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.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 3)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at five different adverbial groups – those relating to frequency, place, time, degree, and probability. Here are two more varieties that regularly appear in our everyday conversations.

 

6. Adverbs of manner

Manner adverbs tell us how something happens or the way someone does something. As seen in the example sentences below, adverbs of manner are commonly formed by adding –ly to adjectives (carefully, beautifully, calmly). Based on phonological structure, some words take on a slightly different spelling, as in the case of hungrily.

 

Shawn unboxed the present carefully.

Annie’s brother dances beautifully.

He calmly said that he was quitting.

The kids ate the ice cream hungrily

 

Mind you, there also exist manner adverbs that have the same form as adjectives, so don’t always go by appearance. For instance, the words hard, late, and fast have the same adjectival and adverbial form. In such cases, it’s the context which tells us which form the word is in. Here’s a comparison to help you understand better:

 

He drives a fast car.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the car’s ability to move quickly, so it is acting as an adjective)

 

He drives his car fast.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the manner in which someone drives, so it is acting as an adverb)

 

 

7. Sentence adverbs

Unlike other adverbial types, a sentence adverb refers to an entire sentence and not just a part of it. Also, it does not focus on an action in particular. Instead, it shows us the opinion of the speaker or writer. As they act as a comment, such adverbs are typically placed at the beginning and separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Another thing that makes them easy to spot is that they almost always end in –ly.

 

Interestingly, he decided to stay away from the award ceremony.  

Unfortunately, the match had to be abandoned due to heavy rains.  

Luckily, we got a lift to the airport and reached there just in time.  

Clearly, he seems to have lost his magical touch.

 

Sentence adverbs can be used to convey various attitudes and feelings to situations, such as curiosity (interestingly), disappointment (unfortunately), relief (luckily), or clarity (clearly).

 

So, the next time you come across an adverb, think about what type it is and what it is trying to tell you.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Graduate Programs

  Image courtesy of EducationUSA Belarus, with permission

 

This month we hear from Dr. Viktar Khotsim, Educational Advising Center Director, EducationUSA Belarus. Dr. Khotsim has been advising prospective students from Belarus about student opportunities in the United States for over twenty years. He brings unique insight to this topic of researching U.S. graduate programs.

 

1. How does EducationUSA assist international students hoping to study in the United States?

By offering accurate, comprehensive, and current information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States through a network of EducationUSA centers located at U.S. embassies, consulates, Fulbright commissions, bi-national centers, universities, and non-profit organizations in almost 180 countries in the world.

 

2. Describe your role at EducationUSA Belarus?

 I provide regular advising on U.S. study for all interested students, as well as cohort advising for graduate’s students (Graduate Study Cohort) and administer Opportunity program, i.e. program for talented individuals with low income. I also assist U.S. institutions in verifying educational documents from Belarus, arrange joint webinars and provide virtual and physical outreach trips to Belarus. Finally, I work with alumni of our programs and support our social networks related to advising on U.S. study.

 

3. What are the top academic graduate programs that international students seek out in the United States?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs

 

4. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for graduate/post-graduate education?

Of course, it is the total cost of studies.

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

The majority of students start the application process one year in advance. But we observe a tendency (also due to our efforts) that students begin to start their research much earlier, i.e. typically between 2-3 and even 4 years in advance.

 

6.How can international students seeking graduate study (for master’s or doctoral programs) in the United States begin their search?

Of course, the internet is where most students will start their research. In Belarus we run a Graduate Study cohort advising program. This systematic approach has three main features:

  • The distance and off-site outreach training programs complement each other
  • The program is synchronized with the opportunity program and the U.S. admission cycles
  • The model’s operation is based on active involvement of the Opportunity alumni and representatives of the U.S. educational institutions.

7. What are the most important factors prospective international graduate students look at when reviewing U.S. graduate programs?

First, program attractiveness and relevance to a student’s career goals. Second, overall interest in selected institutions’ environment and campus. Third, options for financial aid. Finally, admission/financial aid requirements, acceptance rate and deadlines.

 

8. What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international graduate applicants?

IELTS is very popular in Europe and in our country as well. Student like this test because it is applicable for educational institutions in both regions, i.e. Europe and America. Also, some students can demonstrate better results in IELTS, so they prefer to pass this exam.

 

9. When it comes to paying for graduate programs in the United States, what should international students know that can help off-set the significant costs of studying there?

First, financial aid is typically limited and is very competitive. To improve their chances of qualifying for merit aid, normally in the form of graduate assistantships, students should have a strong mix of academic and extracurricular activities. Second, that financial aid for international graduate students in the United States is not based on students’ financial need. It is an “exchange” of current and future student achievements for better financial conditions of getting high quality education.

 

10. What is “finding a good fit” when it comes to finding the right graduate program in the United States?

“Finding a good fit” for our students is when they consider a program of study in the U.S. as an “instrument” which will bring them new knowledge and skills. And they know what they would like to learn and how to use it in the future in their career. “Good fit” appears when they hunt for the “instrument” and take into consideration its quality (programs content) instead of seeking a famous named institution.

 

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we spoke of two specific adverbial groups – adverbs of frequency, which tell us how often something happens, and adverbs of place, which tell us where something happens. Here are three more varieties:

 

3. Adverbs of time

Time adverbs tell us when or for how long an action happens. In the first two examples below, the adverbs tell us when the action takes place, while adverbs in the last couple of sentences refer to the length of action.

 

Dan called me last night.

I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now.

We’ve been here since morning.

I think Tessa and Peter dated for a year.

 

Time adverbs are among the commonest words in English, so they appear quite frequently in our sentences. When talking about the length of an action, we often use the words for and since followed by a time expression. The word for is usually followed by a period of time (e.g. 12 hours, weeks, a year), whereas since is followed by a point in time (e.g. morning, Christmas, 1983).

 

4. Adverbs of degree

An adverb of degree refers to intensity, indicating the degree or extent of something. In the examples below, the adverbs enough, a bit, really, and too tell us just how hot the coffee is.

 

The coffee is hot enough.

The coffee is a bit hot.

The coffee is really hot.

The coffee is too hot.

 

Degree adverbs can modify adjectives (like in the examples above), verbs, or other adverbs. So, it is common to place them before the word they modify in a sentence.

 

5. Adverbs of probability

Adverbs of probability indicate how certain the speaker is about something. In the sentences below, the adverbs perhaps and possibly show less certainty, while definitely and certainly indicate high probability.

 

Perhaps Tom will be there at the party.

Tom will possibly be there at the party.

Tom will definitely be there at the party.

Tom will certainly be there at the party.

 

One challenge when learning new adverbs is knowing where to place them in a sentence. So, remember to read up on placement rules when learning new adverb categories. We’ll be back soon with some more types.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 1)

 

Many English speakers believe that an adverb is any word ending in –ly, but holding such a belief may do you more harm than good.

 

In reality, not every word that ends in –ly is an adverb, so this approach can be misleading at best. For example, the word rally is a noun as well as verb, while silly, friendly, and pally are adjectives. More importantly, there is no regular structure to adverbs, which means that they come in all shapes and sizes. The words only, well, already, too, and sometimes are all adverbs, although they aren’t similar in appearance.

Adverbs, put simply, are words that modify the meaning of other words (e.g. verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs) around them. At times they can also modify the meaning of entire sentences. Here are some common types of adverbs:

 

1. Adverbs of frequency

As the name suggests, such adverbs show just how frequently something happens. It is common to use an adverb of frequency with the present simple tense to talk about how often we do something.

 

I always drink green tea in the morning.

John often goes to the cinema with friends.

Sally hardly ever listens to rock and roll.

I never buy clothes online.

 

Sometimes we talk about repeated action by using the word ‘every’ followed by a time expression, or by pluralising a day of the week.

 

Jan plays football with friends every Sunday.

I wash my car every week.

Mathew goes to Spain every month.

They have a barbeque in the garden on Sundays.

 

2. Adverbs of place

An adverb of place generally provides information on location or movement. The first two sentences below talk about the direction (ran downstairs, drove past old building) where someone is moving, whereas the next two talk about distances (miles away, nearby).

 

The kids ran downstairs when they heard the doorbell.

We drove past many old buildings.

Mona’s house is a couple of miles away

There is a decent café nearby.

 

We’ll be back with more on adverbs in later posts.

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