IELTS: Scoring high in GT Task 1

Many students have the impression that they’ll score higher in GT writing than in Academic writing. Some score even lower in the former though. The reasons? They don’t know what kind of letter they should write. Here are things to know:

Depending on who the audience is, e.g. writing to your friend, teacher or neighbor or an organisation, you need to go through these steps:

  1. Decide on what register to use.

Informal, semi formal or formal?

      2. Decide on how to use for salutation.

Hi Mike, Dear Mike, Dear Mr. Tyson, or Dear Sir or Madam?

      3. Decide on the degree of formality.

Contractions? Conversational? Politeness? Directness? Respect?

      4. Decide on how to organise the content.

Para 1: Introduction/Greeting + Purpose.

Para 2 & 3: Discuss Questions 1, 2 and 3 in sequence.

Para 4: Goodwill (remember degree of formality).

      5. Decide on how to sign off.

This must be relevant to Step 2.

Informal: Best wishes / Cheers? Kind regards? Yours sincerely? Yours faithfully?

Lastly, remember to check your punctuation so you don’t end up losing marks! Good Luck!


24 June 2017


PTE: Five Things (probably) Nobody Tells you about PTE!

While PTE:


  1. Problem: Low pronunciation marks.

Positioning the microphone too close to your mouth may adversely affect your pronunciation marks in speaking.

Solution: make sure your breathing ‘noise’ is not recorded. Test it properly before the test commences. You still need to speak enthusiastically throughout the test though.

      2. Problem: My pronunciation is ‘hopeless’!

Solution: Improve your speaking speed, continuity and flow, and you’ll eventually pass as Fluency can prop up the Speaking score – a lot!

      3. Problem: Never seem to pass the Speaking test because my Fluency and Pronunciation marks never go through the threshold.

Solution: Never ever give up on any question (such as stopping in the middle of a sentence in Repeat Sentence). Some students do score 10 points higher or even more above their Fluency and Pronunciation marks.

       4. Problem: Insufficient time in reading.

Solution: Pace yourself for every question. You have between 1.5 to 2.5 minutes for each question, depending on the item type.

       5. Problem: Inadequate time in listening.

Solution: Since there are approximately 20 questions and 30 minutes, after discounting the listening time and pauses, you will have about 30 seconds to decide / complete each question.

Good Luck!


24 June 2017


Hi everyone, 皆さん、こんにちは

Hi everyone, 皆さん、こんにちは。


My Japanese lessons includes practices to develop skills of speaking, reading, listening, writing, interacting and constructing and performing students’ own dialogues by pairs/groups or by oneself. The learning included the language and cultural skills to be used in travelling or living/working in Japan and general understanding upon Japanese culture. Speaking practice sometimes used the pictures, information, concepts/ideas or topics from the brochures of Japanese newspapers, the ads, Nichigo Press and other Japanese monthly magazines.

Regarding my class teaching, my Beginners 2 finished in the middle of this month. As for the main textbook, they studied up part of Unit 3 of Genki Book 1. In addition, they practised Katakana script esp. with words written in that script and with use of flash cards, Japanese magazines and worksheets for writing and reading. As homework (taking 2 weeks), they made beautiful, delightful flash cards in Katakana (or Katakana and Hiragana), words based or sentence based writing. Also, there were students who made such cards with the context (phrases) of travellers’ Japanese. We used the cards in class and they practiced those cards in pairs too.

In the last 2 lessons, I taught them phrases, vocab and many dialogues. Books and cd were used, such as “Real Life Japanese: Taikenteki-Nihongo-kaiwa” (by Craig Dibble & Setsuko Matsumoto, 2001, UNICOM Inc, Tokyo) and “Real Life – Japanese Food: Taikenteki-Nihongo-kaiwa”, vol. 2 (by Craig Dibble & Setsuko Matsumoto, 2002, UNICOM Inc, Tokyo). I used those materials for teaching many times in the past. Each time students seemed interested and sort of excited in some way. This time too, I think the materials were quite helpful for the course. Also, I gave the handouts of many phrases and words that are well used in living in Japan and travelling based experiences.


In relation to news about Japan, this is related to the continuous rise of the number of foreigners who climb Mt Fuji every year. This year too as recent, past years, since the start of July (the start of the mountain climbing), the above increase is evident. It is reported that about 30% of ones, who climb Mt Fuji, are foreigners nowadays. The major reasons of the foreigners’ fascination of climbing the mountain are because of the beauty of the mountain (rather than the height of the mountain) and easiness to climb.

( )


The NHK TV recently reported the following (on SBS TV). Business groups (including big corporations) of different industries that are not travel or hospitality industries began actively investing for making or refurbishing buildings and houses, which were not hotels or inns before, to inns and properties for accommodating travellers.

It is due to great shortages of hotels and Japanese styled inns to accommodate big increase of travellers, especially those from overseas. The Japanese government is expected to materialize some new laws that are for such a new business area that can have new issues for management, business operation and security control. It is reported that the number of foreign visitors to Japan exceeded 24 million.


Also, the NHK TV and The Japan Times reported the sharp rise of the price of land in Ginza, Tokyo apart from other big cities in Japan, i.e. the price of land in Ginza reached one before its bubble economy.

(, “As Japan land prices continue gains, Ginza remains most expensive for 32 years in a row” )


The Japan Times states in the above article that the highest land price in Japan was ¥40.32 million (i.e. approximately AUS$445,475) per sq. meter for land which is in front of highly known Kyukyodo stationery store in Ginza shopping district. That price was up 26% from last year.


Toshiko Jackson (Japanese teacher)


Reading B – Questions about recommendations

The reading B test has several common question types that are important to practice. One common question type, which usually asks about the final paragraph, is shown below.

“What is the principal recommendation of paragraph 7?”

As we have discussed in previous posts, it is always important to practice the common question types in Reading B because they make up about half of the exam. With recommendation questions, it is always important to choose the answer that is a recommendation – this sounds obvious, but there are a few tricks to look out for. For something to be a “recommendation”, it needs to use words like “should” or “must” in the text – if the sentence doesn’t have this, then it usually a statement, not a recommendation. Let’s look at a sample question.

“For healthy women with no family history of breast cancer, weighing up the relative benefits and harms of breast screening can be difficult. “Whether you think that the possible benefit is worth the risks I think varies between people,” says Barratt. “For an individual, the most likely outcome of going to screening is absolutely nothing will happen at all – no benefit and no harm,” she says. Women should be given enough information to make an informed decision about whether the small chance of a very large benefit – having your life saved – outweighs the risk of being over-diagnosed and false positives. A 2012 study found that few women were aware of over-diagnosis in breast cancer screening. Evaluation of breast screening in light of evolving evidence is also essential, according to Nickson. “The cost effectiveness and the health benefits of large programs should always be continuously reviewed and evaluated. You don’t just set the ship off and let it go.”

What is the main recommendation proposed by this paragraph?
a) breast cancer screening should be a difficult choice for healthy women
b) women with no family history of breast cancer should not be screened
c) breast cancer experts should reach a consensus on the best approach to screening and treatment
d) women should be aware of the relative risks and benefits of breast cancer screening

There are a few tricks here that are common to these question types. Note that all the answers themselves are phrased as recommendations (using “should”), but the statements they correspond to in the text are not all phrased as recommendations. This is the first common trick in recommendation questions. Answers A and B are wrong, because the corresponding statements in the text do not use the word “should”, and so they are not recommendations. The second trick is that the question asks for the “main” recommendation; answers C and D are both given as recommendations in the paragraph, but answer C is only really mentioned briefly at the end, and is not the main topic talked about in this paragraph. Answer C is thus not as good an answer as D, because D is the main topic covered in this paragraph and so the main recommendation.

As we’ve said, getting good at recognising and dealing with the common question types is an important skill for Reading B. If you get a “main/principal recommendation” question, make sure you pick something that is a recommendation, and is the focus of the paragraph.

Improving your OET Listening skills

The listening component of the Occupational English Test can be difficult for some students. This can be due to the difficulty of the topic, the speed of the speakers or the fact that they miss some answers. Here are some tips to help you improve your listening skills.
1. Practice as much as you can!
This seems obvious but it is best tip I can offer. The more you listen, the better you will get at comprehending what is being said, the better you will get at note-taking and the better you get will at answering the questions quickly.

2. Use the preparation time wisely
You have 1 minute before Part A of the listening audio and then another 1 minute preparation time before Part B. This time should be used to look through the paper, underline key words (more on this later) and try to predict what is coming in the conversation.

3. Identify key words
Use the preparation time to underline or highlight specific words in the questions which you will listen out for. This allows you to predict what the speaker will say. Please note that they won’t necessarily use the same words as what is written in the question – they may use synonyms or the question has paraphrased the speaker’s sentence. This makes it all the more worthwhile to identify the key words PRIOR to the audio beginning.

4. Use the pauses BETWEEN questions.
This time is there for you to complete the previous question and read the next question. Again, you should start to predict what you are likely to hear, even before the recording continues.

Starting the Conversation in OET Speaking

More often that not, the roleplayer will ask you to begin the conversation during the speaking exam of the OET. Therefore, it is vital you know how to introduce the situation confidently and – more importantly – appropriately. This will leave the markers with a good first impression from the very beginning.
The key to the introduction is: consider the SETTING of the conversation. I will give examples of appropriate introductions in the various settings.
Community Health Centre / Community Clinic
In this setting, you may assume you have not met the patient before. Therefore, you could introduce yourself and your role:
“Hi, my name is _____ and I am the community nurse here today…”
Then you can ask one of the following:
“What can I do for you today? / “How can I help you?” / “What brings you here today?” / “What seems to be the problem today?”
Hospital Ward / Emergency Department
In this setting, you may know the patient and some details. For example:
“Hi, I’ll be the nurse looking after you. I can see from your notes that _____.”
You could then also ask:
“How are you feeling?” / “What can I do for you?” / “How are you going?”
Home Visit
In this setting, you have arrived with a CLEAR role and purpose. This should be presented in your introduction:
“Hi, my name is _____ and I am the nurse from the local hospital. Today I’m here to discuss/talk about/show you how to….”
These are examples of the three settings you will get – make sure you practice all of these during your preparation for the OET speaking test!

Hi everyone, 皆さん、こんにちは。

My Japanese lessons includes practices to develop skills of speaking, reading, listening, writing, interacting and constructing and performing students’ own dialogues by pairs/groups or by oneself. The learning included the language and cultural skills to be used in travelling or living/working in Japan and general understanding on Japanese culture. Speaking practice sometimes used the pictures, information, concepts/ideas or topics from the brochures of Japanese newspapers, the ads, Nichigo Press and other Japanese monthly magazines.

Regarding my class teaching, my current Beginners 2 finished Unit 2 of Genki Book 1. Also, they learned Katakana esp. with words written in that script and with use of flash cards, Japanese magazines and worksheets. They have homework that is to make flash cards which are Katakana based words, sentences with such words or travel related words or phrases. About 20 cards are requested to make.

The class also have been studying verb conjugation (all of verb groups of Group 1, 2 and 3) with use of the list from HSC based book of Keiko Aitchison. Well over 30 well-used verbs are in the list. Also, before they finish the course, we will go through the list of many Japanese particles (esp. due to students’ request for learning the particles), simple definitions and examples of simple sentences that have particles concerned.

Regarding Japanese travellers language features, I used part of “Real Life Japanese – 体験的にほんご会話” + cd (C. Dibble & S. Matsumoto, 2001, UNICOM) and “Real Life – Japanese Food – 体験的にほんご会話、Vol. II + cd (C. Dibble & S. Matsumoto, 2002, UNICOM). (I have used both materials many times in the past; they are very good resources.)


As for culture and traditional sports, sumo, at the recent Summer Grand Sumo Tournament (natsu-basho), among the great grand champions, yokozuna, Hakuhoo won the Cup for the highest winning. Kisenosato, the new yokozuna, who received the most attentions popularity and adoration and created big sensation/inspiration to people in Japan, had to withdraw during the above 15 days’ tournament. That was due to his continued pain from the bad injury that he had in the previous tournament that he still fought back and “miraculously” won the highest winning at that time.

In relation to currently highest records holding yokozuna Hakuho who won the Cup, Japan Times reports as follows:

A day after clinching his 38th career championship, yokozuna Hakuho put the icing on the cake Sunday, when he finished the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament with a perfect 15-0 record. “It’s been a long time since I stood here while they played the national anthem. It doesn’t get any better than this,” said the 32-year-old. “Last September I needed surgery and a lot of rehab, but I believed all along that this day would come and I persevered.”  Hakuho praised the sekiwake’s (Takayasu’s) rise through the ranks. – “Takayasu has done so well. He’s pushed me to set an example, to stay a step ahead of him,” Hakuho said. “I’ve been an obstacle to him, and when you run into a wall, you have to get stronger. And he has.”


Also, about Takayasu, who has a Japanese father and mother of Filipino origin and who has great, loyal, close and “beautiful” brothers-like relationship with Kisenosato at their same stable, The Japan Times states such as below.

Takayasu’s promotion comes six months after his Tagonoura stablemate Kisenosato ascended to the sport’s highest rank of yokozuna.  –   Kisenosato, who joined Takayasu for a photo session following the ceremony, did not miss the opportunity to compliment the new ozeki on his promotion and said there is nothing better than seeing his junior disciple recognized for his achievements. “Since around the New Year Basho (in January), I could physically feel his power pumping up from deep below,” said Kisenosato.  – “I believed he would transform. There’s a rank above ozeki. I hope we can train together again and grow stronger, and enliven (the sumo world).”  (


As my comment for all the above sumo “heroes”, I admire them greatly.  They are full of honourable, strong and beautiful/graceful spirit, leaderships, wisdom, amazing tolerance, maturity and self-disciplines in both professionalism and life.


Toshiko Jackson (Japanese teacher)


Improve your listening skills in 5 minutes

Many candidates have difficulty finding the time to sit down and spend several hours studying for the OET exam. Fortunately, employing a consistent approach that involves shorter periods of study on a regular basis can be just as useful.


For the listening part of the test, one such approach involves taking advantage of the ABC’s 1-minute podcasts. Follow the steps below, at least twice a week, and you should find that you can improve your listening and note-taking skills significantly.


  1. Listen to the audio of a 1-minute podcast on a health topic from while reading the transcript.
  2. Replay the video, this time writing down the main points in note form (as you would in the exam).
  3. Use the transcript to check the accuracy of your notes.
  4. If you wrote down anything incorrectly, revise the vocabulary used to communicate that point in the video (look up the definition of each word, and write down the words and their definitions in your personal vocabulary list).
  5. Repeat!


This short exercise will allow you to improve your performance in the listening test by:

  • Practicing accurate note-taking,
  • Practicing listening for key words and main points,
  • Learning new vocabulary as you study, and
  • Building up your experience in listening to spoken English on a variety of health topics.


Good luck!


Anna Brzeska, OET Teacher

IELTS: Unlocking the Five Secrets in IELTS Writing Criteria

So how much do you understand the IELTS Writing criteria? Get to know them and make sure you satisfy them to get your desired score.

1. Task response / achievement.
Good brainstorming for ideas is a must here. Make sure you write at least 10% more than the minimum word limit. You need 2-3 main points thoroughly developed into respective 2-3 full body paragraphs with concrete examples. Plus, be consistent too and do not stray off topic!
2. Coherence and Cohesion.
Your essays need to be properly paragraph (with purpose in mind) and sentences and paragraphs are connected using a combination of eight types of connecting and cohesive devices appropriately punctuated to promote seamless flow and avoid word repetition.
3. Vocabulary.
You have to use precise and flexible correctly spelled words and expressions naturally used in English, including collocations, appropriate phrasal verbs and word forms.
4. Grammatical accuracy and range.
Use compound and complex sentences correctly and make sure count nouns are in plural forms, among other things. To score a 7 here, most of your sentences must be correct, and to score an 8, errors must be rare and hard to spot.
5. Your writing score.
Your final writing score will almost always be good if you can improve on brainstorming and minimise and fix grammatical mistakes while using good natural vocabulary.
We’’ll train you to work on all these criteria. See you at next month’s blog on IELTS Writing!

30 May 2017

PTE: Five Tips to decode the Reading locks!

While PTE Reading passages are shorter and seem ‘easier’ than in IELTS, you need to know what each test type tests you and adapt your strategies accordingly. Here’s how:


  1. Fill in the Blanks (Reading)

This item tests you grammar, collocation and word forms. Reading ahead before filling out is highly recommended.

2. Fill in the Blanks (Reading with 4 options)

This item tests you grammar, collocation and linking words. Again reading ahead and knowing how much time you should spend will ensure you’ll still have time for tougher item types.

3. MCQ Single Answer

This type tests seven (7) skills in reading: Gist, purpose, details, organisation, inference, critical reasoning and tone. Recognising what skill each question asks you will give you a clue how and where to look.

4. MCQ Multiple Answer

This type tests you to match the options with the facts in the passage. Knowing which paragraph the facts lie (and what to do if there’s only one single paragraph) and how many options to pick will certainly maximise your reading score.

5. Reorder Paragraphs

This type tests your skill in singling out the topic sentence, pair up the remaining sentences and in deciding which pair follows the theme. This is the strategy to save you valuable time and still award you the marks you badly need.


Use these keys and you’ll go through the gate, and keep good time too, before the time is up!


30 May 2017


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