Matt Cutts is a Google engineer, and in this TED talk from 2011, he gives some interesting advice about how to change your life. This is a very short talk, lasting about as long as an IELTS listening section 4 passage. Let’s use it to practice our listening skills.


Watch the video once and answer the following question. (Answers are at the bottom of the page.)

  1. What is the speaker trying to tell his audience?
    • a) They should always try to change themselves.
    • b) It only takes 30 days to change the world.
    • c) They should try something new for 30 days.
    • d) Everyone should try to write a novel.

Now listen again more carefully, and decide whether the following statements are TRUE or FALSE.

2. You can get rid of a bad habit in just 30 days.

3. He remembered more of his life during these 30 days.

4. He climbed up Mr. Everest.

5. He wrote a 15,000 word novel.

6. It is better to make big changes than small ones.

Finally, set the video to play from 01:29 and then listen again. As you listen, you should fill in the blanks below:

I also ____7_____ that if you really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days. Have you ever wanted to ____8____? Every November, tens of thousands of people try to write their own 50,000-word novel, ____9____, in 30 days. It turns out, all you have to do is write _____10______  a day for a month. So I did. By the way, the secret is not to go to sleep until you’ve written your words for the day. You might be _____11____, but you’ll finish your novel. Now is my book the next great American novel? No. I wrote it in a month. ______12_____.


In his TED talk, Matt Cutts uses some common, everyday language that might help you in IELTS speaking. Right at the beginning, he says,

I was stuck in a rut

What do you think this means?

“Stuck in a rut” means to be doing the same thing every day and not being happy about it. If you don’t like your job and you feel like you are making no progress, you might say, “I’m stuck in a rut.”

Later, he says,

the months flying by

What about this? Can months fly?!

In English, we sometimes say “time flies” when it seems like time is going past very quickly. Another expression is: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” If I said that “The months flew by” then it means that those months seemed very fast to me, and maybe I don’t remember them very well.

A bit later, he describes himself like this:

desk-dwelling computer nerd

A “dwelling” is a house, but it is also a verb that means “to live somewhere”. In this case, we are joining it with the noun “desk” to mean “someone who lives at his desk”. A “nerd” is someone who is socially awkward and maybe loves computers too much.

Finally, he said that he tried to write a 50,000 word novel

from scratch

This is a strange expression. Maybe you have never heard of it. If I do something “from scratch” it means I have started from the very beginning. For example, “I made this dinner from scratch,” means that I made it from the most basic ingredients, with no pre-made parts.

IELTS Advice

You cannot realistically learn English in 30 days, but you can develop habits that can help you. If you follow Matt Cutts’ advice, you can implement some changes in your life that will help you do better at IELTS. For example, set aside some time each day for learning new vocabulary or speaking with a language partner. These things will not make you fluent in just 30 days, but that time might help you turn them into regular habit that will see you eventually becoming fluent.


  1. C
  2. TRUE
  3. TRUE
  4. FALSE (Mt. Kilimanjaro)
  5. FALSE (50,000)
  6. FALSE (He suggests lots of small changes)
  7. figured out
  8. write a novel
  9. from scratch
  10. 1,667 words
  11. sleep-deprived
  12. It’s awful