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What happens if I memorise sentences for IELTS writing?

by Joko MacKenna
(Yangon, Myanmar)

Per the public band descriptors, if a Task 1 academic has "no clear overview" it earns no better than a band 5 for C&C.

I'm an English teacher who loves leading the IELTS class, and I really impress on learners the necessity and importance of a "clear" overview "reporting the main features".

I got into a debate with a senior colleague who's been teaching IELTS for ages. I can tell when I get one of his students in my class because they always begin their second paragraph with:

"From the information contained on/in the chart/map/diagram, the following can be clearly seen."

Wow. What a sentence. Look at it! A prepositional phrase followed by an uncountable noun used correctly, advanced vocab replacing "found", I think that's a gerund, a passive modal and an adverb to boot! That's band 9 grammar there.

Unfortunately, as a lot of my students are aspiring to take the IELTS, but still don't have the skills, I often read that spectacular sentence (written by my colleague) surrounded by band 5-ish writing which struggles with some of the basics of sentence structure. It stands out like a sore thumb as not being the students own words, that it is memorized.

Actually, it stands out like a perfectly manicured thumb on a brick layer.

So what? He argued. IELTS candidates use stock phrases all the time!

My response was that phrases are okay, teaching useful and effective cohesive devices is part of what we do. What would an examiner think?

That's my question. Do exquisitely composed full sentences which demonstrate great cohesion, lexis and grammar features actually count for something if there's little else in the essay that shows mastery of this level of language?

I told my colleague that in such a case, the examiner might likely just ignore that sentence (I don't actually know), and whereas his overview intro would fit fine in 6.5 to 7.5 essay, it's counter-productive to have 5.5 students try to punch so far above their belt.

After being accused of saying we should teach students to write poorly, my final thoughts were that it's more valuable in the overview to prove you ACTUALLY know the difference in meaning between "Overall," "In summary" and other connecting words, and how to choose the main features than to learn to write a sentence that gets ignored in the marking.

What do you think?

Comments for What happens if I memorise sentences for IELTS writing?

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Dec 11, 2018
Using memorised language in the IELTS test
by: IELTS buddy

No, great sentences won't count for anything IF it is clear to the examiner that they are learned phrases and they do not really represent the candidates skills.

Remember most examiners have come from or are still in the English language teaching profession, so they will recognise if a sentence or more than one sentence has been placed in that does not match the rest of the work the student has written.

They will know it is memorised language and so will not take it into account when they grade the work. So in the case you mention, if one sentence is perfect grammar and the rest is band 5 grammar, then they will get band 5 (for grammar - obviously the other criteria could be different).

But I'm talking about long phrases or sentences here. Of course students do learn fixed phrases and cohesive devices. For example, "The graph shows that..." but that is just a few words and the examiner would expect this so it's not going to be marked down.

And other shorter cohesive devices may be used which are ok. But "exquisitely composed full sentences" is a different matter if it is clear they have been memorised .

So yes, some stock phrases may be ok, but not if they are too long or are whole sentences that don't match the rest of the student's work. They can use them but they are not likely to lead to a boost in score.

Dec 11, 2018
That's what I thought too.
by: Joko

I agree. Full stock sentences don't help. Smaller chunks like "From the graph, we can see.." or "It can be seen from the graph"... these are useful tools.

Mind you, this IELTS tip came from the sane senior colleague who also advises students to start their overview with "There are two charts which show...", the value of which is discussed on another thread.

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