Reading between the bus lines and class time: feedback on reading with the Macmillan IELTS Skills app


In our introductory post in this series we discussed how we were excited about trying out the Macmillan IELTS skills app with our pre-university and first year undergraduate international students here at Bellerbys College in London. The students have been trialling the app this term and in this post we’d like to share both their feedback and our own teacher reflections on how well the app works in helping students to develop key IELTS reading skills.

From the many skimming and scanning exercises to innovative features such as disappearing text activities to develop reading speed, we felt straight away that the app had a wide range of useful reading tips and a pretty comprehensive focus on all the different sub-skills students need to work on.

But what did the students think? Here are two of them, Ziyu Yang and Madeleine from China, giving us their thoughts:

So Ziyu Yang and Madeleine were very positive in their assessment, citing the value of both the different types of activities on offer and the convenience of having an app on their smartphones – to be used whenever they felt like it. Madeleine’s point that technology like this appeals to young people like her is an important one. Exams like IELTS often appear very inaccessible and intimidating to students and her comment suggests that making use of students’ personal devices like their smartphones may help to bridge the gap between them and the exam. This is certainly something that for the teachers involved in this project has provided a new avenue of research that we would like to delve a lot deeper into in the coming months.

Feedback from our other students was similarly encouraging, with the following a short summary of their main points:

• ‘The app helps me to improve my understanding of the best methods to use in the exam and to develop different skills’
• ‘Games like the words disappearing at different speeds helps to improve the speed of finding particular information’
• ‘I like the tips on how to analyse the question’
• ‘This trains your eyes to read faster so you don’t waste time in the exam’
• ‘It helps to concentrate on particular parts of the text instead of just looking at one big text all the time’

What was great about this student feedback is that it confirmed what we teachers thought might be one of the primary benefits of the app: that it would help our students to reflect more on the way they were approaching each part of the reading exam. In other words, the fact that they could engage in discrete reading activities (rather than these just being part of a wider course book unit) and the kinaesthetic nature of these activities seemed to help them see these readings skills as actual practical skills, not just as abstract knowledge about the IELTS test.

We feel that the app has helped students to better identify and distinguish different sub-skills and there was a sense that through using the activities on the app, developing these was somehow easier or at least more appealing to work on. On this note, the interactive game element is an important aspect of the activities as students can have fun challenging themselves (and each other) to make quick progress and win. For example, with the disappearing text exercises, they can choose whether the text disappears off the screen at a slow, medium, or fast pace before as they skim or scan for answers. They can move up the levels and chart their scores to see their progress. This is a key point as it is often difficult for students to see tangible and confidence-giving progress as they try to cope with the challenges of IELTS.

The interesting thing about having an app like this for IELTS is that students can get a sense of their progress using the same material (i.e. the app), rather than having to buy a new book to work at a higher level. In this way again, they can start to see the reading exam as a series of discrete skills, some of which they may be better at and others which they need to work more intensively on. Although the app does not expose them to a wide range of material on each of the sub-skills, it provides a great introduction and raises awareness of them in an engaging and accessible way.

The app is not a replacement for an IELTS course or indeed a course book. Students will still need many of the more traditional types of instruction as they negotiate their journeys through IELTS. With the complexities of the reading test, this is all the more so. However, apps like these point the way forward for new, exciting and pedagogically sound ways of engaging students and helping them to reflect on their exam technique and sub-skills development.

In next week’s post we’ll be feeding back on the IELTS speaking component of the app. Please join us on Monday 11th March.





The IELTS skills (complete) app is now available for just £3.99 (was £9.99) and is available for download here.

Let us know your own thoughts on the app in the comments section below.

Read more in this series here:


Role-playing reality

Break it down to build it up…

Don’t just sit back and listen…

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