"Strange bedfellows" : IELTS & Creativity

We are aware that the above expression refers to unlikely companions or allies. And one doesn't have to look far for instances. Laurel and Hardy are world-renowned examples. The pair of Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu is our beloved homegrown variant. And, of course, the world of politics is peopled with them.

But where does IELTS come in all this?

Here's how. The other day, while taking a class on Writing Task 2: Essay, I had made the observation that it requires the student to be "creative" in his/her response. That single comment set me thinking:

. . .does IELTS and Creativity really go together? Every one I know in this industry harps on the "practice makes you perfect" mantra. Am I, therefore, saying something wrong?

This post was born out of that train of thought.


First, let us get a handle on this "creativity thing". What is it, anyway, at least in language and the arts? Several heavily-worded definitions exist, but I especially liked the way one particular website put it:

"Creative writing is all about using your imagination and creativity to express ideas and thoughts in a way which is personal to you."

- www.oxfordsummercourses.com

There are a number of ways by which a student of IELTS may be "creative".

1. Use materials of one module to master a second one

For instance, in Speaking, the questions asked in Part 3 or Discussion section are often taken from IELTS essay topics. Conversely, many Speaking questions appear as Essay questions in the Writing module. I guess, in business, this practice would be often labeled "cross-selling".

2. Use study material of another type of English proficiency test

Many PTE essay questions find their way into IELTS. Not only essays, even graphs and charts, which comprise Academic Writing Task 1, are lifted directly from PTE Describe Image topics. PTE Write From Dictation is ideal to test how strong you are with spellings; whether you are aware of the various guidelines regarding capitalization and punctuation; and if, by and large, your sense of sentence structure is accurate, leading to writings that are more or less error-free.

TOEFL Reading passages are great for developing the habit of reading articles written in English that constantly tests your daily vocabulary and knowledge of complex sentences. The passages are long enough to provide you good reading practice on a daily basis. Remember, you need to persist with this for at least a month in order to bring about any kind of meaningful change.

GRE and GMAT Verbal may be a bit of an overkill for most of us. But those who are aiming for the maximum (and, therefore, are already at an advanced level) might find this sort of material to their liking.

3. Prepare an out-of-the-box schedule

A little a day goes a long, long way. Be the tortoise, never the hare. Finish what you start and resist the temptation of hopping from one unfinished task to the next, just because it makes you feel oh-so-busy. Prepare for more than one module at a time. Don't focus on only one module just because you feel that you are not good enough in that one alone. IELTS has a nasty way of sneaking up and catching you unawares. A number of my students have chalked up average scores in Reading and/or Listening precisely because they chose to pay undue attention to Writing. Speak and Read regularly. Make your schedule an integral part of your life, so that it becomes as natural as breathing.

Do not prepare for an exam. Aim to become someone who thrives in an English environment. Exam preps make you good, but for a limited period of time. You got to master English for life. Since you are going to study and possibly settle in an English-speaking land.

Prepare the way no on does.

4. Use the carrot-and-stick policy

Do not prepare for an exam. Aim to become someone who thrives in an English environment. Exam preps make you good, but for a limited period of time. You got to master English for life. Since you are going to study and possibly settle in an English-speaking land. Sure, the next milestone awaits you, but before beginning take a long hard look at your past achievements and pat yourself on the back. The exercise will keep you motivated and prevent dejected and tired shoulders from drooping.

5. Closely simulate the exam environment

For CD IELTS candidates, practice with a desktop keyboard. You did not think that a fancy laptop will be provided to you at the exam center, did you? Write your essays on Word document with the Autocorrect/Spellcheck facility turned off. You definitely don't want those red squiggly lines to inform you that you have made a spelling error. Because that way you will never end up correcting your spelling mistakes.

Similarly, do not read from hard copies of the books; use the pdf versions for your preparation. A digital highlighter should be used to mark lines etc. if required. And answers are to be typed in your MS Word document, not written down with a pencil.

When doing home assignments and/or taking mock tests, mobile phones are to be switched off and kept at an arm's length. Use the wall - mounted some distance away -clock to monitor time. Needless to say, no alarms. Sitting at your desk, undisturbed in your room, it is best to attempt the mock tests at the scheduled time and in the sequence in which you will have to take them. Recently, for paper-based IELTS tests, Writing is being tested first, followed next by Reading and finally Listening. There has been no such change for the Computer Delivered (CD) IELTS.

Attempt your mocks depending on the type of test mode that you have chosen,

6. Have fun while you learn

This ensures that your preparation is really unique, flexible, relevant to your needs, and effective. In other words, "creative" in the widest sense of the word. Don't follow short-cuts which are suggested by numerous blogs and videos on the internet.

First, learn how a question type needs to be tackled. Understand the process and the logic guiding the method. Learn to be accurate before anything else. For speed is a function of practice. Rest assured that in time, your own mind will develop ways by which you will solve your questions. This is the "natural" way and you must allow it to flower. Join the same old dots, but in a new, "you" way.

And, oh yes, have a blast while you are at it!