In the first part, we busted some
myths surrounding the IELTS Speaking section, proving how speaking too fast,
faking an accent, or putting on formal clothes don’t really help you get a
higher band score.
Here are some more notions about
the Speaking interview that you should reject straightaway if you happen to
Myth #4: Never disagree with the
In the last part of IELTS
Speaking, which will be a discussion, the examiner might challenge you on your
views. Quite often they play devil’s advocate to have a good discussion about a
topic. The end result is that you, as a candidate, receive enough opportunities
to speak at length and substantiate your claims. A common misconception is that
you need to agree with whatever the examiner says.
truth: Do not feel obliged to agree
with the examiner’s views. It’s worth remembering that the views you hold DO
NOT get assessed. It’s the language you use to communicate your views that
determines the final outcome.
Myth #5: Always speak the truth
Sometimes questions in the Speaking section require the test taker to draw on their own personal experiences. For instance, in Part 2, you may be asked to talk about ‘a time when a vehicle you were travelling in broke down’, but what if you’ve never had such an experience? Whilst it is a plus to be able to fall back on past experiences, this may not always be possible.
truth: There’s nothing wrong in using
your imagination if you don’t have much to say on the topic that you’ve been
asked to talk about. The Speaking examiner’s job is to test your level of
English, not to check the authenticity of the details you choose to include in
Myth #6: The test is easier at
Being an internationally
acclaimed test, IELTS is available at as many as 1600 locations around the
world. However, a considerable amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the
test experience remains the same irrespective of where it is taken.
truth: IELTS speaking examiners are
qualified and experienced English language specialists who work to clearly
defined criteria. They undergo extensive training and are subject to ongoing
monitoring, quality control procedures and re-certification, all of which make
ratings consistent across test centres.
There’s more to follow in the
final part, so do watch this space.
This month’s post is featuring Aimee Thostenson, Director of International Student Recruitment, at University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Ms. Thostenson explains one of the most critical elements to successfully studying in the United States: funding your years of education.
Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Large, research, public, comprehensive, urban
Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: High-quality and top-ranked academic programs, great metropolitan location, affordable tuition and many opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom
Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: At the undergraduate level, the most international students are enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Science & Engineering, the Carlson School of Management and the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences. At the graduate level, the most internationals students are enrolled in the College of Science & Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts, the Carlson School of Management and the College of Education & Human Development.
Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: China, Republic of Korea, India, Malaysia & Vietnam
Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process?
A: Students can submit IELTS results as part of their application for admission. At the undergraduate level, our minimum for admission consideration is 6.5 overall with a 6.5 section score in Writing. Graduate programs require 6.5 overall with 6.5 section scores for both Writing and Reading.
Q: What are the best sources of funding for international students coming to the U.S.?
A: Students should ask the admissions or recruitment representative at each university they are considering for funding options available. Some universities will offer merit-based scholarships, which means that they award the scholarships based primarily on a student’s academic record or grades.
Universities may also offer need-based awards, based on the student’s family financial situation. This type of award might require a separate application or might be included in the merit-based scholarship consideration.
Sometimes, universities may offer special scholarships because of a personal attribute or talent, like a scholarship specifically for students who play a particular instrument or intend to go into a particular program/major. Sports or athletic scholarships are also an option, but they are often extremely competitive.
Graduate students, in addition to merit and need-based scholarships, may be eligible for assistantships (teaching or research under the direction of a faculty member). Usually, assistantships mean that the full or partial cost of tuition is waived and the assistant may receive other benefits like a salary and health insurance.
Q: How should prospective international undergraduate students look at the price of a U.S. higher education?
A: Usually, admission and recruitment staff at US universities will be very forthcoming with costs and scholarship options and they know that it is a primary concern for most families. Education is an investment in a student’s future, so it is good to focus on finding the best fit for a student’s educational goals – affordability is an important factor in the equation.
Q:For graduate degree seeking students, what is the best advice for finding institutional aid?
A: Graduate students should be in contact with the academic department directly about funding opportunities. Graduate admission officers also can assist prospective students to find the right person.
Q: Talk about the role of work in funding an international students’ education in the U.S.?
A: All students, regardless of level, can consider on-campus jobs to supplement their funding. While an on campus job cannot usually cover the full cost of tuition, it can help with personal expenses or books. International students who come to the USA with an F-1 student visa can work up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session and up to 40 hours per week during vacations and breaks.
Q: Are there funding sources available for students after their first year of studies, in case they don’t receive any support initially?
A: Some universities will allow international students to be Resident Advisors for a residential hall floor in exchange for housing and food. Usually this is offered to students who have already been studying at the university for one semester or a year. Academic departments may offer special scholarships to students enrolled in specific programs.
Since its introduction almost three decades ago, IELTS has
emerged as the world’s most popular English language test for higher education
and global migration.
Over this time, some myths about the test have also been
established. In this series, we’ll attempt to dispel some of the myths about
the IELTS Speaking test.
Myth #1: Speak as fast as you can
In the Speaking section, test takers are marked on four criteria, one being fluency and coherence. A common misconception among test takers is that it’s good to speak as fast as you possibly can in order to show the examiner that you are a fluent speaker. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful – if you focus on speed and say whatever comes to mind, you may soon start sounding incoherent. Besides, speaking fast can also make you breathless, affecting your delivery and resulting in a lower band on pronunciation.
The truth: While it’s important to speak at a reasonable pace and without
hesitation, what you say should be well organised and logical. A higher rate of
speech DOES NOT automatically mean a higher band score on fluency. What you
should aim for is producing answers that are sufficiently developed.
Myth #2: Put on an accent
The IELTS test accepts all standard varieties of native-speaker
English, including North American, British, Australian, and New Zealand
English. However, this doesn’t mean that non-native speakers are expected to
sound like native speakers of the language. Trying to fake an accent could have
a boomerang effect – some of the sounds you produce might become
The truth: Pronunciation is assessed in IELTS, accent ISN’T. As a test taker, you need to ensure that you’re intelligible to the examiner throughout, and that’s all that is required!
Myth #3: Dress formally
It’s surprising how many test takers feel pressured to dress up and look their best in the hope that it might fetch them a higher speaking band score. Nothing could be further from the truth: the examiner closely monitors what you say during the test, not what you’re wearing.
The truth: Your choice of clothing has absolutely NO bearing on your final
scores, so DO NOT agonise over what to wear to the speaking test. Choose
something that makes you feel confident and comfortable.
We’ll be back soon to bust some
more speaking myths.
So far in this series, we’ve focused on some dos and don’ts that can help you ace the IELTS Listening section.
Here’s some more advice on what to do and what not to do during
9. Be mindful of grammar
rules and spelling
It isn’t entirely uncommon for test takers to do all the hard
work to find the right answers, only to lose marks in careless fashion soon
after. For example, they may forget to add an article (a, an, the) in front of a singular countable
noun, misspell a word, or simply fail to pluralise a word. Remember,
carelessness can hurt your chances of getting a high Listening score.
10. Do not leave blanks
While it is important not to get stuck with a question, it doesn’t in any way mean that you leave blanks. There is no deduction of marks for entering wrong answers in the IELTS Listening and Reading sections. For this reason, it makes total sense to have a go even if you aren’t sure of the answer. Who knows, if it’s your day, you might earn yourself a valuable mark. And that one extra mark could sometimes change your band score.
11. Do not go wrong with
At the end of the recordings, test takers get 10 minutes to
transfer their answers on to the answer sheet. Be very careful while
transferring answers so that you do not go wrong with sequencing. If answers go
in the wrong boxes, they’ll be marked incorrect. One effective strategy to
overcome this problem is to deal with answers in blocks of 10 – after writing
answers to the first 10 questions, do a quick check against the question paper
to ensure that you’ve written the answers in the appropriate boxes. Once you’re
satisfied, proceed to write the next block of answers.
12. Do use upper case if
Although grammar is important, capitalisation is not assessed in
IELTS Listening. If you’re one of those people with illegible handwriting, use
UPPER CASE throughout. It’s safer that way, as it’ll be easier for the clerical
marker checking your answer sheet to identify letters.
Follow these tips, and you’ll give yourself every chance to get
a high Listening score. Good luck!
Congratulations! As an international student, getting your U.S. visa is a huge step toward your goal of traveling to the U.S. for university study. You’re nearly there, but there are three key items recommended as a pre-arrival checklist to keep you on track at this critical stage of the U.S. college admissions process. From your destination college or university, to an in-country pre-departure orientation, to the required immigration documents recommended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the resources exist to help you travel to the U.S. like a pro.
college international office staff
No one can provide
you, as a new incoming international student, all the details you will need to
know about getting ready for life at your college as well as the international
student office can. It is vital that you maintain close contact with your
university in the weeks leading up to arrival and orientation. Over the past
few years, many U.S. colleges and universities have improved their
pre-departure information for students through a combination of emails,
pre-recorded webinars, and live chats. Of course, you will need to pay
attention to your email as there likely will be many documents and forms you
will need to review to prepare for your arrival.
Depending on where
you are in the world, and the institution you plan to attend, some U.S.
colleges hold in-country pre-departure orientations if they have a large enough
group of students from one country or region.
For example, the Ohio State University recently held
four sessions across China for incoming students. Meanwhile, Northwestern
University held three sessions in China, two in India, and one in Korea
this June. Alternately, other U.S. colleges and universities have their alumni
from your country host receptions for incoming international students. Both
these opportunities, if offered, should be taken immediately! Not only will you
get the pre-arrival information you need, but you will meet other students like
you going to the same university.
While your U.S.
college knows everything you need to know about what to bring for your studies,
how to get to campus, and what to do once you arrive, others closer to you can
assist you in getting ready mentally for your journey. The U.S. Department of
State’s EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers in 170+ countries
workshops for international students preparing for their arrival. These
meetings may attract between 20 and 300 people like you getting ready to
travel. What a great way to build a network or new friends and contacts at
colleges across the United States!
Other local educational advisers may also be hosting sessions for their students who are about to travel. But perhaps the most significant local resource you should speak with before you leave are the people you know best – your friends and family. Before you leave for the U.S., connecting with relatives who have traveled to the U.S. recently or older classmates from your school who may be studying at U.S. colleges and universities are two great sources of information about the arrival process at the airport, what documents to bring, and how to prepare for going through passport/immigration control as a student.
required immigration documents
Before you arrive, make sure to review the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s useful Study in the States site, in particular the Preparing For Your Trip to the United States page. On this site, the team at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol outline all the relevant documents (and where to keep them) as you travel to the United States. The best advice recommends that you carry with you on the plane the most essential documents you will need: academic transcripts, passport, I-20, admission letter, financial documents, contact information for the international student office at your college, and any medicines you need.
In a previous blog post, we gave you some advice on what to do
during the Listening test – ensuring audio clarity, using time prudently,
following instructions, and learning to anticipate what will be spoken in a recording.
Read on for some more tips on IELTS Listening.
5. Answer in the question
Over half an hour, test takers need to answer 40 questions based
on four different recordings. As you get to hear each recording only once, it’s
important that you listen with rapt attention. Write your answers in the
question booklet as you listen. That way, you can scribble down words without
having to worry about your handwriting. Also, if you need to change an answer
you’ve already written in the booklet, just cross it through before jotting
down new information. Remember, your question booklet doesn’t get looked at, so
feel free to write what you like.
6. Focus on finding
Seldom do test takers realise that they don’t have to understand every single word that is being said in the recordings. Don’t push the panic button if some parts of recordings go right over your head. Instead, stay calm and see if you can find any information that’ll help you answer the question(s) in hand.
7. Don’t get stuck
It’s quite possible that you might struggle to find the answer
to a question despite your best efforts. Whatever you do, do not get stuck on a
question and spend too much time; the recordings can’t be heard a second time.
If a question seems too hard, quickly move on to the next one so that you are
able to find the remaining answers.
8. Pick up signpost
Signpost expressions are words or phrases that help guide the
listener through the various stages of a talk. Here are some examples: firstly, moving on, in fact, for instance, lastly, however, whereas. As they establish relationships
between points, signpost expressions can help you understand how information is
being organised in a talk. In other words, they help you tell whether the
speaker is making comparisons, contrasting two things, adding information, or
just sequencing ideas. This approach is particularly useful in the last part of
IELTS Listening, when you’ll hear a university-style lecture on an academic
We’ll be back soon with some more advice on how to improve your IELTS
Listening comprehension tests can be challenging for some, especially
if they happen to be non-native English speakers. This may be down to various
reasons, such as failing to understand speech sounds, having limited
vocabulary, or experiencing too much anxiety.
In this series, we’ll give you handy bits of advice to do well in the IELTS Listening section.
1. Ensure audio clarity
When your scores depend on how well you hear and understand recordings, nothing can be more important than audio clarity. At many British Council IELTS test centres, test takers get headphones so that they have the best possible audio experience. Before the test begins, use the volume wheel/button on your headphone to set the volume to what is the right level for you. If your headphone develops a problem at any point during the test, raise your hand right away. An invigilator would then come to your aid.
2. Use time wisely
Before the recording in each section begins, test takers will receive
some time (about half a minute) to read questions. How accurately you find
answers will depend mostly on how well you understand questions. Use the time
given to read questions carefully, taking in as much information as you
possibly can. What you should also be doing is underlining important parts of
the text – such as instructions and key words – so that you remember to focus
on them while you listen.
3. Follow instructions
In IELTS Listening, the test taker’s ability to follow instructions is almost as important as their skill to find answers. For instance, if you have been asked to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer, then writing ‘works of art’ as the answer, instead of ‘art works’, will fetch you no marks. So, be alert all through the test!
4. Learn to anticipate
More often than not, it is possible to anticipate what the
speakers might say and what vocabulary they are likely to use. This can be done
in two ways: identifying the context and skimming through the questions. You’ll
be able to guess who the speaker(s) will be and what they may talk about. Questions
can also tell you what types of words may fit as answers – nouns, verbs,
Remember, as far as exam success goes, strategies count as much
as language skills.
This month we hear from Matthew Beatty, Director of International Admissions and Financial Aid, at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, on the important topic of researching college options as an undergraduate student.
Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Vibrant, friendly, and academically inquisitive.
Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: The College is best known overseas for delivering high-quality academic programs and generous scholarship awards. The Concordia Language Villages – which are cultural and language immersion programs offered in the north woods of Minnesota – are also popular programs for students both locally and globally.
Q: What are your top academic programs?
A: The most popular undergraduate programs at Concordia are Biology, Business Management, Computer Science, Music and Psychology
Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admission process?
A: International students whose native language is not English must demonstrate proof of English proficiency for admission to Concordia College. One of the most popular standardized exams for meeting the language proficiency requirement is the IELTS exam. Applicants who successfully earn a 5.5 (or higher) on the IELTS exam, and meet all other admission standards, may be admitted to the College.
Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A: Culture shock. Once the excitement of studying in the U.S. fades, most international students suddenly find themselves struggling with local customs and new ways of living. They become fatigued with speaking in a different language, eating different food, socializing in a new manner, and adjusting to new classroom expectations. Fortunately, Concordia College offer lots of support to new international students including a Center for Student Success, International Student Advisor and Holistic Health Center.
Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A: The process leading up to studying abroad can be lengthy. Students and families need time to research institutions, gather academic documents, save money and submit application material far in advance. They’ll also need ample time to apply for a student visa and say good-bye. Therefore, I recommend prospective students begin the planning process at least 12 months prior to their anticipated departure date.
Q: What factors should students use to narrow their range of choices from over 4000 accredited colleges and universities down to a manageable shortlist of institutions?
A: To narrow their range of choices and help find the “best fit” institution, I suggest the following three strategies:
Academic Program(s): Try to narrow down your list of potential colleges by only looking at those that provide your preferred academic program (or major) – and excels in areas related to that program. If you haven’t decided on a major yet, then consider 4 or 5 academic programs that sound intriguing to you while leaving yourself some room to explore.
Size: The size of your college will impact your educational experience. A large school means lots of people to socialize and interact with and larger class sizes. Larger institutions also offer an abundance of co-curricular programs. On the other hand, smaller schools often provide a closer relationship with you and your professors because of their smaller class sizes and individual level of academic accountability.
Cost: The most common perceived barrier for international students is the cost of studying in the United States. However, if you devote sufficient time to the research process and consider a wide range of U.S. colleges and universities, I’m optimistic you’ll find one that meets your budget.
Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?
A: Prospective students should keep the following in mind as they do their college research and consider liberal arts colleges.
1. Undergraduate Focus: There are approximately 200 private, liberal arts colleges in the U.S. The majority of these colleges only offer undergraduate programs. This means faculty, staff and administrators at liberal art colleges focus 100% of their time and energy on the undergraduate student experience – inside and outside of the classroom.
2. Holistic Education: Liberal arts colleges allow students to explore a variety of disciplines. Unlike some academic programs at larger universities, their course requirements are not as regimented. This means liberal arts students have the flexibility to study multiple disciplines simultaneously, or even two majors, while still graduating in 4 years. At Concordia College, nearly ¼ of our students will double major and 91% graduate in 4 years.
3. Generous Financial Aid: Because the majority of liberal arts colleges are private institutions, their “sticker” price is often higher than public universities. Fortunately, many liberal art colleges offer very generous financial aid packages. Their competitive merit-based and talent-based scholarships will significantly lower the net price. This means students will pay about the same, or possibly less, out of pocket to attend a private liberal arts college than a public university.
Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?
The undergraduate experience at Concordia
College is distinct. There is a lot of
camaraderie that happens, especially the first year. For example, all new students are assigned to
a “Club” during New Student Orientation.
They will also participate in a campus-wide service project early on in
the first semesters. Programs like these
create a very close-knit community for students, staff and faculty. As such, liberal arts colleges like Concordia
can be a great fit for students who will be living abroad for the first
time. The friendly environment and
camaraderie allows new students to quickly find their niche on campus.
Also, students seeking a more personalized educational experience where they can be actively involved in different activities, including music ensembles, research opportunities and study away often thrive at liberal arts colleges because of their stature.
In this final part in our series on capitalisation, we’ll look
at some more important rules that’ll help you punctuate with confidence.
Rule 8: Capitalise titles of
Just like how we capitalise the first, middle, and last names of
people, we also capitalise suffixes (e.g. William
Frank Jnr, Alexander the Great) and titles (e.g. President, Governor,
Senator). If the title appears just
before the individual’s name, especially when it replaces the individual’s
first name, it should be capitalised. However, if the title appears after the
individual’s name, or if it is followed by a comma, then we do not capitalise
Carol is a huge admirer of President Obama. (Appears before last name)
George W Bush served as president of the USA from 2001 to 2009. (Appears after the name)
The president of the club, Frank Moorcroft, has resigned. (Title separated by comma)
Formal titles that are used to address individuals should also
Why do you think I’m losing so much weight, Doctor? (Used as a direct address)
2. I’m afraid we can’t continue funding your project, Professor. (Used as a direct address)
Rule 9: Capitalise names of
When we use the names of family members – such as dad, mum,
and grandpa – to address them, such
words should be capitalised. Also, if such a word appears just before a
personal name, it gets capitalised. However, if the same words are used to
denote relationships, they need to be in lower case.
Why are you being so difficult, Dad? (Used as a form of address)
My dad has been in a bad mood this entire week. (Refers to relationship)
I have always been incredibly close to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Will. (Appears before personal name)
I have an aunt and uncle living in Canada. (Refer to relationships)
Rule 10: Capitalise letter salutations
In letters, the first word in salutations (Dear Sir, Dear
Cathy) is always capitalised. Similarly, when ending a letter with a
closing (Yours sincerely, Lots of love, Warm regards), the first word should be capitalised.
Capitalisation is an area of punctuation that is tricky, so the
more you read and write, the more likely that the rules stick in your mind.
In an earlier blog post, we looked at some situations when it is
essential to use capital letters – at the beginning of a sentence; when writing
the names of people, institutions, companies, and brands; when referring to cities,
countries, nationalities, religions, and languages; and when using the personal
Here are some more rules to help you capitalise words
Rule 5: Capitalise days,
The names of the seven different days of the week, twelve months
of the year, and holidays are all proper nouns. Do make it a point to begin
with a capital letter when you write them. However, the names of seasons (e.g. winter, summer) do not fall into the same category, so they shouldn’t be
capitalised unless they appear in a title.
Can we meet early next week,
say Monday or Tuesday?
Both my sons were born in the
month of May.
Where did you spend Christmas last year?
Haley and Tom got married on Valentine’s Day.
Rule 6: Capitalise key words
in the title of a book, movie, poem, etc.
As far as capitalising words in a title is concerned, be it
books, movies, poems, or other works, much depends on what style guide you
choose to follow. Generally speaking, all content words get capitalised. This
means that nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. need capital letters at
the beginning. By comparison, smaller words, such as articles and prepositions,
tend to be in lower case, unless they appear as the first or last word in the
‘Alice in Wonderland’ is
a fascinating tale.
‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a series of epic fantasy
Have you read ‘ATale
of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens?
Rule 7: Capitalise the first
word of a quote
When quoting someone, or quoting from a literary work, always
capitalise the first word if the quotation forms a complete sentence. On the
other hand, if the quote is just a phrase, it doesn’t need to be
Cindy said, “My husband is far from
Cindy said that her husband
was “far from loving”. (No capitalisation
required, as the quote is a phrase)
There’s more to follow, so
watch this space if you’d like to learn more about capitalising words.