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.

 

Describing a Process (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we suggested doing two useful things when describing a process – identifying logical stages and using powerful verbs.

Here are three more tips to help you.

 

3. Be descriptive

Processes carried out in the modern-day factory are either fully or partly automated, which means that there is extensive use of machinery. One way to improve your score is by forming the ability to describe the appearance of machines in detail. Here’s an example:

The next stage involves use of an injection moulder, which is a long, narrow cylindrical apparatus with an outlet at the top through which liquid can be funnelled in.

 

4. Use linking devices adequately

A process has various stages that are interconnected, so it’s important that pieces of text which describe various stages blend seamlessly with each other. To achieve this, skillful use of linking devices (i.e. words and phrases) is a must. The reader will then find it easier to follow the order of information in a piece of writing or identify how parts are related. Here’s an example:

To begin with, oranges are sourced from large groves where they are grown in optimal conditions. The fruit collected is then inspected and graded before being transported to the production site. On arrival, the oranges are rinsed while they pass over rollers, and are segregated thereafter.

 

5. Choose tenses appropriately

In a process, some actions may take place naturally (e.g. the fruit ripens in about 3 months), whereas others are performed by humans (e.g. the ripe fruit is pulled off the trees by pickers). When describing things done by workers, we often use passive structures, as the doer of the action is not important. Here are some examples:

  • Oranges are sourced / are grown
  • The fruit is inspected / is collected / is graded

 

In each activity mentioned above, the result is important, not the person who does the action. So, before choosing the tense, think whether the doer of the action needs a mention.

 

Do remember to follow these tips the next time you attempt to describe a process.

Describing a Process (Part 1)

 

Have you ever wondered how orange juice is mass-produced for our consumption? If you haven’t, maybe you should, because the ability to describe such industrial processes can be a plus in language tests such as IELTS.

 

In IELTS Academic writing, for instance, the test taker may receive a diagram showing a process. This is generally a pictorial representation of the various activities involved in turning raw materials into finished products.

Here are some things to do when describing a process.

 

1. Divide process into logical stages

If it’s a process, then it’s got to be made up of various stages, with each involving one or more steps. In the case of orange juice production, the process might involve typical activities such as harvesting, grading, cleaning, extraction, pasteurization, and packaging.

It’s important to have clear descriptions of what happens at each stage, and how the various stages are interlinked. So, begin by dividing the entire process into logical stages. Sometimes thinking about simple stuff like what raw materials are required, what happens to them in the factory, and how the end product is made ready for sales can help you with this exercise.

 

2. Think up main verbs that describe industrial activity

A diagram illustrating a process is likely to contain several technical phrases which appear as labels. It may not be always possible to rephrase such terms in order to show off your vocabulary skills. Instead, generate a list of main verbs which clearly describe various activities happening at each stage. Here are some examples:

 

  • Oranges are sourced from large groves
  • The fruit is inspected and graded before being transported to the production site
  • The oranges are rinsed while they pass over rollers, and are subsequently segregated

 

Remember, precise use of vocabulary can make your descriptions absolutely clear without having to write too many words.

 

We’ll be back soon with more on interpreting and describing process diagrams.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 3)

 

In part 2 of this series, we spoke of some situations when the definite article the is generally used.

 

Comparatively speaking, there are more rules for using the definite article than the indefinite variety, a or an. Another thing to remember is that the can appear before singular as well as plural nouns.

 

Here are some more rules to help you.

When to use the

6. Referring to an entire group of people

Examples:

The aged are generally reluctant to use any form of technology.  

[aged = a collective reference to people who are very old]

 

The Swiss are known for their ability to manufacture world-class watches.

[Swiss = a collective reference to citizens of Switzerland]  

 

7. Before the names of countries which have a common noun such as ‘republic’, ‘united’, ‘states’, or which sound plural

Examples:

Dubai is arguably the most popular city in the United Arab Emirates.

My cousin works in the Philippines.

 

8. Before the names of newspapers

Examples:

I met a journalist who works for the Independent at yesterday’s party.

The Sun is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK.

 

9. Before the names of most hotels and restaurants

Examples:

I’ve booked us a table at the Canopy, owned by the famous chef Marcus.

Let’s meet at the Swan, the pub near Graeme’s house.

 

Remember, this rule does not apply if the hotel or restaurant is named after a person.

 

10. Before the names of families

Examples:

We’re having dinner with the Watsons tonight.

The Kanes are an amazingly talented bunch.

 

11. Before the names of rivers, seas, mountain groups, island groups, and deserts

Examples:

Debbie’s new apartment overlooks the Thames.

My uncle and aunt are holidaying in the West Indies.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

 

12. Before the names of most museums, art galleries, monuments, and famous buildings

Examples:

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a spectacular structure.

Have you ever been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

 

And here’s something interesting to end with: the definite article is pronounced differently depending on what word follows it. If it appears before a word beginning with a consonant sound, we pronounce it like ‘thuh’; if it is before a word beginning with a vowel sound, we pronounce it like ‘thee’.

The View From Campus – Academic Differences in U.S. Colleges

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

This month we hear from Santosh Gupta, Managing Director at Vasyaa Certified Consultants in India, on the important issue of understanding the academic differences between U.S. colleges and universities and many other education systems around the world.

Q: Please explain your company’s role with prospective international students considering U.S. colleges and universities?

A: Vasyaa Consultants provides guidance regarding higher education in various countries such as USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Europe etc. Vasyaa is a one-stop solution since inception, for all international Higher education needs. We help our students to take the right choice with respect to the higher international education. We assist them individually in designing their career paths to suit individual profile within the available options.

 

Q: When explaining the U.S.-style of higher education in terms of academic environment compared to their home countries, how do you begin the conversation?

A: We basically do a SWOT analysis of the student and then we help them understand what the U.S. education system is like. To be more precise, the U.S. academic curriculum emphasizes practical applications and hands-on experiences more than any other education system.

 

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges?

A: For international students, I would say the most challenging things students face is the open-book concept and out-of-the-box thinking, as opposed to most other national styles of education, one is used to textbook and professor notes. Whereas in US, student success is more dependent on the individual to do his homework and research about the subject.

 

Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?

A: It really varies from individual to individual. If the student is able to concentrate on the professor lecture, then after the class if s/he revises once, then s/he doesn’t need much time to study. Basically, American colleges say that undergraduates should study two hours for every hour the class meets each week. So, if a class meets three days a week for roughly three hours, a student should plan to study six hours for that class each week.

 

Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home?

A: In the United States, the professors’ way of teaching is something very versatile, compared to domestic way of teaching. U.S. professors’ style of teaching mainly emphasizes on the practical applications of theory.

 

Q: What role does classroom participation and discussion play in a student’s potential grade or performance in U.S. universities?

A: The discussions and active participation play a major role. The qualities which students develop during this participation will definitely help them in designing their careers, and also one can be able to work in a team or individually when they get into the corporate world.

 

Q: What kind of relationship should students expect with professors in an American college or university?

A: Based on my experience, relationships with professors are friendlier and more helpful than students might be used to back home.

 

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?

A: Of course, this is something followed very strictly. As we all are aware, most of the schools or colleges in US follow open book concept of exams, so there are chances of getting caught very easily if a student is doing such activities.

 

Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus?

A: Students must be able to do their homework on what will be expected prior to coming to the USA. At the same time, new international students should talk to their DSO (Designated School Official in the international students’ office) prior to arrival. Students also should read the orientation guide thoroughly. Most definitely, new students should not miss the orientation sessions, which usually start before the academic classes.

 

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)

 

 

 

In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.

 

When to use the

Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.

 

Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.

  1. Referring to something that has already been mentioned

Examples:

I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!  

Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.  

 

  1. Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with

Examples:

I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]

 

Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]

 

  1. Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.

Examples:

My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.

She is the most beautiful girl in my town.

 

  1. Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere

Examples:

Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?

[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]

 

Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.

[The speaker assumes that the mall has just on car park]

 

  1. Referring to unique people or things

Examples:

The principal has called for an emergency meeting.

[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]

 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]

 

The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 1)


When learning a new language, the size of words doesn’t always matter. Sometimes using really small words accurately can be a real nightmare. Many English learners, for instance, find the use of articles confusing.

Articles – a, an, and the – are little words that go before nouns (i.e. person, place, thing, or idea). They help us identify if the noun we are referring to is definite or indefinite. A noun is definite when the speaker and the listener both know what is being spoken about. If not, it becomes an indefinite one.

 

Example 1: “Shall we watch a film tonight? How about an action flick?”

 

Example 2: “After a week, I watched the film again with my family at the local cinema.”

 

By choosing to use the indefinite article, a or an, we are referring to films in general: any film, or any action film. On the other hand, use of the definite article the indicates that we are referring to a specific film: the one the speaker saw a week ago.

As there are tons of rules stating when to use which type of article, and when to omit articles, learners commonly struggle with this area of language use. Here are some basic rules to help you better understand articles.

 

When to use a or an

Before getting to rules, it’s important to know the difference between the two indefinite articles, a and an. We use a before a word that begins with a consonant sound (e.g. nurse), while we use an before a word that begins with a vowel sound (e.g. engineer).

 

Now here are some situations when we generally use the indefinite article.

  1. Classifying people based on what job they do

Examples:

Katie’s sister is a nurse.

My daughter is studying to be an engineer.

 

  1. Referring to a singular countable noun which is not specific

Examples:

Can I have a pen, please?

[Any pen should do]

 

We should get ourselves a car.

[Any car, not one in particular]

 

Remember, we don’t use the indefinite article before plural (e.g. a nurses) or uncountable (e.g. an information) nouns. More about articles in later posts, so do watch this space.

 

Structuring a Letter (Part 2)

 

We’ve already looked at two ways to help lend your letter better structure – beginning with a fitting salutation and stating the general purpose of your letter.

Here are some more tips for organising information effectively.

 

3. Match letter to the purpose of writing

A good letter is always a purposeful one, with its different parts sewn up together to achieve clear progression. So, before beginning writing, ask yourself why you’re doing so in the first place.

Once you identify the purpose, think of information that’ll help you achieve it and decide on an appropriate way of ordering it. For instance, if it’s a complaint letter, begin by explaining what the issue is, and then say how it is affecting you and what you’d want the recipient to do.

 

4. Have one main idea per paragraph

As far as writing goes, experts swear by one rule in particular: less is more. A letter that is verbose tends to be harder to follow, so it makes sense to keep things simple.

What is also important is that there’s sufficient paragraphing, helping the reader move from one point to another effortlessly. And the best way to achieve this is by creating short paragraphs, each with about two to four sentences. That way, when reading a new paragraph, the reader knows that they are looking at new information.

 

5. Use an appropriate ending

Just like how having a fitting beginning is important, so is the need to end your letter in a suitable way.

If a formal letter begins with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, end it using ‘Yours faithfully’. If you’ve used a title and surname at the beginning, then the ending should be ‘Yours sincerely’. In friendly letters, like with salutations, the ending also needs to have a casual feel to it, so use something informal such as ‘Lots of love’ or ‘Cheers’.

And here’s a final tip: formal letters have more fixed rules than friendly ones, so not following them can make you sound rude.

 

 

GLOSSARY

fitting
Form : adjective
Meaning : suitable for the occasion
Example : Keith served us a tasty Asian dessert, which was a fitting end to the lovely meal.

 

sew up
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to put different parts of something together to get the desired result
Example : It took them almost a month to sew up the business deal.

 

swear by
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to have great confidence in something
Example : My parents swear by this herb’s ability to cure various ailments.

 

verbose
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes writing that has more words than needed
Example : His letter was both illegible and verbose. 

Structuring a Letter (Part 1)

 

Electronic means of communicating, such as emailing and text-messaging, may have long made letter writing passé, but the skills required to put together a letter remain relevant.

While vocabulary and grammar top the list of things that people most want to get right, not many give due consideration to a key component – structure. In some cases, the vocabulary may be precise and the grammar accurate, but the fact is that a letter without a clear beginning, middle, and finishing paragraph is likely to confuse the reader.

Although a one-size-fits-all approach clearly doesn’t work when deciding how to organise your writing, here are some useful pointers on what to include and in which order.

 

1. Begin with a suitable greeting

Opening a letter with a greeting is something that everyone does, but the beginning they choose may not always fit the context. How a letter should begin depends on two things: who the reader is, and just how well they know the writer.

A formal letter typical begins with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, unless you’ve already spoken or written to the recipient. In that case, begin with the full title and their surname (e.g. ‘Dear Prof Higgins’, ‘Dear Ms Jackson’, ‘Dear Dr Floyd’). Friendly letters, on the other hand, usually begin with the word ‘Dear’ followed by the recipient’s first name.

 

2. State the purpose

It’s best to make clear right at the beginning of your letter why you are writing to someone. The benefit is that the reader knows straight away what the context is, making it easier for them to comprehend the information that is to follow.

If it is a formal or semi-formal letter that you’re writing, you simply can’t go wrong when you begin with the phrase ‘I am writing to’. By comparison, friendly letters are quite chatty right from the word go, so begin with an informal phrase (e.g. ‘It’s been a while since we last met.’) before you get to the topic.

 

Remember, how well you structure your writing depends on how well you’ve planned it.

 

 

GLOSSARY

passé
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that is no longer popular or effective
Example : I’m not surprised Pete’s film flopped. His ideas on film-making are so passé.

 

one-size-fits-all
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that is suitable for all circumstances
Example : In teaching, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method that works for all types of students.

 

(right) from the word go
Form : phrase
Meaning : from the very beginning
Example : The band’s first performance was a disaster from the word go.

 

The View From Campus – Participating in New International Student Orientation

Image courtesy of Jirka Matousek via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

As the new academic year begins at many U.S. colleges and universities this month, we hear from Dr. Patriece Campbell, Director of International Programs, Millersville University (PA), on the very timely topic of the value of participating in new international student orientation on U.S. college campuses.

 

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Comprehensive, Safe, Affordable, Supportive, Suburban

 

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Millersville University is recognized for offering a variety of programs with a great campus location and high return on investment

 

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

A: – Undergrad-Applied Engineering & Technology Management, Biology, Business, Meteorology, Education, Music Business Technology, Education

– Graduate – Education, Clinical Psychology, Innovation and Technology

 

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

A: China, Saudi Arabia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia

 

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A: We currently accept the IELTS at both the graduate and undergraduate level. We look at the overall score.  The requirement for undergraduate admissions is 6.0 and the requirement for graduate admissions is 6.5.  If a student does not have sufficient scores/English proficiency then we can offer conditional admission through our English Language Institute.

 

The Importance of International Student Orientation

Q: After students have gotten their visas to come to the United States, what next steps should they take to get ready?

A: It is important for international students to become as familiar as possible with the institution. Since most often, international students may not have the opportunity to visit campus prior to arrival, They are encouraged to keep in touch with their admissions counselor or international office regarding pre-arrival information and updates. They will be available to assist you with information needed as it relates to what to bring etc. Ask about special programs that might be available, such as peer mentors, host families, faculty/staff mentor, and even free airport pickup.

 

Q: What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

A: Many students create a series of communication to help guide the students to programs and activities (and people) that will serve as resources and be a huge impact on their life on campus. Each semester will have a variety of programming through the International Office and Student Engagement department to encourage student involvement. PARTICIPATE!

 

Stay tuned for the next “The View from Campus” post, where Dr. Campbell speaks about the role of international student orientation, how important it is for new international student and shares advice for prospective students on student life in the USA.

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