Get Better at IELTS Reading with Elevate

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I recently took an IELTS exam.

One of the things that is really important in the Reading portion of the exam, is the ability to read quickly and grasp information accurately. And obviously that’s not something that you can learn in a day. Speed reading is a skill that needs to be trained.

A while back, I tried a brain training app called Elevate.

It has different games that will train different skills, such as Reading, Listening, Speaking, etc.

When you start the app, there is an initial “test” that will evaluate your “level”. And then you can customize your training goals, you can choose to “improve focus while reading and listening” and/or “retain more of what you read and hear” and/or “improve your mental vocabulary”.

The app comes with a set of free games (in-app purchase to unlock more games), and every training session unlocks 3 games for the day that are relevant to your goals.

For IELTS Reading, I recommend the Processing Reading game, which shows you passages at increasing WPM (words per minute) and then it will ask you some questions regarding the passage.

This feels very similar to the IELTS Reading exam, except it really forces you to read faster while retain information accurately.

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Another game that will help improve your reading is Memory, which is actually used for training Speaking. But since it tests your vocabulary, I think it will be pretty helpful in answering the Reading portion’s questions.

It is pretty straight forward, just type in the word described.

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I think if you make it a habit to train, you’ll be pretty good at Reading in no time, and maybe perfect that IELTS exam!

How to get a Band 9 for Listening and Reading of IELTS?

I recently took an IELTS exam, and I only had a week to review (because I got the test dates wrong, oh well).

Then, I saw one of my ex-colleagues post on Facebook about wanting to write a book called: 第一次考雅思就上手 (roughly translates to: Perfecting IELTS the First Time Around). Brilliant!

He hasn’t written the book yet, but he was kind enough to lend me his Cambridge IELTS Practice Exams.

Also British Council also has a Road to IELTS website which contains a lot of videos for tips and tricks, and practice exams.

And that’s how I reviewed.

“Practice makes perfect”, right? So I set the timer on my phone, and took 1 practice exam after another, until I got Band 9.

Listening

There is a trick to the Listening part, if you pay close attention you’ll notice that the answers are pronounced with emphasis.

Also you are given time to read the questions before the recording is played. So take this time to look for keywords and think of their synonyms. And listen for them during the recording.

Be careful of distractions though. Sometimes, the recording will purposely say something that’s seems like the answer, but isn’t.

You are then given time to transfer your answers to the Answer Sheet, when doing so, write the whole word instead of abbreviations (in case you get the abbreviations wrong), and check for spelling and grammar. Try to write exactly what you hear, and don’t rephrase.

Reading

For the Reading Part, it was actually harder than I thought. When I took my first practice exam, I only got Band 7.5.

For Academic Reading, you will be given 3 passages to read that are from books, journals or newspapers that are of academic nature. That means, a lot of the words or vocabularies used are actually quite technical, and to be honest, some are actually quite a snooze to read.

The passages are actually quite long, between 1 to 1 and a half pages, so it’s very important to pick up your pace.

Try to skim or scan for information. What I do is go to the questions first, so I know what kind of information I’m looking for in the text. And once again, think of synonyms, the words will almost never appear as is in the text.

There are different question types: fill in the blank, multiple choice and True, False, Not Given. For me, the hardest is the True, False, Not Given one. Because you have to really make sure that the information is really not mentioned anywhere in the passage. Do not deduce, or you might make a mistake.

I have tried some Brain Training apps before, such as Elevate and Peak (which I will write more about in another post), and they have games that will actually train your reading speed.

Elevate’s reading game is gorgeous and it gives you a passage to read at increasing speed, and afterwards, it will ask you some questions to make sure you really understood. For me, that is actually quite similar to the IELTS Reading exam.

My Results

I have to admit, I was quite nervous when I took my IELTS exam.

For the Listening part, I try to pay as close attention as possible. And since I practiced using the Cambridge material, I was already used to the accent of the speaker.

For the Reading part, I actually finished reading and answering everything in 20 minutes. And then I went to the bathroom, the examiner was surprised that I was finished, and told me that I still had 40 minutes. So I went back and reread everything again in 20 minutes, then I spent the rest of the time praying in my head, because I obsessive like that.

And yes, I did get Band 9 for both Listening and Reading.

It’s funny, when I was doing my review, I wrote some tips, rather mantras, down:

  • Stay Humble
  • Keep Calm
  • The questions are not as easy as you think.
  • Don’t get caught off guard.
  • Prepare, Prepare
  • Take Practice Exams
  • Pray
  • Aim for 8.5 or 9
  • Don’t get distracted.
  • Use the time
  • Listen carefully

That’s it, I hope that helps a little bit for future IELTS takers!

TV Shows are Back! Keep track of them with the Episodes App

I have been tracking my TV shows with Episodes for a while now.

It’s super easy to use, just search for your TV shows and add them to your watch list. You can even turn on notifications, so that it’ll send you a notification the day before, the day or the day after it airs.

The watch list will also show you when the next episode will air. Or if your show no longer airs :*(.

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When you click into your shows, it will show you the title and description of the episode. And after you have watched it, you can just mark it as watched.

Oh and it also sorts your TV shows based on Unseen and Upcoming, and according to the days before it airs.

All my TV shows are back, good bye blog! (aha, just kidding, I’ll still blog, or at least I’ll still try to blog as much as possible…?)

Link: http://episodesapp.com/

Thoughts while reading Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner’s Guide Chapters 1 & 2

Packt published a new book on Cocos2d-X, “Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner’s Guide” by Roger Engelbert (http://www.packtpub.com/cocos2d-x-by-example/book)

Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner's Guide

First off, book cover is adorable.

Second, the book’s spiel says no programming knowledge required, oh really now? Anyway, I know Cocos2d, but I don’t know Cocos2dx nor C++, the language for Cocos2dx, so here I go. If I can make some cookie cutter games at the end of this review then…

I’m just going to spurt words while I read the blog and maybe give an overall summary and reviews at the end of this post. You can ignore the italicized parts, those are just random ramblings.

#nowplaying Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful #onloop after watching “The Great Gatsby” last night.

Chapter 1 covers Installation. Installing Cocos2dx and whatnots.

The book assumes that you are on a Mac and you have Xcode, which yeah, I am and iOS dev and all, I have Xcode.

Okay, the book gives pretty clear instructions on where to download Cocos2dx. now, I just need a few minutes to download them.

Cram my Crash Course for Creativity assignment till then.

Okay, the instructions for installing are pretty clear. Although my Terminal had some other suggestions for how to properly install it. Anyway, that’s done. So when I create a new project in Xcode now I’ll be able to see the different Cocos2dx templates, awesome.

Just “built” and run my first Cocos2dx program, okay, the coconut head is silver and blue now. Looks kinda funky like Pepsi Blue.

Anyway, he did a brief run through on how to run the Cocos2dx samples so that we could see all the infinite possibilities, okay not really infinite, but it’s a pretty long list of sample tests.

And then, he says might need to spend some money on additional tools. He recommend and uses four tools.

TexturePacker, although you can also use Zwoptex as a free alternative. TexturePacker’s Andreas Löw actually used to offer (not sure if he still does, try tweeting him) licenses for bloggers. So yah, I have a free copy of TexturePacker.

ParticleDesigner, which will ease the process of making particles. No, I don’t have that. I’ll probably look for some free alternatives, the author didn’t mention or recommend any.

A tool to help build bitmap fonts, he recommended Glyph designer (not free), bmGlyph (cheaper, but yah, still not free) and FontBuilder (yeah, free). According to him “It is not extremely hard to build a Bitmap font by hand, not nearly as hard as building a particle effect from scratch, but doing it once is enough to convince you to get one of these tools fast.” Back in my Cocos2d days I used Hiero (free) and Photoshop (self advertise: blog on How to Make Fancy Labels using Cocos2d http://purplelilgirl.tumblr.com/post/2854271507/how-to-make-fancy-labels-using-cocos2d).

And according to him, no contest cfxr for sound effects. Free!

And we are done with Chapter 1. We installed Cocos2dx, and run a few sample projects and got to know the structure of basic Cocos2dx applications, so on to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 gives an intro of C++ and Cocos2dx.

“This chapter will be aimed at two types of developers: the original Cocos2d developer who is scared of C++ but won’t admit it to his friends; and the C++ coder who never even heard of Cocos2d and finds Objective-C funny looking.”

I’m the first type, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid of C++. I am terrified of C++. If you give me an exam in C++, I will (and have, twice) submit an empty exam sheet (surprisingly passed one of those exams, I think the examiner took pity on account of my C++ phobia).

Can you tell that I’m stalling?

First the author goes through the basics of Cocos2d, if you know Cocos2d then you’re good to go. So far…

And then comes the dreaded C++ bits.

He says, “Don’t worry. The C part is easy, the first plus goes by really fast, but that second plus, Oh, boy.” Er… Oh boy…

I like the way the author talks in this book, kind of entertaining in a way.

He said to open your favorite text editor, because he doesn’t want code hinting and autocomplete features to get in the way. What? How did you think I finished a game in XNA without little knowledge in XNA, and completely zero knowledge in C#?! Code hinting and autocomplete, seriously.

My favorite text editor – TextEdit, because it comes bundled with a Mac. if I were on my PC laptop, I’d say Notepad, because that’s bundled there. I used to write websites in Notepad, those were the days… Yah, still stalling.

C++ syntax. Okay, so far, apprehensive.

Instantiation and Memory Management. Two words, no ARC. “so Objective-C developers who have forgotten memory management might have a problem here.” Uh oh.

The rule regarding memory management with C++ is very simple: if you new, you must delete.” Okay, I get that. And it supposedly has some other options and commands that’s similar to Objective C without ARC, okay.

 And then he continues with how to instantiate stuff. Okay, so far so good. And a little about the Cocos2dx equivalent of Objective C stuff. Okay, understood.

And summary. He says, “hopefully non C++ developers have learned that there is nothing to fear”. Um.. so far, not completely convinced, but I think I can manage.

He ends this chapter with “and furthermore Cocos2dx is awesome!” (fan boy) and “So let’s create a game already!”. 

Yes, lets. But maybe I’ll continue reading this tomorrow.

Creating Games with Cocos2d for iPhone 2

Packt Publishing recently released a new book called “Creating Games with Cocos2d for iPhone 2”, written by Paul Nygard.

The name is a bit confusing to me, the 2 in the book title refers to the book being the second Cocos2d book from Packt or 2 as in Cocos2d version 2.0?

Anyway, the book in detail from their website:

Cocos2d for iPhone is a simple (but powerful) 2D framework that makes it easy to create games for the iPhone. There are thousands of games in the App Store already using cocos2d. Game development has never been this approachable and easy to get started.

“Creating Games with cocos2d for iPhone 2” takes you through the entire process of designing and building nine complete games for the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad using cocos2d 2.0. The projects start simply and gradually increase in complexity, building on the lessons learned in previous chapters. Good design practices are emphasized throughout.

From a simple match game to an endless runner, you will learn how to build a wide variety of game styles.

You will learn how to implement animation, actions, create “artificial randomness”, use the Box2D physics engine, create tile maps, and even use Bluetooth to play between two devices.

“Creating games with cocos2d for iPhone 2” will take your game building skills to the next level.

You will learn:

  • Control sprites with touch, joysticks, and tilt controls
  • Use sprite sheets, particles, and plists effectively
  • Learn multiple approaches to solve common challenges
  • Integrate cocos2d with the Box2D physics engine
  • Use third-party programs for joystick control, tile maps, and more
  • Implement Bluetooth to play across multiple devices
  • Learn game-specific A.I. design methodologies

Looking at the book’s Table of Contents, I see that there are 9 different games that will be taught in the book. Like all other Packt books, Source Codes are included.

There is a memory game, “Thanks for the Memories” (which reminds me of the Fall Out Boy song). It’s basically a memory card game. A Match 3 game, Whack-a-Mole, Snake, a breakout game, “Light Cycles of TRON” game, pool, a scrolling shooter, and an endless runner. They are pretty run-the-mill games.

This book is aimed at readers with an understanding of Objective-C and some familiarity with the cocos2d for iPhone 2.0 framework.

I’m not through reading the book yet, so this is it for now. Sorry >.< I’ll write the review as soon as I’m done with it.

You can get the book on the Packt website: http://www.packtpub.com/creating-games-with-cocos2d-for-iphone-2/book

Photo Caption Apps

Photo Caption Apps, apps that literally just put, well, captions or text on photos. I think it’s those emo/inspirational quotes all over Tumblr that inspired these text over photo meme(?) thing. So a seemingly simple purpose, actually has quite a few apps that are dedicated solely to it.

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I went to Beitou, Taiwan today and took a couple of pictures, and placed a couple of captions on them.

So I played with InstaQuote, Typic, Tiny Post, Overgram and Instaplace (“Insta” and “Gram” is the new “i”?).

First  up it’s InstaQuote, it’s basically a text caption thing for Instagram, it’s actually it’s whole name- “InstaQuote – Text Caption For Instagram”. By the way, this app is free.

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So being Insta “Quote” and all you can start off with writing a quote, but since am not a quote-y person, I just typed the name of the place I went to.

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You can use one of your photos as the background or use one from the background packs. Oh you have to buy the background packs. Separately, and they cost about a dollar, each.

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So stingy me used one of my own photos. Guys, check out the Thermal Valley in Beitou. Steam is literally rising from that body of water. Pretty, but smells like sulfur.

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Oh and then you can pick one of the styles. A couple are free, but the rest requires a Pro upgrade.

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You can change the Text Color and the Punch Color.

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You can also change well, Text Size, Alignment, Line Spacing, etc. I don’t really get what Frame Width is though.

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You can “Fine-tune” the font, like change the font, but it also requires the Pro upgrade.

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And finally “Open in Instagram”.

So from this:

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The photo came with a “natural” filter, with the steam rising and all.

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+InstaQuote. Oh it comes with a watermark.

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And finally Instagram-ed.

Should I rate these apps with stars? If ever, I’m not really sure what to give this app. It’s okay and all, but a lot of stuff requires the Pro upgrade or some In App purchase.

Next up, Typic, I noticed this app because it was featured in the New and Noteworthy section when it first came out. And app screenshots from iTunes look really pretty. I’m not sure if it had always been free, but anyway, it’s free right now.

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The splash screen is kind of cute.

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The featured picture is different every time you load the app, and I found that quite charming.

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So you can take a photo or choose one from your library.

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The app has a scroll view type interface, and you just slide across to go to a previous or next screen.

So this app actually comes with filters.

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The filter made my photo really pretty, I think.

You can tap on the Caption button to type your well, caption. Adjust Text size, font etc. Some fonts need to be bought too. But the free ones are good enough for me.

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And then you can, well type your caption.

This photo is taken at the Plum Garden. Plum flowers can apparently bloom in winter, or maybe these were just token.

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You can also add frame, in black or white. And if you chose frames, you can even adjust the corners to be a little rounded.

And you can also change your text color, black and white is also the only option though.

You can make your picture a litter blurry, to emphasize your text, but I chose not too, since the flowers are just too pretty.

You can also adjust your text opacity.

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And yes, “Open in Instagram”.

So from this:

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To this:

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No need to add filters and stuff in Instagram anymore. Oh and no watermarks either.

Next, next, is Tiny Post. It’s free.

Tiny Post is kind of interesting because it’s not just a caption app. It has a social networking thing going on too.

You have to sign up for an account first, and then you’d have this profile, and whatever photo with caption that you make will appear in your profile.

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It’s pretty, pretty basic. You take or choose a photo and then you’d get to this page.

Where you can well, type your caption.

And then change the font of your caption. I’m not a big fan of the childish looking fonts though.

And look, filters! Filters named after places, quite pretty.

So this:

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Became this:

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Pretty basic, and slightly boring.

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And there it is in my profile page.

This doesn’t have “Open in Instagram” in its Share options though, but you can share it to Facebook, Twitter though. Oh and Copy it’s URL, which means this photo is actually on the internet, then? Right, social network-y and all.

And then there’s Overgram. Over and Instagram, get it? This one is free too.

This app looks pretty hipster. Check out the splash screen:

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This app can produce pictures like these apparently.

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It starts off pretty standard. Choose one of your photos or take a new one. I like this user interface. It’s pretty slick.

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You can crop it. Since it’s going to eventually end up in Instagram, it has to be cropped into a square.

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Like the screenshot says, you can double tap to edit the text.

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You can even change the color, while you’re at it.

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Do you remember seeing a yellow triangle in the previous, previous, previous screenshot? So you slide that out and you get this round dial of a UI, which you can slide to see a variety of options.

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Like… oooh… cool fonts… Upgrade for more fonts. But the free ones are pretty cool already.

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Align…

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Size…

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And of course, “Open in Instagram”.

This app doesn’t come with filters since it probably figured that Instagram already has them.

So from this:

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This is the Beitou Library. It’s a pretty eco-friendly building, and it’s one of Taipei’s green libraries.

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Overgram produced this. It has a watermark. But you can remove it with a Pro upgrade, which costs about a dollar.

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Plus a filter in Instagram. Oh and when you use Overgram to share to Instagram, it by default has this description already, the pretty standard “I made this with…” spiel, plus a tons of hashtags. So people can actually find your post easily. And one of the hashtags is like #pleaselike, so the nice strangers on Instagram will actually Like it. And Likes are always give me a nice feeling.

Finally, Instaplace. Instaplace, given the key words in its name, it adds the name of the place where the photo was taken as a caption on your photo, which you’ll eventually put on Instagram. It’s free today, but for today only I think.

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So you choose or take a photo and that it usually automatically adds the location. Or you can also use the My Place or Locate button to help it detect the location.

There are a bunch of skins:

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I think the skins are pretty cute. Some went a little overboard with the logo placement, though.

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And then you hit that giant share button there, to share.

From this:

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To this:

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Yes, it has a watermark too. But I like recently discovered that you can remove it in the Settings (hidden in the More button).

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This adds a bunch of hashtags too to your Instagram post. So yeah, likes.

And that about sums up my trip to Beitou, but my photo caption apps (slowly becoming) addiction does not end there.

Some other pictures that I took and added captions to:

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So follow me on Instagram? @purplelilgirl

If you guys want me to check out any apps that you made, feel free to contact me, I don’t charge for reviews.