IELTS on Paper vs. IELTS on Computer (Part 1)

One test that can take you places is IELTS, the world’s most popular English language assessment tool for higher education and migration. There are several factors that make it so popular, one being worldwide availability – you get to choose from over 800 test centres dotted around the world.  

Paper or Computer

The added appeal is that IELTS now comes in two forms, giving you the choice of taking it on paper or on computer. Whether you take IELTS on paper or on computer, most aspects of the test are the same: content, question types, security measures, scoring, speaking test delivery, test report forms, results verification.

The only thing that is different is the test experience.

What’s the difference?

For a start, in the Listening section of IELTS on paper you get 10 extra minutes at the end to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet, while on computer you don’t. Here, you need to type answers on to the computer as you listen to the audio extract in each part. Although you’ll have time between parts of the test to check answers, there is no extra transfer time at the end. This is because you’ll have already completed entering answers to all 40 questions by then.

Another feature of IELTS on computer that test takers are likely to find useful is the display of word count in the Writing section. Unlike in IELTS on paper, you won’t need to spend time forming a rough idea of how many words you’ve written in response to each Writing task. The word count for each response will be displayed at the bottom of your computer screen throughout; all you’ll need to do is ensure that you meet the word count set for each task.

And since we are on the subject of handy features, here are two more: IELTS on computer comes with tools that you can use to highlight text and make notes during the Listening and Reading sections. In the next part, you can read about how IELTS on computer offers more flexibility – don’t miss it.

Fun Ways to Learn English: Using Subtitles (Part 3)

In this final part, we’d like to tell you a bit more about how subtitled content can be good news for your English.  

7. Learning topical vocabulary

We’ve already established that subtitled content is generally rich in phrasal verbs and colloquialism. What is also true is that it can be a shortcut to discovering topical vocabulary. In other words, if you wish to learn new words and phrases related to a particular subject, all you have to do is find a movie or programme on it. For instance, it’s hard to think of a better way to improve your legal English than by watching a law-related TV show.  As well as entertaining you, it will also introduce you to the specialised variety of English used by lawyers and seen in legal documents.  

8. Understanding appropriacy

In any language, mastery of grammar and vocabulary alone cannot fully equip you to communicate effectively. Having a limited understanding of cultural or situational contexts will most certainly lead to communication breakdown, with the possibility of offending others. If you fail to use the style of communication that a context demands, the outcome could be something undesirable. This is where subtitled movies and videos come handy – they can teach you when to use formal and casual language, and when not to. 

9. Controlling your learning experience

Perhaps the greatest benefit of using subtitled content is the degree of flexibility it allows the learner. For a start, since you are free to choose your own “learning materials”, there’s no question of you losing interest midway. If action is your thing, you could watch thrillers; if you are a romantic at heart, there are scores of romcoms to choose from. Another good thing is that you can pause or replay sections to your heart’s content. This gives you a rather unique advantage: you get to review the language components in subtitles at leisure, allowing you to learn at your own pace.

To sum up, if learning English the conventional way leaves you bored silly, subtitled content could help break the monotony. Do give it a shot if you haven’t done so yet.

The View From Campus: What’s Life Like on a U.S. College Campus During a Pandemic?

If you are wondering what international students currently in the United States have been experiencing over the past nine months while studying on college campuses, you are not alone. Life for most of the world has changed as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic in more ways than we would have ever imagined. On campus in the United States, whether at a small rural college, a suburban mid-size institution, or a big city university, life is dramatically different for all students. So, what’s the story?

How Campuses Re-Opened

While no one was really prepared for what happened in March last year when most all U.S. colleges’ and universities’ courses went online, as the new academic year began in August and September, many institutions thought long and hard about what the “new normal” would be. While there was not one way that every college approached how to respond to the pandemic’s impact on the day-to-day lives of students, faculty, administrators, and visitors to campus, each one made decisions that were best for their communities. Some university systems like the California State University’s 23 campuses made the decision early on to be fully online for the fall 2020 semester, others like Purdue University in Indiana decided to have a largely in-person academic year.

From regular testing, health screening for temperatures upon entry of buildings/classrooms, quarantine procedures, to mandatory mask and social distancing policies, U.S. colleges introduced a wide range of health and safety measures to protect their campuses. For new students arriving for the first time, most all universities held virtual orientation sessions to limit unnecessary exposure. In the end, there were successes and issues colleges faced, particularly for international students. A recent Twitter chat around this theme addressed what the major challenges were for overseas students on college campuses.

General satisfaction

No one could realistically expect a perfect response from colleges to the pandemic as there simply have been so unexpected variables that have impacted life on campus. From recent national polling of U.S. college students, the general sense was of satisfaction with the education received. There were difference in levels of satisfaction depending on how classes were taught on campus. For those who had all in-person education this fall 85% rated their experiences as “excellent” or “very good” while for students who classes were completely online 71% indicated similar feelings.

Care for International Students

There are many ways U.S. colleges have met the various needs of international students during the pandemic. Calvin University in Michigan realized early on that a large group of new international students would not be able to make it to campus to begin studies. As a result, 65 students from overseas were offered a virtual semester put together by faculty and staff to provide a customized academic and personal experience. 

More than anything else, we all prefer getting more regular communication than too few messages in times of uncertainty. Purdue, as well as other institutions, dedicated pages on their website specifically for resources for international students on Counseling Center services available to help students cope with the very different environment they faced on campus. Other colleges like the University of Louisville saw its international student and scholars services staff feel even more responsible to ensure every international student was attended to at various points during the academic term.

Each college has its own way of responding to the concerns of students. So, as you explore your different options for U.S. colleges and universities, it is critical to hear from currently enrolled students like this article from Penn State University, especially international students like you, to learn how campus life might be for you. Whether that be live chats held by current students, blog articles they write, or emails they send, you need to ask colleges you are considering for ways to hear from current students before you make a final decision.

Fun Ways to Learn English: Using Subtitles (Part 2)

In the previous part, we began discussing some benefits of taking an unconventional approach to language learning – watching English movies or programmes with English subtitles on.

Here are some more reasons why this method can be both entertaining and productive.  

4. Building vocabulary

If there’s one thing that almost all English learners wish to have, it is a wide vocabulary. And one of the best sources of conversational phrases and idiomatic language is films and programmes made in English. While watching them, you are likely to come across tons of phrasal verbs, phrases and colloquialisms of the street that native English speakers commonly use in everyday conversations. The added advantage here is that you get to experience vocabulary in context, so you’d have a fair idea of how to use the lexical items you learn.

5. Bettering pronunciation

English pronunciation could be a nightmare, especially if your first language is syllable-timed and the idea of word stress is something you’re new to. Listening to words pronounced the right way is the easiest way to improve your diction, which is what you get to do when you watch something in English with subtitles on. When you see as well as hear words, you tend to learn pronunciation a lot faster. What’s more, you also get to watch the mouth of the speaker move, helping you produce difficult sounds that are perhaps absent in your first language. Subtitled content is also an excellent source of various intonation patterns in English.

6. Improving word recognition and grammar

Quite often films and TV programmes use less formal English that is common among native speakers. Exposure to such content is a great way for a learner to get introduced to chunks that form a key part of a native speaker’s spoken language. These can be lexical chunks like fixed collocations (e.g. crying shame) or grammatical chunks (e.g. If I were you, I’d + bare infinitive). On seeing and hearing the same chunks repeatedly, your brain begins to gradually recognise patterns and process language in real time.

Watching a favourite movie of yours again is a good idea – since you already know the plot well, it allows you to focus on subtitles. We aren’t done yet, so do read the final part in this segment.

Fun Ways to Learn English: Using Subtitles (Part 1)

Learning a new language, whether it be English or any other, doesn’t have to be drab and stressful, at least not in this day and age. Thanks to modern technology, there are now many ways to make the whole experience engaging.

In this segment of the series on ‘Fun Ways to Learn English’, we’ll see how watching a movie, documentary, or web series, in English with English subtitles on can be an enjoyable way of improving your language. Here’s why you should consider the idea.

1. Improving listening comprehension

If you’re someone from a non-English speaking background, understanding native English speakers can be tricky. Movies and programmes in English with a subtitles feature are an entertaining way to work on your listening skills. Unlike audio materials produced for language learners, conversations in movies are done the exact same way they happen in real life – fast and without long pauses. So, use subtitled content to better your listening skills: watch a scene first without subtitles, and then watch it again with subtitles on to check comprehension.   

2. Increasing reading speed

When you watch something in English that is subtitled, you are relentlessly trying to connect the English you hear to the English you read on screen. Subtitles typically flash by, allowing the viewer very little reading time. That said, some practice should make it easier to keep pace with the text. Little by little your brain learns to adapt to the task, that is speed reading, and you get quicker at deciphering information.   

3. Learning to speak naturally

If you live in a non-English speaking country, it might not always be easy to keep your English up-to-date. Occasionally, your English can sound a bit unnatural. Watching movies and programmes in English exposes you to the kind of natural language used in everyday situations by native English speakers. If you keep doing this over a period of time, it will help you avoid unnatural sounding language.    

If you’ve never tried learning with the help of subtitles, it may be best to start with short, subtitled videos; you wouldn’t feel too overwhelmed. We’ll be back soon with more on this topic.

The View From Campus: How best to approach the U.S. college search (undergraduate)

The decision to pursue a post-secondary education outside your home country may be a simple one or may be one that requires a lot of courage. Finding the right U.S. college may well take some time, with most experts suggesting students start the process between 12-18 months in advance of when they might wish to start their studies.

How can you best approach the U.S. college search?

Ask important self-discovery questions

For starters, before you pick colleges, take a few minutes to ask yourself the kinds of questions that will help you find a college or university that will be the best fit for what you want and need. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of 400+ advising centers in 170 countries, have put together a useful worksheet that is well worth trying called “Define Your Priorities.” By determining your answers to meaningful questions like why do you want to study in the U.S., what are your short- and long-term goals by studying there, as well as preferences for living in a city, suburb, or more rural area, or whether you want to be on a large campus with 20,000+ students, something smaller with under 2,000, or somewhere in between, you can begin to codify what’s important to you in this search.

Learn about different college types

Of course, understanding the kinds of colleges that exist in the United States is equally important. What you’ll find there is likely very different than what you have available in your home country. With over 4,000 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, there are many different types of institutions from which you can select: public v. private, college v. university v. institute, two-year v. four-year colleges, liberal arts colleges v. state universities, speciality institutions v. comprehensive universities. As you do your research on what those differences are keep in mind that there will be terms that might sound familiar to what you know, but may have different meanings. There is a very useful FAQ on the EducationUSA site that helps explain many of these terms.

Use search engines to narrow your choices

Perhaps the most daunting task you will face in your search is narrowing your list of possible college options down to a manageable number. There are several college search engines out there to help you in this process. The two that many students use are College Navigator (owned by the U.S. Department of Education) and Big Future (part of the College Board). Each has a variety of factors you can choose from to select institutions including:

  • Location by state (can select multiple states)
  • Institution type (2-yr./4 yr., public/private, academic program/majors offered)
  • Selectivity of the institution (how hard is it to be admitted)
  • Sports and activities available
  • Types of campus housing
  • Diversity of the student body

By using all of these various criteria (based on answers you may have given to the “Define Your Priorities” questions), you should be able to put together an appropriate list of colleges that match your wants and needs at least on a surface level. From a list of perhaps 10-20 institutions, the next step will be to investigate each of those colleges online to learn more about how close of a fit each may be for you.

Prepare for standardized tests

If there’s one area that has changed considerably in the college search this year it is the role of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. As we shared in December’s The View From Campus post, over two-thirds of four year (and all of the two-year) colleges either do not require (test-optional) or won’t consider (test-blind) SAT or ACT scores for applicants for admissions intakes in 2021. Be sure, when you start to further narrow your choices down, to check what tests beyond IELTS would be needed to apply to the U.S. colleges on your list.

More on applying to U.S. colleges in the months to come!

A Quick Guide to Superlatives

In a previous blog post, we explored some features of comparative language, which is used to compare one person/thing with another. 

Now, let’s take a look at the concept of superlatives, used to express the most extreme degree of a quality (e.g. best, worst, fastest, slowest, richest, poorest). It helps us to compare somebody or something with the whole group that he, she, or it belongs to. For instance, when we say someone is the tallest in the class, we are comparing that person with all their classmates and saying that they possess the highest degree of a particular quality.

Here are some basic features of superlatives:

1. We generally use the definite article, the, before the superlative form.  

Examples:

They have four children: Christy is the oldest and Tommy is the youngest.

Drake has just been signed by the biggest football club in Europe.   

2. If there is a possessive adjective (e.g. my, our, your, their) before the superlative, then the definite article should be dropped.

Examples:

She is my brightest cousin. (NOT She is my the brightest cousin.)

Ivan is their most expensive player. (NOT Ivan is their the most expensive player.)

Also, on occasions when we compare the same person or thing in different situations, we drop the definite article.

Examples:

Joe is happiest when he is painting.

(Comparing the levels of happiness felt by the same individual in different situations)

This device is most effective in winter.

(Comparing the efficiency of the same thing in different seasons)

3. As with comparatives, there are two common ways to form superlatives:

adding ‘-est’ to the end of the adjective or adverb, or using the word ‘most’ in front of the adjective or adverb. Generally speaking, the suffix ‘-est’ is added to short adjectives (e.g. talltallest, richrichest), whereas long adjectives (e.g. expensivemost expensive, intelligent most intelligent) have the word ‘most’ before them.

Examples:

She was the prettiest girl he had ever met.

It’s certainly the most interesting film I’ve seen.

4. Like comparatives, superlatives can also be made to sound stronger with the help of degree modifiers, such as almost, easily, definitely, and by far.

Examples:

Yesterday was easily the best day of my life.

She is by far the most efficient manager I’ve worked with.

Now that you know some of the basic rules, it’s time to go online, find some exercises, and put your knowledge to the test.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 3)

So far in our blog series on IELTS Writing test day advice, we’ve explored eight different ideas that can help you up your game when it matters most.

In this final part, we’ve got more practical guidance for you to ensure things go smoothly on the day.

9. Don’t copy from the question

In school exams, students don’t think twice about beginning their writing response by copying the question. Do that in IELTS, and the chances are that it may disadvantage you. If entire sentences, or even fragments, are copied from the question paper, they won’t get assessed. It may also send out the wrong signal that perhaps your language level isn’t up to scratch, forcing you to copy the question instead of paraphrasing it.

10. Avoid rambling answers

Like in other language tests, test takers need to work against the clock to complete the two tasks in IELTS Writing. Naturally, long rambling answers should be avoided at any cost. For one thing, it would mean spending more time than you should. Such a response may also turn out to be incoherent due to the inclusion of too many ideas.   

11. Write answers in full sentences

As you may already know, textspeak (use of initials, symbols, and short forms of words that are common in text messages) is something to avoid in IELTS Writing. What is equally unacceptable is writing your answers in bullet points or short notes. It’s important that test takers write their answers in full sentences. If not, they’ll be penalised for inappropriate format.

12. Don’t remove test materials from venue

Although it might be tempting to pass on some questions from your test to a friend or teacher, do not attempt to remove any test materials from the venue. On rare occasions, test takers have been found attempting to jot down the writing questions on pieces of paper. Trust us when we say, it’s simply not worth the trouble! If you get caught, you’ll have to kiss your test results goodbye. You may also have to face disciplinary action.

On test day, remember to do the little things right, and everything will be just fine!

The View From Campus: How testing requirements at U.S. universities are changing

While many will look back on 2020 as a tumultuous year where a global pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, it has also been a year of significant change in U.S. higher education. Since March and April many students have been unable to take the standardized tests that most colleges and universities require for admissions. As a result, U.S. institutions of higher education have begun to change the testing policies for students.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happened. For most international students considering the United States as a destination for studies, there are two types of tests normally required:

  • English proficiency tests
  • Academic ability or aptitude tests

English proficiency tests

As you well know, studying in an English language education system requires a certain level of familiarity with the language. That’s why you’ve either already taken IELTS or will soon be. By far, IELTS is nearly universally accepted by US colleges. IELTS is, in fact, accepted by more than 3400 U.S. institutions.

Academic ability tests

If you are seeking an undergraduate (bachelor’s degree), in past years most U.S. colleges required international students to take either an SAT or an ACT test. Designed initially to test U.S. students’ academic skills in verbal and quantitative reasoning, mathematics, writing, and, in the case of the ACT, science, these two exams have been seen as a reliable standard of measuring those abilities for years.

If you are considering a master’s or doctoral program, the two tests most commonly required are the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (General Management Admissions Test). Graduate/post-graduate business schools in the U.S. have in the past relied on the GMAT to assess applicant’s general preparedness for programs like the MBA. Some have also begun to accept the GRE as well.

If you are thinking about professional programs in the U.S., like medical, dental, or pharmacy school (as well as other doctoral level studies) that require a professional license to practice in the United States, there are a different set of exams required: MCAT (medical doctor), DAT (dentist), PCAT (pharmacist), etc.

The rise of test-optional policies

One of the few bright spots that has emerged out of the pandemic regarding U.S. university admissions is the increased popularity of test-optional policies. Because many testing centers overseas (and in the United States) have not been able to offer academic ability tests where all who want to take the exams can, many colleges and universities have decided, in the interests of equity and access, to not penalize students who could not take these exams, and have become test-optional.

For this current 2021 admissions year, over two-thirds of all U.S. four-year (bachelor’s degree) universities are test-optional or test-blind. Most major state university systems have made the shift in the past few months mostly in response to the lack of availability of the SAT and ACT for prospective students due to the pandemic. Here’s a list of 915+ “top tier” U.S. colleges that are not requiring the SAT or ACT for the coming admissions intakes.

Final thoughts

In the end, while these academic ability tests have become increasingly optional this year, English proficiency tests are still needed. The most significant reason for this is that U.S. immigration regulations require that to start a degree program (associates, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) international students must have the required English language proficiency. Tests like IELTS are the primary way, at present, for U.S. colleges to assess English ability.

If your scores aren’t at the minimum levels for degree studies from the outset, that doesn’t mean your dream is over! Many U.S. colleges offer conditional admissions and/or full-time intensive English or pathway programs that give you the opportunity to settle in to the country while improving your English ability before you start your degree program.

Good luck to you!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 2)

In Part 1, we had some IELTS Writing advice for you about choice of stationery, model answers, task weighting, and understanding questions.

In this part, we’ll take a look at four more handy tips.

5. Always have a plan

Previously, we said how important it was to take a close look at the question before you begin writing. Once that’s done, it is wise to spend some time planning. Like in most high-stakes situations, failing to plan could mean planning to fail in IELTS too. Making notes almost always helps to write a coherent answer, so feel free to use the blank space on the question paper to jot down a plan.  

6. Learn to meet the word count within an hour

Managing time efficiently is something that demands considerable practice before you can be ready to sit the real test. IELTS recommends that you spend about 20 minutes on Task 1 and the remaining 40 odd on Task 2. What’s equally important is to successfully meet the recommended word count, failing which you’ll lose marks. Keep in mind that you need to write at least 150 and 250 words respectively. 

7. Include all key features / bullet points (Task 1)

In IELTS Academic Task 1, the pictorial data on your question paper will have key features – the most important and the most relevant points in the diagram. Similarly, in the letter-writing task in IELTS General Training, test takers are told what information to include, in the form of three bullet points. Failing to include all key features or bullet points in your response will definitely mean getting a lower band on Task Achievement.

8. Answer all parts of the task (Task 2)

IELTS essay questions can have up to 4 sentences, with more than one part that’ll need to be answered at times. Since test takers need to provide a full and relevant response, leaving a part out unwittingly will lower their chances of securing a good band score. Solution? In order to be doubly sure how many parts the question has, reread the question several times, carefully considering the meaning of the text in front. If it helps, translate the question into your mother tongue. That way, you’re less likely to miss anything important.

There’s more IELTS Writing advice coming your way – watch this space.

Pin It on Pinterest