Let’s Practice Being Concise (3 of 8)


In the previous post, I quoted from my own IELTS Writing Task Two book (Page 33, at the bottom), which states …

This new sentence is much shorter, and makes the same point. That is, the sentence is concise, and concision is a sign of a good writer.

Let’s just take one aspect of IELTS Writing, from the public version of the IELTS band descriptors.

Coherence & Cohesion: 1. Shows progression







there may be a lack of overall progression

there is clear overall progression

there is clear progression throughout



Source: IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors (Public Version)


Concision helps give you that ‘clear progression’ (= IELTS 7). Thus, if a sentence can make the same point in fewer words, WRITE THAT SENTENCES!  You then have time to …

  • write more,
  • say more,
  • and achieve more of the task.

Unfortunately, there is much IELTS ‘preparation’ out there teaching you long weird sentences, full of redundancy and fluff. Authors write books of ‘model’ sentences to remember, trying to create ‘style’ and ‘collocation’. The worst of these are indecipherable, but even what seems like an efficient sentence is often overwritten. Let us look at an example.

It stimulates the development of economic growth. [7 words]

‘Development’ is the same as ‘growth’, and that meaning is also in the verb ‘stimulate’. So, the sentence is over-written. Thus, let’s change this to …

It stimulates the economy. [4 words]

There! Concise and clear. I managed to take 3 words off, but let’s go a bit further. Look at the next sentence written in bold.

There are cultural differences. This is certainly due to the considerable effect of the immigration to other countries which is now happening in every corner of the globe. [24 words]

This sentence may look good, but look what I can do. Let’s change this to …

There are cultural differences due to global immigration. [4 words]

Wow! 4 words compared to 24! My sentence is 1/6 of the original (!!!!!), and the message is exactly the same, which shows that the first sentence was very over-written. And think, bad IELTS books are full of those original sentences. Got it? It’s your turn.

Try making the following sentences more concise.

  1. Museums make a significant and positive contribution to all of society. [11 words]
  2. Humans can live without art but they cannot live without food. [11 words]
  3. It is the money which comes from all the members of the public. [13 words]
  4. Some murderers have no choice but to go ahead and commit the horrible crime. [14 words]
  5. There are many science-fiction movies all built around the concept of travelling to space. [14 words]
  6. …. a couple who decides to get married … [7 words]

Let’s Practice Being Concise (2 of 8): The Value of Concision (Part II)


My IELTS Writing Task One book has Tip 6. My IELTS Writing Task Two book has Tip 10. They both have the same name: CUT THE FLUFF! This has helped the average IELTS Writing Score in Taiwan to rise. After my books were published, and with all my teaching, the message finally got out – but there are still many bad books out there, with many bad teachers playing the ‘memorisation game’, and there are large numbers of students who fall for this. Some of the most popular teachers, the ‘famous’ one, the ones who ‘everyone say are good’, can be the worst. Hence, the average score is only 6. It isn’t 7, or higher. Not yet.

But let’s not think about IELTS. Let’s just think about good writing generally. What’s wrong with fluff? Well, here’s a nice quote from a famous book called ‘The Elements of Style’, by Professor Strunk, an English professor at Cornell University. The book was first published in the 1930s. Here is his Rule 17.

Rule 17: Omit Needless Words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Well, my rule is exactly the same: Cut the fluff!

An important word is ‘concise’ and ‘concision’. On Page 17, ‘concise’ is defined as …

Concise = the words are not repetitive; every word is meaningful and counts.

Page 33, at the bottom, states …

This new sentence is much shorter, and makes the same point. That is, the sentence is concise, and concision is a sign of a good writer.

This previous sentence should be your rule in IELTS Writing. If a sentence can make the same point in fewer words, WRITE THAT SENTENCES! You then have time to …

  • write more,
  • say more,
  • and achieve more of the task.

The new six entries will develop this skill.

Idiomatic Vocabulary 15: a different story / kettle of fish

The Phrases

  1. To be a different story
  2. To be a different kettle of fish

Their Definitions

These are two related sayings, describing a situation which is completely different to another.


These are useful for IELTS because, in a complicated world, we face a variety of situations, each different to the other, and we often compare then. In addition, to test your speaking and explore a situation more deeply, in Part Three of the Speaking Test, IELTS examiners tend to throw out questions which change the situation: “What about women?”, “Is it the same for adults?”, and “Would teachers agree with that?”

This saying is too long and personal to be used in IELTS writing.

Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “I think shopping is a form a torture, but obviously, for women, it’s a different story.”
  • “Rock music is fairly popular among young people.” [“Is it the same in Asia?”] “Well, that’s a different story.”
  • “The humidity in this country is sometimes almost unbearable.” [“What about in your country?”] “Well, that’s a different kettle of fish.”
  • “I managed a school for five years, and had to deal with incompetence all around me. Now I run my own small classroom, and [smiling] it’s a different kettle of fish altogether”.

Idiomatic Vocabulary 14: a sharp learning curve

The Phrases

  1. To be a sharp learning curve
  2. To do everything from scratch
  3. To revert to Plan B.
  4. To go back to the drawing board.

Their Definitions

These are a series of related sayings, describing situations where …

  1. where you have to learn very
  2. where you have to do everything from the beginning.
  3. after the first plan fails, you change to another.
  4. a plan fails, and you have to begin all over again.


This is useful for IELTS because, in a complicated world, we are all trying to learn, and have learnt much in the past, have tried and failed at various projects. Thus, this phrase can probably be useful for everyone, describing some situation in their past.

Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “When I started my website, it was definitely a sharp learning curve.”
  • “I was given complete responsibility for the entire school, which was certainly a sharp learning curve, and absolutely nothing was done or prepared beforehand. I had to do absolutely everything from scratch.”
  • “After three months, I realised I’d never get along with the crazy boss, so, Plan A having failed, one reverts to Plan B, right?”
  • “I designed IELTS courses for one school where I worked for years, then decided to leave and teach using my own books, so it was back to the drawing board. I spent at least three weeks working on the new syllabus.”

Idiomatic Vocabulary 13: to go overboard

The Phrase

 To go overboard

Its Definition

A verb phrase meaning to do something good, but do it too much or excessively so that it becomes bad.


This is useful for IELTS speaking because this situation does happen in life. People may ‘go overboard’ in politeness, actions, and public behavior.

This phrase passes our test for use in written language: it is short [Rule 2], and it can be applied widely to many people [Rule 3].


Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “I’m not convinced cosmetic surgery is good. Many people go overboard, and begin looking like freaks.”
  • “Study is important, but I see three-year-old babies learning Japanese. Now, that’s just going overboard.”
  • “Some memorisation is possible when writing in IELTS, but people just go overboard, and the whole essay becomes absolutely ridiculous.”

In IELTS Writing

  • Given the emphasis now placed on good looks in this celebrity-driven society, the current trend towards cosmetic surgery is understandable, but too many ‘go overboard’, Michael Jackson being a classic example.
  • Money is undeniably important, but those who sacrifice friends, family, and good health in the process of acquiring it, are obviously ‘going overboard’.

Idiomatic Vocabulary 12: turning up your nose

The Phrase

  To turn your nose up (at sth.)

Its Definition

A verb phrase meaning you don’t want to do, use, or accept sth. kindly offered to you.


This is useful for IELTS because people generally try to help others in the world, so not accepting, or not having your offer accepted, can be quite common. Since this usually involves refusing a kind offer, the phrase can be negative.

Following Rule 2 (See Introduction), this phrase is too long for formal writing, and so should not be used there.

Note: it would be hard to say this, and not perform the ‘body language’ as described – turning up your nose.

Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “So, I offered to drive her home, but she just turned her nose up.”
  • “Sometimes I just don’t get it! Students ask me for help, say they desperately need a good IELTS mark, but when I recommend my IELTS books, but they just turn up their noses and walk away.”
  • “Oh, whenever they offer me something, I just basically turn up my nose.”
  • “Cats are so fussy. Basically, they’ll turn up their noses at just about everything.”

Idiomatic Vocabulary 11: A grain of salt

The Phrase

To take [sth.] with a grain of salt

Its Definition

A verb phrase meaning you don’t really believe the previous fact.


This is useful for IELTS because there are so many lies and so much deceit in the world. An intelligent person doesn’t necessarily believe it all, and we often have to indicate this to other speakers.

Following Rule 2 (See Introduction), this phrase is too long for formal writing, and so should not be used there.

 Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “He claims he really helped me – but I took it all with a grain of salt.”
  • “All the advertising is just basically garbage. You have to take it all with a grain of salt.”
  • “I’ve checked other IELTS websites, from other school and freelance teachers, and almost every one of them is just sheer and utter lies. I don’t take it with a grain of salt; I just reject it outright with absolute disgust! The sad fact is that students usually believe it.”
  • “I know a guy, and absolutely everything he said had to be taken with a grain of salt.”

Idiomatic Vocabulary 10: On Steroids

The Phrase

To be on steroids

Its Definition

An adjectival phrase meaning extremely developed when compared to something else.


Body builders take ‘steroids’ [a hormonal drug’] in order to develop abnormally large muscles. Similarly, when comparing a strong with a weak

form, we can consider the strong one ‘on steroids’. This is very idiomatic and descriptive (good), but not easy to use (bad). Try inventing some

comparison and seeing if you can make these phrase work for you.


Examiner:          Did you like Shanghai?

          Speaker:            In some ways. It’s sort of like Taipei on steroids.

Other Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “My ambition has always been to climb Mount Everest, but basically the only thing I’ve done is ascend Yang Ming Shan – let’s call it Everest without steroids.”
  • “The chess player, Kasparov, played a computer called ‘Deeper Blue’ – which was, basically, just your average computer on steroids – and he lost the match.”
  • “The competition in schools in Taiwan is insane. It’s like a dog-eat-dog world on steroids. My teenage cousins, would you believe, are seeing psychiatrists due to the stress!”

Idiomatic Vocabulary 9: the rat race

The Phrases

  • the rat race / concrete jungle (N)
  • // dog-eat-dog (adj)

Their Definitions

Describing the intense and often ruthless competition in society


These phrases are useful because we all live in a society which has such competition. We can all be compared to laboratory rats racing each other to get food. City life can be compared to a jungle of buildings – a concrete jungle – where animals eat other animals, even of their own kind – a real dog-eat-dog existence.

These phrases all express strong criticism or negative feelings towards this existence – and if you honestly feel this, express it.


Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “After some 20 years in the workforce, I just want to get out of this rat race, and live in a quiet rural area.”
  • “Coming from Australia, it’s really weird that I find myself now marooned, probably forever, in an unlovely concrete jungle.”

In IELTS Writing

  • The competition in the Asian-school systems is becoming increasingly competitive, often ruthlessly so, creating a ‘dog-eat-dog’ scenario, which can hardly be psychologically healthy for the students involved.
  • In the race to succeed in all aspects of life and work, ethics inevitably fall, and the ‘rat race’ begins from an early age.

Idiomatic Vocabulary 8: a sweet tooth

The Phrase

 To have a sweet tooth

Its Definition

To like eating sweet and sugary food and drink


This phrase is useful because it can describe almost everyone, and food is a common topic that can come into many conversations. We all either like, or don’t like, sweet food.

Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “Oh, I definitely have a sweet tooth. I just love chocolate, cheesecake, and various snacks.”
  • “I really have a sweet tooth, just like my mother, but my father didn’t have one at all.”

In IELTS Writing

  • Confectionery companies produce a multitude of products, catering to the ‘sweet tooth’ of modern consumers.
  • One of the common causes of obesity is undoubtedly the ‘sweet tooth’ possessed by many people.

Idiomatic Vocabulary 7: super

The Phrase


Its Definition

A prefix which makes the adjective which follows much stronger.


This phrase is useful because it can describe many more extremes of feeling, and has a fun and upbeat feel. My 9-year-old boy uses this regularly. It is used as a prefix (meaning ‘more than’) in some formal words, such as…







…and many others, but it can be used playfully to give a more informal feel to the speaking.

Example Sentences

In IELTS Speaking

  • “Oh, I thought the movie was good – super good, in fact.”
  • “I didn’t like the food in America. The deserts were super-sweet, so different to what we have in Taiwan.”

In IELTS Writing

  • In this electronic age, and with this globalised world, media celebrities are often not just rich, but ‘super-rich’.
  • Media celebrities undergo far too much cosmetic surgery, deciding that only ‘super-glamorous’ will serve their purposes.

Cultural Insight into Australia 23: Sport (iii)

As I mentioned in my last ‘Cultural Insight’ post, I’m from Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules Football, the only true football. I mentioned in Cultural Insight 21 that cricket is a summer sport, since it needs good weather. This caused a problem in the early days of my country. What could the cricketers do in the winter in order to stay fit? Answer: they needed a new game, and the first rules for the game were written in 1859. This is actually earlier than most other football codes in the world, including soccer!

Australian football is played on cricket grounds – large, oval-shaped, with natural earth and grass. If it is raining [this is a winter sport], this can make it quite muddy for the players. There are 18 players on either side trying to kick an oval shaped ball between ‘goal posts’ on either side of the large ground, and so it can move quite fast. There is catching, running, bouncing, and hand-passing, and the rules allow ‘tackling’, and thus the game is fairly rough and physical.

In the true spirit of the origins of the game, I have included some pictures of ‘local’ amateur football, rather than the professional AFL (the Australian Football League). These pictures show everything I have said: the fast, rough, muddy, but highly entertaining nature of the sport – now Australia’s most popular. If you are in my country, try going to an AFL game.

Local Football 1Local Football 2








Local Football 3Local Football 4


Cultural Insight into Australia 22: Sport (ii)

Australian are famous for their prowess at sport. It is truly impressive, particularly given the relatively small population of my country, and rugby is a better example than cricket (from the last ‘Cultural Insight’), since rugby is only played into two Australian states: New South Wales, and Queensland. This hasn’t stopped Australia from winning two Rugby World Cups (in 1991 and 1999), and always being a serious contender for the title.

Rugby 1Rugby 2

As for how it is played, I’m not really sure. As the pictures show, it is rough, tough, and involves beefy bull-necked heavyweight meatheads basically throwing themselves head on into each other. Sadly, this has resulted in a statistically significant number of broken necks

Forgive me for my attitude. I’m from Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules Football (the only true football, and the subject of the next ‘Cultural Insight’), so I’m not that interested in rugby.

Cultural Insight into Australia 21: Sport (i)

Australian are famous for their prowess at sport. It is truly impressive, particularly given the relatively small population of my country. A good example of that we won the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Cricket? Huh? You don’t know anything about it, do you? Well, here’s one interesting fact: it is the world’s 2nd most popular sport.

Cricket is played by many Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, and (especially) India. Cricket is a summer sport in Australia, since it cannot be played in the rain or in bad light, given how hard, small, and slippery a cricket ball is, and how fast it can travel when hit with a bat.

Cricket 2Cricket 1

The game is similar in concept to baseball, but, as the pictures show, the equipment is slightly different. A bowler (Picture 1, middle) bowls the ball; the batsman (Picture 2) tries to hit it away, and the fielders (Picture 1, front) try to catch it (making the batsman ‘out’), or throw it into the stumps (those three sticks in the middle of both pictures), while the batsmen run up and down the ‘pitch’ (the pathway between the two sets of sumps) in order to accrue runs.

Well, that’s cricket in a nutshell – a very popular sport in my country, and Australia is officially the best in the world [well, this year, anyway].

Cultural Insight into Australia 20: Art (iv)

In the previous ‘Cultural Insight’, we looked at a famous painting by the early Australian painter Tom Robert (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931). In contrast to Russel Drysdale (who came much later [See Cultural Insight 17]), Roberts saw the outback in a much more positive way.

Frederick McCubbin was a colleague of Robert’s, and they studied art together. McCubbin also saw the bush in a more positive, but often more reflective, way. Here is his most famous painting, called ‘The Pioneer’ (1904).



There is a story here, somewhat sad, and somewhat uplifting at the same time.

Picture 1:   The pioneers – a husband and wife – have arrived in a new area of bush land. Notice the expression on the wife’s face – not a happy one.

Picture 2:   Now these two people have a baby, a house (shown in the background), and the husband is clearing the forest for further agricultural purposes.

Picture 3:   Probably the son returns to visit the grave of (probably) his father or mother. Notice now that a small town can be seen in the distance. Time has passed; life moves on, and a country develops further. We are born, we live, and we die, eventually returning to the soil (from which we came).


Cultural Insight into Australia 19: Art (iii)

In the previous two ‘Cultural Insights’, we looked the paintings of Russel Drysdale. He painted the Australian outback in a sinister and uneasy way. Now, let’s look at probably the two most famous Australian paintings of all time, which see the world differently.

The first was painted by an early Australian painter named Tom Robert (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931). In contrast to Drysdale (who came much later), Roberts saw the outback in a much more positive way. Here is his most famous painting, called ‘Shearing the Rams’, painted in 1890. It shows real life, and celebrates ‘manly’ work, in this case, that of the wool industry, which was one of the first major industries of Australia.

Shearing the Rams


An interesting fact is that the ‘tar-boy’ (the smiling figure in the centre of the picture) was actually a girl. Her name was Susan Davis, and she lived until 1979.











An interesting fact is that the ‘tar-boy’ (the smiling figure in the centre of the picture) was actually a girl. Her name was Susan Davis, and she lived until 1979.