Understanding the IELTS Reading Section

Reading comprehension is a key language ability that determines how much of a text an individual understands when they go through it. Not surprisingly, most language tests assess this skill.

Here’s what you can expect in the IELTS Reading section.

Skills tested

The Reading section in IELTS is designed to test a range of skills that we employ to read various kinds of text and derive meaning. This includes forming a general understanding of a long text, looking for specific details (e.g. a date, figure), identifying the writer’s opinion or attitudes, and following how an argument develops.

Content

In both IELTS tests, Academic and General Training, candidates receive three sections to read, each accompanied by a set of questions. Texts are normally adapted from books, newspapers, magazines, and journals, and tend to be of general interest. So, no specialist knowledge is required to understand them.

One key difference between the two tests is that the IELTS General Training Reading section is simpler, as it focuses mostly on basic survival skills.

Timing

The Reading section in IELTS lasts 60 minutes, and test takers are recommended to spend 20 minutes per section. Unlike IELTS Listening, no extra time is given to transfer answers, so they have to be written directly on to the answer sheet. Managing time can be tricky here, as candidates aren’t really told when to begin or end each section.

Questions

A total of 40 questions need to be answered in the Reading section. A variety of question types is used so that the difficulty level remains uniform across test sessions. Answers tend to be short, with most of them being a word or short phrase. Sometimes, a letter or number will do.

Scores

Each correct answer is worth one mark. A raw score out of 40 is calculated and later converted to the IELTS 9-band scale using a conversion table. Scores are reported in whole (e.g. 6, 7, 8) and half bands (e.g. 6.5, 7.5, 8.5). To score well in IELTS Reading, see to it that you read up on the format and spend enough time understanding the various question types. Good luck!

Why Work Part-time When Studying Abroad (Part 2)

In a previous blog post on the topic, we identified two benefits of picking up a part-time job while at university: improving language ability and getting to know more people.

Here are some more reasons why working part-time can be good for you.    

Becoming culturally aware

When living abroad, especially in a country whose culture is quite different to yours, there could be umpteen ways in which your words or actions may upset those around you. This is because what is seen as normal behaviour in your country may be considered inappropriate in another society.

One of the quickest ways to improve cultural awareness is by being in a cosmopolitan work environment, where you get to observe people from other cultures first-hand. Often work stress brings out the worst in people, highlighting differences in how cultures cope with tricky situations. You get to know why different people behave the way they do. In the long run, this will enable you to respond appropriately to cultural differences by being more sensitive to them.

Now, there’s no doubt that most universities too have diverse international student communities. However, students often confine themselves to small groups which make them feel comfortable. The workplace, therefore, is a much better place to learn about cultures, as it forces you to work with all kinds of people, even those whose behaviour you might find odd or annoying at first.

Getting introduced to the world of work

Working part-time is a great way of getting to know the world of work and the challenges it throws up, before formally beginning your career. For one thing, you become aware of various do’s and don’ts when working for a business. As well as this, you also learn to deal with office politics, which is an absolute must to survive as an employee. And if you don’t happen to enjoy certain kinds of part-time work, at least you’d know what to avoid later on in life. 

Overall, part-time work experience is invaluable, as it helps you understand yourself as well as the workplace better. So, when such opportunities come your way, make sure you grab them with both hands.    

The View From Campus: Finding Your College Needle In The U.S. Haystack

In this View from Campus blog post, Stefano Papaleo, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, shares his best advice for international students who are beginning their search for the right college or university. When confronted with the enormous range of options for higher education in the U.S., it is easy to become overwhelmed. Finding that right institution where you wish to study, can be compared to the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack. No easy task. Here are some helpful tips from Mr. Papaleo.

Q. How would you describe your institution in 5 words?                                                                                  
A. International, Individualized, Innovative, Well-Placed, Safe

Q. For what is your institution best known overseas?
A. For being one of the most international universities in the country and for providing excellent services to international students

Q. What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A. Undergrad: International Business Management, Entrepreneurship, Sports Management, Psychology, Biology.

Grad: MBA Marketing, MBA Financial Valuation and Investment, MS Applied Psychology, MBA International Business Management, MA Communication and Media.

Q. What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A. Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and China.

Q. How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?
A. minimum of 6.0 is required for undergraduate admission, and a minimum of 6.5 is required for graduate admission.

Q. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when first considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A. I believe it is a very complicated system with an even more complicated admission process. For someone without the help of a high school counselor or an educational consultant it is very hard to navigate the system.

Q. How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A. No later than the equivalent of their junior year in high school.

Q. How should prospective students begin their research when considering higher education in the United States?
A. If they have no help in the process they should look at online resources and guides that can help them narrow their choices.

Q. If a student needs help narrowing down their choices of schools, where can they turn for assistance?
A. If they do not attend an international high school with an experienced high school counselor it is not very easy. EducationUSA can help. There are also several educational consultants around the world that can guide the students for a fee.

Q. There are a lot of possible tests international students might need to take. How can students find out which ones they must / should take for each institution?
A. From the universities’ websites

Why Work Part-time When Studying Abroad (Part 1)

Looking for a part-time job is one of the very first tasks that international students take on once they set foot on foreign soil. For many, it generates a handy income that can go some way towards helping them meet their expenses. Some use it to fund activities which they think are beyond their limited student budget.

However, if you thought money was the only motive behind this, think again. Even those with the means to put themselves through college comfortably apply for part-time vacancies. Wondering why?

Here are some pluses of working part-time as a university student.  

Improving language skills

As a foreign student, the chances are you may not be fluent in the local language, whether it is English, German, French, or Polish. Being at the workplace presents the ideal opportunity to hone your language skills, as it is usually full of native speakers.

There’s enough evidence to suggest that putting yourself in real-life situations and forcing yourself to communicate is perhaps the best way to learn a foreign language that you barely know. When you are thrown in at the deep end, you may struggle initially but will very quickly learn to cope. That way, you learn a language faster than you would ever manage in a classroom. 

Meeting new people

Undergraduate or postgraduate students make up a sizeable proportion of part-timers employed by businesses such as pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, and call centres. So, if you’re feeling all lonely in a new country, your workplace may be the best place to start looking for like-minded people. As many among them may be facing the very same challenges as you, it becomes easier to connect with one another. What’s more, mates from work are usually more fun, as you tend to forget academic pressures in their company.

And don’t be surprised if some of these friendships last a lifetime. Many international students continue staying in touch with their foreign friends even years after returning to their country.

We’ll be back soon with more on the benefits of working part-time while at university.                     

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we looked at how the IELTS journey begins when test takers arrive at the test venue, following which they deposit belongings, and get registered. Read on to know what happens from then on.

 

Entering the examination room

On completing registration, test takers are ushered into the examination room, where they’ll be spending the next few hours doing the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections. Once the test taker enters this space, they are expected to remain there until the end of the session.

 Each individual is allotted a specific place in the room as per a seating plan that is prepared beforehand. Test takers are sat at a distance from each other to prevent malpractice of any kind, such as copying from one another or helping each other in any other way.

Attempting the written part

The Listening, Reading, and Writing sections of IELTS last approximately 3 hours and are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them. Should the test taker decide to go to the restroom during this time, they lose that time. While the restroom is out of bounds during the Listening section, test takers may choose to quickly use the loo during Reading or Writing. Time checks are provided periodically to help test takers manage time efficiently.

In the Listening and Reading sections, answers have to be written on the answer sheet in pencil. For the Writing section, though, test takers get a choice between pen and pencil.

Attending the Speaking interview

The Speaking section is a one-to-one interaction with a trained examiner, which can be held before or after the written test. The date and time of the interview is normally announced a week in advance so that test takers have enough time to prepare. On the day, they are asked to report 20 to 30 minutes before the interview along with the passport or ID document. At this stage, biometric data is used to verify that the same individual has appeared for the speaking and written parts.

Once the test is over, IELTS results are made available online on the 13th day. A Test Report Form (TRF), which has individual scores as well as an overall band score, is also issued to the test taker.

 

The View From Campus: Financing a U.S. Degree

 

Authored this month by Marty Bennett, an award-winning international educator with a career spanning 25+ years, in the UK and the United States, where he directed international student admissions efforts at five different institutions.

 

How do students fund their studies in the USA?

When applying to colleges and universities in the United States, one of first experiences most students have is sticker shock.  For example, the annual cost for a bachelor’s degree program at an elite institution, when combining tuition and fees, living expenses, books and supplies, health insurance, etc., can exceed $75,000 US. While there are institutions where the annual expenses may be under $20,000, the majority are in the middle, out of reach for many aspiring students. Yet, for the fourth year in a row, there are more than one million international students studying in the United States. How do they fund their studies? The Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors Report shares that for 65% of students, personal and family sources are the primary source of funding, followed by U.S. colleges or universities at 21%.

 

Financial support sources

According to data from a 2018 NAFSA report international students received over $10 billion in financial support from U.S. sources in the form of scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, assistantships, etc. Which schools gave that aid? There are over 4500 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, but, unfortunately, there is not a master list of which institutions offer financial support.

In general, more aid is available to students seeking graduate (master’s or doctoral degrees) in the United States, in the form of graduate teaching or research assistantships that provide tuition waivers, and stipends for work done for specific departments on campus. For prospective undergraduate students, EducationUSA advisers, part of the U.S. Department of State’s network of advising centers in over 170 countries, have access to an annually updated list of scholarships/aid, including 100+ colleges that offer full financial aid to qualified international students. Students should contact their local EducationUSA office for information on what is currently available.

The best resources available to find current scholarships for international students are IIE’s Funding U.S. Study and EducationUSA.  EducationUSA’s Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study is considered the best one-stop resource for students hoping to study in the United States, and provides many tips to find financial support, including a searchable database of financial aid.

Keep an open mind and be sure to ask university representatives what financial support is available to international students. Good luck!

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 1)

 

Say the word ‘test’ or ‘exam’, and it’s natural for some to turn into a bundle of nerves. Let’s face it, exam fear cuts across different age groups, with both the young and old likely to get sweaty palms.

Many of us tend to harbour a deep-seated fear of the unknown. So, one way to get around exam fear is by familiarising yourself with the test that you’re planning to take.  In this post, we’ll trace the IELTS test day journey undertaken by candidates.

 

Arriving at the test venue

An IELTS test taker’s exam journey usually begins when they arrive at the test venue on the chosen test date. Depending on which part of the world you sit the test, this may be early in the morning or around noon.

At most test centres, only three sections of the test are conducted on the test date – Listening, Reading, and Writing. Speaking, on the other hand, can be scheduled before or after the written part. At small centres, however, all four sections may be held on the same day, especially if test takers numbers are low.

 

Depositing personal belongings   

As IELTS is a high-stakes test, there are strict regulations that need to be followed by test providers. Test venues tend to have designated areas where personal belongings are to be left. Only authorised items (e.g. pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener, identity document) can be carried into the examination room.

 

Test taker registration

IELTS uses cutting-edge technology, such as biometric registration and verification systems, to ensure that test security isn’t compromised at any point. Apart from fingerprints, the candidate’s photograph is also taken at the time of registration. Their identity document, which is usually the passport, is also subjected to close scrutiny.

Test security is safe in the hands of expert venue staff, who are hand-picked for the job. Once selected, they have to go through extensive training that prepares them to spot fraudulent behaviour or imposters.

 

In a later post, we’ll talk about the rest of the journey undertaken by millions of test takers who have chosen IELTS, the world’s leading English proficiency test.

6 Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 2)

 

Picking up from where we left off in a previous post, let’s look at us some more essential items that would help an international student settle in quicker at a foreign university. 

 

3. Formal wear

Being a graduate or postgraduate student is more than just coping with academic demands. Thankfully, it also offers opportunities to socialise, helping students find the right balance between work and play.

Depending on where you’re studying, some of the campus events you get invited to may have a strict dress code, such as dark suit for men or evening dress for women. Formal clothing doesn’t come cheap, so it’s sensible to buy something appropriate beforehand.

 

4. Over-the-counter medicine

University life is a whirlwind of activities, and a lot of it is fun. That said, the exertions of such a busy life can leave you exhausted, so be prepared to deal with minor ailments. Most people have a list of go-to medicines that they take in order to fight minor illnesses such as the flu or cold. Such medication may be hard to find in foreign pharmacies, especially if they happen to be herbal, so carry adequate supplies along.

 

5. Raincoat, anorak, or travel umbrella

No matter which part of the world you choose to study in, the possibility of rain can never be waved aside. Unless you don’t mind being caught out by unexpected showers, get yourself a raincoat that’ll protect you from the elements. If you prefer something shorter, anoraks may just be the thing for you. And for those who do not like the idea of walking around wrapped in plastic, a quality travel umbrella should do.

 

6. Universal plug adaptor

There are several gadgets out there which are designed to ease academic work, and all of them are powered by electricity. The trouble is pretty much every region across the globe has a different shaped power outlet. Voltage requirements vary too. A universal plug adaptor can be a lifesaver in such situations, as it lets you charge multiple electronics simultaneously irrespective of the design of the power outlet.

 

All in all, studying abroad does throw up challenges, so do not forget to take along a positive attitude as well. Good luck!

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Colleges and Universities

 

This month we hear from Sofia de la Garza, Adviser at EducationUSA Mexico City. Sofia has been advising students on U.S. study opportunities for several years through her work in Mexico.

 

Q: Describe your role at EducationUSA?

A: I’m an adviser at the EducationUSA Mexico City office. My role is to assist students to be successful in their intention to study in the United States. We offer them all the information they need and guide them through the process from teaching them how to search for institutions that are a good fit, preparing a financial plan and finding financial aid, navigating the admission process in general and all of its requirements, to pre-departure orientations where students learn valuable information that will make their transition to study and live in the U.S. a lot easier for them and their families.

 

Q: What are the most common academic programs that prospective international undergraduate students seek out in the United States?

A: It varies from region to region. In Mexico, it varies from city to city too! Commonly, students are interested in engineering or business because students usually look for what they know or have heard of. Here in Mexico City, you will find that students are interested in a variety of programs related to fine arts, sports, entertainment, international affairs, etc. As advisers, our job is to explain to the students the concept, the value and benefits of education in the U.S., where you can combine programs (majors and minors) to get exactly the program that they want.

 

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for undergraduate education?

A: I think the application process time frame is the most challenging element. Studying in the U.S. requires planning, preparation, and research. It takes time to learn about the process you need to go through in order to be accepted at a university or college, and after that you need to develop an action plan to achieve it. This plan includes studying for the tests, writing essays, requesting recommendations, etc.

 

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for undergraduate study?

A: Prospective students should consider at least 1.5 years in advance to the time they want to start the program. The earlier they start the better. Ideally, 2 years would be enough if students are really following the action plan.

 

Q: How can international students seeking undergraduate study in the United States begin their search?

A: We usually recommend to start searching for schools in the College Board search engine, but besides finding the schools in that web page, they need to visit each institution’s website to find requirements, deadlines, financial aid, campus culture, majors, etc. Another key resource is talking directly to the institutions through fairs. Another great opportunity to learn about institutions is attending the events at EducationUSA centers. These events could be either virtual or in-person.

 

Q: What are the most important factors prospective international undergraduate students look at when reviewing U.S. colleges and universities?
A: Prospective students usually start by looking at the majors offered and financial aid. They also look into extracurricular activities, campus culture, location, weather, etc. After they determine the institutions that would be a good fit for them, they look into the admission requirements and deadlines among other things.

 

Q:What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international undergraduate applicants?

A: English proficiency is very important not only to thrive at college, but also to make friends and have an easier adjustment to the campus life. When an institution is requesting these tests, they are trying to make sure a student is proficient in English for the student’s own good and success in their program. Some institutions have programs for students that did not make the minimum English requirements, where they can start taking classes on campus during or after an English program. Tests like IELTS provide a working reference of the students skills, competencies and readiness for academic engagement. Additionally, in some cases, language proficiency can be factored in for financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

 

Q: What does finding a “good fit” mean when it comes to finding the right college or university in the United States?
A: A Good fit is when a prospective student researches beyond rankings and names of institutions to find his/her goals, expectations and needs aligning with a university or college. Each individual should determinate what are the important aspects, characteristics and conditions an institution should offer to put it in the “right fit list”. We can only determine if an institution is a good fit or not if we have done comprehensive research about it.

Six Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 1)

 

Being a foreign student can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. It’s one exhilarating journey, along which you make new friendships, explore new places, and experience different ways of life. And at the end of it all, you earn yourself a valuable degree that opens doors for you.

 

Prepared for the journey?

As exciting as it all sounds, it isn’t uncommon for students to feel a tad worried on the eve of departure. The thing is, stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things can appear daunting. And the best way to avoid a jittery start is by simply being well-prepared for life in a foreign land.

In this post, you’ll read about some essential things you should pack before catching that international flight to your study destination.

 

What to pack?

1. Daypack

Student life abroad is hectic and packed with activities, many of which entail travelling short distances. For example, if you live off campus, you’ll need to travel to university or the place where you work part-time every other day. Obviously, right from day one, you’ll need something reliable to carry your bare essentials in (e.g. handhelds, water bottle, uniform, books).

Invest in a decent daypack, the smallest in the backpack family that can hold most items you’ll need over a day. And remember to choose a design that fits your needs, not something that just looks great.

 

2. Portable charger

The twenty-first century student has a range of electronic devices at their disposal to help them achieve academic success, be it a smart notebook, tablet, or portable printer. Now, the thing with devices is, they all run on batteries that need frequent recharging, depending on the extent of use.

Imagine you are in a packed lecture hall, and you notice your smart notebook’s battery dwindling. All you could possibly do is watch the device die in frustration, as you’ll have a better chance of finding a date for the weekend in such a place than an empty wall socket. Such a scenario is all too common on campus, so a portable charger is a must, especially if you use a lot of technology to study.

 

We’ll be back with some more must-haves for students hoping to study abroad.

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