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Cultural Differences

While IELTS is an international English test, it is produced by the University of Cambridge and written in British English, often by British writers.

What does that mean for students?

Because the exam content is often very related to British culture, it means the speaking test questions may not always be completely relevant to international students. Take this Part 2 example question:

Describe a garden you remember visiting

Now, if you live in a country like the UK, where there are many big public gardens or where it is typical for most houses to have gardens, then this is a great question. But, if you live in a densely populated city, where the majority of people live in flats and public parks or gardens are rare, then this question will be very hard to answer.

Here’s another example:

Describe a library that you have visited

Again, in the UK there are many public libraries which are commonly used by children and adults of all ages. It is true that most schools and universities worldwide also have libraries, however, if in your country there are not many or if you have gone digital and only using online libraries, then this can still be a tough question.

So, what can candidates do?

1) Make something up!!

I know it’s not usually advisable to lie, but if the choice is between not answering the question and inventing something to help you pass the test, then this is clearly the best option. For example, you could describe a park or garden in a city that you know, even if you’ve never actually been there.

Or maybe you can think of a park or garden that you’ve seen in a film or magazine. As long as you are able to use a good range of descriptive language to talk about it fluently and confidently, you will get a good score. And the examiner will never know any different.

When practising with my students, I am often totally convinced by their Part 2 ‘stories’ and when I ask them about it afterwards they tell me that it was completely untrue! The only problem with the ‘make something up’ option is that you have to be a convincing liar, which may not be easy for some candidates!

2) Exaggerate the truth!!

This is not quite the same as lying. Maybe you remember visiting a garden or library as a child. You might not remember that much about it but at least it’s a starting point. Recall as many details as you can in your 1-minute preparation time and then elaborate them when you start speaking.

For example, you could start by saying something like “well, my uncle’s neighbour had a garden and I used to see it every time I visited my uncle when i was a child…” or “I remember one of my classrooms in my primary school had a special area for books which we called the library…..we used to sit there for the last 20 minutes of every day and listen to the teacher reading a story…”

Try to include as much factual information as you can (who - what - when - where - what - why - how - how often) and remember that the examiner is only assessing your knowledge of English, not your knowledge of the world. So if you have to invent or exaggerate some details to be more interesting and descriptive, then go for it!!

Maybe practise in front of the mirror first though, or even better with an iPass tutor!!


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Xue Dong - New Zealand

Xue Dong - New Zealand

Even though I just had five tutorials on the speaking plus course, I indeed learnt a lot about how to correctly apply what I learnt into the real test. I wouldn't have had the chance to identify it if I had not attend the tutorials. To my surprise, I got 7.5 for speaking!!

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