Friday, January 18, 2019

Sample IELTS General Writing Task 1: Formal Letter

Write a letter to the editor of a prominent newspaper requesting his help to locate a person you read about in a newspaper article. In your letter mention:

a. Why do you need the information?
b. What information do you need?
c. In what other ways can the editor help you?

Write minimum 150 words.

Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to draw your attention to an article - published on October 25, 2018 - in your esteemed newspaper,  and request you to provide all the information at your disposal, so that I may be able to find a particular person whom I am searching for. 

The article in question made mention of a boy who went missing from his house in Delhi's posh Jor Bagh area after leaving for his tuition at 3 pm on that fateful day. He never returned. Well, that boy is my friend's nephew. While trying to help my buddy, I have been running from pillar to post for some leads which might help us to locate the child's whereabouts. His distraught family fervently hopes that your help will be able to show the light at the end of this dark tunnel

The family members are unable to provide any information which may help me in any constructive way. So, if you could set up a meeting between me and the reporter of that article concerned - in your presence, of course - then it would be of immense help to me. A face-to-face meeting with the journalist can provide me with more information about where he gathered all his information from. And it is quite possible that I might finally get to talk with the person or persons who saw or interacted with him last.

All this of course would be of immense help to me. However, you may assist us in several other ways too. You could help me set up a one-on-one meeting with the Minister of State for Law and Order. I am sure that after your intervention, he will take a concerned view of the incident and urge the police to do a thorough job of finding the child. Considerable awareness will be spread among Delhites about the matter if you front-page the article, and also tweet it using your personal handle. And this may help to bring about a closure to this matter.

On behalf of the grieving family, I look forward to a favourable response from you.

Yours faithfully
Samit Sengupta

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sample IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: Tabulated data

The given diagram comprises a couple of tables providing us information regarding sales of coffee and bananas, which are Fairtrade-labelled. The data pertains to two years namely, 1999 and 2004, shown in the middle and extreme right columns respectively. The study/survey was conducted in 5 developed European nations: Switzerland, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark.

It is quite clear from the first table that coffee sales in Switzerland doubled 2004 when compared with 1999. Sales in Denmark, Belgium, and Sweden also increased over the period, though only marginally. The UK was simply unbelievable, leapfrogging from a mere 1.5 to a staggering 20 million euros  over the period.

In the sale of bananas, however, Switzerland and the UK have swapped places with the former showing a more than 300% jump to as much as 47 million euros in 2004. Sure, the percentage increase is more in the case of the UK, but its total sales figure in 2004 at 5.5 million euros is lesser than Switzerland's by over 9 times.

Thus, it becomes quite evident that in both the coffee as well as banana markets, Switzerland and the UK have shown significant increase in their toplines over the given period. Denmark, Belgium and Sweden are, it seems, content to slug it out for the third spot.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

IELTS Speaking

Decidedly different from PTE Speaking because - among other things - you are assessed by a human being and this fact alone changes pretty much everything. To be a “Good User” of English - which is what Band 7 in Speaking is - you need to display:

1. Good Oral Fluency
What is it? Oral fluency is our ability to speak fluently - never mind the odd grammatical errors - in the language under consideration. Oral fluency doesn't mean speaking fast. It means uttering parts of a sentence and pausing at the right places for the right length of time. It is the natural sense of rhythm, which we are all accustomed to. If you speak without pausing where you should, it may actually be defeating your purpose. Oral fluency is very important if you wish to achieve a high score. Grammatical accuracy at the cost of linguistic fluency will never fetch you high bands in speaking.

2. Pronunciation
Yes, inability to pronounce correctly will negatively affect your score. Just speak naturally and ensure that your pronunciation is free of Mother-tongue Influence (MTI). When the test is being taken in India, the benchmark for speaking will remain the average Indian speaking in English. As long as you are audible and intelligible, pronunciation should not bother you much. And by the way, they accept the British as well as the American pronunciations. Just don't indulge in slangs/colloquialisms.

4. Ability to use Synonyms
And to do so quite easily. Thus avoiding repetition of the same words, phrases and even sentence structures. IELTS - and this is true of the test as a whole - does not ask you to memorise 'difficult' words & phrases. You are not expected to digest a long list of tongue-twisting, gut-wrenching and teeth-rattling words. On the contrary, the need of the hour is a regular use of 'uncommon' words. Rather than 'great', awesome' or even 'wonderful, maybe 'pleasant' experience is a better way of putting it. Along with all this, you need to be relevant as well. Finally, your answers should be neither too short/abrupt-sounding nor rambling/meandering/too lengthy.

5. Relevance
A general ability to address the question/s asked. Don't beat about the bush. Come straight to the point and always elaborate after you have given your answer in the first lines. The length of your answers will differ in accordance with the complexity of the questions asked. Generally speaking, Part 1 questions are simpler than those you will be asked in Section 3. The more focused and crisply-explained your answers,  the higher you score in the Speaking section. Also, questions which are specific require a different answer than those that demand a general reaction from the candidate. 'Do you like shopping?' is qualitatively different from 'Do you think shopping as an experience during your parents' time is different from what it is now?' Your response should acknowledge this difference.
 Now, I'm sure all this sounds rather daunting. Happily such is not the case. Don't bite more than you can chew: break the entire Speaking module into a number of small sessions. And regular practice - just a little (15 minutes) every day for a month or so - should do you a world of good. Excellence, after all, is nothing more than a Habit.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Two Steps to Success

It has finally happened! I was desperate to have one of my women PTE candidates score a 79+. But it always eluded me. 65+ happened but that's about it. And on the other hand my male students were happily scoring 90s. So frustrating! For, how can you be really successful if women candidates do not figure in your success stories? I had heard so much talk about the PTE software not being favourable to ladies. Especially because most of them tend to speak fast and often quite softly. I obviously didn't want to believe all that. But I nearly did! 3 times unsuccessful. And finally...

4th time lucky. She finally did it:

I have to give it to her. She worked so hard for this. She has earned it. Yes, she had the talent but, then, so many others do too. Her case proves me right yet again - talent must go hand in hand with hard work. Only then can you achieve Excellence.

But excellence doesn't come in a day. It is shaped by a ruthless, single-minded adherence to a cause. Excellence, as Aristotle had observed many centuries  ago, is a Habit. Live excellence. And it will be yours. When preparing for exams - domestic or overseas - give your all. The outcome may not be under your control; but how much effort you put in surely is. This effort consists of two elements - HARD WORK & ANALYSIS. Together they make a package that goes by the fancy name of STRATEGY.

There is no substitute for hard work. At least 2 hours daily, over a month or more, depending on the kind of exam you are attempting. SAT, PTE, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC - for these 1 month is enough. However, for GMAT, GRE or CAT , you will surely need a 4-6-month preparation period.

But  don't just practice endlessly. Analyse your mistakes and learn from them. Also, don't concentrate on individual tests. Try to see your performance by averaging it over at least 10 tests. Your average score paints a truer picture. I encourage my students to do just that. Of course, my students can practice from the mocks and that they must. However, even as they do so every day, they must analyse their performance: what is their success rate? what kind of mistakes are they repeatedly making? Exactly where are they tripping up? It is this kind of analysis that helps you to improve with every test.

Everyone fails. Failure is only the flip side of success. But those who eventually make the cut, actually find out WHY they have erred at certain places. Man has been able to conquer the world because of his sheer intellectual prowess. It is a god-given gift that distinguishes us from the monkey and the ape. Make good use of it.
When hard work and intelligence
work hand in hand,
many things are possible.

                                                                                                                - Dr T. P. Chia

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Elephant in the Room: Speaking in PTE

Speaking in PTE Academic is what Writing is in IELTS - as crucial to success and as difficult to crack. Yet the underlying requirements are quite simple. You need to speak at your normal pace. You need to speak with ease. And you need to be fluent. Pronunciation needs to be good as well. Moreover, there should be sufficient modulation to give force and meaning to your message.

Great! Basically, I need it all then! In that case, let's get a few concepts straight.

What is fluency?
Speech is nothing more than groups of words separated by commas, full stops and other types of punctuation. At every point where there is a punctuation, there needs to be a pause. The ability to read aloud or speak using pauses at the correct place is fluency. It is not the same as clarity though. It is in fact closer to speaking rhythmically, speaking at your normal pace, speaking with the correct modulation, and pausing at the correct places.

And what about Pronunciation?

Only this much needs to be said about it: the pronunciation needs to be correct. It can be American or British but you should try to be consistent. Fake accent is to be avoided. The speaking test tries to find out the extent to which the influence of your mother tongue hampers intelligibility. Thus, if you speak with a very strong accent, you should first try to unlearn that. Pronunciation apps are aplenty in the market. Download one and start practicing pronunciation regularly. You should do this even before you start your core PTE Academic training/preparation in earnest.

The Speaking topics

Read Aloud, Describe Image and Retell Lecture are the most important items in this section. Repeat Sentence and Answer Short Questions can be high scoring. But don't run away from the second and the third item mentioned above. If you crack them, you stand a very good chance of scoring very well in your PTE Speaking module.

A Final word

Excellence is a habit. It is therefore boring, a great deadener. Let your desire for success  overcome boredom. And practice with passion for perfection.

Autograph your work with excellence

- Unknown Source


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Crack the PTE Academic exam

How did this post originate?

I was taking my PTE class this morning. Two of my students were practicing Read Aloud. Both had gained a high level of oral fluency through sustained practice over a period of time. However, we had not visited this topic for 5 days as we were more concerned with Describe Image and Retell Lecture. Hence the decision to get back to Read Aloud today. I was suspecting that it won’t go as smoothly as it had earlier. And sure enough, I was proved right. Both stumbled a couple of times and committed a couple of errors, though minor ones.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The incident once again made me realize how important doing it every day is to eventually attain a high score. This is especially true of Speaking. PTE Academic tests you in many ways and is quite straightforward. However, it does require a good amount of – what else? - practice. You can attempt PTE Academic without any outside help or guidance. Cyberspace is full of information and materials. But if you don’t force yourself to spend some time everyday for at least 3 weeks, then you may be found struggling.

Everyday is the operative word here. Excellence is a habit. As Aristotle had said, "We are what we repeatedly do". Excellence does not tolerate irregularity. A gap of 5 days is all that is needed to adversely affect your preparation for the test.

You need a clearly-chalked-out path. And you need to travel down that path no matter what. Prepare a structured schedule, adhere to it at all costs, monitor your daily progress, learn and adjust as you go along. But never forget, it is practice that will make you perfect.

There is no glory in practice,
but without practice,
there is no glory...
                                    - Anonymous

Post credits: Samit Sengupta
Founder, English Academy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Finding Fun While Learning Grammar

A new addition to the menu has been weekend grammar classes for Middle school students (classes 5-8). 1.5 hours per day on both Saturdays as well as Sundays. The class already boasts of a good 8-9 students who - much to our pleasure - are having a whale of a time.

Grammar and fun usually do not go together. But this is exactly what Samit's English Academy wishes and endeavours to achieve: a win-win for both, the young stakeholders as well as their parents.
Each class is usually divided into two broad sections - work and play. Work, the first half, deals with various aspects of grammar - although in an excitingly non-grammar way. Here there is no emphasis on rules but rather on pictures and charts and trees in order to grasp the concepts clearly. This is followed by thorough practice using worksheets of different levels of difficulty. Not to mention Reading aloud in front of the class, Recitation competitions and surprise spelling-and- dictation tests almost every week

The 2nd half of the class is about "play" - very important since all work and no play makes jack a dull boy. We play Crossword games, Scrabble, various oral word games like "Atlas", "Name, Place, Animal, Things", "Spin a Yarn" and many more.

The final aim of the 3-month Grammar workshop is to make the young students more confident with a balanced and well-developed personality.

Post credits: Samit Sengupta
Founder, English Academy