Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 3)

An increasingly mobile international workforce is also a factor that has boosted the popularity of IELTS. It is now the most widely used test for visa and citizenship purposes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In this final part, we will uncover for you some more interesting facts about the delivery of the IELTS test.

Test security measures

IELTS adopts a multi-layered approach to test security to protect the integrity of test results. To begin with, there are tight regulations surrounding the storage and handling of test material. Tailor-made biometric systems are used at test venues to verify the identity of test takers, right from when they first arrive till they complete the last section of the test. Strict test conditions prevail at test venues to thwart any attempts at copying or collusion. To help identify imposters, detect fraudulent behaviour and prevent cheating, test centre staff undergo intensive training periodically.

Once a test session concludes, routine inspection of test results has to happen before scores can be released.  Test takers receive a Test Report Form (TRF), which is printed on security-enhanced paper and authenticated by an IELTS validation stamp. The TRF also contains a high-resolution photograph of the test taker. Finally, as an additional safeguard against fraudulent documents, a recognising organisation (e.g. college, immigration authority) can verify online the authenticity of every IELTS TRF presented to them. All they need to do is sign up for the free IELTS TRF Verification Service: it will enable them to check if the results they receive match the results on the IELTS database.

Getting help

While the test is in progress, test takers can seek help from test centre staff if the need arises. For example, if you believe you have received the wrong question paper, or if the question paper you have is incomplete or illegible, immediately raise your hand. An invigilator will then approach you and offer assistance. Similarly, if you experience trouble with your headphones during the Listening section, an invigilator will be at hand to sort it out. However, do not expect test centre staff to provide any explanation of the test questions!

So, if you need proof of your competence in English, then look no further than IELTS, the test that more than 11,000 organisations across the globe trust implicitly.

What should you write for a statement of purpose?

If you are planning to apply for a master’s or doctoral degree in the United States, one item, more than most, makes you nervous. For most international students one of the most significant challenges you will face is writing the statement of purpose (or SOP). Let us spend some time covering what you need to know.

Graduate statement of purpose

What is important to remember in applying to U.S. graduate programs is that each department within a university may have different things it looks for in what prospective students write in their application statement of purpose. As a result, we strongly encourage applicants to focus on the department they are applying to more than the university when composing their thoughts. Oftentimes the graduate departments that require statements of purpose have the final say as to which applicants are admitted to their programs.

Tips for graduate applicants

There are many suggestions out there for writing an acceptable statement of purpose. Four tips have consistently shown to be reliable as international students approach this important writing assignment.

  • Find the right academic program
  • Investigate the specifics of each program
  • Get to know the faculty and their research
  • Be careful – one SOP does not fit all

As always, US graduate departments are keen to attract students that clearly demonstrate a desire to attend their programs. Many institution’s graduate schools offer specific advice on writing the statement of purpose. Check out these two suggestions from University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University (one of the US Ivy League institutions).

Final advice …

As you begin this process, we have some final words of advice. Remember this …

  • Nothing is perfect the first time.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over.
  • Be honest, specific, and concrete.
  • Proofread.
  • Have others read your drafts.

In the end, your SOP should reflect who you are, why you are applying, and what this degree will help you achieve in life.

For more insight on this topic, check out our Facebook Live chat from March 2022.

Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 2)

The internationalisation of higher education in recent times has been a key factor that has driven the demand for IELTS. Given that the test is recognised for entrance to universities and colleges across the English-speaking world, it is the preferred way for most youngsters aspiring to get a foreign education to demonstrate their English proficiency.   

In this blog post, we will talk about some of the measures that make IELTS fair and highly reliable.

Ensuring quality and fairness

Over the years, IELTS has established itself as an assessment tool that is fair to all test takers, whatever their nationality, cultural background, gender or special needs.

For a start, it assesses language skills, not specialist knowledge, so the topics covered are all quite general in nature. The test measures practical communication ability, which means that learning prepared answers by rote will not get test takers anywhere. One of the pluses of IELTS is that it recognises all standard varieties of native-speaker English, such as Australian English, British English and New Zealand English. You can rest assured that your background will in no way affect the outcome of the test.

There are safeguards and systems in place to ensure that the delivery of the test is both consistent and secure. Unique test versions, for instance, are created so that test takers will never sit the same test twice. Furthermore, each test version is subject to routine analysis in order to check whether the performances of test materials, test takers and Examiners are in line with expected standards.

Reliability of test results

Not many people know that all active IELTS Examiners receive periodic feedback on their performance. This task is performed by a team of IELTS Principal Examiners and Assistant Principal Examiners, who second-mark selected Speaking and Writing performances to check assessment quality.  Additionally, if there is a significant difference between a test taker’s scores – for example, a band 5 for Reading and band 8 for Speaking – the IELTS computer system flags it up so that double marking is carried out without fail. Do not miss the final part in this blog post series – among other things, you will get to read about IELTS test security regulations.

Little-known Facts about IELTS (Part 1)

If you are looking to work, live or study in an English-speaking country, then the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) can help you do just that by letting you demonstrate your ability to use English effectively in a variety of real-world contexts. The test is accepted by more than 11,000 employers, universities, schools and immigration bodies, including 3,400 institutions in the USA.

In this blog post series, you will get to discover some little-known facts about the world’s leading language test of English for international migration and higher education.

Getting the perfect score

If you count yourself among those who believe that the perfect IELTS score – i.e. band 9 – is something that only a native English speaker can conjure up, then you are gravely mistaken! The truth of the matter is that native and non-native English speakers have an even chance of producing an IELTS band 9.

In IELTS Speaking, for instance, a native English speaker will get a score lower on pronunciation if their accent has considerable effect on intelligibility. On the other hand, a non-native speaker who is able to use a full range of pronunciation features with precision and subtlety, and who is effortless to understand will get rated a band 9 on this criterion. It’s your skill that matters, nothing else!

Test development

Launched in 1989, IELTS has built its worldwide reputation over the years by undertaking extensive research to provide secure, reliable testing that meets the needs of users across a wide range of sectors. Rigorous test design, development and validation processes are in place to ensure that every version of the test is of a comparable level of difficulty.

For example, did you know that test writers from different English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Canada and the UK, are involved in developing IELTS content so that it reflects real-life situations around the world? To ensure that IELTS is unbiased and fair to all test takers, new test questions are extensively trialled with people from different cultures.

We will reveal more surprising facts about the world’s most popular language test in subsequent parts of this series.

Funding Your U.S. Education

For many students and their parents who may be helping pay for a higher education overseas, the total cost of a U.S education can be overwhelming. To think that the cost of a bachelor’s degree might be more than a cost of a family home is a hard concept to understand. The good news is that there is a difference between the “sticker price” of what the total cost is as advertised and the actual price of the education minus any scholarships or financial aid a student might earn or qualify for during the process of applying to U.S. colleges and universities.

Level of study

Understanding what kind of financial aid and/or scholarships that might be available to you will depend on your intended level of study. Here’s a quick breakdown of what those levels are:

  • Undergraduate – first post-secondary school degrees
    • Associate (2 years) – generally students who complete this type of degree start their studies at a community college which are often cost the least of any US higher education institution. Many international students start their undergraduate education at community colleges to save money in their first two years before they transfer to a 4-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree. Because of the lower cost of community colleges, few offer much in the way of scholarships for international students.
    • Bachelor’s (4 years) – Most international students enrol in 4-year colleges or universities for their undergraduate degrees. The costs will vary from lower cost public institutions and the out-of-state tuition rates for international students to very expensive elite private institutions where the total cost can be close to $100,000 a year when all expenses (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other living costs) are factored. Scholarships are perhaps most readily available for international students at the bachelor’s degree level.
  • Graduate – degrees available after completion of a bachelor’s degree
    • Master’s (1-2 years) – For many international graduate applicants, starting with a master’s degree is where to begin. Most institutions do not necessarily have significant money available for first year master’s degree students but might have either on-campus scholarships or other types of aid available for continuing/2nd year students.
    • Doctoral (3-5 years) – In general terms, international students admitted to doctoral programs generally qualify for the most significant aid as many PhD programs invest heavily in the students they bring in each year.

How students are funded

According to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report, the primary source of funding for overseas students is international funding (60%). U.S. institutions are the primary source for another 39% of international students.

International funding consists of money from the student, his/her family and home country sources from private foundations or governmental scholarship programs. U.S. funding generally is from the institutions that enrol the students or US governmental or foundation scholarships.

Undergraduate sources

As international students, there are 4 general categories of assistance you should ask the institutions you are applying to for details on what is available to you:

  • Merit based scholarships – generally cover a portion between 10-50% of the tuition costs. Some more selective colleges do offer a small number of full-tuition scholarship which are obviously quite competitive. Merit awards can be for academic, music, art, athletic, leadership, or service based scholarships.
  • Need-based scholarships/grants – typically this kind of aid is only available to international students at the most selective of institutions. This type of money does not need to be repaid.
  • Loans – Some U.S. banks now offer loans (that must be repaid over a period of years after a student graduates with a degree) to international students, some requiring a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. There may also be banks in your home country that offer low interest educational loans to help you pay for your education as well.
  • Work on campus – Legally, international students who are in the U.S. on an F1 student visa are eligible to take a job on the college campus (as a student worker in various offices and departments) up to 20 hours a week while school is in session.

Graduate sources

For international students pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees, there are slightly different kinds of financial assistance available:

  • Fellowships – generally reserved for doctoral level students – merit-based awards.
  • Assistantships – students with this aid work for a department for up to 20 hours a week for a more significant wage that can cover much of a students living expenses – room and board, books and supplies – each year.
  • Scholarships – these awards tend to be fairly small but can cover a portion (up to 20-30% of tuition costs). Some of these scholarships may be specific for books.
  • Loans – very similar to the loans available to undergraduate international students.
  • Work – the same legal requirements for graduate international students apply to on-campus work.

Where to find scholarships

There are many databases out there where you can search for scholarships. Be wary, however, of any that would charge you a fee for accessing their databases. The best ones are free! Here are the links to three specific US scholarship search sites:

For more insight on this topic, check out our Facebook Live chat from February 2022

A Quick Guide to Question Tags (Part 2)

The first part in this series threw light on two aspects of question tags: some common uses and the grammatical form.  Let’s now consider how pronunciation can alter the meaning of a question tag and how tags can sometimes be used in unusual ways.  


In speech, when we use a question tag, the stress is generally on the verb (e.g. isn’t she?, aren’t they?). The intonation is usually falling – i.e. the voice goes down – if we are fairly sure of the answer. However, if there is any doubt, a rising intonation is used to make the uncertainty clear. Here is a comparison:

You’re Cindy’s cousin, aren’t you? (↘)

You would use a falling intonation here if you are pretty sure of what you are saying.

You’re Cindy’s cousin, aren’t you? (↗)

A rising intonation would be the natural choice here if you are not very sure about this fact.

Special features   

In very informal situations, it is acceptable to use the words right and yeah instead of question tags. They are sometimes referred to as universal tags. Here are a couple of examples:

We don’t have to pay for it, right? (less informal – We don’t have to pay for it, do we?)

You will pick her up, yeah? (less informal – You will pick her up, won’t you?)

If you need to emphasise a positive statement, you can use what is called a statement tag. In such a structure, both the statement and the tag are positive.

E.g. He was a great sportsman, Shane was.

We use imperative clauses when we wish to tell somebody to do something. Such clauses are commonly used to offer advice, give suggestions, make requests, give instructions and issue commands. When an imperative clause beginning with the word let’s is used to make a suggestion, the modal verb plus pronoun combination of ‘shall we?’ often appears as the question tag.

E.g. Let’s go watch a movie, shall we?

       Let’s share a large pizza, shall we?

Similarly, when an imperative clause is used to offer advice, we often use the tags ‘will you?’ or ‘won’t you?’ in order to urge the listener to accept our suggestion.

 E.g. Do make it up with your sister, won’t you?

        Don’t stay up all night, will you?

So, if question tags are new to you, do make an effort to learn them because it is a great way to involve someone in a conversation.

You can find more English grammar lessons on our LearnEnglish website here.

A Quick Guide to Question Tags (Part 1)

A question tag is a small phrase, such as ‘isn’t it’ or ‘do they’, that is placed at the end of a statement to turn it into a question.  The use of tags is fairly informal, which means that it is much more common in speaking than in writing.


We generally use question tags:

  • to invite the listener to agree with what we say.

E.g. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?

  • to check if something is true.

E.g. We won’t be seeing them again, will we?

  • to make an imperative (order) sound polite.

E.g. Pass me the salt, will you?

  • to ask for information in a polite way.

E.g. You wouldn’t know where the nearest ATM is, would you?


Question tags consist of two parts: a verb and subject. The verb can be a main verb (be), auxiliary verb (be, do, have) or modal verb (e.g. can, will). The subject is usually a pronoun (e.g. she, they).  Here are a few things to keep in mind while forming question tags.

  • The subject in the statement should usually match the subject in the tag. Mind you, sometimes it doesn’t have to.

E.g. You are going to be there, aren’t you? (subjects match)

        I can’t imagine him being a good husband, can you? (subjects do not match)

  • If the statement is positive, then the tag is typically negative. On the other hand, if the statement is negative, the tag is positive.

E.g. He will call us when he lands, won’t he?

       He won’t call us when he lands, will he?

  • The verb (main, auxiliary or modal) in the statement needs to usually match the verb in the tag.

E.g. She can come too, can’t she?

  • If the statement does not have an auxiliary or modal verb, then the auxiliary do, does or did is used in the tag. This generally happens when the statement is positive and in the present or past simple tense.

E.g. He called you last night, didn’t he?

Answering a tag

Quite often we respond to a question tag with a Yes or No. However, sometimes we reverse the tag and use it along with the Yes/No response. Here’s an example:

A: They don’t have to pay for the guided tour, do they?

B: Yes, they do. / No, they don’t.

Make sure you read the next part to know more about this unique language structure that appears regularly in conversational English.

You can find more English grammar lessons on our LearnEnglish website here.

The View From Campus: How has Life Changed in the U.S. College Classroom?

Over the last two years the Covid-19 pandemic had caused significant changes to how classes are taught on U.S. college campuses. Many lecture classes with 100, 200, or more students that met in big rooms or auditoriums have largely gone online, supplemented by smaller, in-person lab or discussion sections with 15-25 students each. Students on many campuses are still wearing masks indoors and are socially distanced within the classroom. Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. All of these changes have been designed to stop the spread, but in the end, these are superficial changes to how different taking a university class in the United States is compared to many other countries.

For international students seeking to study in the United States there are and will continue to be several important parts of academic life that will remain. While many courses have been taught online and those taught in-person having significant physical changes to the classroom space, the following areas remain consistent.

The Informality

What surprises most international students when they get into their first classes at U.S. colleges is how professors can be so friendly. You may be used to a very formal relationship between students and faculty members in your educational institutions in your home country. For many professors in the United States, the opportunities to help students become what they hope to be is a calling. Faculty members are routinely required to have a set number of hours each week that they are available outside of class periods for students to schedule appointments about topics in class that need clarification or even drop by to have a conversation. International students often develop close relationships with faculty members in their academic program who serve as mentors for students as they progress through their degree program.

The Syllabus

Typically, the first time each class meets, all students in the room receive what is called a syllabus. This document serves as an informal contract between students & the professor. The syllabus outlines all requirements for the duration the class meets, what textbooks or other resources will be studied, when assignments or papers would be due as well as the dates of quizzes, tests, and/or exams. Oftentimes, the syllabus breaks down all content that will be covered as well as how grades will be determined. Quizzes might be worth 10%, a mid-term test 25%, a paper 20%, final exam 30%, and classroom participation 15%. That’s right, you read that last part of the preceding sentence correctly – how well you participate in class can count as a significant portion of your academic grade for a course!

Asking Questions

While you take a minute to digest that last part, let us explain that whether it’s simply asking questions to demonstrate you are engaged in the conversation or need explanations of certain topics, the expectation is that students participate. Speaking with new international students over the years, I have found that while they can usually adapt to the informality of relationships with professors, the real challenge is in changing the way they approach class. Faculty members, in general (certainly not all), encourage debate and discussions on the issues that the topics of the day’s class cover.

Academic Integrity

The realities of the differences in how classrooms operate here compared to your home country may take you some time to become comfortable with them. But one area of how U.S. classrooms operate on college campuses that must be understood immediately after classes begin is academic integrity. In effect, this means there are university policies that require students to practice academic honesty and not engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating while enrolled. See what the University of North Carolina’s policy on academic integrity involves. MIT breaks down what that prestigious institution means into simple dos and don’ts for issues that may come up in the classroom.

In the end, you’ll need to prepare for the academic transition to a U.S. college. For additional resources on these topics and more, check out this video playlist from our colleagues at EducationUSA that answers questions on the different facets of the classroom experience in U.S. colleges and universities. EducationUSA is the U.S. Department of State’s network of advising centers in 175 countries and territories that serve as the official source on U.S. higher education. The website for this network also has some excellent advice about study options in the United States.

All You Need to Know about IELTS Study Pack (Part 2)

A previous blog post introduced you to British Council’s free IELTS Study Pack and listed advantages you could have by signing up for it. In this part, read about what you can expect to find in the pack and how you can access it.  


The IELTS Study Pack website is structured into three sections.

  • Webinars

You will find a series of webinars from qualified British Council IELTS experts which cover a wide range of topics across all four IELTS skills. Each webinar focuses on particular aspects of the test and answers common questions that test takers are likely to have. Webinar topics on the website include Introduction to IELTS, IELTS on computer and How to self-study

  • Study plans

This section has tailored self-study plans designed by IELTS experts that make use of a range of online resources to help you prepare for all four skills. To make the most of these study plans, see to it that you use each in tandem with the relevant ‘self-study guide’ webinar.

  • Practice tests

On completing the four self-study programmes, which are a combination of webinars and study plans, do not forget to put your English skills to test and find out just how much progress you have been able to make. Check your exam readiness by trying out either the Academic or General Training test on the website.

For those planning to retake IELTS, the Study Pack now has a brand new section just for you with extra practice materials. Along with six detailed videos from our IELTS experts that give comprehensive guidance to improve your performance in each of the four skills, you will also have access to one extra practice test each for the IELTS Academic and General Training tests.

Accessing IELTS Study Pack

Signing up for IELTS Study Pack is as easy as ABC – all you’ve got to do is visit our official website here and fill out a simple form. You will then receive an email with information to access the Study Pack website.

So, if the Covid-19 pandemic briefly stalled your efforts to study abroad, use IELTS Study Pack to do some self-study online, achieve IELTS success and get your plans back on track. Good luck!

All You Need to Know about IELTS Study Pack (Part 1)

Not so long ago, the Covid-19 pandemic brought parts of the world to a standstill, severely reducing the mobility of international students. In the wake of unprecedented challenges, many youngsters wishing to study overseas had to put their plans on hold. Since then, though, major international education hubs such as the UK, Canada, Australia and the US have reopened their borders to international students, both new and existing. 

If you are among those who have recently revived plans to study abroad and are in a hurry to do IELTS, then the British Council’s IELTS Study Pack could be just what the doctor ordered – it offers extensive guidance to help you prepare on your own.

About IELTS Study Pack

IELTS Study Pack is a unique British Council website created to get test takers prepped with a view to ensuring success on test day. It includes a range of preparation materials and general information about future tests. The materials cover all four sections of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking) and are suitable for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training test takers.


When you sign up for IELTS Study Pack, you open up for yourself the opportunity to prepare methodically within a short period and attain IELTS success.

  • Free learning materials in your inbox: The internet is, without doubt, a vast reservoir of IELTS study resources. However, not everything you find on the web is accurate or available for use free of cost. Signing up for the pack will mean having relevant practice materials and information sent straight to your inbox so that you have everything you need to succeed at your fingertips.
  • Chance to check progress: There are practice tests in the pack that can indicate your level of preparedness for IELTS. Once you do the recommended amount of self-study, use the tests to identify areas for improvement. Then, devote more time to improve your performance in those areas.
  • Access to IELTS expertise: Preparation for a high-stakes test like IELTS can sometimes get lonely and worrisome, but you really don’t have to do it all alone. Make full use of British Council’s long-standing experience in delivering language tests by seeking guidance from our panel of IELTS experts.

Do not miss the next part if you would like to know what the IELTS Study Pack contains and how you can access it.