An Insider’s IELTS Preparation Tips: Listening and Reading

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This week we’re going to look at preparation tips for the IELTS Listening and Reading components.

 

The Listening Test

The first, but most obvious point to remember is to listen carefully to the recording. Listen for overall meaning, but especially for those words that can give you a clear idea of what is being talked about. You will be listening for the answers to the questions on the paper, so try to follow the recording closely and write at the same time. You’ll have 10 minutes after the recording has ended to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

 

TIP: Good practice is to listen to English radio stations online or your favourite English language podcasts with a friend and then discuss what is being talked about.

 

  • Try and anticipate what the speaker will say; this will require concentration
  • Don’t worry if there is a word you don’t understand; you may not need to use it
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one

listening-video

 

 

The Reading Test

There are a number of different types of reading, as we’ve talked about on this blog before, so preparing for the Reading component should include practising these different skills.

 

TIP: Practice reading online and newspaper articles on a range of subjects and give yourself different time limits to do it. Then hide the text and write down everything you can that you took from the passage. You’ll then become familiar with reading different types of text and be able to quickly absorb and relay the information.

 

Remember, in the Reading test you shouldn’t try to read every word in the passage. For some questions, scanning the text will give you what you need, so long as you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Read with purpose. If you’re asked for something in particular – be on the lookout for it.

  • Make sure that you understand the questions and follow instructions carefully
  • Pay attention to timing; do not spend too long on one passage or question
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one
  • Don’t panic if you do not know anything about the subject of the text; all the answers can be found in the text

 

reading-video

 

 

 

How to Master Letter Writing in English (Part 2)

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Image courtesy of Chris (CC Flickr)

 

In the first part, we looked at the concept of tone and its importance in making your letter sound appropriate. To decide what kind of tone is suitable, we said it’s useful to consider who you are writing to (the recipient).

 

Another important fact to think of is the purpose, i.e. the reason for writing.

 

The purpose

How we write may change depending on why we are writing, even if the recipient happens to be the same person. To understand this better, let’s consider the following:

 

Situation A: Write a letter to your manager informing him/her about some problem you face at work.

Situation B: Write a letter to your manager inviting him/her to your house-warming.

 

Though you’re writing to the same person in both cases, situation B is personal, whereas A is work-related. Naturally, situation B may make use of language that’s less formal than the one in A.

 

Consistent use of tone

Once you identify the appropriate tone, how do you then ensure it is used consistently across a letter or email? Here are some ways to do this:

 

More formal Less formal
Do NOT use contractions

E.g.: We are pleased to…

Use contractions

E.g.: We’re really happy to…

Use long words / less common vocabulary

E.g.: hold a discussion

Use simpler vocabulary

E.g.: have a chat

Do NOT use abbreviations

E.g.: February, Monday, as soon as possible

Use abbreviations

E.g.: FebMon, asap

Complete sentences

E.g.: I am sorry about the confusion.

Incomplete sentences

E.g.: Sorry about the confusion.

Use one-word verbs

E.g.: Can you visit my office and collect the files?

Use phrasal verbs

E.g.: Can you drop into my office and pick up the files?

 

So, the next time you attempt a letter writing task, begin by identifying what tone is appropriate for the given situation. Then, use various language features (some are given in the table above) to keep the tone consistent throughout your letter.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

concept
Form : noun
Meaning : an idea related to something
Example : Oliver finds it difficult to understand even the simplest concepts of science.

 

appropriate
Form : adjective
Meaning : suitable for a particular situation
Example : I think it isn’t appropriate to wear jeans to work.

 

abbreviation
Form : noun
Meaning : a short form of a word or phrase
Example : St is an abbreviation for the word ‘Saint’.

 

The View From Campus: Whitworth University And The U.S. Application Process

 

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Marie Whalen, Associate Director of International Admissions and Recruitment at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, shares a brief overview of her institution, her views on the value of IELTS in evaluating students’ English readiness for university study, as well as an overview of the U.S. college admissions process.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words or less:

Rigorous, inclusive, supportive, faith-filled

 

For what is your institution known abroad?

Whitworth is best known for its academic excellence and a welcoming, supportive environment for international students.

 

What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)

  • Health Sciences
  • Business/Economics
  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • English

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

  • Nigeria
  • South Korea
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Zimbabwe

 

How international is your institution?

We have students from 41 countries currently enrolled, which is an achievement for a smaller liberal arts institution, and that international diversity is intentional.

 

Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability?

IELTS enables us to assess the applicant’s skill overall as well as in the individual areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening.

As a well-recognized and reliable assessment tool, our international admissions committee can look at an IELTS band score and know instantly what the English level at which the applicant is able to function.

Additionally, we can see if there is one specific area where the student can be successful but may need some additional support, such as writing, for example.

We also appreciate that the verbal section is done with a live interview vs. with a computer.  IELTS is a critical part of determining admissibility in our international admission process.

 

Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?

Many U.S. colleges and universities offer rolling admission. This is a process that allows students to apply within a wide time range of time rather than submitting to specific tight deadline, like January 1st, for example.

However, rolling admission also means that students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, so places can fill up. Once places for a class are full, applications won’t be accepted. If applying to a school with rolling admission, it can be better to apply earlier than later.

 

Some U.S. institutions, usually highly selective, offer Early Decision (ED). Students submit their applications early and receive a decision early. If a student applies to a university ED, then they are promising to attend that institution, if admitted.

An ED contract—and it is a contract—should be entered into carefully, as it is binding, and there is not necessarily a guarantee that the ED school will provide the level of financial aid a family needs.

If a student is admitted to their ED institution, they are required to withdraw all other college applications. Students should only apply ED if they are certain they want to attend the ED institution and they have assessed both their financial situation and type and level of aid offered by the ED school.

 

Early Action (EA), like ED, gives students the opportunity to apply early to institutions and receive a decision early.

However, unlike ED, Early Action is not a contract, and not binding. Students can apply to multiple institutions that offer EA. If a student is admitted EA to 5 U.S. colleges, for example, they can choose which one to attend.  There are a very limited number of colleges that offer Restrictive or Single Early Action, requiring students to apply EA to only one institution.

Many institutions offer some combination of ED, EA and Regular Decision. Whitworth, for example, offers Early Action I and Early Action II, as well as Regular Decision. A regular decision deadline is the deadline after any ED or EA deadlines and is usually considered the final deadline for applying.

How to Master Writing Emails/Letters in English

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Image courtesy of Davina Ware (Flickr)

 

Letters may seem outdated in this digital age, but the skills needed to produce one are still considered important. Naturally, many international language tests evaluate the test taker’s ability to produce pieces of communication, such as letters, memos or emails.

 

In the IELTS General Training format, the writing module has two tasks. In the first one, candidates are given a situation and asked to write a letter. Depending on the situation, they have to choose from one of three kinds of tone – friendly, semi-formal, or formal.

 

Tone Example situation
Friendly Write a letter to a friend inviting him/her to a party you are having next month.
Semi-formal Write a letter to your manager requesting him/her for one week’s leave.
Formal Write a letter to the general manager of a restaurant complaining about the poor service you received during your visit there.

 

So, what exactly is tone? Simply put, it is the style of writing that is most suitable for a given situation.

 

Identifying the appropriate tone for a letter can be tricky at times. In fact, it is not uncommon in IELTS for test takers to get the tone horribly wrong. As a result, the letter sounds rude or inappropriate, thereby affecting their overall writing score.

 

So, how can you identify the appropriate tone? Well, here’s one key factor to consider:

 

The recipient

Is the person you are writing to (i.e. the recipient) someone you know? What sort of relationship do you share with them ‒ formal or friendly?

 

If the recipient is unknown, or if they are much senior to you (in age or rank), the letter needs to have a respectful tone (semi-formal to formal). On the other hand, if it’s a friend you’re writing to, the letter will certainly be chatty, looking more like a conversation.

More about tone in the next part!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

outdated
Form : adjective
Meaning : no longer useful or fashionable
Example : The computer systems in Kevin’s company are really outdated.

 

tricky
Form : adjective
Meaning : difficult to deal with
Example : Aged people sometimes find smart phones tricky to operate.

 

horribly
Form : adverb
Meaning : in a bad way
Example : He got injured when a karate move went horribly wrong.

 

chatty
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes writing style that is friendly 
Example : Judith sent me a bright, chatty letter about her life in Greece.

 

 

Too Busy? How to De-stress and Achieve More

via GIPHY

 

Exams can be stressful – in fact, we need a bit of stress to help us perform to the best of our abilities.

 

But, attempts to be the best at everything we do, can lead to more stress than is good for us.

We think we are bound to achieve more if we can only do more – cram more and more into our schedules, juggle work and study, learn a new language – and the list goes on…

While this can work a some of the time, and we proudly boast to our friends that we are ‘just so busy’; in actual fact we are overdoing it and forgetting to find time for those things that we need to help us de-stress and achieve more.

 

Here are a couple of things to remember to help you find that balance:

 

You can’t do everything all at once

Trying to achieve a lot with the time you have is good. But if you think about it, multitasking means you can’t give your whole focus to one thing, so everything ends up below the high standard you’re aiming for.

Just focusing on one thing at a time however, can make best use of your time and allow you to do that one thing really well.

We can’t all spin plates like this guy, you know.

 

 

 

Give yourself time to unwind

Your body and brain need to recharge so they can work at their best. It is a simple thing, but we can all forget it and find ourselves slumped over our keyboard/books in the small hours of the morning. It’s better to get decent rest.

That doesn’t mean that every second of the day should be non-stop action either. Just as our bodies couldn’t run from morning til night without a break, our brains need moments throughout the day to wonder off and daydream.

Doing this means when we want to (like exams), we can sharper our focus and attention.

 

How to Get a Part-time Job as an International Student (Part 2)

choices

Image courtesy of Caleb Roenigk/Flickr

 

In the previous part, we spoke of four key skills (communication, customer service, time management, and numeracy) that could increase your chances of finding a part-time job in an English-speaking country.

 

Here are four more such skills that make you productive at work:

 

  1. Cultural awareness

In today’s business environment, it is common for an individual to work alongside people from different cultures. And where there are differences, people need to adapt. After all, a person’s culture influences their communication style and behaviour, so not being culturally sensitive can lead to problems. What is considered appropriate in one culture – for instance, regular eye contact during a conversation – may be thought of as rude in another.

 

  1. Working under pressure

Work and pressure go hand in hand; clearly, the way you handle pressure may decide just how well you perform a particular role. Do you, for example, panic if a long queue builds up in front of you? Or do you just remain calm, smile at customers, and continue working? The ability to perform effectively under pressure is priceless in certain jobs, especially customer-facing roles.

 

  1. IT skills

Given that most workplaces are computerised these days, the ability to use IT systems a prerequisite for most jobs, full- or part-time. If you are good at using computer software and internet-based tools, make sure it features prominently on your CV.

 

  1. Commercial awareness

This means an interest in the wider environment (customers, competitors, suppliers, etc.) in which a company operates. If you have commercial awareness, then you are in a way exhibiting your knowledge of a particular industry and the issues it’s facing.

 

Remember, companies nowadays weigh up applicants by looking for examples of these skills, so the more skills you have, the better your chances are of getting hired!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

alongside
Form : preposition
Meaning : together with someone, in the same place
Example : During the war, some brave women fought alongside soldiers.

 

adapt
Form : verb
Meaning : to change your behaviour so that it suits a new situation or environment
Example : People sometimes have to adapt a lot after marriage.

 

hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : if two things go hand in hand, they are closely connected
Example : Alcoholism and poor health go hand in hand.

 

panic
Form : verb
Meaning : to be unable to think clearly because you are frightened
Example : Molly panicked when she saw smoke coming out of the washing machine.

 

prerequisite
Form : noun
Meaning : something that must happen or exist before something else
Example : Practice is a prerequisite to successful learning of any language.

 

 

 

 

weight someone up
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to form an opinion of someone, especially by watching or speaking to them
Example : The security guard weighed me up as I walked into the lobby.

 

How to Get a Part-time Job as an International Student (Part 1)

stand-out-from-the-crowd

Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo (Flickr)

 

If you are an international student who has just arrived in the host country, one of the first things you may do is look for a part-time job. But has it ever occurred to you that you could be one among thousands who apply for part-time vacancies?

 

The UK, for instance, welcomed well over four hundred thousand new students in 2014-15. So, how do you stand out in a crowd? One way is to make sure you have enough employability skills – abilities that make a person productive at work.

 

Here are some that employers look for:

 

  1. Communication skills

The ability to express ideas and views clearly is extremely important, especially in customer-facing jobs. If someone doesn’t have sufficient language skills, they may sound impolite or unfriendly to a customer. Of course, no business would want to hire such an individual.

 

  1. Customer service

Many part-time jobs require you to interact directly with customers. This usually involves answering questions, getting them to buy something, dealing with complaints, etc. Only individuals with good communication and problem solving skills may be able to offer great customer service, and those are the kinds of people that companies want to recruit.

 

  1. Time management

This skill is all about developing methods to manage your time well at work, balancing various demands of the job. Most people who have it prioritise their work – they focus on urgent tasks first before moving on to other less important work.

 

  1. Numeracy

Whether you work in a shop, restaurant, or pub, it is essential to be good with numbers. Staff in such businesses use numeracy skills in a number of ways, right from giving customers the correct change to checking stock.

 

Remember, just adding these skills to your résumé alone won’t help; if required, you’ll have to prove that you actually possess them.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

host country
Form : noun
Meaning : a country where foreign students go to study
Example : The UK attracts more international students each year than any other host country.

 

occur to (someone)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to come into the mind
Example : When they spoke of pizzas, it occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten all day.

 

stand out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to be noticed easily
Example : Melvin is so tall that he stands out in a crowd.

 

customer-facing
Form : adjective
Meaning : dealing directly with customers
Example : If customer-facing staff are friendly, people usually have a great shopping experience.

 

 

numeracy
Form : noun
Meaning : the ability to do basic mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, etc.
Example : Numeracy is one of the most important skills that children learn at school.

 

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. Degrees

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This month’s interviewee Anna Wise, Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Delaware

 

University Quick Facts

Describe your institution in 5 words? Innovative, Engaging, Community, Opportunity, Passion.

What is your institution best known for overseas? It’s best known for Engineering, Business and being in a strong location.

What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)? Our top programs are: Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Hotel and Hospitality Management, Physical Therapy, and Masters of Business Administration.

How international is your institution? We have 4000 international students, from 116 countries. The top countries are China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Mexico.

How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process? Our admissions requirement is IELTS 6.5

 

 

Researching Options 

What do prospective undergraduate international students struggle with most when researching the thousands of college options in the U.S.? 

Students can struggle getting past the idea of rankings and “name brand” schools.

How do you define what a public institution means for an international student? 

Public institutions have funding for research and facilities from the government, so that means more research opportunities for you!

What do prospective international students who are beginning their research need to know about public/state universities in the United States?

Public universities are often great places to go for internship and research opportunities. Attending a big state school often also means more clubs and sports teams on campus, which means greater school spirit!

What are the advantages of attending public institutions in the U.S.?

It means there is a wider variety of degree options, more specialised degree programs, research and internship opportunities – as well as a larger alumni base for possible jobs after graduation.

 

Why Studying in Ireland Could Be For You

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World Class Universities

With all of its universities ranked in the top 5% in the world, Ireland can be a great choice to study with your IELTS score.

Though the Irish language (Gaelic) is spoken by around a third of the population and you’ll find it written regularly, the predominant language is English, and so is a great option for international students wanting to study degree programmes in English.

 

Research Excellence

More than 780 million euros is spent on research programmes at Ireland’s universities each year, helping to make it one of the leading countries for research across a number of subjects. From the arts and humanities to the sciences, this excellence is attracting talent from around the globe to Ireland’s shores. In fact, Ireland is now ranked 2nd in the world for both Chemistry and Nanotechnology.

It’s then no wonder why the international student population has reached around 35,000, with people coming from more than 161 countries to further their studies there.

 

Beyond the classroom

Downtime from study could never be boring in Ireland either.

It’s a country with a rich cultural history, producing giants of literature, science and song. It also boast some of the most welcoming people on the planet and a rugged and beautiful landscape to explore. Around half of Ireland’s total population is under 28 years old too, so there is plenty that cater to people of a student age!

Ireland will welcome you with open arms!

 

 

 

 

 

Student Life in London Made Affordable (Part 2)

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In the first part, we looked at ways to spend less while travelling or shopping for food in London. Read on for some further money-saving tips.

 

  1. Take full advantage of your student status

Being an international student in the United Kingdom can be expensive, but it has its own privileges too. Discounts and great deals are to be had just about everywhere. Restaurants, museums, art galleries, cinemas, retailers, banks often have something exclusively for students. So, take advantage of your student status by flashing your identity card as frequently as possible.

 

You may also want to join student discount schemes or clubs such as ISIC or NUS. An ISIC cardholder, for example, could get benefits in over 125,000 locations worldwide currently. Although there’s usually a fee to join these schemes, it’s worth spending the money because you’ll be entitled to innumerable discounts while your card remains active. Of course, how much you save would depend on how frequently you choose to take advantage of the offers you receive.

 

  1. Use the internet to help you spot discounts and offers

London undoubtedly provides an uninterrupted choice of free events and discounts all year round  but how do you get to hear about them before it’s too late? After all, if you can’t be in the right place at the right time, none of those benefits can be enjoyed.

The internet can be a great help in this regard: there are several websites that tell you where to find the best student discounts in the UK. A couple of popular ones are StudentBeans and UniDays, both of which are also available as mobile phone applications. Most university students download these apps on their phone so that they don’t miss out on great deals, even on the essentials like laptops.

 

So if you follow these useful tips, enjoying student life in London shouldn’t cost you a fortune!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

privilege
Form : noun
Meaning : a special benefit that a group of people has
Example : If you become a full member of this club, you can enjoy many privileges.

 

exclusively
Form : adverb
Meaning : for only one particular person or group
Example : This café is exclusively for staff; visitors have to go out of the building to get food.

 

flash
Form : verb
Meaning : to show something, such as an ID card, to someone very quickly
Example : The police officer flashed his ID card at the security as he entered the private building.

 

take advantage of (something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make full use of something
Example : Josie’s kids took advantage of her absence to play in the rain.

 

 

in the right place at the right time
Form : phrase
Meaning : be in the best position to make full use of an opportunity
Example : Miguel isn’t very skilled, but he got the job because he was in the right place at the right time.

 

miss out on (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to fail to benefit from an opportunity 
Example : It’s sad that you won’t be attending the party – you’ll miss out on all the fun.

 

fortune
Form : noun
Meaning : a large sum of money
Example : Siobhan’s new motorbike cost a small fortune.

 

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