The fastest way to go nowhere with G.B.C.

A hamster on a wheel
Running to stand still

I have spent seven years teaching for the G.B.C. test. In that time, I saw a lot of different approaches to studying for it, and I saw one study method fail every single time.

So here it is.

The worst way to improve your G.B.C. score is by practice.

It is probably counter-intuitive. How can practice be bad? It's not. You should practice sometimes. Practice will get you used to the format; it'll help you develop good strategies to answer the questions. However, what's bad (and what a lot of people want to do) is to only practice answering G.B.C. questions.

Practice does work with TOEIC, and it works with your school or university English tests. You've probably used it in the past, right? Unluckily, if you want to get a really great G.B.C. score, you cannot take this approach.

A couple of examples will help you understand.

My most successful student (in terms of G.B.C. scores and improvement) never practiced for the test. When I first started teaching him many years ago, we did some practice and test strategy sessions. Now, we work hard on English every class, and he always does his homework, but he never asks to practice G.B.C. His score goes up on average by 0.2 every year.

On the other hand, I have taught students who have insisted on only working on G.B.C., so we have. And they have worked hard in class. My students prepared model answers, focused on common topics, and memorized key phrases. But in every case, their scores have improved only very slowly (less than 0.05 a year), and some have stayed the same!

If you understand what the G.B.C. test is testing, this makes perfect sense.

What is the G.B.C test testing?

G.B.C. tests your English speaking skills, but more than that, it tests your logic, delivery and intonation, response time, demeanor and the sophistication of how you speak English (as well as grammar, vocabulary and all that other basic stuff). You cannot fake this. Of all the speaking tests I know, G.B.C. is the toughest and the fairest in the sense that the only way to truly get a good score is to be genuinely good at English.

What is wrong with too much practice?

First of all, when you practice too much, you no longer sound natural. You sound like an English-speaking robot. You lose all intonation. You lose all spontaneity. You lose all naturalness. You are graded on all these things in G.B.C., and native speakers can tell in a second if a person is speaking from memory or from the heart.

Secondly, what's worse is that only practicing for the test really limits your experience and input. G.B.C. is only a narrow range of discussion questions. You cannot possibly hope to get the wide-ranging experience you need to improve your English at a fundamental level if you only ever do one thing in class.

Besides, it's boring after a while.

You might be able to make it to 1.8 with memorised answers, but it's going to be nearly impossible to get more than that if you don't change your preparation strategy.

What should I do?

The short answer is: get good at English. To do that, you need to study English. All of it. You need to get good at reading, writing, speaking and listening. All these skills feed off each other and if you improve one, you improve the rest. If one of these skills seems weak, then the others probably are too. You need to ensure that your input is broad and that you are getting a lot of output. You need plenty of corrections and feedback.

You know all this, so that's not so helpful. I just want to remind you — there is no escaping it!

A slightly longer, more helpful answer is that the G.B.C. interview is a complex task. Like any complex task, the easiest way to get better at it is to break it up into smaller tasks.

I bet that is what you do when you are working on a project, or training for a sport, or practicing a musical instrument. You would not only play football games to get good at playing football. You would run and practice ball skills and drill your passing and so on.

To break down G.B.C. into smaller tasks, take a look at your score, and look for the low-hanging fruit. Work through your score sheet and decide what to focus on. Where are you losing points? If you work on it, can you really make an improvement?

For example, something that people often lose points on is the "non-word sounds" score. That is very easy to fix. Just shut your mouth! Don't say "Umm..." or "Ahh..." The problem is that people do this without thinking. You need to listen to yourself, and get out of the habit of using non-word sounds.

Another example is grammar, the G.B.C. scoresheet has detailed grammar points. Did you have trouble with tense? Then practice tense a lot. Talk about the past, the present, and the future until it takes no effort to use the right tense all the time.

On the other hand, some aspects of the test cannot be improved quickly. For instance, logic depends on your ability to use a variety of grammar points accurately, with a wide enough vocabulary to describe your topic clearly, and then enough mental energy to think no only about the language you are using, but also about the topic you are describing. That simply takes time and effort to improve.

You need to pick something and target it. If you decide to work on grammar, focus on that for six months. Do one of our grammar courses. If you want to work on your speaking skills, do the pronunciation or presenting courses. If you are not sure, take a general business course and develop all of your skills one by one.

Our Speaking Test Strategies course is here to specifically help you find these easy targets for quick improvement and then get you to focus on some medium-term goals. We'll recommend a course of study, and together with time, effort and energy, you will reach your G.B.C. goal!

Counter-intuitive—opposite to what you expect.