Five Secrets of an IELTS Examiner

IELTS examiners stand between you and your required IELTS score. But what are they really thinking, and how can you improve your chances of a good score?

The IELTS examiner is the man or woman standing (actually sitting) between you and the IELTS score you must get to secure a place at your first-choice school or win that big-money scholarship. He or she is likely to be fiercely intelligent, with an enormous egg-shaped head (see picture for proof), and eyes that burrow deep into your soul, instantly perceiving all your English language weaknesses and turning your entire body to jelly, right?

Well, you may be surprised to learn that IELTS examiners are a pretty nice bunch of people. Most are current or former teachers of English, so they are sympathetic to the difficulties that learners of English face. Also, they could not enjoy successful careers as teachers and examiners without the people skills necessary to communicate effectively with students and help them relax in stressful situations.

In fact, there aren’t many secrets in IELTS as the scoring criteria are publicly available online. But here are five special points that an IELTS examiner would like you to know.

IELTS examiners want you to get a high score

The most important thing you must know is that the examiner wants you to do well. They don’t sit there listening for mistakes and waiting for you to mess up. The examiner is always looking for ways to raise your score, not lower it. This is obvious when you read the IELTS scoring criteria, which are freely available online. These criteria are mostly concerned with what the candidate CAN do, not CAN’T do. So show the examiner what you CAN do and make it easy for him or her to give you a high score.

In IELTS Writing, avoid the long introduction and get to your point

One thing examiners really hate is the long essay introduction with never-ending sentences that just go on and on without really making a point. Sometimes it’s just too obvious that the candidate is trying to write 100 words using memorised language. So quickly paraphrase the question and then get straight to the point, whether that means giving your opinion or saying what you’re going to cover in the body of the essay. Once you tell the examiner your position, he or she has to work less hard to know exactly where you stand and what it is you want to say.

Speaking Part 1 doesn’t really affect your score

In Part 1 of the speaking test the examiner has two objectives: the first is to make you relaxed and the second is to get a quick idea of your ability. The first is important because the examiner wants you to have the best chance of getting a high score. The second is important because the examiner may want to avoid asking you questions that are much too difficult for your ability level. So focus on getting comfortable and try to be as natural as possible. There’s no point getting stressed in Part 1 because the scoring hasn’t even begun yet.

Don’t panic when the speaking topic is unfamiliar

One of the main things the examiner is looking for in Speaking Part 3 is this: can the candidate speak about an unfamiliar topic? If your first reaction to an unfamiliar topic is to sweat, stammer, or sit in stunned silence, then that’s a clear sign that you aren’t ready to speak about it. So practice responding coolly on topics from space exploration to animal rights, even if you never talk about these in real life. Keep your face straight (or smile!) and respond quickly with a well-rehearsed phrase such as “Well, that’s not something I usually think about but…”

Just keep talking!

What really determines your score in IELTS speaking is whether you can speak with fluency, coherence, and good pronunciation, regardless of the topic. It’s NOT about how well you answer the question. The examiner is checking your language skills, not the content of your answer. So stop worrying if you’re answering the question correctly, and just try to keep talking as naturally as you can. If the IELTS examiner has to signal for you to stop talking, that is usually a good sign!

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