I remember when I was at school and then at university, I always had an image of examiners as just ‘examiners’. What I mean to say is that it never used to enter my head that they were just normal people, who loved their family and had hobbies and a life outside of examining.
Just remember that IELTS examiners are simply normal people whose field of expertise is assessing your English language level, in the same way that your field of expertise may be engineering, medicine, hairdressing or being a homemaker.
Bearing in mind that your examiner is a normal human being, you’ve got to consider certain psychological factors. Of course, what I’m about to do is merely make some observations about human beings in general; these observations are non-official and are in no way part of the IELTS assessment process. I just want you to consider your examiner both ‘as an examiner and a human being’.
Examiners are trained to assess your level of written and spoken English using set criteria from the IELTS examining body. They are obliged to follow the IELTS assessment criteria strictly but there will always be cases where for example, the examiner may be wavering between giving you a band score 6 or a band score 7 and it could be the tiniest of factors that nudges him/her into giving you the higher (or lower) band score.
So, here we go. I’m going to give you some tips in no particular order.
Let’s consider the IELTS Speaking Test first:
Arrive on time for your Speaking Test; this is common courtesy. You expect your examiner to be on time, don’t you?
When you are late, it often makes you flustered and stressed, which obviously affects the way you perform in your test.
I’m sure that it can also be quite irritating for the examiner.
Bear in mind that IELTS Speaking Test interviews are scheduled every 20 minutes so if you arrive 15 minutes late, it makes things difficult.
I once heard of a candidate who arrived 40 minutes late and was then rude to the examiner! Now, the majority of centres will not test a candidate who arrives this late but even if the centre let you take your test; imagine the impression you create if you arrive 40 minutes late and then are rude to the examiner?!
Now, all IELTS examiners are professionals but psychologically, what do you think might happen if the candidate in the previous example were on the border of band 6 and band 7?
As in any interview in life, you’re trying to create a positive image of yourself in the mind of the interviewer. That doesn’t mean you have to be deferential; the interview is a meeting of two equals, but you should be polite, pleasant and confident.
Don’t forget that the Speaking Test is a meeting of two equals; you’re on the same side! You want to do well in this test and the examiner wants you to perform to the best of your ability so try to relax and enjoy the process.
Inform yourself about what is expected in the different parts of the test; you can find this out on the official IELTS website, then follow the examiner’s cues.
Give full but relevant answers so not only can the examiner see your ability but it helps the interview flow. The psychological impression you want to create for both of you is that of a team working together on a common project for the next 11-14 minutes.
Let’s move on to talk about the IELTS Writing Test:
Remember how your teacher at high school used to tell you to be careful with your handwriting? Well, clear handwriting creates a positive impression on people in life. I have terrible handwriting and constantly try to write more neatly as I’m aware of this fact.
Now, handwriting does not affect your band score but again, let’s think about the psychology of the reader. How do you think someone feels if they’re painfully trying to read a barely legible essay? Your terrible handwriting could be hiding some of that fantastic vocabulary and grammar you’re using!
In my last post, I talked about the descriptors your examiner will be using to mark your writing; see the public versions of these descriptors for Task 1 and Task 2 at www.ielts.org. You will notice that one of the criteria for assessment, in both Task 1 and Task 2 writing is Coherence and Cohesion.
So here, you’re trying to strike the balance between your writing sounding ‘babyish’ and stilted because you don’t use any cohesive devices and your writing sounding contrived and strange because you overuse or misuse them.
Try to use cohesive devices appropriately. When you use the word ‘moreover’ do you really mean ‘moreover’. Don’t just learn a ‘list of good cohesive devices to use’; trust me; I’ve known a lot of people who do this! Always learn cohesive devices in context and practise using them in context. Ask native speakers what they understand by the sentence you’ve just written.
Equally important, in my opinion, is to use idiomatic expressions appropriately. Ask native speakers BEFORE you take the exam about typical idiomatic expressions in English.
As a teacher, I frequently read the expression ‘Every coin has two sides’ in my students’ writing and found myself constantly saying, ‘I know what you mean, but we don’t say it like this in English.’
Do your research!
Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!