You can raise your writing score and pass your exam if you understand just one thing.
Here’s the secret: essay questions on tests are too broad to answer. For example, here’s a typical topic: what do you think about crime on the streets? You need a way to reduce the question to a more manageable size, just like you need a knife to cut a slice off a cake and not eat the whole cake. You need a point of view.
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Your point of view usually comes from your role in society. Everyone has at least one role in society or is preparing for one. If you are still a student, your role comes from your major and your plans for the future.
To do well in personal essays, you must be able to clearly describe yourself and your point of view in a few sentences. To practice this, fill in the blanks in these sentences: I am a _________. I was trained at __________. Because of my training and experience, I really think this way about the subject:______________.
Let’s say you are a nurse or doctor looking for work in an English-speaking country. What are some of your possible points of view?
You probably don’t consider yourself a writer or a scholar of the English language. So your English doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough to get the job done.
Of course you wish criminals were caught, but you probably don’t think of yourself as a crime fighter, police officer, or judge. So you don’t know enough about criminals to write about catching them.
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You feel sorry for victims of crime, but to help them, you probably wouldn’t think of talking to them in person, like a counselor or pastor. Nurses and doctors who take care of entire floors or wards on a shift don’t have time to care for individual patients.
You may have strong opinions about crime that you would like to share, but you probably don’t see yourself as a teacher lecturing people about how criminals are a disgrace to society and that crime doesn’t pay, unless you are also a parent lecturing your own children. Being a parent is a different social role than being a nurse or doctor.
Do you understand that people can have many different points of view on this one issue? All kinds of viewpoints make up the whole pie of public opinion. What is your own point of view, your personal piece of the pie?
Let’s go back to the nurse who is preparing for the IELTS exam. A nurse tends to be an advocate for improving public health. Her perspective comes from her training in medicine and the social sciences, as well as her experience with many real patients in a hospital setting. For example, a nurse might think about how crime on the streets increases the number of stress-related illnesses in the population.
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Nurses and physicians have received scientific training and often feel that they do not have interesting personal opinions. They often feel that they don’t have enough practice in writing to be able to write well enough about a topic. But the most important thing is the connecting idea, not the form. There is always a meaningful connection between what you know as a doctor or nurse and the topic of the essay. If you relax your mind, you can find that meaningful connection.
Here is how one of my students, a nurse, answered that question. She knew that we hear a lot about crime in the streets and this topic is given a lot of public attention, but she also knew that crime inside the home is really much more common and more dangerous than crime in the streets. She stated in her essay that domestic violence is responsible for more hospital admissions every year than street crime. In writing this, she demonstrated what an intelligent nurse she was. She demonstrated that she could think on her feet, which means that she could apply what she knew instantly when needed in a real-life situation, and taking a test is a real-life situation.
This was her point of view: I am a trained nurse. I have 13 years of experience working in two countries. I have observed that the problems of child abuse and violence occurring inside the home are much more prevalent than crime in the streets. So that is what she wrote about.
The examiners gave my student a very high writing score. Her high writing score boosted her overall score. She soon heard that she had passed her IELTS exam and could begin working in a hospital.