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

A hamster on a wheel
Running to stand still

I have been teaching consultants since 2011. In that time, I have seen a lot of different approaches to studying for the G.B.C. test. One study method fails every time, and people who use this study method universally fail to improve their scores by very much. In the worst case, their scores stay the same.

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.

This strategy works 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.

Maybe a couple of examples will help.

My most successful student (in terms of G.B.C. scores and improvement) never practices for the test. When I first started teaching him 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. He doesn't need to. 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, prepared model answers and memorised them. But in every case, their scores have improved only very slowly (less than 0.05 a year), and some have stayed the same!

And if you understand the G.B.C. test and what it is testing, this makes perfect sense.

What does the G.B.C test test?

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?

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.

What's worse is that only practicing for the test really limits your experience and input. G.B.C. is only a couple of pages of different 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 super boring after a while.

In addition, if you are over-practiced, it is very easy to trip you up. Instead of asking a typical question like, "What cultural experience would you recommend to a visitor to your country?" I can just ask you, "What culinary experience would you recommend to a visitor to your country?" I do this in my classes all the time to see if a student is really listening to the questions. They will hear "recommend" and "visitor" and "your country" and think, "Oh! It's that question! I have prepared an answer for that!" If my student starts talking about sumo or kabuki, then I think, "Great answer! Wrong question!"

That's an easy way to lose points on listening skills.

Anyway, if you can deal with all the standard and predictable questions, they will just throw you one of the advanced curve ball questions to really test you. Then you are sunk!

You might be able to make it to 2.0 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!

Let me give you a slightly longer, more helpful answer.

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 always 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.

One example of something that you can not really force is speaking speed and reaction time. You simply can not think faster than you think. This will evolve naturally the more you learn and the more you output English. Deal with it now by learning some good strategies and phrases, but then put it aside and concetrate on something else.

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 together.

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!