For many IELTS, TOEFL, and other test takers, quickly coming up with strong and appropriate ideas for their essays or interview questions is one of the most difficult aspects of the writing and speaking components. In these sections of the exams, candidates are asked to provide reasons and examples to support an opinion or an idea within a short time-frame. The process of brainstorming ideas is a skill that requires practice, 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 they are ready when needed. In other words, you should brainstorm before test day and simply recall the 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 an Idea Bank work?
Most essay tasks focus on general topics that come up again and again, though the questions themselves are 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 English exams is Education. From this general idea test makers generate more specific questions about different aspects of Education, such as where to study (e.g., at home vs. abroad), how to study (alone vs. in groups), and many others. By brainstorming vocabulary and subtopics before the test, you will be prepared for any question regarding Education or any other general topic.
You might think this is a lot of work to do 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.
How to build an Idea Bank
A strong Idea Bank should include the following elements:
Keywords: Create lists of vocabulary and expressions that apply to the general topic. These lists should be grouped into categories that 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, and idioms.
Do online searches with the key terms (Topic) + vocabulary — you may need to look through a few sites to gather as many words as possible. You can also use a thesaurus to add words and expressions to your list.
Questions: Create groups of questions categorized under the types of questions that you might see on your test. These include agree/disagree type questions, compare and contrast questions, discuss, choose, etc. These questions should touch on various elements of the general topic and make more specific demands as well as.
Also try to construct different question types around a similar subtopic (i.e., same topic asked as an agree/disagree question, a compare question, etc. Keep in mind that not all topics and subtopics will be adaptable to all question types. See question types below.) Remember also that questions may ask for an opinion, or not, or a combination.
Subtopics: Education itself is a very broad topic. Think of subtopics, or more focused aspects of Education that might be asked about. For example, think of the use of technology in the classroom, bullying, children’s health, homework, or any other point that may be formed into a question. The think of ideas for each subtopic and the keywords you can use to discuss each.
Examples: Once the above elements 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 questions. 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 below on Steve Jobs, whose history and experiences may apply to several different questions, including education and technology as well as other areas.
Follow these steps for other general topics:
|Crime & Punishment||Environment||Lifestyle/Hobbies||Society|
Learn more about IELTS speaking topics.
There are no shortcuts to learning. You need to actively engage the language and be active with your practice on a daily basis. If you work hard, you will achieve high scores. This applies to all aspects of the test, but especially the writing section. 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 Idea, our idea bank e-book series.