By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
My friend loves to talk. He never stops. He’ll talk about anything, at any time, and at any place. He’s a really fun and interesting guy, but there are some drawbacks. When he speaks, he always changes topics. He starts telling a story about his family, then ten seconds later, starts talking about baseball. Before he finishes talking about baseball, he asks me what we’re having for dinner. He never finishes what he’s talking about. This is really annoying and confusing. Unfortunately, even though my friend is a native English speaker with a university education, he would still do poorly on the IELTS. Notably, he would do poorly on the speaking and writing exams. You may have already guessed why – he doesn’t develop his ideas and always goes off-topic.
On the IELTS speaking and writing tests, an important part of your grade is topic development and topic organization. In other words, keep ideas focused and keep ideas in order. Some key skills that help with this are using topic statements; using supporting ideas; having linker words; and employing precise vocabulary. Let’s have a closer look at these skills and how you can use them on the tests.
Tip #1 – Start with a Topic Statement
On the writing and speaking tests, you’ll be asked questions. When responding, it’s important to begin with a topic statement. This is a sentence that lets the reader/listener know your main idea and your focus. Let’s look at an example. Imagine the IELTS question asks about “benefits of green energy”. Your topic statement could start with a topic “solar power”, and the focus “saves homeowners money”. Put it together, “Solar panels are a beneficial green energy that are affordable for homeowners.” This topic sentence signals to the reader/listener that you will stay focused on solar power and give information about how it helps people who own homes.
Tip #2 – Support your Topic Statement
After you have a good topic statement, you need to support it. To get a high IELTS rating, you need to do this. Supporting ideas make your topic statement strong while giving the reader/listener key information. It’s important that supporting information always connects to the topic statement. There are basically three ways to make this connection. One, give examples. Two, explain. And three, give reasons.
Let’s support our topic statement from above: “Solar panels are a beneficial green energy that are affordable for homeowners.” An example could be, “Most new homes in Toronto save 75% on their energy bills with solar”. An explanation, “Solar panels are rooftop covers that connect to a home’s electricity circuit”. And here is a reason, “Home solar is better than other green energy systems in terms of affordability.” To summarize, support your topic sentence with examples, explanations, and reasons.
Tip #3 – Connect your Ideas
If you spend time preparing for IELTS, a common tip is to use linkers. These are words and phrases that connect ideas. When you are speaking/writing, you must keep ideas organized. Linker words do exactly this. You can use ordering terms like, first, second, and lastly. You can use transition words like because, however, and although. There are also concluding phrases like to conclude, in sum, and in the end.
Don’t forget this - using linker words helps both you and the reader/listener stay on topic and stay organized.
Tip #4 – Explore Topic Vocabulary
You need to show a deep knowledge of vocabulary to get a high rating in IELTS. One of the key opportunities for this is on the writing tests and in Part 2 long turn of the speaking test. Your aim should be to give lots of vocabulary on one topic. For example, if the topic is about restaurants, you can use key words like waiter, host, dining room, chef, reservation, and cuisine. Showing you have lots of vocabulary for one topic will help you get high scores.
Tip #5 – Topic Development is a Mindset
My last tip is not about speaking or writing, but about your mindset. IELTS Test-day can be stressful, scary, and nerve-racking. It’s important to relax, stay positive, and keep focused. Before your tests, stay calm. Think about all the important skills you have to demonstrate. Think about staying focused and developing your topic. Say this to yourself before the exams a few times. Try closing your eyes, then think about all the important tips. This will mentally prepare you to use the important practices listed above.
While preparing for IELTS, you will develop many different skills. These are also skills that help you in your professional and academic life. Staying focused and developing your topic will help you succeed in any job and any university. So don’t be like my friend who talks about everything all at once - be clear, be on target, and be successful on test day!