OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

Preparing for your journey to the United States for study

The last six months have thrown the world as we know it into a state of disarray. Covid-19 has impacted every corner of the planet in ways we never thought imaginable. As a result, things in everyday life for students seeking higher education outside their home country have changed substantially. If you’ve been planning to study in the United States and have been admitted for study, gotten your visa, and are now ready to go, what do you need to know?

Get your documents in order

Now more than ever, because of recent changes in immigration regulations in the United States due to the pandemic, having your documents in order matters most. From your I-20, to your passport and F-1 student visa, to your admissions letter, academic and financial documents, everything must reflect who you are and what your institution’s plan is for classes this coming academic year. While the new rules do allow for new international students to participate in a mix of in-person and online courses (called a hybrid program), if your intended college has recently made the decision to go completely online, you may not be allowed in the country.

Communicate with your university regularly

Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of educational advising centers in 170 countries, traditionally hold pre-departure orientations for international students before they head to the United States for study. While most of these sessions have gone virtual due to the pandemic, they are still happening and can be great resources for students like yourself trying to make sense of a very confusing time in our world. As you get ready to begin your U.S. study journey, the most important people you need to maintain regular communication with are the international student office staff at your college or university. For many U.S. higher education institutions, the past few months have been ones that have been dramatically disrupted, like much of the world, by this global pandemic. Plans these colleges made in April for how the next academic year would look like for new students may very well have changed. As a result it is essential for you to be aware of what those plans are and know what you should do.

Know the immigration and airline rules

Entering the United States as an international student is a fairly straightforward process in normal times if you’ve taken all the required steps and are well-prepared for this last step of your journey to U.S. study. However, these are not normal times. You must know what the current procedures both for the airlines you may be flying into the United States and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) division that handles immigration control at the borders. There have been reports that some airlines want passengers to have had a negative Covid-19 test before flying internationally. Depending on where you live you may need to look into getting a test before you fly.

Moreover, when entering the United States, the officials at CBP who interview each person seeking entry have to ask questions about your intended studies when you present your documents at the immigration checkpoint at the airport. The Department of Homeland Security which oversees CBP has put together important resources in its Study in the States site that discusses the current regulations. Be sure to review this guidance before you leave.

Good luck!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 2)

In Part 1, you read about four ways in which you could improve your IELTS Speaking score – avoiding prepared answers, warming up before your test, wearing comfy clothes, and reminding yourself of the exam format.

In this part, you’ll get to know of some more things to do on Speaking test day.

5. Speak more than the examiner does

To score well in the IELTS Speaking section, it’s important that you show a willingness to speak at length, especially in Parts 2 and 3. For starters, a high score on fluency will only be possible if you’re able to keep going without much effort. Besides, the longer you’re able to speak for, the wider range of grammar and vocabulary you’re likely to produce. Finally, if you need to be seen using various pronunciation features, the discourse needs to be long.

6. Be spontaneous – No right or wrong answers

Contrary to popular belief, there are no right or wrong answers in IELTS Speaking. It’s the language that the test taker produces during the interview that determines their fate. With this in mind, respond to questions with a certain degree of spontaneity, expanding upon the ideas you present.

7. Treat the test like a friendly chat

Having your stomach in knots during an exam is perfectly normal. However, do remember that it’s important to steady your nerves so that you perform as best as you can. Luckily, the IELTS Speaking session is designed to resemble a real-life conversation, so all you need to really do is treat it like a chat with a friend. That way, you’re likely to come across as confident and spontaneous.

8. Ask for clarification

It’s generally agreed that in a language test, answering questions without having the need to hear them again is a good sign. But as an IELTS test taker, you do have the option to ask the examiner for clarification. And if you think seeking clarity might decrease your score, think again! In fact, it is better to make sure what the question being asked is before answering than to blurt out something based on a false assumption.

Don’t forget to read the final part in this series for more Speaking test day advice.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 1)

The Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interaction between the test taker and examiner that lasts around 14 minutes. There’s no doubt that it is as close to a real-life situation as a test could possibly get.

Here are some handy tips that’ll help you give a good account of yourself on test day.

1. Avoid prepared answers

Many of the questions that examiners ask, especially in Parts 1 and 2, tend to be highly predictable. Naturally, the idea of rehearsing answers beforehand might be a tad tempting. But remember that prepared answers won’t get you too far – you wouldn’t sound natural when you speak, and the examiner is likely to notice this.

2. Have a good warm-up

Just like how on a cold day you’d rev your car engine to warm it up before driving off, it’s important to have some warm-up exercise before your Speaking interview. This could be a friendly chat in English with a friend, or some quick practice with your teacher. As well as getting rid of pre-test jitters, it should also help you get in the zone, ensuring that you’re performing at your best.

3. Wear something comfortable

The IELTS Speaking interview isn’t a formal affair, so it’s best not to approach it like you would a job interview. There’s a popular misconception that you need to be dressed formally to form an impression on the examiner. That’s so not true – the examiner will only be interested in how much language you produce and how skilfully you do it. So, don’t let others pressure you to go overdressed for the occasion.  

4. Remember the test format

Once the venue staff register you, it may be a while before you’re ushered into the test room for the interview. This is precious time, so make it count. Run through the different parts of the Speaking section and remind yourself of what to expect in each. For example, Part 1 tends to focus on familiar topics, which means the responses here can be shorter and more personal than the ones in subsequent parts.

We’ll be back with more useful tips that can help you up your Speaking score. You can check other Speaking tips here.

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 3)

So far in this series we’ve talked about how you should ideally draw up a plan and then arrange your ideas logically before you begin writing your essay.

Let’s now discuss how the last two stages can help produce a response that is both error-free and relevant.

4. Evaluating

On studying the essay question carefully, generating ideas and sequencing them, it isn’t uncommon for test takers to spend the rest of the time available on writing as long a response as possible. In a language test like IELTS, such an approach is hardly advisable. Instead, it’s best to write only what is needed to meet the word limit and the requirements of the task, and then use the remaining time to check your work for errors.

It’s a race against the clock to finish writing an essay in 40 minutes. You are likely to make grammar mistakes, omit punctuation, or misspell words, any of which could affect your writing score.  Given the pressure cooker atmosphere of a test, even competent language users are known to make the occasional slip. Finding time to evaluate what you’ve written helps you to identify such errors and improve the accuracy of your response.

5. Revising

Revising what you’ve written forms the final stage of the POWER writing plan. Here you need to go through your response in its entirety and consider it in relation to the essay question. It’s worth remembering at this point that an essay will be penalised if it is tangential or completely off topic. The key is relevance. This means that you are now reading to make sure that all the paragraphs you wrote in stage 3 have come together to fully answer all parts of the essay question. If there’s any doubt that a point isn’t absolutely relevant, think of something more appropriate and write it in its place.

Now that you know what the POWER writing strategy is, practise using it so that your essays always stay on topic and never consume too much time.  

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 2)

In the first part, we spoke about what you need to do in the ‘Planning’ stage of the POWER writing plan – analyse the task and generate ideas. 

Read on to know about what happens in the next couple of stages.

2. Organising

Once you’ve gone through the essay question with a fine-toothed comb and jotted down some useful ideas, it’s time to think of how you’re going to organise your writing. The essay type you receive on test day should help you decide the overall structure of your response. For instance, if you receive an opinion essay, you would want to state your position clearly at the beginning and then provide reasons for taking such a stance in two to three paragraphs.

If you experience difficulty expanding upon an idea that you’ve generated, now is the time to get rid of it and think of an alternative. Remember that irrespective of how brilliant an idea sounds, you’ve got to be able to say more about it and add details in order to write a meaningful paragraph. Failing to do so could mean you end up with an essay that lacks progression in parts. To make your writing cohesive, see to it that you link sentences and ideas using discourse markers, such as besides, further, and for example.

3. Writing

As far as essay writing goes, building a skeleton is without doubt half the battle. Having done that, you can focus your energies on fleshing out the skeleton by adding more details and examples. Although this stage of POWER writing should obviously last the longest, work done in the previous stages will help you write faster than usual. It’s also the time to impress the examiner by showing off your grammar and vocabulary skills – the range of grammar structures and lexical items you display is just as important as how accurate your language is.

While writing, invest more time developing the body paragraphs of your essay because that’s where all your ideas lie. Of course, for this very reason, your examiner will spend a lot more time reading those paragraphs, deliberating how well you’ve met the requirements of the task. 

Do read our next blog post in the series that’ll deal with the remaining stages of the POWER strategy.

Applying to U.S. Colleges in Uncertain Times

Over the last five months the world has come to grips with a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed the way we live. From the simple act of washing our hands or getting food to complex tasks of travel and work, how we interact with others outside our immediate families is dramatically different than in was in 2019.

For students seeking study opportunities in the United States for the next academic year, you likely have many questions. While we don’t have all the answers, we do hope to at least point you in the right directions for the information you seek.

College social media and website

While never a substitute for physically visiting campus or interacting with an admissions officers, faculty, or alumni from a college or university you are interested in, institutional websites and social media accounts can provide useful information to assist you in making informed decisions. Here are a few examples of what you can access to get what you need.

  • Reviewing Facebook pages and groups for important updates on changes and announcements.
  • Watching YouTube videos of current students explaining how they are experiencing life on campus during the pandemic.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Visiting Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Oregon.

Particularly if you are looking for admissions information, these university sites that have specific details about any changes to the application process in terms of tests required, alternatives available, and changes in deadlines or deposits.

Virtual tours and events online

One unintended consequence of the impact of Covid-19 is how U.S. colleges increasingly connect with their prospective students through digital means like offering virtual tours to their campuses and events.  These resources will help you in:

  • Seeing campus through online videos and self-guided tours gives you a window into what life would look like for you at colleges you are considering.
  • Hearing student experiences about everything from arrival on campus, attending class, studying, participating in activities and events paints an important picture.
  • Learning process/procedures related to applying for admission, funding your studies, getting your visa and more.
  • Attending student pre-departure events to make sure you are ready for your journey to campus.

These virtual connections will be essential as you ensure you are making the right choice for your higher education options in the United States.

Chats with current international students

In the end, nothing means more for prospective students like yourself to have conversations with currently enrolled students at the colleges and universities you are considering. That insight from a fellow international student, maybe even someone from your country, is invaluable to get the full perspective you need about where you will spend the next two to four years (or more).

  • Asking questions directly
  • Connecting with students from your country
  • Dispelling rumors about what’s happening

As you narrow down your list of colleges you may apply to, be sure to ask the international admissions office about opportunities to chat with their international students. To hear some of the discussion around this topic, check out a recent Facebook Live Chat we did that shares some useful insights. Good luck!

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 1)

Writing a 250-word essay on a topic of general interest, that too within 40 minutes, can be an overwhelming task, especially if you haven’t got in enough exam practice. It’s hardly surprising then that the Writing section in IELTS is what worries test takers the most.

Often a great deal of time is spent on identifying the perfect beginning to an essay or deciding what points to include, resulting in test takers losing valuable time. One effective way to manage time well is to consider the essay writing task as a process that has different stages: Planning, Organising, Writing, Evaluating, and Revising.  

Let’s take a closer look at the five stages that make up the POWER writing plan.

1. Planning

Some test takers hurriedly read the essay question and begin their response; some others spend too much time mulling over what to write. As you might imagine, neither approach is likely to yield good results in IELTS.

In this first stage, it is essential that the test taker reads the essay question carefully and identifies what the topic is. Remember, forming an understanding of the overall topic and knowing vocabulary are key to ensuring that the response you write does not digress. Sometimes this may mean spending adequate time to read the question twice or thrice, but that should be okay. Underlining important parts as you read the question could help you stay focussed on what you need to write about.   

What’s also important at this point is to not get distracted by specific words in the question. For instance, if the topic is ‘use of technology leading to social isolation’, do not zero in on the word ‘technology’ and look for related ideas. Simply writing about technological advances will certainly earn you a penalty, subsequently affecting your writing score. Therefore, only after you gain a full understanding of the essay task and its parts should you brainstorm possible ideas. Before you move on to the next stage, check whether the ideas you’ve generated are sufficient to fully answer the question.

We’ll be back soon with information about the remaining stages of the acronym, POWER.

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