David S. Wills talks about providing IELTS training resources

David S. Wills talks about providing IELTS training resources
David S. Wills, Founder of TED IELTS. Photo: Supplied

David S. Wills is a professional IELTS tutor who is passionate about helping people improve their English speaking and writing skills. His website, TED IELTS, serves as a library of his handpicked best IELTS resources, with many of them being comprised of freely accessible TED talks. David also provides a service for checking and correcting essays written by those pursuing a higher IELTS score.

David answered some questions about his website and its content.

What inspired you to become an IELTS tutor?

I actually fell into IELTS by accident, many years ago. I had been teaching English to kids for a few years and found myself between jobs. I got offered a teaching gig in China one day, and I took it because I thought it would be interesting to live in China. On my first day, my boss told me, “You’d better start learning about IELTS,” because the students there were really only interested in improving their IELTS scores. So I read up on the exam and pretty soon I was teaching regular IELTS classes.

What prompted you to create the TED IELTS website?

As an IELTS teacher, I often looked online to find materials to use in my classes. There are some really great websites out there… but there’s also a lot of not-so-good stuff as well. Over time, I had built up my own repository of teaching materials and I felt that I might be able to put them online, and produce something better than what was already there. The original idea for the website was to publish loads of lessons about the videos from the TED Talk website. You know, they’re free to view and I figured I could just make lessons based around them. However, once I began padding the site out with other IELTS lessons, those other materials became much more popular! The website has sort of changed focus quite a bit since that first idea, but we still use TED videos sometimes.

What are the common features of the resources on your site that you think make them good for those pursuing a higher IELTS score?

Good question! I am constantly amazed by how much bad advice there is out on the internet in regards IELTS. Sure, there are some good websites, but there’s just so much nonsense floating around. People are churning out books filled with mistakes, and promoting a lot of untrue ideas and suggestions for IELTS students. It’s really misleading. I try to offer down-to-earth advice that avoids false promises. I hate those websites that say, “Learn this one phrase and get a band 7!” It’s embarrassing. I just want to give students the best materials, and to do it for free. A lot of people taking the IELTS exam can’t afford expensive books and courses, so I put everything on my site for no charge.

In your experience, what do you think is the biggest thing that holds people back from achieving a higher IELTS score?

I think that a lot of people see IELTS as a system to be beaten. They look for “tricks and tips” to beat the IELTS examiners. But ultimately, it’s just a test of your language skills. Someone with really good English could get a high IELTS band score even if they had no idea about the exam. It’s all about testing English language proficiency. That’s all. People want shortcuts, though. They look for the easiest way to get a good score. But there is none. It’s all about hard work and effort. If you’re willing to do that, then you’ll get where you want to go in the end.

For someone who has just discovered your website, where do you recommend they begin with IELTS preparation?

That’s a tough question, actually. Where do you begin with IELTS? I’d recommend first finding out about the structure of the exam, and then check out some past exam papers. That’s really the first thing you should do. You need to figure out what level you are at (0-9) and then make a realistic goal. You’re not going to jump from a 4.5 to a 7 in a few weeks or even a few months. As I said before, IELTS is a test of English ability and you need to improve step-by-step. If you have a weak spot (and for most people that’s writing), then you need to devote some time and effort to that. Finally, you have to take a two-pronged approach to IELTS, which means continuing to do normal English practice but also work on exam skills.

What do you believe could be improved with IELTS testing to make it ‘fairer’ for participants?

I just posted an article about this a few days ago and it got lots of interest. People are always saying “IELTS is unfair!” because they don’t get a score as high as they wanted, but honestly it’s really a pretty good exam. It tests students’ English skills very well, and there isn’t much about that that’s unfair. However, one thing that does come up sometimes is that the questions may be either biased or too obscure. For example, in the speaking exam sometimes there’s a question about some really random, difficult topic, and you have to share your experience… but many students have no experience, so how can they answer? In the writing, I’ve seen people being asked about gap years, but for most of the world’s population, a gap year isn’t really a viable option. I feel that’s a bit culturally biased towards European students.

What does the future hold for your website? Are you seeking to expand it to provide even more helpful IELTS resources?

Yes, we absolutely are looking to expand. For one thing, I started a YouTube page earlier this year and we’ve been uploading occasional videos. I want to continue doing that more regularly and build up a bigger collection of videos offering free, helpful advice to all IELTS students. We’re also expanding into essay correction to help people get their writing scores up. Writing is one of those things that it’s really hard to improve. If you practice the other language skills, you usually get better and better, but with writing you just continue making the same mistakes over and over unless you have someone give you feedback. Aside from that, we post about two new articles each week, and give out free advice on Facebook to any IELTS student who wants information.