IELTS preparation. All that glitters is not gold. Mat Clark.

Nowadays there are a myriad of IELTS preparation resources – course books, websites, blogs, mobile apps – you name it. Unfortunately, not all of them are equally good. Some are just excellent, but not very well known; others are questionable, but widespread. Students are often at a loss about which resources to use, so every once in a while I have to explain and comment on this or that resource.  In order to save time and effort doing that, I’ve decided to write about some of the most popular resources in my blog. 

Today I’m going to write about a book hugely popular among Russian students – IELTS Speaking by Mat Clark. Despite the fact that it was written by an IELTS examiner, in my opinion, a lot of what it says should be taken with a grain of salt.

Since I’m going to focus on the dangers of blindly following the recommendations in this book, I’ll start with the praise. 

First, the author did a great job of classifying typical exam questions - Liking, Disliking, “How often” questions, “Would” questions, “Why” questions, Advantages and Disadvantages and so on. You do have to pay attention to the question type and answer accordingly. For example, if it’s a “would” question, you have to use the Second Conditional grammar, or, it’s a good idea to have plenty of synonyms in stock for such phrases as “I like” or “There are many advantages / disadvantages”. Second, Mat Clark is right in drawing special attention to discourse markers and linking devices. Many people underuse them or keep repeating the same ones. Third, he offers some great vocabulary on the most typical exam topics. It’s really nice to have it grouped together in one place. Like this:

Finally, some advice is undoubtedly helpful and very practical. For example, the advice on how to choose what to talk about in Part 2:  

None of the materials he gives are absolutely unique, of course, but he gathered and organized all of them in one book, which is undeniably convenient. 

Now, moving on to the dangers. 

First and foremost – the author definitely overegged the pudding! Many model answers sound highly unnatural. For instance, you followed his admittedly sensible advice and learned lots of linking devices and synonyms for “I like”. Now, according to the author, your answer to the question “Do you like animals?” should sound like this: 
This just makes me want to exclaim, “Oh my God, I just asked you if you liked animals!” The answer sounds absurd! Nobody ever communicates a simple fact “I like dogs” like this in real life. Why speak like this at the exam? 

As well as giving helpful advice, the author gives some advice I personally don’t recommend following. For example, for paraphrasing the author offers a technique he calls “forget-explain-remember”. What you do is pretend you forgot the word you need, explain it in other words and then “remember” the original word you wanted to use. Like this:

Why don’t I recommend following this piece of advice? Well, for a start – you will probably be nervous at the exam and might forget words in a natural way. Why pretend to forget? On top of that, why paraphrase “carbon monoxide”?  The words you should paraphrase are not words like “chair, table”, but words like “good, bad”. Instead of using this questionable technique, say two good-quality sentences, say something like “An additional problem with cars is that they produce a lot of carbon monoxide, which can have extremely harmful health effects. Plus, car exhaust emissions contribute to air pollution and cause irreparable damage to the environment.” To my mind, it’s better to put effort into using harmful, irreparable, contribute to, cause, than into fake “forgetting-remembering”. 

Last but not least, this book is pretty well-known – to teachers, students, examiners. After you’ve read it, your speech acquires very specific characteristics. I recognize these characteristics in a student’s speech after two minutes of talking to them and start to frown. Do you realize the examiner might too? Do you realize the examiner might have heard all these phrases and techniques 100 times? In my humble opinion, it’s better to sound natural and unique, rather than follow a popular but arguable model. 

To conclude, all that glitters is not gold. Please think twice and use this book with caution.  

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