So – in fact a lot of you really want to hear the swear words. Click here to listen to episode 83. “How to swear in British English”
  • I know what most of you are thinking. You’re thinking – “It’s fine Luke. There’s no need to justify it. We don’t mind. No worries. Now, get on with the podcast! Bring it on!” OK then. Yes, I don’t need to go on about it so let’s carry on. And that brings us back to…

Craig Wealand and his podcast –

Craig produces and records episodes of InglesPodcast himself and there are 3 types of episode on the show. There’s “Learn English with Reza and Craig” in which he’s joined by his friend Reza, and there’s “Pass FCE” which is all about the Cambridge FCE exam and then there’s “Mansion Interviews” in which Craig interviews various interesting people that he has discovered in one way or another. Last year Craig contacted me for an interview on his podcast, and I was very happy to be considered interesting enough to be invited on to the show. You can listen to that episode of InglesPodcast, with me, by clicking the link below.



By the way, you ought to know that Craig’s website and podcast are both created specifically for speakers of Spanish, who are learning English. So, if you’re a Spanish speaker you should be particularly interested in Craig Wealand’s work and I suggest that you check it out. But it’s not just for Spanish speakers – the majority of the content on the podcast is for anyone learning English. Some Spanish words crop up every now and then.


Craig and I have a few things in common as we are both English teachers who do podcasts and who live in foreign countries, so it was really nice to chat to him and I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Just a reminder: Check out and for Craig’s work and his podcast.



Now, during this conversation various nice chunks of vocabulary came up, and I’d like you to listen out for them. These are just bits of vocabulary that I think you should notice – natural expressions that you could add to your vocabulary. I have listened to the interview again and prepared a list of those expressions and I’ve printed them on the page for this episode – so you can go there, take the expressions, put them in your vocab list or flashcards app or whatever. I’m also going to read them out to you now. As a listening exercise you can then try and notice these expressions as they appear naturally in the conversation. That’s right – you can play a game of vocab hunter! (or just have a cup of tea and a biscuit if you prefer)

Here are the phrases you should try to identify. There are about 35 of them. I’m going to read them out but it’ll be super-duper quick. The main thing is I just want you to be mindful and notice these phrases. I’m not going to explain them all now, I’m just reading them out for you quickly. But, in the next episode of this podcast, which I’ll upload soon, I’m going to go through all these phrases properly, explaining and clarifying them. That should help you to really learn them.

So now, let me quickly just list these expressions like a robot – these are expressions to look out for in the episode. They will be fully explained and clarified in the next episode. OK, here we go…

  1. I thought it was about time that I got you (back) on LEP (it’s about time I did something)
  2. It’s been getting on for 3 years. (to be getting on for xxx years)
  3. How did you end up being an English teacher? (to end up doing something)
  4. He ended up marrying an Israeli girl.
  5. I took part of the credit for that. (to take the credit for something)
  6. I didn’t see myself doing a clerical job. (to see yourself doing something)
  7. You couldn’t just give away money willy nilly. (to do something willy nilly)
  8. You must have brushed shoulders, as it were, with Essex’s finest. (to brush shoulder’s with someone) (Essex’s finest)
  9. As soon as I got over the fear of standing in front of people… (to get over something)
  10. I came back to Spain with my tail between my legs. (with your tail between your legs)
  11. You start looking at things in a different light. (to look at something/see something in a different light)
  12. The grass is always greener on the other side.
  13. I lived in an English cocoon for the first year. (a cocoon)
  14. As drivers, they’re very erratic and dangerous! (erratic)
  15. It was just a scrape – a small dent in the car. (a scrape, a dent)
  16. Lots of tailgating goes on when you’re driving. (tailgating)
  17. Customer service sometimes falls a bit short. (to fall short)
  18. I’m always on a mission to go to the pub. (to be on a mission to do something)
  19. I want to sit in a pub, nursing a pint of Guinness. (to nurse something)
  20. To be constipated.
  21. My French is coming along. (to be coming along)
  22. It’s a question of trying to squeeze (in) bits of learning into the lifestyle. (to squeeze something in)
  23. It doesn’t just magically rub off on you. (to rub off on someone)
  24. They had to use the language in order to get by in a work environment. (to get by)
  25. If I don’t pull out the stops and work on the language then it’s not going to improve. (to pull out the stops)
  26. I’m turning the tables on you now Craig! You’re going to be in the hot-seat this time. (to turn the tables on someone / the hot seat)
  27. I guard my work desk with my life. (to guard something with your life)
  28. If she dares to put a pen on my desk I shout at her and we have an argument. (to dare to do something)
  29. You’d keep them in a bag and every now and then you’d take a look and have a whiff of the petrol. (to have a whiff of something)
  30. They (cats) look down their nose at you.  (to look down your nose at something)
  31. I’ve never been very keen on cats. (to be keen on something)
  32. I can’t talk you round. (to talk someone round)
  33. The thing about dogs is that they’re too needy, too high-maintenance. (needy / high-maintenance)
  34. Doesn’t that bother you, that they’re so fickle? (fickle)

Ok, so there are some phrases that you’re going to hear. Visit the page for this episode to read those expressions – you could google them or look them up in a dictionary, or just wait for the next episode when I will clarify them properly. The interview is about to start. See if you can spot the phrases I just mentioned, or alternatively, just kick back, relax and enjoy this mellow conversation with Craig Wealand.

*Interview Begins*

So, that was my chat with Craig Wealand

Hope you enjoyed it! Head over to his website to check out the podcast, especially if you’re a Spanish speaker and I know there are a lot of you listening to this – but promise me one thing – don’t forget me ok?

Remember all the vocab and expressions I listed earlier in the episode? That’s all going to be explained and clarified in the next episode, unless I get abducted by aliens and I can’t upload it.

So, we’ve had the starter – the preamble, we’ve had the main course – the interview, now here’s the dessert. Let’s say it’s a cake made from announcements.

Some more announcements

Here are just some other announcements and bits of news for you.

I’ll be on Blab, speaking to Craig + guests tomorrow (Thurs 10 March) at 5pm CET
If you enjoyed the conversation in this episode and you’d like to hear more than you might like to check out our blab conversation. We’re going to talk about comedy, and you can join us if you want. Just click this link to check it out

That’s really a message for those of you who listen to this as soon as it is published because I expect many of you will have missed the conversation now but never mind – I think you should have a look at Blab anyway, it’s a cool platform which is an interesting way to just listen to people talking online, or do some speaking if you’re feeling up for it.

You might be thinking – What’s Blab, Luke? OK, I’ll tell you.

Blab is an app and a website that allows you to have video conversations online. It’s a bit like Periscope, but 4 people can talk not just one, and everyone else can watch the conversation and add comments and questions. You can get Blab as an app on your phone or just through your web browser on your computer. If you’d like to join us, just click this link (or find the conversation by searching my Twitter feed – I’m @englishpodcast )

To take part you’ll have to sign up with Blab (it’s free and easy to use). Then you can watch the conversation (you’ll see 4 video screens with the 4 people talking to each other), leave comments or questions, or if there is an open spot you can join the conversation yourself, and be one of the 4 people on video in the discussion. It’s fun, it’s free and it’s a chance to just listen to English, ask questions or even do some speaking practice if you feel up for it. Our blab conversation is going to start at 5pm tomorrow (Thurs 10 March). Here’s the link again

If you’re too late and you missed that, have a look at Blab anyway. It’s pretty interesting, and I might be doing more things on Blab in the future.

So that’s blab.


Here’s a quick reminder about italki, the sponsor for this podcast. Go to to check out italki where you can find native English speakers and qualified teachers for conversation or tailored lessons just for you. It’s one of the best ways to improve your spoken fluency and is also cheaper and more convenient than taking language lessons offline. This interview with Craig was done on Skype just like lessons on italki and it’s easy easy easy. Also, because you’re a listener to this podcast italki will give you a voucher worth 100ITC (about 10 dollars) which you can use on subsequent purchases of lessons and stuff. That’s not too shabby! to start talking now! Oh, and if you’re shy – don’t be – the native speakers there are very friendly and it’s a totally cool and relaxed atmosphere in which you can just take your time and start speaking. Don’t be shy, give it a try.

Alright, that’s almost it for this episode, but I would still like to ramble on a bit more about some other podcast-related news and admin.

New comment system

As ever I invite you to leave your comments on the page for this episode.

You might have noticed that I have a new comment system on the website now. I’m now using the Disqus system. That’s basically an in-built comment system on my website. If you’ve seen it, let me know how it’s working for you. It should be smoother and more user-friendly than the previous comment system. For me, the improvements are these things:

You can now easily upload pictures into your comments. So that means you can share images, your own photos, memes etc.

If you include a link in your comment it should appear and will automatically be clickable (the old comment system used to do weird things with links sometimes – make them disappear etc). Some video content will automatically embed, which means that a link to a youtube link will automatically become an embedded youtube video in your comment.

Disqus is used on lots and lots of websites, so if you sign into Disqus you can then comment on lots of other websites using the same profile, and you can keep track of all the comments you’ve made on my website and any other website using Disqus.

Comments can now be deleted or edited by you, so if you’ve made an error or something, you can correct it later.

If you sign up to Disqus you can also get email notifications when other people reply to your comments. So it should now be easier to keep track of the conversations between you and other LEPsters on different pages of my website.

When you leave a comment with the new system, it won’t reload the whole page when you submit your comment. That used to happen with the old system, which was a bit annoying if you wanted to comment and listen at the same time. Now you can listen and comment and it won’t interrupt the episode by reloading the page. Nice.

Show us yer face! The Disqus system lets you show your own photo next to your comments. If you sign in with Twitter or Facebook it’ll show your Twitter or Facebook pic, or you can just upload another photo to your Disqus profile. If you just log in as a guest when you leave a comment (that means you just give a name and an email address but not a full Disqus user) you will appear as an LEP Ninja, with a little photo of an LEP Ninja – as you jump out of the shadows, leave your comment and then disappear into the night. ;)

All the old comments are still there and can still be read. At this moment in time, the website has had about 10,000 comments in total across all the pages on the site. They’re all still there.

The Disqus system should help to build more of a community feeling on

For full details about comment notifications (and how to control comment notifications from the old WordPress system), just click here: How to control comment notifications from WordPress and Disqus.

It’s good to see that so many of you have written about your commitments to learning English after listening to episode 332 with Olly Richards. It’s also nice to see that Olly himself is getting involved and writing some messages of encouragement there for you in the comment section for episode 332.

Also, I’m glad that lots of you enjoyed the misheard lyrics in the last episode. That was just a bit of a laugh wasn’t it? One thing I’d like to correct is that Meg and Jack from the White Stripes aren’t brother and sister. In fact, they were married to each other for many years. So, I just wanted to clarify that. For some reason I always thought they were siblings, but no – they were an item. That’s a bit weird. Maybe that explains why Jack was so upset about what happened with me at band practice, and why he chucked me out of the band. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, go back to episode 333 and listen to the whole thing!

Another nice thing I wanted to add here in this post-interview bonus section is that so many people have voted for their favourite pics in the LEP Photo Competition. Voting is now closed for that, so if you forgot to vote, that’s just your hard cheese! I’ll let you know about the winning pictures in due course.

That’s it – remember that the next episode should be about that list of vocab and expressions from the interview with Craig. I’ll explain and clarify them, which should help you both understand and pick up some more vocabulary, in this long and enjoyable journey into the acquisition of natural English. So, next stop – vocabulary in episode 335. (unless for some reason I can’t upload episode 335, like because I get abducted by aliens, or something less exciting, like I have to much work to do).

Small Donate ButtonThanks for listening all the way to the end of another long episode of LEP – you are a truly wonderful, attentive and patient human being and good things are bound to come your way sooner or later if there’s any justice in this world. Bye!


297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

On the podcast today I’m talking to Jessica Beck who has been working in English language teaching for over 10 years. She is an instructor, a teacher trainer and an author of 14 textbooks for learning English. You may also know Jessica from her work on the IELTS Energy Podcast (, which is part of the All Ears English. I talked to Gabby and Lindsay from AEE on LEP last year about culture shock, remember that? Well, Jessica is part of the All Ears English team, and is known there as the “Examiner of Excellence”. So, she knows a lot about the IELTS test, and he’s got some good advice for any of my listeners who plan to take the test, including how you can improve your speaking score if you have a good sense of humour. If you’re not planning to take the test, these skills can also be applied to your use of English in general life too.

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Jessica has kindly written a blog post which includes the tips and useful language she mentions in this episode. You can read that blog post below.

I expect that most of you know what the IELTS test is, In fact, I have done an episode about IELTS before on LEP in which I went through every part of the test in one episode, dispensing various bits of Jedi wisdom to help you get a better score. That episode is called “Tips and Tricks for the IELTS Test”, and is episode number 254 of Luke’s English Podcast.
Check it out here

For those that don’t know, IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, and it’s now the world’s #1 test of English language level. The test measures your English in 4 areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The maximum score in each area is 9 (expert user) and the lowest is 1 (total beginner). Lots of universities, employers and other institutions around the world require an IELTS score as requirement for entry, and 7 is usually the target score, sometimes it’s higher, sometimes lower depending on the institution. Cambridge University in the UK for example requires a minimum of 7.5 overall, with no less than 7 in any of the categories. So, if you want that place at a great British or American university, the first challenge is often to get a really good IELTS score, and what you need is good advice and strategies to help you do your best.

So, in this episode we’re going to meet Jessica, and talk specifically about the IELTS speaking test, in which you have a 15 minute interview with an IELTS examiner and your spoken English is tested in a few ways. Jessica has loads of tips for the speaking exam, and I’m hoping that she can give us some advice on how having a sense of humour can get you a better score in the test. So listen for some more top tips for IELTS in this one.

Also, what do you think would happen if I took the IELTS speaking test? Well, listen to the whole episode and you’ll find out…

Now, let’s meet Jessica the “Examiner of Excellence”.

Read Jessica’s Blog Post:

Humor Increases IELTS Speaking Scores

 Say what??!!

 I’m serious. It does.

 By Jessica Beck from All Ears English IELTS 

Many students, and teachers, for that matter, view all exams as formal and academic. Because of this, they believe that on these exams, test-takers must behave, speak, and write in an academic, formal style all the time.

While this may be true for some tests, there are many reasons why an IELTS candidate should not behave this way on the Speaking exam.

As we discussed on the podcast, a common mistake students make is not learning about what the IELTS examiner is looking for.

Students often look at example questions, memorize high-level words and phrases, and believe this is enough.

It’s not!

You must know what you are graded on, and where to use these words and phrases.

Your score, which can be from 0 to 9, is broken down into 4 aspects- Fluency and Coherence, Vocabulary, Grammar and Pronunciation.

You can read definitions of the band scores in each aspect at

What you must notice about the band score descriptors is that the examiner wants to hear a range from you- a range in vocabulary, in your ability to communicate about a variety of topics, and in your pronunciation.

The fact is that in Parts 1 and 2 on the IELTS Speaking exam, almost all of the questions are about you. They are personal and informal. Therefore, if you answer these questions in a formal way, you are showing that you do not have a range of communication ability and that you are unable to talk about personal, informal topics.

So, where does humor come in? How does it help you raise your score? Read on!

  • Humor helps you improve your pronunciation score. It helps you relax, allowing you to show your personality and use emotion in your voice. Showing relaxed and expressive pronunciation can push this score up to a 7 or higher!
  • It improves your fluency and coherence score. If you are able to answer some informal questions with a few informal anecdotes, or very short stories, about yourself, this will show that you can communicate appropriately and effectively in informal speaking situations.
  • It improves your vocabulary score, because you show you can use appropriate vocabulary to the question, and you have some knowledge of more interesting words and phrases. Showing the examiner a range of informal vocabulary in Parts 1 and 2, and formal vocabulary in Part 3, pushes your score up to a 7 or higher.
  • NOTE: Even though I’m encouraging you to communicate in a relaxed way, this doesn’t mean that you slump your shoulders and provide one word answers. You must always sit and behave respectfully, and ALWAYS answer in complete sentences.

We gave some examples of how to answer in a humorous manner on the podcast, and the phrase “self-deprecating” came up a few times.

Self-deprecation is the ability to make fun of yourself, or to share information about yourself that shows you make mistakes.

This is a humble way of communicating, and it can endear you to your listeners.

This is true on the exam and in real life!

For example, if the examiner asks, “Do you enjoy taking photographs?” A self-deprecating answer would be, “I’ll admit, I actually love taking selfies. I know this is a silly habit, and that is honestly a bit embarrassing, but I take selfies absolutely everywhere- at home, on the bus, walking up the stairs, waiting for my dry cleaning. However, I post almost none of them, so I guess it’s not that horrible of a habit!”

Other phrases you can use to introduce answers like this are: You won’t believe this, but…, This is crazy, but… and I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, but….

An excellent way to prepare to communicate in this way, on the exam and in real life, is to watch stand-up comedy, or see/listen to interviews with stand-up comedians.

Some podcasts that I recommend are Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, a news quiz with three stand-ups, How Did This Get Made, a show with 3-4 stand-ups who talk about really bad (but sometimes popular!) movies, and Comedy Bang Bang, an interview show with hilarious skits.

If you challenge yourself to experience this type of Western, English humor, not only will this help you communicate impressively with the IELTS examiner, but it will also help you talk naturally with native speakers, and understand more jokes in movies and TV shows.

Have fun and get your target score!

Click here to get the 7 Easy Steps to a 7 or Higher on IELTS 

Jessica Beck is the IELTS professional at All Ears English IELTS. She has helped hundreds of students reach their target score through her simple, step-by-step systems and strategies. Learn more with Jessica on the IELTS Energy Podcast in iTunes.

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

An episode full of advice for those taking the IELTS test. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonHello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast and this exciting and edgy new episode. I hope you are ready physically, mentally, spiritually, because this is going to be epic. I’m attempting to make this sound slightly more dramatic than it actually is. This one is all about the IELTS test, which is not normally an exciting subject, but with the use of this background music and my tone of voice hopefully I can convince you that this really is edge-of-your-seat stuff. If that isn’t enough, and you still need to be convinced of the dramatic tension at the heart of this episode, to keep you fully engaged, I am also expecting a delivery from the post office at any moment. A few days ago I ordered a pair of trainers online – a fresh pair of old-school addidas sneakers, and at some point this morning I expect them to be delivered to my door, by the postman. There could be a buzz at my doorbell at literally any second. I can hardly contain myself, and I hope it’s the same story for you. This is a truly riveting and adrenaline fuelled experience for me, and I hope it is for you too. And it is in this highly tense and gripping context that I bring this episode of LEP to you right now. Now if we can just keep up this level of focus throughout the rest of the episode, that would be great. If it helps you to concentrate, imagine that at any moment my addidas trainers could be delivered. I may even open the package live while recording the podcast. Will they be the right size? Will they be the right colour? Will they suit me? Only time can tell! But one thing’s for sure, it doesn’t get more dramatic than this, as the tension rises ahead of this groundbreaking new episode of Luke’s English Podcast in which we deal with the almost frighteningly engaging subject of the IELTS test, a test which, if you fail it, the penalty is instant death.

Just kidding. It’s not instant death. Usually you have to wait about 3 working days.

Obviously I’m just joking – you don’t die if you fail the IELTS test, and anyway, you can’t fail IELTS. So, that was just a light-hearted introduction to this episode, to make it exciting – because I’m a bit worried that a whole episode about IELTS may be a bit dull – but then again, I’m sure that loads of you out there will find this extremely useful. So let’s get on with it.

In this one I’m going to go through all parts of the IELTS test, giving you some tips and general advice. I’m recording this because it is one of the most commonly requested episodes. People are always asking me to do episodes about IELTS and I have never done one until now. So here it is, the eagerly awaited IELTS episode. Loads of people around the world take the IELTS test to get a grade of their English. More and more it is becoming the world’s #1 test of English level. It is a notoriously tough test which challenges many people around the world every day, so what wisdom can I impart to my loyal LEPsters who are hoping to prove themselves in the IELTS challenge? Well, quite a lot I hope.

If you’ve never taken the test, and never plan to (quite a wise move), hopefully there will still be plenty to gain from this episode because advice for the test often works as pretty good advice for study skills in general, and I will be talking throughout the episode about linguistic skills, challenges and advice – so there is bound to be loads of useful language which you can pick up by listening to this, and yes – because I had to prepare this episode in advance, pretty much all of this is transcribed and available for you at Just find the page for this episode and away you go!

The IELTS test is administered by Cambridge University and is the UK standard test of English language level. It is used by academic institutions and employers as a way of gauging the English level of potential students or employees. It’s an infamously difficult and is a complete test of your English skills. Many people have to take it before making progress in their career, their studies or just in their life in general, others take it as a challenge or a way to find out their real level in English. In this episode I’m going to impart as much advice as I can for those who are planning to take the test. It is a complex and broad-ranging test and I would need a whole series of episodes to deal with it fully. Here I’m going to give you as many hints and tips for each part of the exam as possible in just one single episode of the podcast. Many of the tips I give here can also be applied to other Cambridge exams like FCE, CAE and BEC as Cambridge tends to use certain question types and techniques across all those tests, although the test formats and levels of challenge are different.

To be completely honest, I wouldn’t normally have done this episode because it requires quite careful preparation, a lot of this advice is quite valuable and I’m a bit reluctant to give it away for nothing, and some people may find it a little dull. That’s why I wouldn’t normally have done this episode, but I am doing it simply because so many people have requested it, and I know that there are some people out there who have no access to affordable resources for IELTS preparation.

People normally pay for this kind of advice for the IELTS test, but I’m willing to give it to you here for nothing. In return please consider making a donation to me if you can. I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time preparing this episode, it includes some wisdom that I’ve developed after years of teaching IELTS classes off and on, and I’ve done it out of generosity and as a favour to many of my listeners who have requested this information. I am not in the business of giving away all my advice and counsel free of charge, as I’m sure you can understand. So, if you find my advice useful, please consider making a contribution by clicking the PayPal button which you will find on the page, and then making a donation. You can choose the amount. The most common amounts are 5-10 pounds but you can give as much or as little as you like. Small Donate Button

Where did I get this info?
A lot of this stuff comes from my own head and my experience of leading students through IELTS preparation, but I haven’t taught IELTS in a while, so I asked my British Council colleagues for their advice, and I looked at some BC published material which also includes lots of good tips.

By the way – I get quite a lot of teachers listening to this, as well as great students who have good IELTS scores. I’m sure you’ve got some great insights and tips as well. Please share them in the comments section. Certainly, if something occurs to you that I have missed, just add it in the comments section.

Download this useful stuff
If you’re serious about taking IELTS you will need study materials. You can buy preparation books from Cambridge University Press, and you should also consider getting one of their books of practice tests too.

Here are some other useful things for you to download:
The IELTS teacher’s guide – contains an overview of the test, explanation of the levels, assessment criteria for the speaking and writing sections (very valuable)

IELTS test This is invaluable because you can see the real tasks you have to do. Particularly useful are the sample writing tasks and answers. You can see the tasks, then read some answers from candidates, and then read the assessment feedback by examiners. I find this to be one of the best ways to get my students to reflect on what makes a good piece of writing. Click here to go straight to the writing part, and the sample answers are the last item in this list

What is IELTS?
IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It is developed and administered by Cambridge University, The British Council and IDP Australia. The main point of the test is to determine language level. It is impossible to pass or fail the test. Instead, you are given scores for your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills and a global mark which is an average of all the other scores.

It’s a difficult test and everyone finds it challenging. Even native speakers have problems with this test and it is very very rare to get 100%.

The score you get from the test is a reflection of your English level. Many people use IELTS levels as a standard for talking about language level. 1 – 9.

There are two types of IELTS test – the general exam and the academic exam. The format is very similar between the two, in fact the listening and speaking sections are the same. For the academic test in the reading and writing sections the topics are more academic, and you have to write a description of a diagram. The academic one is more popular and I have only ever taught that one, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

Universities and employers will often require you to have a certain score (e.g. minimum level 7) to gain access to a course or a job. Many people around the world are attempting to take the IELTS challenge – usually to prove their level of English as part of a university or job application, or just because they are masochists who like to make their own lives difficult!

The American equivalent is TOEFL, which is a completely different test.

IELTS has a task-based approach, and tests you on what you can do in English rather than what you know. For example, there are no grammar gap-fills. Instead your grammar is tested by your ability to achieve tasks in the written and spoken parts of the test. So, basically, you have to do certain tasks in all parts of the test – understand the general or specific meanings of some texts, be able to follow lectures and conversations, write several types of text, and speak about different things on your own or in a dialogue with someone else.

The listening, reading and writing parts happen in the same session. The speaking test is done at a different time but often on the same day.

The whole test lasts just under 3 hours.

General Advice
Before you take this exam you must be prepared. Do not walk into the exam without having at least tried a few practice tests before. You need to be familiar with the format of the test so that it is not all new to you. It’s q complex test. To a large extent, taking an IELTS course will train you on how to deal with the test itself as much as give you English training. So, you need to know the test before you start. Practice tests can be found online.

Know the assessment criteria. You need to know what the examiners are looking for, especially in the writing and speaking parts. Assessment criteria can be found online at the Cambridge IELTS website too.

Do some practice. Do each part of the test a few times separately, and do a whole test in exam conditions at least once before you do it for real. This will help you practice concentrating for a long time, and it will help you learn about timing, and your strengths and weaknesses. Real test practice is vital.

Time yourself when doing exercises. You should always be aware of how much time you have to do each part of the test, and you should know how much time it takes you to do each part.

Get yourself properly ready on the day and do what you can to remove problems so that you are calm and in a good mood. Get a good night’s sleep before the exam! Eat a proper breakfast. Know the route to the test centre. Make the journey before you do it for real so you know how to get there. You don’t want any unnecessary stress, because the day may be pretty stressful.

When you’re practising, stay positive! Remember that this is a difficult test and everyone struggles with it, even native speakers.

Set yourself a goal – aim for a certain percentage (e.g. 70%) for each section.

When you check your answers, learn from your mistakes. Where do you lose points? What do you need to do to fix that?

Maximise your English input generally. Listen to lots of authentic English, or podcasts like LEP. Read a lot of magazine and newspaper articles. Fairly long magazine articles are best. They’re quite similar to IELTS reading texts.

Read some reports on data – anything with a graph, diagram or table and accompanying report. This will help you with writing part 1.

Keep an organised record of vocabulary. Write new words in a notebook, and write whatever you need to remember those words. Add examples to your notes, that’s important, but also add mnemonic notes – just any associations that will help you remember them. They could be vivid images, or connections to things you already remember. For example if you want to remember the word ‘plunge’ – you could connect it to an existing word in your language (plonger for example) or perhaps the sound of something dropping into water from a height. Add anything to help you remember the word. Test yourself using your word list regularly. Cover the word, make example sentences, check the pronunciation in a dictionary etc.

Attending an IELTS preparation course is always a good idea – it will almost certainly help you, but you must remember that you are the only one who is responsible for your success in this test. Even if you have a teacher or a tutor – it comes down to you. The effort, concentration and time you put into it will pay off later. Take responsibility for your own progress.

Don’t forget the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

You’ll probably need to get hold of practice test materials – published books or stuff online that you can find.

Reading Paper
Don’t read the entire text from start to finish before dealing with questions. You don’t have time and it’s unnecessary. Instead, use the questions as a guide and then skim or scan the text to find the relevant answers.

Use the title; introduction and final paragraph to get a general gist of the text to help give you context.

You don’t get transfer time in this section, so make sure you add your answers to the answer sheet properly as you go.

Don’t bother marking your answers temporarily in pencil before finalising them later. Just add your final answer there and then. You won’t have time to come back and confirm later.

You get 60 minutes. If you finish way too early, there’s something wrong. If you struggle to complete in time, there’s something wrong too! Ideally it will take you exactly 60 minutes to complete the test.

Don’t get stuck on one question and dwell on it for a long time. Move on to the next question and come back to it later if you have time. Sometimes people with very good reading skills will lose lots of points because they let one or two questions ruin the rest of the test.

Do not panic! It’s never that bad. Stay positive throughout the test, even if you feel like you’re not doing very well. The test is not designed to make you feel like you’re doing well. It is not supposed to be pleasant and rewarding, so it probably won’t be. Just pick the answer you think is right and move on. Sometimes you’ll need to choose the ‘least bad’ option. Sometimes it will be a question of cancelling out the wrong answers until you are left with just one.

The reading test often tricks you with distractors. You may find many synonyms in the text, but be sure that they are the right answer. Expect distractors and tricks and notice them when you see them.

Synonyms and paraphrasing are often used. Watch out for words or phrases with a similar meaning.

Watch out for reference words – especially when you’re adding sentences into paragraphs. This kind of task tests your understanding of text cohesion. There are lots of words in English that refer to other parts of a text – words before and after. These are words like ‘this, these, that, those, it’ and other devices that allow the writer to repeat him or herself by using different words. Watch out for reference words and identify which other words they refer to.

Like in the listening section, look at the gaps you have to complete and use your knowledge of grammar to predict what kind of word is needed.

Imagine you are a ‘text detective’ looking for clues. It’s more fun that way.

Read in a clever way. Skim for general understanding. Scan for specific info.

Hold the question/sentence in mind while reading the text. You have to multi task a lot. You should be constantly going from question to text, keeping the question in mind while searching for the relevant section of the text with the answer.

Use a highlighter pen to highlight key words in the questions and in the text.

Use a pen to break up the text to help you navigate it.

Remember – the answers must come only from the text, not from your knowledge or deductive reasoning. It’s just based on what is written in the text, even if you disagree with the information or know better. It’s a reading test not a general knowledge quiz.

If a text is on a topic you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. You do not need to be an expert on the subject. It’s all just about language, and no specific terminology or jargon is used in the test.

True/False/Not given is probably the hardest section. Remember: Does the text directly contradict the sentence? If ‘yes’ then it is false. If the text does not specifically deal with the point in the sentence either way, it’s not given.

If you’re guessing the answers in the true/false/NG section, don’t choose NG because it is the least frequent answer.

If you don’t know a word you can pretty often just guess what it means from the context. You’d be surprised at how accurate my students guesses are when I ask them to guess from context. Is the word positive or negative? What kind of word is it? Make an educated guess based on the context of the word – you’ll be closer than you think.

Tolerate a bit of ambiguity and some level of confusion. It’s normal to be confused and you will often be out of your comfort zone. Learn to operate in that place. For practice you should be reading magazine articles that are difficult. You’re not reading for pleasure here, you’re reading to practice reading in adverse circumstances in which you’re guessing what a lot of it means, tolerating not understanding some things, filling the blanks in your head, and doing it all in about 20 minutes.

Texts are often divided into sections. These could be dates, or types of thing, or people. Highlight these so you can navigate the text easily. For example, it could be a scientific article about key discoveries. The text could deal with each discovery one by one. You can then divide the text into sections that deal with each discovery. This will help you scan for specific details.

You can write all over the question paper if you want to.

You need to do loads of reading practice. Read – every – day. Pick magazines or websites that are not too specific. For example, not financial papers or fashion magazines, but magazines that have articles on lots of subjects. Articles should be quite long.

Yes, it is a long test, which confirms to me that episodes of LEP should also be long. I’m convinced that it’s good to practice long-term listening – that means listening for longer periods, but also listening long-term in your life. Regular listening to extended periods, is bound to have a great effect on your English! If you are a regular LEPPER then you’re already at an advantage. Remember that when you’re taking the test. Look at the other candidates and think “Poor them, they don’ listen to LEP. What chance can they possibly have?”

Listening Paper
Usually you have to complete some notes or sentences based on conversations or lectures.

Make sure you know what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Be prepared. Look at the notes you have to complete to get an overall idea of the challenge you face.

Make sure you’ve seen all the gaps and notes you have to complete so you don’t miss anything.

Predict the answers. Use bits of time to look at the questions and predict what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Look at gaps and predict what kind of info goes in each gap – is it a noun, a verb, a number, a date, a name. Maybe you can predict the answers yourself.

Scribble notes on the exam paper.

Sometimes later questions will give you clues about earlier answers, but be careful of jumping ahead or backwards too much. You need to stay with the flow of the listening and follow it in the notes you’re completing.

Don’t get left behind. Keep up with the recording.

If you don’t know an answer don’t get stuck. Move on to the next one and don’t lose the recording! You can use the notes to make sure you are synchronised between listening to the recording and reading the notes. Make sure you are at the right place in the notes.

Again, if you miss an answer just forget it and move on. Don’t let one bad question ruin all the others. Keeping up with the recording is vital.

Pay attention to what is written around the gap you’re expecting. You may find that words in the notes after the gap will help you get the answer. I mean, the recording may refer to some words that follow the gap you’re looking at, and a couple of gaps may be covered by just one sentence in the recording. So be aware of the general context around the gap you’re looking at.

Remember that the answers are based on the content of the listening only. You might know the answer from your general knowledge, but it is vital that you give the answer that is given in the listening.

Watch out for distractors and tricks which are designed to fool you. Listen carefully at all times and be sure your answer is right!

Use your knowledge of grammar to help you predict answers. For example, does the gap contain a noun, verb or whatever, and is it in plural form or third person or whatever?

Pay attention when completing your answer sheet. Make sure you’re doing it correctly. People sometimes switch off when doing this but one simple mistake can make all the answers wrong.

Never leave a blank space on the answer sheet in a multiple choice situation. Put something, and then you’ve got a 25% chance of a right answer.

Remember that you will probably not hear the same words in the recording as you can see written in the sentences you are completing, so you must always be on the lookout for synonyms – different ways of saying the same thing. This is really important in IELTS. It’s all about synonyms – at a lexical and grammatical level.

“He wants to get on but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for university.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“He wants to advance.”

“Get on” and “advance” are synonymous. When you are thinking of what key words to listen for, think of synonyms you might hear along with the word used in the question.

Watch out for paraphrasing (like the previous point) e.g. “Less than a quarter of university students took part.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“Only 23% of candidates actually sat the examination.”

Get used to listening to numbers in English, like the difference between 13 and 30 etc (expand on this in the podcast)

Watch out for spelling and punctuation – especially capitalisation of names and places. If in doubt, write everything in capital letters because you won’t be penalised for it, but you are penalised for failing to write a capital where appropriate.

Listen a lot!

There are tests available online, but you could make your own tests. You could copy +paste an LEP transcript into a word doc, then gap a bunch of random words, then listen and fill the gaps – but there will be no disparity between the notes and the listening. Alternatively, surf the web for IELTS listening practice exercises.

There are no short cuts – just practice and positivity.

Writing Paper
Overview – you have 1 hour to do 2 tasks. You should spend about 20 mins on part 1 a nd 40 mins on part 2. The second part gives you more points and requires more time to do properly.

Time is the big challenge here.

Practise doing writing papers again and again if you can. Practice is vital if you want to do your best. You must get used to the timing, the task types, concentrating for a long time, and dealing with the visual data in part 1.

You also need to practice part 2 in order to get used to organising your ideas into paragraphs and developing your ideas.

Remember, what I’m giving you now is an overview, as I can’t go into massive amounts of depth. To be honest though, the best thing you can do is practice a lot.

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It also helps if you can have access to the marking criteria for the writing and speaking parts. This does contain some jargon, but it is very helpful to know what the examiners are thinking while reading your work, and exactly how your English is being judged. I must try and add in some details about the marking criteria.

Make sure you read the instructions for the task really carefully – make sure you know exactly what you are expected to write. Don’t make a stupid mistake and write about the wrong thing. Always read the instructions carefully.

Don’t write in note form or bullet points in either essay. You should write full sentences and paragraphs.

Don’t memorise a standard model answer that you can just repeat during the exam. This just won’t work because the data will be different.

Always check your writing for little errors when you’ve finished. Proofread, every time. It can save you some points.

Useful Links
Check this link because it will give you sample writing tasks, and sample answers with examiner’s feedback. It’s very useful indeed because you can see what the examiners are looking for.

Part 1
You’ll be given some visual data, and you have 150 words to summarise it. Imagine you’re writing a summary for your teacher.

It always helps to imagine you are writing for a real person – either the teacher, as it says in the task, or just the examiner who is probably a middle-aged man or woman who has a massive pile of exam papers on his/her desk – he/she has seen hundreds of these papers before. So, first impressions do count – try to write neatly, make sure you leave clear spaces between paragraphs, spell correctly, use the right punctuation and capitalisation, make sure your margins are straight. Make your writing look nice! Also, considering your reader can help you to create better writing which is more readable, pleasant and engaging. In fact, ‘effect on the reader’ is one of the criteria used by Cambridge. Good effect on the reader means that the reader has quite a pleasant experience with your writing – it’s clear, it’s a smooth reading experience, it’s coherant, it doesn’t require lots of effort to understand and the style is appropriate.

By the way, the style for your IELTS writing is quite formal. Formal to neutral. That means – no contractions, it’s not overly familiar like an email to a friend. Put it in the kind of style that would be appropriate for a potential business partner, or an older teacher, or a superior in your company.

So, you have to summarise some visual data. it could be a table, it could be a line graph, a bar chart, a pie chart or even a diagram for a process. There’s also a title and a short explanation of the diagram.

Study the diagram carefully and make sure you understand basically what it represents. Take some time to understand it, because this is a really important stage. if you don’t understand the data, your writing will stink! Study each axis on a graph, make sure you know what the factors are in the data. Make a note of the main trends in the data too. You can’t explain absolutely everything, so you need to find the most significant aspects of the data and then explain that.

You may want to use a highlighter pen to highlight the key words in the task and data.

How many paragraphs? about 2. A quick introduction and then a description of the data. No need for a conclusion.

You’ll need linking phrases for addition and contrast – particularly for contrast as this often involves explaining two sets of data, including their similarities and significant differences.

You will probably need the language of trends – that’s verbs and nouns like climb, rise, shoot up, drop, plunge, level out etc.

You can find examples of linking language and trends language for IELTS by clicking this link and this link and just by doing google searches for “IELTS part 1 writing useful language linking trends”

In the introduction you can paraphrase the description given in the task. Do not copy phrases from the diagram or task instructions. You must paraphrase every time. In your intro, just explain what the diagram is about.

Then in the next paragraph, explain the data so that the reader can copy the graph without seeing it. If the data is complex, just focus on the most significant details.

You don’t have to explain why – just describe what you see.

Plan your writing quickly in advance by noting the basic points you will make.

You should never start writing without planning, even in a simple way, what you’re going to write.

20 minutes.

Stick to the word count of 150 words. This should be possible if you’re explaining the main points with the right level of detail.

Again, doing lots of reading can help you a lot. Try reading magazines or newspapers which have diagrams and graphs and things. Scientific magazines, things like that.

Part 2


Sorry for shouting, but students commonly lose points by not answering the question. One of the assessment criteria is task achievement. You have to do what the task tells you to do.

In part 2 you have to write a short discursive essay in response to a statement or question. For example, you may be asked to write about whether you agree or disagree with something, or to consider arguments related to an issue. it could be the environment, or reducing crime, or the effect of video games on kids.

Again, plan your answer. Spend a bit of time thinking about the question, making sure you definitely understand what you have to do, consider your points and how you will develop them.

You’ll probably write about 4 paragraphs.

The examiner is checking for these things: Did the person complete the task? Did the candidate explain whether they agree or disagree with the subject, developing their points clearly? Is the writing clearly structured and coherent? Is there a wide range of vocabulary and grammar, used accurately? Are the words spelled correctly?

The answers to all those questions should be “yes”.

Remember to show the examiner what you can do – use a good range of language, don’t repeat yourself too much, don’t just use simple words like ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘nice’.

By the way, it’s not all about idioms – they are just a part of the vocabulary that we use. Don’t feel the need to write in idioms only because that can come across as unnecessary and even unclear. Be clear, be specific, be understandable. Achieving the task is your first goal, not showing off your English (but you should show off a little bit).

Once you’ve properly understood the subject you’re going to write about, carefully consider your point of view. Try to come up with several clear arguments on both sides. restrict yourself to one or two points on each side of the argument. Add one or two points to each paragraph, and make sure the points are clearly and logically developed. Do not add new points randomly at the end of paragraphs or with no development.

Don’t write anything without planning first. Choose the points you will state and develop, and make a little plan. You can write on the exam paper. Sketch a plan with notes on how you can develop your idea. You can follow the plan when you write. Don’t try to plan and write at the same time because it results in incoherent writing.

Paragraph 1: Introduction: Do not copy anything from the task. Use your own words to explain the topic of the essay. Keep it simple. Explain the issue and then how you are going to deal with it.

Main body of the essay: You could either cover both sides of the argument in a balanced way or just argue in favour of one side. Personally, I prefer the first one, and if you take the second option you’ll probably have to mention the other side of the argument anyway, so let’s choose the contrastive approach – contrasting both sides of the argument.

So, paragraph 2 (two arguments for) – start with a topic sentence. This summarises your point of view. (note to Luke: come up with an example) then develop that point over the next couple of sentences. Go deeper. Tell us why this is a point for or against. Go further into the issue. See the bigger picture. You could use an example. Remember you don’t have many words, so just use a couple of sentences to develop your point.

Then add your second point for. Topic sentence, development. You may need to use a linking word for addition here, like in addition.

Make sure all these ideas are logically linked.

Paragraph 3: Arguments against. Again, begin with a topic sentence before developing the idea. You’ll probably have to use a linking word for contrast, like However, which usually goes at the beginning of a sentence. Sorry, I can’t go into all the details of specific linking words and stuff like that in this episode. No time.

Then you finish it all off with your conclusion in which you give an overall summary of what you’ve stated already. Remember to answer the question in the task. That’s a good way to focus your attention. Just directly answer the question – do you agree or not. You could use a phrase like ‘on balance’.

So, that’s pretty much it for the writing. Don’t forget to click the links and get that useful stuff from the IELTS website. That’ll help you a lot.

If you’re not taking the IELTS test, you can just feel very relieved and happy.

Speaking Test
So, the speaking part is in 3 sections and lasts about 11-14 minutes.

Part 1 (about 5 mins)
The examiner introduces him/herself and asks you to introduce yourself. Here you don’t need to go into massive detail about where you are from, but it’s good to add a bit of extra info. “E.g. I’m Luke and I come from Birmingham, which is a big city in the centre of England”

The examiner will then ask you some general questions on familiar topics. Just relax and be sociable. Answer the questions and give some extra information. Do not give too little – this is your time to shine!

The worst thing you can do is be silent.

Don’t worry about errors – fluency, and communicative competence are more important. Make an effort to engage with the examiner, and yes, use a bit of charm! It’s a natural conversation. Enjoy it a bit too ;)

This is not too tricky. Just be yourself, warm up, don’t be too quiet, don’t talk too much.

Part 2 (about 4 mins)

Describe something you own which is very important to you.
You should say:
where you got it from
how long you have had it
what you use it for
and explain why it is important to you.

The examiner gives you a card with a topic and some ideas and you have to talk about if for about 2 minutes.

You get some time to prepare, so it’s a good idea to plan your talk, and make a couple of notes.

Try to illustrate your points with examples. This is really important and helps to bring your speech to life.

Have a little introduction – maybe one sentence which just introduces your talk “I’d like to tell you about my laptop, because it is something that I couldn’t live without”.

Then go through the points, adding any details you noted before.

Close the speech if possible, by saying one line.

The examiner will then ask you a couple of other questions based on your topic for part 2, before going on to part 3.

Part 3
This lasts about 5 minutes and involves the examiner asking you discussion questions based on the topic of part 3.

Whereas part 1 was a nice little chat about familiar things, part 3 is more challenging because you’re expected to talk about more abstract topics. This is your chance to show your ability to engage in a discussion, agreeing, disagreeing, giving opinions, showing off your range of grammar and vocab. Again, don’t worry about accuracy the whole time. Being understandable, getting your points across, and being able to achieve the task are far more important. If you’re worried about being correct, or even forcing in some idioms or specific vocabulary you won’t be thinking about the task at hand – expressing your opinion and discussing the questions. Don’t forget the importance of communicative interaction and task achievement.

Of course, remember the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Find a partner and discuss some topics. Use IELTS Speaking Part 3 samples which you can find by googling just that.

Try recording yourself, if you can bear it.

Just get used to responding quickly, giving examples, speaking from personal experience. The more you practice, the easier it will be in the real test. It should be like second nature. You should go into the exam room feeling ready, feeling like you’ve done this shit loads of times before.

The golden rule: stay cool fool! You gots to chill!

So that’s the end of my IELTS episode. BYE!