OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

How researching U.S. graduate programs is changing during the pandemic

This year, 2020, will be one most people would rather soon forget, right? Over the last few months, students who might have been thinking about studying abroad have been forced to reconsider their options due to travel restrictions, changes to admission requirements, and the economic impact of the global pandemic on personal finances. When it comes to researching master’s and doctoral degree programs in the United States, while the process is largely the same, there are some important changes to keep in mind.

Be flexible, things may change

When should you begin your search? Most U.S. experts now say you should start at least 12-24 months ahead of when you wish to start studies. With the quickly moving landscape on which countries are even open to accept international students, it can be hard to plan effectively for what your future might look like, let alone where you may be studying. However, in the United States there are over 1000 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

What are your priorities?

As part of your search, before you go looking for academic programs that meet your needs, a necessary first step should be to ask yourself defining questions as to what’s most important to you. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of advising centers in 170+ countries, have prepared a great resource on researching graduate study options to assist students. One of those tools to consider using is the Define Your Priorities worksheet. Some of those self-discovery questions to ask include:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How will you pay for your graduate program in the United States?
  • What are your academic grades?
  • What are your English test scores?
  • What size institution do you like?
  • Would you like to attend a private or public institution?
  • Do you prefer living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
  • Would you like to live on campus or off campus?

Once you have identified those answers, you will have the most valuable criteria you need to begin you search in a more circumspect manner.

How can you narrow your options?

EducationUSA lists four search engines you can use to begin to find a possible list of the academic programs, locations, institutions that meet your needs. Those search sites will only give you so much information about the colleges and universities that match some of the broad strokes of what you need. Once you have identified those programs, to get much closer to what you need to know about each institution, you will need to review each school’s website where the real details are you need to know on costs, deadlines, tests, and admissions process.  

Especially this year when there really are no in-person college fairs and events happening, it is more important than ever to connect virtually with the U.S. colleges that you’re considering. Whether that be in a virtual university fair, a live chat with representatives from your top choices, a webinar with other international students who may already be attending those institutions, and/or a visit to a local EducationUSA advising center for more specific resources, you have several ways to narrow your options.

What’s a good fit?

In the end, there may be several schools/programs that you research that you can see yourself attending. At this stage it’s time to do deep look at the institutions involved, the strength of the program, and the quality and areas of research conducted by the faculty. Only after getting this next level details will you be able to make the decisions on where you wish to apply.

How to prepare for tests?

And, finally, before physically applying to these programs, it is essential to know which tests might be required. Certainly, rest assured that for most all quality master’s and doctoral program in the U.S. will accept an IELTS score toward meeting the English proficiency standards set by each program. The question will be whether any other academic standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT are required. Because of the pandemic, there is an increasingly large number of programs that are test-optional this year when it comes to GRE or GMAT requirements. Even top business schools in the United States are, for this current 2021 recruitment cycle, not requiring GRE or GMAT scores.

IELTS Essay Types (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we examined two essay types that IELTS teachers commonly teach their students – Analysis and Opinion.

Here are three more types that frequently appear in IELTS Writing.

Type 3: Discussion Essay

This variety gets test takers to discuss in-depth two sides of a topic. For instance, the question might get you to discuss the advantages and disadvantages, or the benefits and drawbacks, of a situation or development.

Example Task

Shopping has developed from a necessary activity to a kind of entertainment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this development?

Test Tip

Remember that when answering this type of an essay, it would be folly to fully develop just one side, leaving the other side underdeveloped. In order for you to meet the requirements of the task, it’s important that both sides are sufficiently developed.

Type 4: Discussion plus Opinion Essay

Here, test takers need to not only discuss two contrastive views on a topic, but also provide their own opinion. A variant of this type asks the test taker to decide whether the advantages of something outweigh its disadvantages.

Example Task

The heads (CEO, Director, etc) of companies are paid a lot more money as salary than ordinary workers. Some people say this is necessary, whereas others say it is unfair.

Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Test Tip

You may lose bands if you only briefly state your opinion without making an effort to substantiate what you’ve said.

Type 5: Hybrid Essay

At first glance it’s easy to confuse this type with an Analysis Essay, because both of them follow the two-part question pattern. However, the key difference is that one of the two questions in a Hybrid Essay tends to look for the test taker’s opinion on the topic.

Example Task

An increasing number of advertisements these days are being aimed at children.

What are the effects of this on children? Should such advertisements be controlled in any way?

Test Tip

To ensure that you adequately answer all parts of the task, it’s best to dedicate one paragraph to each question.

Now that you’ve become familiar with some of the IELTS essay types, draw up strategies for each so that Task 2 will be a breeze on test day.

IELTS Essay Types (Part 1)

IELTS, one of the pioneers of four skills English language testing, is the world’s most popular English language test for higher studies and migration.

In IELTS Writing, test takers have to attempt two tasks:

  • Writing a report (Academic) / letter (General Training)
  • Writing an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem

Here are some essay types that IELTS teachers the world over have identified to help their students fare well in the Writing section.   

Type 1: Analysis Essay

In this type, test takers are told about a relatively recent development, such as the burgeoning population in cities or increasing use of motor vehicles. They are then asked to identify the problems caused by the development and to suggest possible ways to solve each problem. Alternatively, they may be asked to identify the circumstances that have paved the way for a new development and the resultant consequences.

Example Task

More and more people are migrating to cities in search of a better life, but city life can be extremely difficult.

What are some of the difficulties of living in a city? How can governments make urban life better for everyone?

Test Tip

One common mistake that test takers make is to write about just one significant problem, which can immediately invite a penalty. The task above, for example, talks about the ‘difficulties’ of living in a city, so at least two problems need to be included.

Type 2: Opinion Essay

Here, the task introduces a point of view or statement; test takers are then asked to express their opinion in relation to it. Questions presenting a statement and asking test takers to agree or disagree with it have appeared repeatedly in the IELTS test over the years.   

Example Task

Advances in technology and automation have reduced the need for manual labour. Therefore, working hours should be reduced.

To what extent do you agree?

Test Tip

Read the question closely to identify the part which has the statement or point of view. This can be tricky at times, especially if the question runs into two or three sentences. Also, state your opinion clearly and see that it stays consistent throughout the essay.

Read our next blog post on this topic to find out about some more IELTS essay types.

A Quick Guide to Comparatives

Drawing comparisons is something that we all do quite frequently in our everyday lives. But have you ever thought about the type of language used to make such comparisons?

Comparative adjectives and adverbs are what we use to compare one individual or thing with another individual or thing. They allow us to say which individual or thing has more or less of a particular quality. Here are some features of comparative language.

  1. We often use the word ‘than’ when we compare one person or thing with another.

    Examples:
    He’s taller than his brother.
    Dan is a better player than Christy.  
  2. Sometimes we use double comparatives (i.e. use the comparative twice) along with the word ‘and’ to emphasise how someone or something changes.

    Examples:
    Questions get tougher and tougher as the test progresses.
    The investigation was getting more and more complicated.
  3. When we wish to say that one thing depends on another, or that two things vary together, we use the word ‘the’ with comparative adjectives.

    Examples:
    The faster you drive, the riskier the journey up the mountain gets.
    The longer they walked, the thirstier they got.
  4. It is possible to make comparatives sound stronger with the help of intensifiers, such as much, a lot, and far. Similarly, a group of words and phrases called mitigators (e.g. slightly, a bit, a little) can be used to make comparatives less strong.

    Examples:
    This watch is a lot more expensive than my last one.
    This film is far better than the one we saw last week.
    The task gets slightly easier if you use this tool.
    We have a train to catch, so can you please walk a bit more quickly?
  5. Two common ways to form comparatives is by adding ‘-er’ or by adding the word ‘more’ in front of the adjective or adverb.

    Examples:
    She was taller than I had expected.
    We should get something cheaper than this one.
    We’d like to have equipment that is more advanced. 
    Can you please speak more quietly?

We’ll be back soon with another post on superlative forms.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 3)

Over two parts, we’ve been talking about ways in which your IELTS Speaking score could be improved, be it steering clear of rehearsed answers, throwing on comfortable clothes, maintaining spontaneity, or seeking clarification from the examiner if needed.

Let us finish off with a few more tips for doing well in your IELTS Speaking interview.

9. Show off your English skills

Your IELTS Speaking score depends on the linguistic evidence you present to the examiner on the day – just how much language you produce and how accurately you produce it. Given this, it makes sense to spot every opportunity that comes your way to show off your language skills. See to it that you exhibit your entire repertoire of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation features. 

10. Make the most of prep time

Once the examiner moves you on to Part 2 of the interview, they’ll give you instructions, hand over stationery and the task card, and allow you some time to prepare before you’re asked to speak on the assigned topic. No matter how confident you feel or how easy the topic might look, do make use of the full one minute allotted to prepare. One useful thing to do during this time is to jot down trigger words that’ll help you remember the main points you wish to include.   

11. Don’t panic if interrupted

Not many test takers realise that examiners have strict timing for each part of the Speaking section that they need to adhere to. In fact, the onus is on the examiner to ensure that the Speaking section lasts 11 minutes at the least but doesn’t exceed 14 minutes. Naturally, they tend to interrupt if they feel they’ve heard enough of your response and wish to ask you a more challenging question. You’ve been warned: stay calm should you be interrupted in the first or last part of the test.

12. Pay attention to how you sound

In an oral test, your voice is perhaps your biggest asset, so use it to your advantage. Stop your mouth from getting dry before the test, as it’ll affect your performance. Once the test begins, hit a steady pace and speak calmly so that you sound natural and confident.

Remember these tips while you prepare for your Speaking test, and you should do just fine on the day. Good luck!

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.

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