OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

Being Imaginative in IELTS Speaking (Part 1)

Sometimes IELTS test takers fret over the possibility of not having enough to talk about certain topics in the Speaking section, and rightly so. It is quite possible to be thrown off balance by a question that you are ill-prepared for, for example, a two-minute talk on ‘a place near water that you often visit’.

First and foremost, you need to realise that while it is good to treat the IELTS Speaking interview like a normal conversation so that you do not feel too edgy on the day, your objective is not to exchange information socially with the Examiner. Once the test begins, you should be using your whole bag of tricks to show just how good your English is. Remember, each question you are asked is an opportunity to show off your language skills, so make the most of it!

Oftentimes, factually correct answers could be short, leaving the Examiner with insufficient evidence to rate you. One way of getting round this problem is by learning to be imaginative when speaking. And if being imaginative means including details that make your answers less truthful, it should not deter you. The IELTS Speaking interview is not an exercise in information exchange; it is an opportunity for you to showcase your language skills.

Here are some tips to make your answers more interesting and varied.

Part 1     

The Speaking section begins with the test taker being asked questions about familiar topics, such as study, work, accommodation, family, friends or hobbies. Some questions here could be answered with short utterances.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:In an apartment.

As you can see, short answers will hardly help the Examiner determine your actual language level. What you need to do, instead, is to add as much detail as possible, even if some of it happens to be untrue.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:I’ve been renting a flat for the last couple of years. It’s located in the heart of the city, so most amenities are within walking distance. Besides, flats tend to offer a better social life, which is something I love because I’m a people person.

Now, in reality, you may shun parties and social events, but it should not really stop you from saying such an answer.

There is more advice on how to be creative in the next part, so don’t miss it!

The View From Campus: Applying for a student visa during a pandemic

The past eighteen months during the Covid-19 global pandemic have upended many students’ study plans. But for those who have persevered, congratulations, you are almost there! The next step, getting your student visa, is perhaps the most nerve-wracking time for international students headed for the United States. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa.

Here is what you should do as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic:

1. Got your I-20?  

Make sure you have received the I-20 & admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you decide which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2. Check your passport

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S. Your name on your I-20 must be spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport.

3. Pay your SEVIS fee.

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for the next steps in the process.

4. Complete the Visa Application Form.

You will need most of the following items to complete this form (online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application):

Passport

SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)

Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)

Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already

Admission letter from the college you will attend

Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.

Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)

Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

After completing the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

Plan ahead!

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). Because this summer there is two years’ worth of international students seeking visas to enter the United States, in some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority, even in countries where U.S. consulates are open for emergency appointments only.

Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you.

Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee (approximately $160, the price varies slightly per country).

Attend a Visa Session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country.

EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions (which may still be held virtually this year) they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

Enjoy the experience.

A few years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

Talk to your friends

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask for their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

Breathe, relax, and be honest.

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly – Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training? (Part 2)

Previously we elaborated on how IELTS can open doors for those wanting to study in a foreign country. IELTS Academic is the popular choice when it comes to higher education, whereas courses below degree level may require you to take IELTS General Training. 

Read on to know which IELTS test can help you land a job in an English-speaking country and which one can help you move abroad permanently.

IELTS for work

Getting a good IELTS band score can, without doubt, greatly enhance your work prospects, as it proves to prospective employers that you have enough language skills to work and live comfortably in an English-speaking environment.

Employers from a wide range of sectors, such as healthcare, finance, government, construction, energy, aviation and tourism, require prospective employees to submit an IELTS result. It is up to individual test users to determine the IELTS band scores and test type (Academic or General Training) that best serve their needs.

You will most likely be asked to sit IELTS Academic if you wish to register with a professional body in industries such as nursing, medicine and pharmacy, where English language competence is of critical importance. IELTS General Training, on the other hand, is usually required for vocational training, for example in the construction, hospitality and leisure, and tourism industries.

IELTS for migration

IELTS is accepted as evidence of English language proficiency for migration by several countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Remember that each country sets its own IELTS requirement – for instance, the minimum IELTS score for migrating to New Zealand is 6.5, whereas Australia has set the minimum score at 6. The score required may also vary depending on the type of visa you apply for.

Individuals intending to apply for permanent residency in a foreign country most commonly take IELTS General Training. It measures English language proficiency in a practical, everyday context, and the tasks and texts reflect both workplace and social situations.

All in all, IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are two separate tests designed for two different purposes. While we may have answered some of your questions, it is best to check the entry requirements set by your organisation before deciding which IELTS test to take.

IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training? (Part 1)

IELTS is a test designed to help individuals who are keen on studying, working or living in an English-speaking country.  Globally recognised by more than 11,000 employers, universities, schools and immigration bodies, the IELTS brand has gone from strength to strength since its introduction over three decades ago.

The real-world feel that IELTS offers is something that has helped it earn international acclaim. As a lot of the test content reflects everyday situations, it is easier for test takers to relate to the tasks they receive. Besides, great care is taken to ensure that the test is unbiased and fair to test takers from all backgrounds.

If you are new to the test, you may be confused about whether to sit IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training. All IELTS test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests, but the Reading and Writing sections differ. Here is some information to help you understand how the tests differ.

IELTS for study

On average, about three million students choose to study outside their country of citizenship each year, with many among them preferring English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA. Universities in these countries welcome foreign students with open arms, provided applicants have the academic credentials and language proficiency to be able to successfully complete the course they have chosen. Some universities in non-English speaking countries also ask applicants to submit IELTS scores if the course is taught in English.

IELTS Academic is suitable for those wishing to pursue higher education in an English-speaking environment. The test reflects aspects of academic language and evaluates whether you are ready to begin studying or training. It can be your passport to international success, enabling you to study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level anywhere in the world. However, if you wish to study or train at below degree level, then IELTS General Training would be appropriate. Whichever IELTS test you take with the British Council, you do get the added benefit of having your results sent to a maximum of five organisations for free. In the next part, you will be able to find out more about how IELTS can help with work or migration.

The View From Campus: What to Expect When Applying to U.S. Colleges Post-pandemic

In the course of the last sixteen months, the world has changed. Many students seeking study opportunities in the United States (and other English-speaking countries) have had their plans cancelled, delayed, or dramatically altered due to the pandemic. As we in the United States are coming out of the pandemic with vaccines readily available, mask orders and other social distancing requirements being lifted, a sense of normalcy is beginning to return to everyday life, slowly. While there are many countries still struggling with the effects of Covid, we want to provide some tips for how you can go about applying to U.S. colleges and universities in the coming months.

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.
  • Viewing YouTube videos from international student offices explaining how students can travel.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Watching students talk about their success stories during Covid-19
  • Visiting university Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Washington.

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.  Here’s a regularly updated list of different virtual events and tours for prospective and admitted students.  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!

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series, we identified the benefits of building your IELTS vocabulary and why it may be a good idea for test takers to form a keen interest in current affairs.

Remember, though, that keeping abreast of the latest news will not automatically turn you into a wordsmith.  

How to boost your IELTS vocabulary

Here is some advice to help you build sufficient vocabulary for the test.

  • Do not learn words in isolation

There is enough evidence to underline the fact that it is a lot more rewarding to learn words in chunks than in isolation. Collocation is an area that your Examiner will rate you on, which means your grasp of the relationship between words is important. When you spot a new word that you would like to learn, look for other words that collocate with it. That way, you will get more bang for your buck!

  • Be on the lookout for useful language

News stories are normally full of catchy vocabulary. You may be tempted to learn a new word or phrase that appears fancy, but always ask yourself this first – will it help you in the IELTS test? If the answer is a no, move on without hesitation. 

  • Organise the vocabulary you wish to learn

Motivate the learner in you; record new vocabulary in a way that makes learning easy and structured. If you are new to this, a quick Google search should fetch you more ideas than you would possibly need.

  • Discover activities that can help you use new language

While it is important that you record new vocabulary diligently, you IELTS band scores will depend mostly on your active vocabulary, i.e. words you can use when you speak or write. Search online for activities that might help you retain new vocabulary better.

  • Find news stories that interest you

Do not feel pressured to follow trending news stories. Instead, choose topics that are appealing so that you do not lose interest midway. That said, always have one eye on news items related to common IELTS topics so that you get rewarded for your efforts with a high IELTS band score on vocabulary. 

Lastly, remember to learn a little every day and have fun doing it. You are more likely to retain language that way.

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 1)

Improving your English does not always have to involve attending classes or completing language exercises. One of the positives to come out of the Covid-19 outbreak is the realisation that there are opportunities aplenty around to improve your language skills; you just need to look hard enough. In this blog series, we will look at an unconventional way to improve your IELTS vocabulary – taking an interest in current affairs.

Why build your IELTS vocabulary

The answer is fairly simple! In two sections of IELTS, Writing and Speaking, vocabulary (Lexical Resource) accounts for 25 percent of the final band score. Now, a widely held belief is that it is easier to get a band 7 on vocabulary than on grammar. Anyone who has tried to fix bad grammar will vouch for the fact that it is an arduous task that could take forever. Naturally, forming the ability to use a reasonably broad range of words, phrases, and collocations related to specific topics may seem to be a comparatively easier route to improving your band scores. Additionally, a wider vocabulary will most certainly help your comprehension along in the Listening and Reading sections too.

Why use current affairs

Current affairs stories typically feature common IELTS topics, such as the environment, consumer behaviour, health, culture, education and social issues. Such reports tend to be rich in topical vocabulary; all you need to do is put enough work into learning some of them. You can then reap the rewards on test day. This is because topical vocabulary generally helps you steam ahead in Writing Task 2 or Speaking Part 3.

News reports are also a great source of functional language – for instance, language used to agree or disagree, to state your opinion, to speculate about the future, to sequence your ideas, or to describe problems and their solutions. The more you see or hear such kind of language, the easier it will get for you to reproduce it.

Finally, news reports come in different formats – print, audio, video – which means that you get to choose whatever appeals to you best. You can alternate between formats too, making sure that monotony never sets in.

In the next part, we will see how current affairs can be used to boost your IELTS vocabulary.

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