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How to Study for Part 3

Basically, I think there are two sides to preparing for Part 3, (two sides that are in fact, connected to each other):

a) Improving the English language skills that are needed for Part 3, and

b) Improving your knowledge base.

There is also a third side to preparing for Part 3, and that is ...

c) Preparing answers for the known or probable Part 3 questions that are in use now.

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a) Improving the English language skills that are needed for Part 3

If you read the other articles on this website about Part 3 (especially General Description of Part 3 and How to Speak in Part 3), you'll see that Part 3 is in the style of short pieces of discussion. Even though the examiner will not discuss things very much but will instead, just ask questions, you should treat the situation as if the two of you were really having a discussion.

As for language skills, the examiner is looking at your more advanced vocabulary; your more advanced grammar, your knowledge of the more advanced language functions and your more advanced coherence skills.

Questions that the examiner asks for information are used both as a way to test your more advanced vocabulary and your ability to develop that question by continuing to talk after you have answered the basic question. This, "continuing to talk" is something like, "adding your comments", even though the question did not ask for comments but just seemed to asked for information only. An example is: "What are some examples of modern technology used in classrooms today?" If your answer includes vocabulary such as, "an overhead projector", you are showing higher-level vocabulary than the vocabulary needed for most Part 1 questions. If you add your own opinions about how useful these items are, or extra information about how different the situation is today compared to when your parents were young, then you are speaking in "discussion mode". In other words, first answer the basic question but always look for opportunities or ways to add more, such as your opinions, to your answer.

The two web pages mentioned above cover the topic of what language skills are needed. Some people study the English that is needed for Part 3 but they still have problems actually using it in Part 3, especially for the more difficult questions. This is where language partners are most useful. It's not easy to practice discussion-style speaking when you just talk to your bedroom wall. You really should practice discussions with another person. When you do that, point out any weaknesses in the logic of your partner or ask a further question such as why they said that, or mention how your opinion might be different to your partner's and explain why. This is "discussion".

However, this is not so easy, even if you have an ideal language partner. I suggest you keep in mind the idea of, "step by step" progress. Obviously, answering a question or discussing a topic in your own language is a step that comes before doing those things in English. Now, if you are trying to prepare for the IELTS test in a short period of time, e.g., two months or less, you probably don't have much time to discuss and answer the Part 3 questions in Chinese. But if you do your preparation the ideal way, i.e., over many months, then I suggest you print out some Part 3 questions from this website (or use the Part 3 example questions from an IELTS Speaking textbook), then you and your partner first ask each other these questions in Chinese, and answer in Chinese! After that, you will be in a much better position to do the same in English, with the same questions.

But this leads to a further problem: Many people say, "I've never thought about that question (or that topic) before" or, "I don't know anything about that topic" or, "I can't even answer that question in Chinese". From here, we now go to the second side to preparing yourself for Part 3; improving your knowledge base. Improving your knowledge base is, of course, a companion activity to improving your vocabulary.

b) Improving your knowledge base

Even if your English language skills are quite good, if you have no ideas or opinions or very little knowledge about a topic, it will be difficult for you to talk about that topic. The IELTS Speaking test is not a knowledge test or an I.Q. test but if you have good general knowledge about the topics and questions that are frequently used in all the four IELTS tests, you are rewarded for this by finding it easier to say something and if you know very little, you are disadvantaged. This is because the makers of the IELTS tests expect prospective university students to have a certain "basic level" of general knowledge.

One way to improve your general knowledge is to use the "search engines" of the internet, such as Baidu and Google, to find articles on the internet that increase your knowledge base. And, if you really know little or nothing about a topic, you should start by doing that in your own language, Chinese, before moving on to articles on the internet written in English. As you read, pay attention to any specific statistics or numbers. If you can answer a question in Part 3 by including a statistic or number, that usually leaves a good impression with examiners when you're discussing a topic, facts like that are very suitable. Not only that, examiners love to learn something new.

How should you search the internet? Well, if you can't summarize the topic into a few words, quite often just copying the exact Part 3 question into the search engine will yield useful results. Try it! It will usually at least take you to reading materials on that topic, even if it doesn't exactly answer the question. If the English is too advanced, just use the Google translation function. That will give you knowledge and ideas in Chinese, which is a beginning.

Below are some topics that are frequently used in Part 3. Often, several of these topics are combined. For example, differences between the attitudes of young people and old people towards the news.

For all of these topics, you should include the following:

For the topic of "government", I suggest that you sit down and try to put into words (in Chinese, at first), what you think the general purpose of government is, i.e., why we need to have government and, from that, what you think the general responsibilities of government are or should be. Once you are able to express a philosophy about the general responsibilities of government, you will then be able to quite easily express what you think the specific responsibilities of government are to any particular social question.

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c) Preparing answers for the known or probable Part 3 questions that are in use now.

For many of you, this will be your main way to study for Part 3 and for some of you, this will be your only way to study for Part 3. If it is your only way, I think you are making a mistake because you will actually be better prepared for more Part 3 questions if you spend some time studying the information about the different language functions and question types that is on this website and in certain textbooks. Learning some different "models" to use for certain types of questions will allow you to be flexible, i.e., to make your own answers to many different questions in the speaking test, in a natural way.

Even though preparing for the Part 3 questions on this website should not be your only way to prepare for Part 3, it is common sense that it will be part of your preparation, and perhaps the major part. But how to do it?

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Conclusions:

  1. Studying the information on the pages about language functions and question types should be a major part of your study for Part 3.

  1. You need to experience the activity of "discussion" with another person.

  1. By first doing further reading on topics, first in Chinese and then in English, you will be better prepared to discuss these topics with a speaking partner, (perhaps) discussing them first in Chinese and then in English.

  1. Improvements to your ability to speak in Part 3 are best made over a long period; it is very difficult to make significant changes to your ability to speak in Part 3 in a short time.

  1. Use the real Part 3 questions on this website in an intelligent way. Use those topics and questions especially as topics for further vocabulary research. Don't let the examiner see that you knew a certain question was in the test; don't prepare and memorize an answer 100%; and don't 100% memorize other people's answers.

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