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Are Critical Thinking skills part of your IELTS Preparation Plan?

Published on July 23, 2018

It’s true. Memorizing long lists of vocabulary, working through grammar exercises, and doing pronunciation drills will help you improve your IELTS score. However, for some test-takers, these things, along with some practice tests, are the only thing they do to prepare. So what is missing here? What more is there to the IELTS than vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and knowing how to write an essay? There isn’t much missing unless you want to score more than six! A key part of any language is your ability to think in that language. To truly know a language you have to be able to dream, plan, create, judge, argue, and a whole lot of other things while thinking in that language. So how is this connected to IELTS? How does IELTS know if you can dream or create in English? This sounds crazy. IELTS isn’t going to scan your brain, but they have designed the test to check if you are thinking in English.

Looking at the IELTS public band scales descriptions, an IELTS 8 or 9 requires you to have full understanding, handle complex situations, and use detailed argumentation. That means, if you want to have a higher score, you are going to have to demonstrate on the test that you can do these things in English. In other words, this is asking you to show you can think critically in English.

To further explain this idea, critical thinking is applying the knowledge and experiences you have acquired throughout your life. Then, in a logical way, you use the knowledge and experiences to understand or explain the world around you. On the IELTS test you will have to do this in many ways. This includes tasks in all four skills areas – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. To make this idea clear, let’s look at some more specific examples from the tests.

One of the most challenging tasks on test day is writing the essay. Along with the usual skills like paragraphing, vocabulary use, and grammatical range, you are going to have to show well-developed, fully extended, and well supported ideas. This means thinking carefully about the essay question and producing an intelligent and logical response. Some common strategies to do this are mind-mapping and justifying. Mind-mapping is done before you write the essay. Basically, you think about as many ideas as you can and write them all down. After that, organize these ideas into groups to help build your paragraphs. The other strategy is justifying. This is basically giving reasons for the things you say. So, if you say that climate change is harmful, you can justify it by thinking of why it’s harmful. So, you could say, It’s harmful because it destroys coastal communities from rising sea levels. In sum, building up lots of ideas with a mind map, organizing them, then justifying them, are key to successful essays on the IELTS.

In terms of the Speaking test, you’ll certainly also have to show your English thinking skills. In Part One and Part Two of the test, you might be able to survive by using common everyday conversations you have like shopping, watching TV and talking about your house. However, Part Three of the Speaking test is the discussion. In this part, it is the examiners job to push you to fluently respond thoughtfully to the topic. The examiner will ask you challenging questions to make sure you can respond quickly and not stumble and fumble with translated, memorized phrases.

In the Listening test there are several tasks you’ll need to be mentally sharp for. One example of a skill you’ll need to excel at is combining your fluent listening with synonyms while applying it to the situation. As you might know from your preparation, the Listening test uses lots of synonyms in the test book. However, not only do you need to listen for the synonyms, but also in the context they are used. For example, if you hear the word book in the context of an airport, it might mean the verb to reserve something , whereas if you hear it in the context of a library, it will probably mean the noun book.

One clear example on the reading exam is the True | False | Not given . A critical thinking skill you’ll need here is called elimination. Basically, you have to account for all the ideas in the text, then logically conclude which ideas are Not Given . Like the Listening test, the test will also challenge you with synonyms, so you’ll have to be sharp.

So there you have it. Although it’s important to practice those common language learning skills like common phrases, grammar patterns, and how to pronounce things, don’t forget that thinking critically in English is also a key part of scoring high on the IELTS.