english language test

The Value of English Language Testing in U.S. University Admissions

Image courtesy and with approval to use from SUNY-Clarkson

 

In this month’s View From Campus article, Colleen Flynn Thapalia, Director, International Graduate Recruitment & Admission at Clarkson University, shares her extensive experience in university admissions on how English language testing is viewed by U.S. colleges and universities.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

Leader in Innovation & Technology Education

For what is your institution best known overseas?

  • Great career outcomes.
  • Innovative solutions to real-world and theoretical problems at the nexus of science, engineering, technology and business.
  • Hockey.

What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

  • Grad — MS in Engineering Management, MBA, Engineering (several disciplines)
  • Undergrad – Engineering, Business, Biology/Bioscience, Psychology, Mathematics

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

Canada, China, India, Iran, Sri Lanka

 

How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?

As documentation of English proficiency for purposes of admission. For students under consideration for teaching assistantships, English testing helps determine whether the candidate has balance among the four key skills of speaking, writing, reading and listening.

Why is English proficiency testing so important for U.S. colleges and universities in the admissions process?

Since classes are delivered in English, international students must be ready to participate from Day 1. US institutions employ a participatory style of teaching, therefore students need to be able to speak and write extensively, as well as listen to lectures and read textbooks.

Why do required minimum test scores differ so greatly from institution to institution or even program to program within a university?

Institutions and departments have differing philosophies on this. For example, in science and technology fields, English skills are not as tied to mastering the disciplines as in other fields but help in non-scientific coursework. For programs in the Arts and Humanities, English ability is strongly connected to academic success.

Higher test scores may also be required if the student’s degree is in a field like English literature, theater, communication or speech pathology, where the discipline itself relies on a proficiency grasp of English.

Can students who do not meet minimum English test score requirements still be admitted to a U.S. college or university program?

Yes. “Conditional admission” is when students are admitted pending submission of the required English score. In this case, universities typically recommend that a student re-take the proficiency exam or complete a US-based English as a Second Language (ESL) program. But, not all universities offer conditional admission. If the website doesn’t mention this, prospective students can write and ask.

Can students who have been educated entirely in English be exempted from English proficiency test requirements?

This varies a lot. Students educated in an English-speaking country can often get a waiver. But, the definition of “English speaking” is not uniform. The most important thing is to check the university’s website. Applicants shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a waiver and explain their situation, but they should be prepared for many colleges and universities to be quite strict with testing policies.

 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it’s important to sensibly utilise the one minute allotted for preparation during the IELTS Speaking section.

 

Read on for more advice on how to do well in the IELTS Speaking section.

2. Generate some main ideas, not many

Test takers commonly but wrongly try to produce as many different ideas related to the topic as possible, which doesn’t always work. After all, thinking up new ideas is a lot harder than extending ideas you already have. What they really should be doing is to come up with a few main ideas and then think of ways to develop them. Wh-words (what, when, which, where, why, and how) come in handy when you wish to elaborate a point. Learn to put them to good use, and you should be able to keep talking until the two-minute time is up.

 

3. Be descriptive

Topics used in the second part of the IELTS Speaking section often encourage test takers to draw on their own experience and feelings. And when doing so, it’s a good idea to vividly describe people and things you include in your talk. If you’ve been asked to talk about your favourite type of food, for example, talk about its appearance, smell, texture, and aroma. That way, you’ll have a lot more to say, meaning that you are less likely to dry up. As well as this, the examiner might also find your response more impressive, as detailed descriptions involve use of precise vocabulary.

 

4. Speak at a steady pace

It’s only human nature to talk faster than usual when we are fairly stressed out, and exam conditions can do just that sort of thing to you. The problem, though, is that the faster you go, the more content you need to produce to last the two-minute duration. Going at breakneck speed can also interfere with your diction, lowering your pronunciation score. It is best to stay calm and speak at a steady pace – not too fast, not too slow.

 

Equip yourself with these sound strategies, and speaking non-stop will be a walk in the park!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

come in handy
Form : phrase
Meaning : be useful
Example : Some ability to speak European languages will come in handy in this job.

 

draw on (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to make use of skill or experience that you have 
Example : The book draws heavily on the author’s experiences as a tourist in Asia.

 

a walk in the park
Form : phrase
Meaning : something that is easy to do
Example : I’ve been a cop for over two decades, so investigating petty crimes is a walk in the park. 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 1)

 

Talking about any topic at length, in itself, is never too easy, so imagine having to do it without any prior preparation.

 

Giving an extempore speech, or an impromptu speech, is something that many people find daunting. For one thing, the speaker needs to be able to think on their feet. With zero preparation done beforehand, they have to make up content as they go along. Another challenge is that the speaker also needs to organise the ideas they generate as they speak. If not, there is every chance of the talk becoming directionless, with ideas popping up randomly.

 

An extempore task brings to the fore a person’s ability to think, organise, and talk all at the same time, when little to no preparation time is available. No mean feat, right? No wonder then that B-schools commonly use such tasks to measure the speaking as well as logical thinking ability of applicants. Several international language tests also have a component that assesses the test taker’s ability to speak at length without preparation.

 

In IELTS, the second part of the speaking section, known as the individual long turn, requires the test taker to speak on a particular topic for up to 2 minutes uninterruptedly. Of course, there is the advantage of having a minute to prepare and make notes, but the task is essentially extempore speaking.

 

Here are some ways to perform well in the extempore part of the IELTS speaking test:

1. Use prep time wisely

Test takers do get time to think about the topic and make notes before they start talking, but one minute is not a lot of time. So, do not write in full sentences. Instead, jot down keywords that can help you talk elaborately on the topic. For instance, if you have been asked to talk about an unforgettable meal you’ve had, add words such as ‘exotic’ and ‘flavoursome’ to the notes you make. Once you begin talking, they’ll serve as a reminder to describe the origin of the food and its distinctive flavours.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Speaking tips in the next part. Stay tuned!

 

 

GLOSSARY

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long period of time
Example : The ministers spoke at length about the need to bring down crime rates.

 

think on your feet
Form : phrase
Meaning : to have the ability to think and react quickly 
Example : Stand-up comedians need to have the ability to think on their feet while doing live shows.

 

no mean feat
Form : phrase
Meaning : not easy to do
Example : He has played in over 300 international matches, and that’s no mean feat.

 

How To Use Time Conjunctions Correctly

Image courtesy of David Vega via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Imagine you are asked to deliver an impromptu speech on some topic. Chances are that you would just focus on producing sentence after sentence, paying little attention to the order in which they appear.

 

However, when speaking at length, it’s important that what we say is coherent, i.e. our thoughts appear in a logical sequence. Using conjunctions of time is one way of achieving this.

 

Wondering what conjunctions of time are?  They are tiny words (such as before, after, once, while, etc.) which connect an action to a point in time. Put simply, they indicate when something happens.

 

In part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test, candidates need to speak continuously on a topic for two minutes. Here’s how time conjunctions can help structure your answer better:

 

Topic

 

IELTS Speaking: Part 2

 

Describe a holiday you went on recently.

 

 

Sample Answer

I love exploring new places, so holidays are something I always look forward to. The last holiday I went on was to a place called Kumarakom, which is in Southern India.

 

I first heard about Kumarakom when a friend spoke of her trip to India. Her vivid descriptions of the place and its people intrigued me so much that I knew I had to visit it. In fact, while she was busy recollecting her holiday experiences, I’d already started comparing tour packages on my phone. The following week, I found a great deal on a travel website. Before booking the holiday, I checked with my sister if she wanted to come. She jumped at the chance, and thus began our exciting journey.

 

Once we reached Kumarakom, I couldn’t contain my excitement. To be honest, since a visit to Egypt in my teens, never had I been to such an exotic location. As soon as we checked into the resort we were staying at, my sister and I decided to go for a swim. We enjoyed ourselves so thoroughly that we remained in the pool until sunset. After a sumptuous dinner that night, we decided to ….

 

Remember, time conjunctions also help create complex grammar structures, which is a major plus in a test situation.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

impromptu
Form : adjective
Meaning : not planned in advance
Example : He gave an impromptu performance at the wedding.

 

chances are that
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that something is likely to happen
Example : Chances are that Lilly will be moving abroad soon to join her parents.

 

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long time and in great detail
Example : Mike and I spoke about his career choices at length.

 

plus
Form : noun
Meaning : advantage
Example : Knowledge of current fashion trends would be a major plus in this job.

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 5)

Image courtesy of Shibby777 (cc 2.o Flickr)

In this final part of the punctuation series, let’s consider ellipsis and two kinds of brackets: square and round.

 

Ellipsis

An ellipsis is a set of three dots (…) that are evenly spaced. It’s most commonly used to show omission, i.e. not including some words in a sentence, usually ones that aren’t important.

 

Used Example
to shorten quotations The rule book clearly states that “members must return any borrowed item ….”
to indicate hesitation See, the thing is … he’s broke.

 

Remember, if the ellipsis appears at the end of a sentence, it is placed along with the full stop, making it a series of four dots.

 

Square bracket

Square brackets can introduce an explanation that provides clarification, or may provide a short translation of a foreign word that appears in a quoted sentence. They may also be used to indicate that the writer feels something in the original material is a possible error.

 

Used Example
to provide clarification The year I got married [2007] was an important one in my life.
to provide short translations of words in quoted materials Diana says in the interview: “He whispered je t’aime [I love you] as I walked by.”
to indicate a possible error The book says he was born in Venice [Verona?].

 

Round bracket

Also known as parentheses, round brackets are mostly used to add extra information; this may be a single word, fragment or complete sentence.

 

Used Example
to provide additional information The governor (and his family) will attend today’s event.
to provide short translations of words He said cześć (hello) as soon as he saw me.
to expand abbreviations or acronyms that the reader may not be familiar with She became CTO (Chief Technical Officer) of the company in 2012.

 

It is worth remembering that the content between brackets should not be grammatical integral to the main sentence.

 

Punctuation is one of the simplest language features to learn, so use it appropriately; people will think you are being careless if you don’t!

How IELTS can help you get into Canada

maple leaf

Whether for study or work, Canada is a top destination for international entry. It’s a prosperous, safe and liberal country and the second largest in the world. So, how to go about proving your English level for immigration or study?

 

For study

As far as study is concerned, Canada is a huge draw with over 350,000 international students visiting last year and 95% of them recommending higher education in Canada to prospective students. To follow in their footsteps students will need to show their English level and the best way to do that is to take IELTS. More than 350 organisations across Canada accept IELTS, including University of Toronto and McGill University, Montreal, so you’ll be spoilt for choice of places to study.

 

For immigration

IELTS was the first test to be recognised by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Immigration Québec as proof of a person’s English language level for immigration and citizenship programs. There are other government programs for which a proof of English is required such as Express Entry, Citizenship and the Federal Skilled Workers programs.

 

All in all, there is only one real choice for entry to Canada and that is IELTS.

Pin It on Pinterest