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Topic knowledge and IELTS success

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Girl on sofa with laptop and papersLouis Rogers, author of Skills for Business Studies and an EAP teacher, discusses whether topic knowledge and fluency is key to performing well in IELTS testing. He speaks on the subject at this year’s IATEFL.

Prior to the internet we had limited sources of information and limited access to it. Therefore if we wanted to access the information we had to develop ways to store it in our minds so that we could easily access it at a later date. With the internet we have fast access to a range of information and we have such instant access to the internet that we do not need to exert such energy on encoding it in our minds. According to Sparrow et al ‘No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can ‘Google’ the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. When faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it’. For example, when participants in the study were asked to think of the Japanese flag many would think of a computer rather than try to picture a flag.

How is this all relevant to the IELTS exam? Many students express concern at not knowing anything about a topic. In particular, they worry about part 3 of the speaking test and part 2 of the writing. They fear facing something they feel they have nothing to say on. There could of course be a number of reasons for this. It is not necessarily the case that students commit less general knowledge to memory. Some studies such as Moore, Stroup and Mahony (2009) found that some of the IELTS topics were perceived too Eurocentric in nature. If students feel the topics are not related to them or they have never considered them, then they undoubtedly will feel disadvantaged when encountering them. To a certain extent this lack of confidence could make students hesitate, repeat ideas and even have a flatter pronunciation.

Creating materials and activities that challenge students to think and respond personally in common IELTS areas could help reduce some of their fears. IELTS lessons can provide an insight into some of this knowledge and give students the confidence to respond to such topics.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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5 thoughts on “Topic knowledge and IELTS success

  1. Reblogged this on Halina's Thoughts and commented:
    We can ‘Google’ the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. When faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it’.

  2. I think younger candidates are more likely to struggle with some topics simply because they do not necessarily have the life experience to comment on some of the issues.

    There is a plethora of published resources and materials available from the internet (for free, including from IELTS’ own website) and also from libraries and bookshops. Like for any exam, a little preparation doesn’t do any harm!

  3. As an IELTS teacher, sometimes I do come across students that need help with arguments/points. However, most of the time, it’s just vocabulary and expressing themselves in English. Anyway, I do think it’s important for a teacher to work through the topics, points/arguments and vocab needed in Writing Task 2 and Speaking Part 3 with students and I always try to do so. Of course, there’s so much to cover so it’s sometimes difficult to do so!

  4. Quiet an explanatory and informatory post!!

  5. I often find topic knowledge is a bigger barrier than linguistic knowledge for my students. To help them build exposure to science and technology topics in particular and to practise their listening at the same time I put together a list of ‘IELTS-friendly’ podcasts which students can use in the run up to their IELTS exam: https://independentenglish.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/ielts-friendly-podcasts/
    Sandy

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