For many IELTS, TOEFL, and other test takers, coming up with strong and appropriate ideas quickly is one of the most difficult aspects of writing an essay. This is equally true for the speaking component. In these sections of the exam you are asked to come up with a list of reasons and examples to support an opinion within a short time-frame. This process of brainstorming ideas is a skill you must practice in preparation for the test, and just as with any other skill, it can be learned and perfected.
One way to prepare for these sections is to create a collection of ideas before the test so that you have them ready when you need them. In other words, do the thinking before test day and you will only need to recall these ideas during the test. This will help you speak and write more fluently and fluidly, but even more importantly, it will help you stay relaxed and confident.
How does it work?
If you look at many essay task samples, you will soon notice there are general topics that keep repeating themselves, even though the questions might be more specific and varied. Using these general topics as a base, you can build idea groups and apply these ideas to many different facets of the topic. For example, one general topic that appears frequently on these tests is Education. From this general idea test makers generate more specific questions about aspects of Education, such as where to study (e.g., at home or abroad?) how to study (alone or in groups?), and many others. By brainstorming vocabulary and subtopics before the test, you will be prepared for any question regarding Education you may face.
IT’S ALL CONNECTED.
Now, you might think this is a lot of work for the chance that one type of question will appear on your test. Keep in mind that because these topics are general the ideas you collect for each may be applied to other topics as well. Ideas that you have generated for Education may also be applied in support of arguments and examples used on a question about Technology. Suppose your test asks for your opinion about the internet; for example, it may ask whether the internet aids in learning or makes students less active in their research. You can then draw on the examples you have already thought up for Education as well as ideas you have gathered about Technology and combine them in the answer. In this way you can kill two birds with one stone because you are prepared for many different possibilities.
What should an Idea Bank entry include?
A strong Idea Bank should include the following elements:
Create lists of vocabulary and expressions that apply to the general topic. These lists should be grouped into categories that loosely have the question words (what, who, where, when, how) in mind. By thinking about vocabulary in these terms, you can gather hundreds of words, expressions, terms, idioms, and other items.
Create groups of questions as well, categorized under the types of questions that you might see on the tests. These include agree/disagree type questions, compare and contrast questions, discuss, choose, etc. These questions should touch on many elements of the general topic and as well as make more specific demands on the writer.
Once the questions and keywords have been gathered, it is a good idea to start thinking of examples that may be used to support arguments and opinions about the specific question topics. The key to this part is to think of examples that may apply to more than one or two questions. As an example, see the short blurb on Steve Jobs, whose history and experiences may apply to several different questions, including education and technology as well as other areas.
How can you practice using the Idea Bank?
There are no shortcuts to learning. One needs to actively engage the language and when it comes to language tests, one has to be active with one’s practice on a daily basis and work hard to achieve high scores. This applies especially to the Idea Bank. The Idea Bank is something that you need to constantly build up, add to, go back to, and practice using. You can create your own idea bank, or, if you do not have the time or inclination to create one you can purchase the Write to Top Idea Bank and Vocab Vault E-book.
speaking-topics-list (As these topics are personal, you will have to come up with your own ideas for each. That said, don’t think of several books or movies. Choose one of each and use it for any question related to books or movies.)
E-book coming soon
Here are steps you can take to get the most benefit from our Idea Bank:
- Look over the collected keywords. You will know many of these already, but there will also be many new words for you to learn. Look up new words in the dictionary and create sentences using these words so as to better remember them and be comfortable and confident that you are using them correctly.There are also sets of synonyms and expressions for you to use to improve your lexical range, as certain words and expressions will often repeat themselves. For example, instead of using the word ‘student’ several times, you can use pupil, major, or undergraduate. Instead of ‘study’, you can use major, pursue, or other verbs and expressions.
- You may recategorize these keywords according to your own ideas. You may also add other words to these lists.
- Go over these lists regularly and connect the words to specific topics or questions and see how they might be used to create supporting arguments for them.
- Read over the questions to make sure you understand exactly what is being asked, i.e., what is the focus of the question? What are you being asked to do (give an opinion, say yes or no, offer solutions, etc.?) Most importantly, become familiar with the question types.
- Create a plan for a full essay for every question. Answer the following questions:
– What is the general topic?
– What is the specific question, issue, debate, etc.?
– What is your opinion, thesis?
– Give a general outline of how you will approach this essay.
– See the planning stage of the essay here.
- Look over the examples and connect these to the questions to which they may be applicable.
- Add your own examples, from your own experiences and knowledge (your own personal examples will likely be easier to recall on test day).
- Practice writing full essays on a timed basis, every other day.
Remember: To pass the test, you must work hard. There are no shortcuts.
Other Idea Bank entries that will be included in the Write to Top Idea Bank & Vocab Vault:
|Crime & Punishment||Environment||Lifestyle/Hobbies||Society|
Our first entry in the Idea Bank is Education. Here is a small sample of what the E-book will include:
Facilities : campus, classroom, lecture hall, lab (laboratory), studio, library, cafeteria, sports/athletic facility,…
Schools: college, university, community college, vocational school, technical college, boarding school, polytechnic, …
Course related: course of study, curriculum, syllabus, research, thesis, dissertation, rubric, attendance, citations, …
+ over 400 more terms, expressions, idioms, etc. about Education.
Schools should focus more on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) courses and less on the arts (fine arts, music, dance, theater).
Schools should prepare students for the labour market, and not waste time and resources on theoretical knowledge.
Should college students be forced to take courses outside their main area of study? Why?
Does a smaller class size contribute to students’ performance? How?
Compare/ Contrast/ Discuss (both)
Some students prefer to study near home while others want to study in a different city or even country. Compare these two options and say which you would prefer.
More and more companies are willing to view graduates of online universities on an equal level as those who attended brick-and-mortar campuses. Discuss the advantages of both styles of learning.
Advantages and/or Disadvantages:
As children work more and more on electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, many are losing their handwriting skills. Many parents want teachers to reinforce this skill by making students submit handwritten assignments. What would the advantages and disadvantages be of doing this?
Open: What (causes, reasons, effects, solutions)? Why? How? Who? When? Where? etc.
How does good handwriting ability help students?
What are some ways teachers can motivate students?
Teachers these days often make use of technological devices in the classroom to make lessons more engaging for students. Which of the following do you think would have the greatest impact in a classroom? Why?
+ 0ver 15 more questions about Education
Steve Jobs: Co-founder of Apple Inc.; dropped out of college; took a calligraphy course because of interest, which led to fonts on Mac; gave a commencement speech to Stanford graduates, told them to “stay hungry”, follow their passions, and “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”; school friends were in two groups: those interested in electronics and engineering, and those interested in the arts and literature
+ over 10 more universal examples useful to write about Education