Global Knowledge: What is it? Why is it important for the IELTS exam?

July 15, 2016 by Brianne Fung Brianne Fung


I want to tell you a short story about two students I taught in an IELTS preparation course last summer:

They were both very hardworking. They came to class every day, did their homework and asked lots of questions. However, one student spent a lot of extra time in the library after class. This student studied grammar and vocabulary for about 4 extra hours every day! What did the other student do after class? The other student often went out with friends and participated in different activities.

Women in bowling alley, posing for friends phone camera

GettyImages-645426775 girl laptop library1000Would you rather study in a library or go out bowling with friends?

Who do you think did better? This surprises many of my students, but the student who went out with friends and stayed away from the library achieved a higher score! How did this happen? Global knowledge.

What is global knowledge?

Global knowledge is our general understanding about many different topics around the world. While the first student was in the library studying, the other student was out creating friendships, making memories and gaining many different experiences. For example, one weekend, this student drove to a farm with friends and picked blueberries. Another weekend, this student bought tickets for a stage play at a nice theatre. Every weekend, this student did something different: volunteering at the food bank, going camping, visiting a museum and even learning how to make jewelry! As a result, this student acquired a lot of general information through conversations about the environment, art, news, philanthropy, sports and culture. In other words, this student had lots of global knowledge.

Group of people standing next to the car and looking at the mountains

How is specialist knowledge different from global knowledge?

Specialist knowledge is the detailed information we know about a very specific subject. Most people have some kind of specialist knowledge, which means they know a lot about a certain topic. For example, a veterinarian probably knows a lot about animal biology, whereas a mechanic likely knows more about how a car engine works. I’m sure that you already have some specialist knowledge too! How do we find our specialist knowledge? Usually, we are experts at things that we’re interested in. For some people, this could be technology, and for others, art or film. What’s your specialist knowledge?

Mechanic standing in auto repair shop

Is specialist knowledge important for the IELTS exam?

Specialist knowledge can be helpful in the IELTS exam, but not always. This is especially true for the speaking and writing modules of the exam because the questions and topics may or may not be about the specific subjects that you know very well. To be more specific, two minutes is the longest you will need to speak about one subject, so being an expert in a certain area may only be useful for a small section of the oral part of the test. In addition, there is a 250-word minimum for writing task 2 and in the recommended 40 minutes you have, it might be difficult to go into detailed specialist knowledge. Furthermore, because the topics on the IELTS exam are always changing, you might not even have the chance to show your specialist knowledge if the topics on the exam aren’t the same as your area of expertise.

Why is global knowledge important for the IELTS exam?

Having global knowledge is more important than specialist knowledge because it can help you answer a wider variety of questions on both the speaking and writing modules of the exam. In other words, you will be given many different topics to talk and write about, and the more that you know about a variety of subjects, the more able and confident you will be to share ideas about them.

Let me go back to the story about the student who took time to have new experiences: In the speaking module, this student was able to speak in great detail about going out with friends, seeing art in galleries and enjoying nature. For the two-minute long turn, this student had many different ideas and experiences to share about the topic: a time in your life when you felt very excited about something. In addition, this student was able to give personal and specific examples in writing task 2 about the importance of organic farming and buying local. In short, this student never felt nervous about not knowing what to talk or write about because of the global knowledge that was built outside of class and outside of preparing for the exam.

So, I challenge you to expand your global knowledge: Go out and try something you’ve never tried before. Experience nature. Experience art. Experience friendship. Not only because this global knowledge can help you on the exam, but also because you deserve a break from exam. Make that break useful by building your global knowledge! You can do it!

Loud People

Brianne Fung

Brianne was born and raised in Vancouver, BC and has been an ESL teacher in Canada for 8 years. She has had 7 years of experience with the IELTS exam, which includes teaching IELTS courses to learners ranging from beginner to advanced, as well as designing IELTS curricula for IELTS teachers. She currently teaches Academic English at Langara College and enjoys baking artisan cupcakes and watching fantasy and sci-fi thrillers.