Jonathan, Author at IELTS University (Singapore)

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The Many Ways In Which Reading Mock Tests Are Useful

Taking an IELTS mock test is useful for the obvious reasons in that it can help you to gauge your current level, and it can help you determine if all of your hard work and preparation have been put to good use, by helping determine if you have improved your original level of reading proficiency. However, there are other ways in which you can benefit from taking the heading practice tests.

Improved Time Management

The more tests you take, you will find that you can complete them in a much faster manner. You will also get used to the various tricks and distractors that examiners use to throw candidates off.

Improving Vocabulary And Grammar

Another useful purpose for going through reading practice test passages is that they a packed with loads of useful vocabulary and phrases, that you can use for the reading test, and you can also learn the meaning of these words so that you can use them for both the speaking and writing tests. When you read the test passages, you will naturally come across new words or phrases. You also get the added benefit of seeing how these words are used naturally in different grammatical contexts. Doing this will give you a better understanding of how a word should be used and you can try and work out what they mean from the context in which you read them. Improving your vocabulary is useful for both the writing and speaking tests. Since one of the main criteria for achieving a band 7 in both writing and speaking involves the use of uncommon vocabulary.

Helps You To Practice Essential Reading Skills

Whenever you take a reading mock test, you can also use the passages to practice the skill of skimming. Skimming refers to the ability to go through a reading passage in order to get a general idea about it, without reading in detail. This helps one to quickly  understand the layout of the passage, which is useful for when you have to scan the text in order to locate specific information required for questions in the IELTS reading test.

When you are going through a passage highlight what you think are the main points in the piece. This way you train yourself to identify the main points more quickly. When you are presented with a large chunk of text on test day, your eyes and brain will already be accustomed to sorting out the central themes and main points

Helps to get accustomed to the types of topics that you might be asked about during the speaking and writing tests.

Although it has never officially been mentioned, I’ve often noticed a striking overlap between the topics that appear in the reading passages and the questions that are asked during the speaking interview and the writing essay, which makes sense since the reading passages are usually sourced from actual academic texts. This means that instead of searching far and wide for suitable material to improve your topic specific vocabulary for the speaking and writing tests, you could kill two birds with one stone when you practice for the ielts reading test.

Do The IELTS Essay Questions Repeat?

Since the writing module accounts for 25% of test-takers overall IELTS score, and it is notoriously tough, many candidates wonder if the essay questions repeat. This is mostly because they wish to prepare their responses to such questions in advance. In this essay, we will take a look at whether the IELTS essay questions repeat or not.

How Previous Questions Are Sourced

In all honesty, no one can really know what the actual bank of IELTS essay questions is, that is because actual past papers are never printed out by the organisations that own the exam. We only get a basic idea about the essay questions from the feedback given by former candidates and that is not always reliable since they probably don’t remember the questions exactly due to exam stress. So the only people who know whether the questions repeat are the employees of the IDP, the British Council and Cambridge.

Most essay questions are derived from a set of common core topics and these have remained the same for many years now. So while the exact essay question might not repeat, the topic might be repeated several times. This information is useful because it allows you to learn vocabulary and phrases related to these common topics. However, when you learn new and unfamiliar words, make sure that you can flexibly use them in different contexts since as I mentioned the essay question might not always be straightforward.

These core topics include;

  • Health
  • Environment
  • Education
  • Development
  • Globalization
  • Public Transport
  • Criminal Justice
  • Youth Crime
  • Technology
  • Government Spending

Why Memorising Repeated Essays Is Not Useful For The IELTS Writing Test

Many students think that since these common topics often repeat it would be much easier to just memorise essays that are related to these topics. However, the essay questions are neer just general or straightforward for discussion about a certain topic. There is always something specific that needs to be argued or discussed and if you provide a general essay on the topic, you will lose out heavily on your task achievement score.

For example, take the following sample essay

Some people think high-end technology can prevent and cut down the rate of committing a crime. Do you agree or disagree?

We know that the general topic is about crime and technology (high-end technology). However, it is important to take the time and analyse exactly which aspect of technology and crime the essay question is asking us to focus on.

We are being asked about our views on whether technology can be used to reduce the rate of crime. If the candidate had written a memorized essay that was about crime or technology in general they would have not scored well at all, even if they used good grammar and uncommon vocabulary.

To add to this the examiners are well trained to determine scripted and memorised answers. Remember they are on the lookout for natural-sounding English, and if your essay does not meet these standards, you will lose out on getting your desired band score.

If you feel that your writing skills are in any way lacking, then I recommend enrolling in a good IELTS course under the supervision of an English language expert. This will drastically cut down the time it takes you to identify your weak areas and improve on them.

How To Avoid Overusing Fillers During The IELTS Speaking Tests

Using filler phrases like uhm, err or uhh are actually quite normal, even for native speakers. However, you shouldn’t do this a lot during your speaking test. Using unnecessary fillers and repetition gives the impression that the speaker does not have sufficient vocabulary for the task, and that you cannot continue speaking. This will affect both your fluency and vocabulary scores. In this article you will learn how to use discourse markers, or paraphrasing to buy time to think of appropriate ways to answer.

Why Buying Time Is Important

The questions in part three are much tougher than those in part 1. If you get asked a question that you can’t immediately answer during your IELTS exam, you should not panic or keep silent. It’s important to keep speaking even if you need a moment to decide how to answer the actual question. Native English speakers use many different time-filling phrases to help them do this.

Honestly, I am a little bit nervous right now and my mind just went blank

Wow let me think about that.

I’ve never thought about it before

I’ve never really given much thought to that before.

Frankly, this isn’t something I’m used to talking about

That’s a good question, so let’s see …

You know, it’s been such a long time since I’ve thought about this matter …

Unfortunately, this subject is not really my cup of tea, but let me try …

Asking For Clarification:

If part of the reason why you are struggling with a question is because you don’t understand what is being asked, there are instances when you are allowed to ask the examiner for claricfication. In part three of the IELTS speaking test you are allowed to ask the examiner to repeat, rephrase or explain the question

You can use the following phrases to request the examiner to do so:

I am not sure what you meant by (…)

Could you please, say that in other words?

Could you please, repeat the question?

Do you mean……….?

I am sorry. Could you please, repeat that?

I beg your pardon…

Could you please repeat that…?

Could you please explain it to me in another way?

I did not quite get that. Did you mean…?


If you do make a mistake when speaking, its important not to panic. Rather politely correct yourself using one of the following phrases:

What I actually meant was…

To express it another way…

Another way to say it…

Another way of saying it is…

Let me put it this/another way…

What I mean is…

To rephrase what I have just said…

What I want / meant to say is…

What I am trying to say is…

If you feel that your speaking skills are lacking in any other way, then it is probably best to consider enrolling in a professional IELTS course, under the guided supersivion of an IELTS lecturer. This will help you to identify your weak areas as well as offer you valuable feedback on how to improve.

If you found this article useful, feel free to leave a comment below.

IELTS Reading: How To Improve Your Reading Speed

Being able to read texts at great speed, while still being able to understand the content and meaning of the text. In this article, we will look at how to improve your reading speed for the IELTS reading test.

Why Is It Necessary To Improve Your Reading Speed

The reading module is 1 hour long and includes three reading passages which are on average 1 hour long. To add to this most of the texts are related to advanced academic with a high-level vocabulary. It is tough for even native speakers to be able to read and fully understand these passages in time and answer all the skills, therefore it would be very useful to be able to read text faster.

How To Improve your Reading Speed


Learn How To Chunk Words Together

When we focus on every single word or syllable, we tend to read at a much slower pace. It is better to focus on two/three word at a time.

Stop Reading Words Out Loud, Read Them In Your Mind

When you read a language, we tend to sound out the words in our minds. This means our reading speed is limited to the speed at which we speak. However, we do not really say out that word in our mind, we just naturally understand their meaning. We need to process English words in the same manner.

Read More

Your reading speed will also naturally improve the more you read. By doing this you will become more familiar with how sentences are constructed and then you will also expose yourself to more advanced vocabulary.

Improve Your Vocabulary


If you have a wide range of vocabulary, you will reduce the number of times you have to stop to struggle with understanding unfamiliar words.

Are The IELTS Essay Questions Getting Tougher

The IELTS writing module is notorious for being extra tough on candidates. However, the writing module consists of 2 questions. The academic module requires candidates to produce a formal report and an essay while the general training module test asks students to write a letter and an essay. Both of these pieces of writing have to meet an extremely high standard of assessment criteria in order to score well. Many students took comfort in the fact, that at least the types of essay that were commonly asked during the test were almost the same for 2 decades. Unfortunately, this seems to be changing. In this article, we will take a look at why the IELTS essay topics seem to be getting tougher.

In general, I teach my students that there are around 5 main types of essays that are:

  • Advantages and disadvantages essay
  • Opinion essays
  • Discuss both views essays
  • Problems and solutions essays
  • Mixed type essays

You can understand what type of essay you need to write by analysing the wording of the question, and the type of essay will also determine how you structure your essay as well as the type of vocabulary and argument you can use.

Fake Questions

In general IELTS essay question follow a fixed structure and careful unambiguous languages

When students show me questions which appear to not fit the standard structure of the typical IELTS question, my first question to them is where did the sources say this question is from. Often websites asks their readers to provide them with the questions from their own ielts exam. However, it is highly unlikely that these second language learners have the skills, let alone the memory to remember the exact wording of each question.

These slight changes in wording can completely alter the meaning of the question, and make it seem much more difficult to understand and answer.

There are also some two part questions in the ielts exam. These usually consisit of some combination of the main essay types for example.

A question might ask you to discuss the causes of an issue and then ask you to mention your opinion. For example

The continued rise in the world’s population is the greatest problem faced by humanity at the present time.

What are the causes of this continued rise?

Do you agree that it is the greatest problem faced by humanity?

These questions are also known as double essay questions because, they have one statement with two different questions after it. The questions may or may not be linked.

  • These three errors are common in IELTS Mixed essays.
  • Not answering both questions fully.
  • Not outlining both answers in the introduction.
  • Mistaking it for one of the other essay types.

These types of questions are not actually new, but they are less common, and because of this, they usually throw students off when they come across one. Here are some tips on how to handle such questions.

First you need to analyse the question to determine exactly what is being asked of you.

Let us look at the following example:

Nowadays the way people interact with each other has changed because of technology.

In what ways has technology affected the types of relationships people make? Has this become a positive or negative development?

We know the general topic is about technology, specifically how people interact using technology. We need to discuss how has technology affected relationships, and which type of development is it? Is it good or bad?

Next we need to generate ideas for our essays and come up with a good structure for it. I recommend using separate paragraphs for each question, as follows.

Mixed Question Essay Structure:


  • Paraphrase Question
  • Give your opinion and outline main ideas.

Main Body Paragraph 1

  • Answer the First question
  • Explain
  • Example

Main Body Paragraph 2

  • Answer the Second Question
  • Explain Topic Sentence
  • Example


  • Summary of main points and opinion

Once you have you done this, writng your essay becomes much easier. Make sure that you practice as many of these types of mixed essay questions as possible, so that you are not phased if one of them appears in your actual ielts exam.

How Reading Can Improve Your Score

There are instances when preparing for the ielts exam can actually be pleasurable. It sounds strange, but it is in fact true. In order to prepare for the exam, you will have to strike the correct balance between improving your exam techniques and actually improving your English language skills. One of the best ways to do the latter is to read for this article I will show you how the simple act of reading on a daily basis can help you to substantially improve your scores in all four key ielts areas.

Writing Module

If you want to improve your writing techniques, the you should start reading first.

Reading for enjoyment can help you to understand how writers typically structure their texts and how this order helps with the coherence of a passage or paragraph. Active reading can also help you to word choice strategies, and syntax control that you’ll want to incorporate into your own writing skills. You get to see how different words, phrases and grammar features can be used to produce complex sentence structures.

Improving Your Vocabulary

When you read, you naturally come across new words or phrases. You also get the added benefit of seeing how these words are used naturally in different grammatical contexts. Doing this will give you a better understanding of how a word should be used and you can try and work out what they mean from the context in which you read them. Improving your vocabulary is useful for both the writing and speaking tests. Since one of the main criteria for achieving a band 7 in both writing and speaking involves the use of uncommon vocabulary.

Listening Module

As surprising as it might sound, reading can also help you improve your listening skills. When you practice for the listening exam, by listening to different types of recordings, you should also get the transcripts of these recordings. You can read along with the script as you listen to the recording. This will help you to get used to searching for keywords and understanding the accents of different speakers. This is also a good way to recognize that keywords are usually emphasized during the recording, and you will also get used to the pronunciation and spelling of unfamiliar words.

What Should You Read?

I recommend that you try to expose yourself to as many different types of reading materials as possible, such as books, newspaper articles, online publications, academic materials, even social media. Reading a variety of written content will help improve your reading skills and widen your vocabulary.

How To Stay Motivated For IELTS During The COVID 19 Pandemic

The sudden onset of the global pandemic, effectively put life on hold since the beginning of 2020. This includes many people’s plans to study or work abroad. If the global pandemic has distributed your IELTS test schedule and application plans, its hard not to feel demoralised. In this article, we will take a look at how to stay motivated while preparing for the IELTS exams during covid.

A Lack Of Direction

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been on and off long periods of time during which people have been stuck indoors. Everyday seems to meld into one, with no clear distinction between them. Its often difficult to know which day it is let alone keep track of time. For this reason it can be difficult to must up the determination to continue studies or even perform other basic tasks.

Create A Study Plan 

To overcome this issue I recommend creating an organised study plan. Make a schedule that includes all four main components of the exam namely listening, writing, and speaking. Spread them out throughout the day and over a number of weeks. Arrange the subjects progressively so you can start things slow and also include specific times to assess the skills you have learned during your study.

What To Do When Your Test Has Been Delayed?

Make sure you keep up to date with the latest IELTS covid related change. Stay in touch with your chosen test centre, to find out if there have been any changes to the testing schedule or if new tests dates have been offered.

Continue To Practice

Above all do not stay idle. Try to continually work and improve on your skills by regularly practicing using authentic IELTS would be such a waste to have prepared thoroughly only to lose out on your desired score only because you were rusty from not practicing enough during lockdown. There is never a definite end to IELTS preparation and practicing.

Stick To Your Original Plans

Your IELTS test might be delayed during Covid but this does necessarily mean that you should put all your plans on hold. Most immigration authorities and universities  have made concessions about the dates for the application process due to the covid 19 pandemic. So don’t just assure that all is lost, keep in touch with the authorities and try to find a work around to all of the delays.

Enrol In An IELTS Course

Taking admission to an IELTS prep course can help you to stay focused on your study. You will be obligated to meet the daily goals that are set by the lecturer, and as a result your preparation will continue to move forward, even though the entire world has effectively been put on hold.

IELTS Writing: The Passive Voice

Writing in the passive voice is something that does not always come naturally to candidates. Unfortunately, it is an important aspect of formal essay and reports writing. If you are one of those people who is confused about the passive voice and its use, then read on to find out all you need to know about this difficult grammar topic.

What Is The Passive Voice?

The voice of any sentence can be active or passive.

Active Voice:

The subject of the sentence performs the action

e.g. She wrote the letter.

Passive Voice:

The subject receives the action

e.g. The letter was written.

The passive voice requires the verb ‘to be’ to be in the past participle form

For example, Susan made these cakes

These cakes were made by Susan

In effect, we have basically written the sentence backwards and placed more importance on the object of the sentence than the object.

In order to form the passive voice, you must be very familiar with the various forms of “to be

  • Am
  • Were
  • Is
  • Be
  • Are
  • Being
  • Was
  • Been

Let us look at an example of how we use “to be” with the verb “written”:

Product Name


Is written 

Will be written

Had been written 

Has been written

Was written

Can be written

Is going to be written

Was being written

Is being written 

Should be written

When Should You Use The Passive Voice?

We generally use the passive voice to talk about the opinion of others. For example. “it is believed by some...." , and we use the active voice when we want to convey (discuss) our own opinion. For example “I believe that.." Basically, it is used when you don’t want the reader to know who performed the action.

We also use these two different voices to show which noun we are giving more importance to, i.e. either the object of a sentence or the subject of a sentence.

Why Is Using The Passive Voice Important?

Using the passive voice is important for writing reports about processes. It indicates to the reader that the process is more important than the people who carry out the process. The passive voice is also used in more formal contexts and therefore it is essential to be able to use passive voice structures for any writing task that requires a formal response, such as reports, essays, and formal letters.

The passive voice is far too formal to use during the speaking test. During the speaking test you will mostly be using the active voice since it is more direct and it is easier to convey ideas and actions using the active voice.

As you can see the passive voice is not as commonly used as the active voice, but you should still be familiar with its usage to understand the listening and reading tests as well as when and how to use it during the IELTS writing test.

I hope that this article has helped shed more light on a complex grammar topic. If you have any further questions regarding the passive voice or any other IELTS related topic, feel free to ask me questions in the comments down below.

IELTS Writing: How To Write A Good Conclusion For Your IELTS Essay

Being able to write a good conclusion paragraph is a skill that most IELTS candidates are unaware of and is an important skill to master. Having a good conclusion can help to prove to the examiner that your score should be more than what they initially decided it should be. However, a poor conclusion can have the quite opposite effect. In this article, we will take a look at all the aspects that need to be included in a good conclusion.

What Should A Good Conclusion Include

In order to write a good conclusion, you need to know what to include and what to avoid in order to write a high scoring essay.

A good conclusion will:

  • Neatly end the essay
  • Link all your ideas together
  • Sum up your argument or opinion
  • Answer the question

Why Is A Good Conclusion Important

It's important for both the task achievement and cohesion criteria. It serves to summarise the contents of the essay and to emphasise the main opinion of the writer.

Some Tips To Write A Good Conclusion

Here are some tips about what to include in your conclusion, in order to make it an effective one. Firstly your conclusion should refer back to your introduction paragraph. The introduction paragraph is basically just a paraphrase of the question statement, and the first sentence of your conclusion (the summary sentence) will be a paraphrase of your introduction. Therefore your introduction and conclusion are always closely linked.

Once you have done this you should summarise the main points of your essay but remember to do this in a way that does not repeat the same vocabulary of phrases that you used in your main body paragraphs. This will signal to the examiner that you have a wide enough vocabulary for the task. Your summary should only include the main ideas and not any supporting ideas or examples, as this will make your conclusion too long and/or confusing.

The last sentence of your conclusion should either be a recommendation sentence or a prediction sentence.

A prediction is a statement about what you think will happen in the future.

A recommendation is a statement about what you think should happen in the future.

Do not add any new points in your conclusion, especially those that could have been added into the main body paragraphs. Remember your conclusion is meant to round up your arguments and emphasise your main opinion. Therefore, it is definitely not the time it introduces new arguments.

Let’s look at how to put these tips into action. Below is a sample IELTS question along with a model introduction and conclusion paragraph. Notice how both the introduction and the conclusion contain phrases that paraphrase the main question statements

For Example:

Some people believe that technology has made our lives too complex and the solution is to lead a simpler life without technology. To what extent do you agree or disagree?


There are those who feel that technology has negatively impacted our lives by overcomplicating them and believe that we should eliminate it from our lives. This essay argues that in fact, quite the opposite is true since improved technology has actually made our lives simpler and has greatly improved our quality of life.


In conclusion, I totally disagree with the opinion that we should turn away from technology because it overcomplicates our lives. We should rather learn to use technology wisely, as it has become an invaluable tool in almost every aspect of our lives.

IELTS Preparation: Expert Tips On Punctuation

Many IELTS candidates do not understand why punctuation is such an important skill to master for the IELTS writing exam. This is mainly because punctuation is not really something that is necessary when we speak or communicate in English in our daily lives, and knowledge about punctuation has sort of becoming obsolete with the advent of word processing software like Microsoft Word and Grammarly, which often automatically corrects our punctuation mistakes as we make them. Therefore, many people are often unaware that they even make that many punctuation mistakes.

Why Punctuation Is Important

If you make several careless punctuation mistakes this will negatively affect your grammatical range and accuracy score.

Common Punctuation Mistakes

Full Stops Or Periods

This one is a simple one, that most of you already know. We use a period or a full stop to denote the end of a sentence. It is not used for any other purpose than that.

The Comma

This is a punctuation mark that often stumps students. I often find students adding it in every sentence unnecessarily or not adding it all. It all boils down to the fact that they are unaware of when to use it. Let us tackle this issue head-on

We use a comma to separate items in a list. For example,

I have been to Germany, France, and Italy

We use commas to separate two consecutive adjectives

A little, green teaspoon

Commas are also used to separate non-essential information.

The teacher, who was Singaporean, enjoyed giving lectures.

We use a comma after a conjunctive adverb or transitional element:

  • Maryam finished her homework early; therefore, she was allowed extra screen time.

We also use a comma to separate independent clauses from dependent clauses, For example,

  •  When the boys came home from school, they were always hungry.

Commas are also used when we mention dates. For example

June 14th, 2021

In the IELTS writing test, we often use phrases called ‘discourse markers’ or ‘liking phrases’ to link our ideas together, such as, firstly, secondly, in conclusion, in summary. We normally use a comma after a discourse marker that introduces a sentence:

Firstly, the main cause of pollution is motor vehicles.

On the one hand, motor vehicles are said to be the main cause.

Comma Splice

We do not use a comma to separate two independent clauses, that are unrelated to each other. This error is called a comma splice. In this case, we would be better off separating the clauses to form two separate sentences.


The semi-colon is another punctuation mark that is tough to use and to be honest I often tell my students to just avoid it at all costs and think of another way to phrase their sentences. This is because it is not always easy to decide when you need a semicolon.

A semi-colon is usually used to join two independent clauses in a compound sentence, but only if the meaning of each clause is closely related to each other. For example,

  • The days were beginning to get shorter; it seemed the night got earlier and earlier.

If you have any further questions about these common punctuation mistakes, or you have some other suggestions about other punctuation topics that you would like for me to tackle, then feel free to leave a comment down below!

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