A very common idiom that native English speakers use is “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” It means that there is more than one way of achieving an aim or doing something.
This is one of the most difficult things for IELTS students to understand- there are many different techniques, strategies, methods etc. that you could use to help you get a high mark.
The IELTS test, especially the speaking and writing parts, is not like a maths test where there is only one correct answer to a question. Alright, there is normally just one correct answer to a listening and reading question, but there are many different ways you could get to that correct answer.
I get emails every day from students asking questions like:
- My teacher told me to do X this way. Why do you not agree?
- My IELTS book says X. Why do you say the opposite?
- Why did you write X? My friend did it a different way and got a 7.
The emails above are all assuming that there is just one correct way of doing things, when in reality there are many ‘correct’ ways.
Why is there so much conflicting advice?
Quite simply, it is much easier to tell students one technique or strategy than to teach them 3 or 4.
For example, it is much easier to tell a class or write in a book ‘You should do X.’, than to say something like ‘You could do X, but you could also do Y, and in certain circumstances you could also do Z.’
The first approach is straightforward and accomplishes the aim of the lesson, but the second approach will cause mass confusion and will take an unnecessary amount of extra time to explain and teach.
One of the most common questions I get asked is about overviews in Task 1. Some teachers call these overviews and some call them conclusions or summaries. Some teachers tell their students to put them after the introduction and some tell them to put them at the very end. This results in lots of frustration and anxiety for the student who hears ‘conflicting’ advice.
Similarly, for ‘agree or disagree’ essays, some teachers say that you should totally agree with one side, while others believe that a more balanced approach is preferable. If done correctly, both could get you a high mark.
Who to Trust?
With so much conflicting advice, it is difficult for a student to know who to trust. It is a high stakes exam and costs a substantial amount of money, so it totally understandable that you want the best advice.
My advice would be to only use sources of information and teachers that have a proven record of helping students get the scores they deserve. It is totally acceptable to ask your teacher questions if you think their advice conflicts with something else that you’ve heard, but once you trust that they know what they’re doing, you should take their advice and follow their techniques and strategies.