The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 2)

A previous blog post on the topic focussed on three things you ought to do on the eve of your IELTS test: ensuring your physical well-being, reducing anxiety levels and eating well.

We have some more advice on how to spend the twenty-four hours leading up to your test.

Revise

Whilst it is natural for you to want to continue preparing for D-Day till the last moment, it is important to keep studies light. It is best not to attempt to study anything entirely new on the eve of your IELTS test. Instead, focus your energies on revising whatever you’ve managed to learn up until that point. Besides, do not be tempted to chop and change the strategies that have worked for you thus far. In short, last-minute changes are undesirable.  

Know when to stop

Let’s face it – there is only so much study you can do before a test. Too much cramming for an exam at the eleventh hour isn’t going to help one bit; all it would do is send you into a tizzy. If you’ve put enough hours into improving your language skills, it should give you the confidence to ease up on the day before.

Put together a to-do list

To avoid moments of panic on test day, it might be a good idea to draw up a list of things you have got to do before you set off for the test venue. This should help you remember to pick up essential things, such as your ID document and stationery. Doing a quick double-check of the location of your test venue online is also advisable if you’ve never been there before. 

Get some shut-eye

Months of hard work can quickly go down the drain if you aren’t sufficiently rested and sharp. Remember, getting a good night’s sleep is as important as anything else you could possibly do in preparation for the test. Whatever you do, do not pull an all-nighter, which is bound to leave you groggy and disoriented.

Finally, once you begin the test, you might come across topics that are unfamiliar or questions that look tricky. Just keep calm, take time to slow your breathing, and deal with things as best as you can. Good luck!

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. master’s and doctoral programs

Over the past twenty months, many international students seeking to study in the United States have had their dreams put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding whether universities would be open has caused many students to either defer enrollment for a year or begin their studies online from their home countries. But as travel restrictions loosen, changes to admission requirements happen, and the guarantee of vaccinations being available to new international students on arrival, the United States is seeing a significant spike in student interest this year. When it comes to researching master’s and doctoral degree programs in the United States, while the process is largely the same, there are some important changes to keep in mind.

Start early

When should you begin your search? Most U.S. experts now say you should start at least 12-24 months ahead of when you wish to start studies. With the quickly moving landscape on which countries are even open to accept international students, it can be hard to plan effectively for what your future might look like, let alone where you may be studying. However, in the United States there are over 1100 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

Define your priorities

As part of your search, before you go looking for academic programs that meet your needs, a necessary first step should be to ask yourself defining questions as to what’s most important to you. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of advising centers in 170+ countries, have prepared a great resource on researching graduate study options to assist students. One of those tools to consider using is the Define Your Priorities worksheet. Some of those self-discovery questions to ask include:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How will you pay for your graduate program in the United States?
  • What are your academic grades?
  • What are your English test scores?
  • What size institution do you like?
  • Would you like to attend a private or public institution?
  • Do you prefer living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
  • Would you like to live on campus or off campus?

Once you have identified those answers, you will have the most valuable criteria you need to begin you search in a more circumspect manner.

Narrow your options

EducationUSA lists four search engines you can use to begin to find a possible list of the academic programs, locations, institutions that meet your needs. Those search sites will only give you so much information about the colleges and universities that match some of the broad strokes of what you need. Once you have identified those programs, to get much closer to what you need to know about each institution, you will need to review each school’s website where the real details are you need to know on costs, deadlines, tests, and admissions process.  

Because this year, like the last one, there really are no in-person college fairs and events where direct representatives have not been able to connect with you in your home country, it is more important than ever to connect virtually with the U.S. colleges that you’re considering. Whether that be in a virtual university fair, a live chat with representatives from your top choices, a webinar with other international students who may already be attending those institutions, and/or a visit to a local EducationUSA advising center for more specific resources, you have several ways to narrow your options.

Find your right fit

In the end, there may be several schools/programs that you research that you can see yourself attending. At this stage it’s time to do deep look at the institutions involved, the strength of the program, and the quality and areas of research conducted by the faculty. Only after getting this next level details will you be able to make the decisions on where you wish to apply.

Prepare for tests

And, finally, before physically applying to these programs, it is essential to know which tests might be required. Certainly, rest assured that for most all quality master’s and doctoral program in the U.S. will accept an IELTS score toward meeting the English proficiency standards set by each program. The question will be whether any other academic standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT are required. Because of the pandemic, there are an increasingly large number of programs that are test-optional this year when it comes to GRE or GMAT requirements. Even top business schools in the United States are, for this current 2021 recruitment cycle, not requiring GRE or GMAT scores. More recently, over 85% of the graduate degree programs at the University of California, Berkeley (one of the top 25 U.S. national universities) decided to make the GRE optional for all applicants.

The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 1)

When you are due to take a high-stakes test such as IELTS, it is perfectly natural for you to get the jitters, especially on the day before. You may even have to fight hard to block out the thought that every plan you’ve made for the future depends on the outcome of the test you are about to take.

Learning to cope with exam stress is the key to turning in a strong performance on test day. Check out these tips that will help you manage stress and give a good account of yourself.

Focus on your physical well-being

If you need to be able to give your best in a test, it is important that you are fighting fit. Too much study can trigger headaches or leave you with tense muscles, among other things. Spending hours in the same position poring over study material isn’t the ideal way to prepare. See to it that you take regular breaks, getting up each time and moving around a bit.

Manage anxiety

Exam preparation can also affect you emotionally, making your feel blue or unusually moody because of the high levels of anxiety you experience. Learning to absorb stress is often half the battle. One thing you should definitely avoid is too much exam talk in the hours leading up to your test. To lift your spirits, do something during the day that will help take your mind off any exam worries and put you in the best frame of mind – for example, listening to music or watching something funny.

Eat right  

Eating a well-balanced diet will boost you energy levels for sure, so include fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and protein in your meals. While it might be tempting to sip energy drinks when studying, do realise that they can increase nerves. Also, snacking on junk food, such as chocolate or crisps, over the course of the day might get you a sudden burst of energy. However, it is bound to wear off soon, at which point you will begin to feel sluggish.    

In the next part, you will find some more handy tips on how to spend the day before your IELTS test. 

How New English Words are Born (Part 3)

Among other things, one aspect that helps English grow at such a steady pace is its extensive use in specialised areas, such as science, medicine, technology and the internet. Naturally, whenever a need arises to express new ideas or define new objects, new vocabulary is born.

In this final part in the series, you will read about three more ways in which new words and phrases get added to the language. 

7. Clipping

Clipping refers to the act of shortening a longer word, quite often making it monosyllabic. For instance, a website where an individual, or an organisation, adds details about recent events or topics of interest was originally called a ‘weblog’ before it got shortened to ‘blog’.

Quite often clipped words gain in popularity, consigning the original words or phrases into oblivion. When was the last time you heard someone say they had ‘influenza’?  The clipped version of the word, ‘flu’, is what you’re likely to hear them say! 

Clipped wordOriginal word
brobrother
examexamination
lablaboratory
zoozoological garden
the netthe internet

8. Abbreviation

Abbreviations, which are short forms of words or phrases, frequently enter the dictionary as new words. One good thing about them is that the average person can use them accurately without having to understand what the initial letters represent. Not everyone who talks about DVDs, for example, is aware of what the initial letters stand for: digital versatile disc.

Oftentimes abbreviations that get popular in quick time tend to be acronyms. They are short forms made using the first letters of the words that make up a name, and they can be pronounced as words. An acronym that pops up regularly when we talk about supermarkets is BOGOF (buy one get one free).      

9. New words

If you were to take a close look at all new words coined in English in recent times, it will quickly dawn on you that most of them have some language feature that we’re already familiar with. As surprising as this may sound, entirely new words that enter English each year are very few in number. An original word such as ‘google’ is a rare sight indeed.

Even though hundreds of words get coined every year, not all of them manage to survive for too long. The survival of new vocabulary depends on frequency of use. Clearly, if a concept becomes obsolete over time, then words representing it will very soon diminish in use and invariably disappear. 

So, in 2035, will we all still ‘Facebook’our friends? Well, your guess is as good as mine!

Read our previous blog posts about how new English words are born: Part 1 and Part 2

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

The View From Campus: The Importance of International Student Orientation

Looking out across America these last few weeks, the excitement on college and university campuses is high. With the anticipation for the start of a new academic year and, for international students, the opportunity to realize their dreams. Unlike last year, when most international students began their studies online from their home countries, this fall in the United States, new overseas students have been able to return to campus with more normal circumstances.  

Adjust to your new environment

More than anything else, once your arrive in the United States for studies, getting over jet lag (travel fatigue) is priority one. There are many strategies out there, but one that seems to work well is on your first day, to go to sleep at a time (in your new time zone) when you would normally do so. By any measure, getting yourself on a schedule is an important first step. The climate may also be very different from what you know, so your body clock may take some time in making that adjustment.

One item that may very well be in place at your U.S. college or university is for new international students coming direct from overseas, is a quarantine period. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not require travelers to quarantine if they have been vaccinated, those who have not yet been vaccinated are strongly recommended to get a Covid-19 test within 3-5 days after arrival and self-isolate for 7 days. Some college campuses may still have a required quarantine time, particular for unvaccinated students. Typically, this would mean isolating in university housing for a short period before you would be able to join in regular activities.

Get Settled on campus

While most new international student orientations this fall have been in person, some may still have elements that will be held virtually. These virtual orientations may mean that initial movements on campus will be limited as facilities are re-opened slowly or in phases to further limit the spread of Covid-19.

One way to get to know your campus, if you haven’t already done a “virtual tour” of campus, is to get a virtual map of your college or university (from the website or college’s mobile app) on your phone and/or tablet and wander around campus to find the buildings you will be using most often.

Learn the rules

As a new international student on campus, one of the most important sessions you will need to attend is on immigration regulations. While not always the most exciting topic, pay attention to the requirements your college sets out in this session when it comes to maintaining your student status. Besides immigration rules, health insurance also ranks up there as a critical component that you may not know well. The U.S. system of health care relies on primarily private insurance to cover the costs involved. Most all U.S. colleges now require students purchase such coverage while they are in the country.

Other than immigration and health care, the most significant area of rules that can directly impact international students are the academic policies of your institution. From Issues of classroom attendance, the course syllabus, exam policies, plagiarism, to academic integrity violations, knowing these guidelines will ensure a smooth passage through your academic career.

Make lifelong friends

What really makes your time at a U.S. college memorable are the people you interact with on a regular basis. For many international students, their fondest early memories of being on campus are the shared experiences they had with other students from overseas. Yet, for many, the relationships you get to establish with your U.S. classmates are the most impactful. Not only will you get a chance to make American friends, but you will get to share your culture, your history, your experiences with them as they learn about the world outside their own borders.


Broadening your horizons at a U.S. college will be much easier than you think. Especially if you choose to get involved in clubs and organizations on campus, you will find multiple opportunities to make your experiences at your college more fulfilling than you might ever have expect. So, even if you’re a bit shy or worried about your English ability, take the chance, get involved!

Whichever way your U.S. college or university is starting its academic year, make the most of this time. Getting off to a good start makes all the difference in how successful you will be in your classes, on campus, and in the community. Good luck!



How New English Words are Born (Part 2)

The ability of English to evolve constantly as a language can be put down to several factors, one being that native speakers of the language relish playing with it, resulting in new vocabulary being invented all the time.

Of course, not all new words make it into the dictionary; nor do they manage to stay put if they get listed, for that matter. In a previous post we spoke about some ways in which new English words are born; here are some more ways in which new words enter the English language. 

3. Blending

Blending is the process of creating a new word, called a blend or portmanteau word, by combining parts of existing words. This method of coining new words by putting together the beginning of one word and the end of another has been around for centuries now. Even though there are no hard and fast rules about how to form a blend, it is noticeable that at least one of the words involved in the fusion has something chopped off it. Here are some examples of blends.

BlendCombination of
brunchbreakfast + lunch
smogsmoke + fog
flexitarianflexible + vegetarian
freemiumfree + premium

4. Conversion

This refers to the method of changing a word from one word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective, adverb) to another. To put it another way, a new word can be formed by simply changing the grammatical function of an existing word. So, the next time you say that you will email or download something, think about this: you are using English words that originally began life as nouns. 

Here are some more nouns that later became verbs: friend, bomb, email, text, elbow, blog, lace, chair, drink, divorce, intern, model, voice.

5. Back-formation

When we form words with back-formation, we chop off a part of an already existing word that is considered to be an affix. This method is most commonly employed to make verbs out of nouns. 

Back-formationExisting word
absorbabsorption
babysitbabysitter
burgleburglar
editeditor

6. Loanwords

Perhaps the most straightforward way to create new words is to borrow them from other languages. Over the years, English has borrowed generously from other languages, some of which are Latin, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Hindi. When English speakers come across a word in a foreign language that describe something that they don’t yet have a word for, they tend to borrow it. Here are some popular loanwords:

LoanwordLanguage borrowed from
pandaNepali
kindergartenGerman
shampooHindi
caféFrench
platonicGreek
karaokeJapanese

Do not forget to read the final part in this series if you wish to know about some more methods of inventing new words.

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

How New English Words are Born (Part 1)

English has to be the most dynamic language around, forever evolving and adapting to the needs of its users. Year by year a great number of words enter the language, while some others leave. The marked rate at which English has expanded in recent years is a good indication that it has managed to keep pace with changing times and technology.

Having a basic understanding of how new words are created can be handy. If you know how new words enter the language, you will be better placed to identify strategies to help you cope with new language. Let us take a closer look at some ways in which new English words are born:

1. Affixation

A letter or a group of letters, known as an affix, can be added to the beginning or end of a word to make new words that express new ideas. This method of using a prefix (affix added at the beginning) or suffix (affix added at the end) to create new words is called affixation.  

PrefixMeaningExample
micro-extremely smallmicrobe, microscope
post-afterpostgraduate, postnatal
tri-threetriangle, tricycle
re-againreconsider, rewrite
SuffixMeaningExample
-doma state of beingboredom, martyrdom
-er / -ora person whoexplorer, narrator
-ismdoctrine / beliefBuddhism, communism
-nessa state of beinggoodness, sadness

As you can see, it isn’t too difficult to work out the meaning of such words, as prefixes and suffixes are often attached to words that already have known definitions. However, prefixes don’t usually change the word class of the words they modify (e.g. cycle, tricycle → noun), whereas suffixes often change the form entirely (e.g. explore → verb, explorer → noun). 

2. Compounding

Compounding is the process of making up a fresh word by joining two or more independent words. Although compounds are found in all word classes, the most common types are nouns. Here are some examples:

NounsVerbsAdjectivesAdverbs
bus stopbabysitheartbreakingnevertheless
rock bandchain-smokesugar-freeself-consciously

When existing words are combined to form a compound, it could sometimes carry a meaning that is different to what the individual parts convey. The noun fur baby, for instance, refers to a person’s pet animal with fur, such as a cat or dog, especially when it receives the kind of love and attention that a child would receive from its parent. 

The next couple of parts in this series will introduce you to more types of word formation.

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

Preparing for Your Journey to the United States for Study

Over the last eighteen months, international travel has become very difficult as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. This virus has impacted every continent in ways we never thought imaginable just two years ago. As a result, things in everyday life for students seeking higher education outside their home country have changed substantially. If you’ve been planning to study in the United States and have been admitted for study, gotten your visa, and are now ready to go, what do you need to know?

Get your documents in order

Now more than ever, be aware of recent changes in guidance for travellers to the United States due to the pandemic, and have your documents in order before you travel. From your I-20, to your passport and F-1 student visa, to your admissions letter, academic and financial documents, everything must reflect who you are and what your institution’s plan is for classes this coming academic year. At present most US colleges are planning for in-person study this fall. So, for new international students should be able to pass through immigration control without many issues. However, if your intended college has recently made the decision to go completely online, you may not be allowed in the country.

Communicate with your university regularly

Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of educational advising centres in 170 countries, traditionally hold pre-departure orientations for international students before they head to the United States for study. While most of these sessions have still been virtual due to the pandemic, they are still happening and can be great resources for students like yourself trying to make sense of a very confusing time in our world. As you get ready to begin your U.S. study journey, the most important people you need to maintain regular communication with are the international student office staff at your college or university. For many U.S. higher education institutions, the past few months have been ones that have been dramatically disrupted, like much of the world, by this global pandemic. Plans these colleges made in April for how the next academic year would look like for new students may very well have changed. As a result it is essential for you to be aware of what those plans are and know what you should do.

Know the immigration and airline rules

Entering the United States as an international student is a fairly straightforward process in normal times if you’ve taken all the required steps and are well-prepared for this last step of your journey to U.S. study. However, these are not normal times. You must know what the current procedures both for the airlines you may be flying into the United States and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) division that handles immigration control at the borders. As of earlier this year, all US-bound airlines are requiring all passengers to have had a negative Covid-19 test documented within three days before flying internationally. Even if you have been vaccinated you will still need to show a negative test result.

Moreover, when entering the United States, the officials at CBP who interview each person seeking entry have to ask questions about your intended studies when you present your documents at the immigration checkpoint at the airport. The Department of Homeland Security which oversees CBP has put together important resources in its Study in the States site that discusses the current regulations. Be sure to review this guidance before you leave.

Best of luck with your journey!

Being Imaginative in IELTS Speaking (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we spoke of how letting your imagination run wild is a good thing to do in IELTS Speaking. Your answers will be longer, and they’ll probably have more varied language.

It’s not just at the beginning of the Speaking section where thinking up details to embellish your responses works. Maintaining this approach throughout the interview will certainly pay dividends.

Part 2

In this part, the test taker receives a topic on a task card and one minute preparation time. They are then expected to talk for up to two minutes without further prompts from the Examiner. Since the focus here is on the test taker’s ability to speak at length on a given topic, it might be a good idea for you to draw on your own experience to help you keep going. That being said, it may not always be possible for you to relate to topics. Here’s an example:

Talk about a time when you were really close to a wild animal.

If the topic you receive on the day were to leave you stumped, creativity can come to the rescue. For instance, you could quickly think of someone else’s experience (e.g. an anecdote shared by a friend, a movie scene, a documentary account), add finer details to personalise it, and present it as your own.    

Part 3

In the final part, the test taker and Examiner discuss at length the topic in Part 2 in a more general and abstract way. Here, you need to show an ability to express and justify opinions, to discuss and analyse topics, and to speculate about issues. Yet again, being imaginative can be the key to producing well-rounded answers. In order to buy yourself some time to work out what to say, you could begin responses with a functional phrase. Here are a couple of examples:  

  • Just last week I happened to read an article online about ….
  • I’ve often thought about this question, as it is hotly debated nowadays. Now, if you ask me,…

An additional benefit of this approach is that such phrases can also boost your vocabulary and grammar scores. Just see to it that you use functional language prudently to avoid sounding too rehearsed.

Just like any other skill, creativity too demands regular practice, so be ready to put in the hard yards. Good luck!

Being Imaginative in IELTS Speaking (Part 1)

Sometimes IELTS test takers fret over the possibility of not having enough to talk about certain topics in the Speaking section, and rightly so. It is quite possible to be thrown off balance by a question that you are ill-prepared for, for example, a two-minute talk on ‘a place near water that you often visit’.

First and foremost, you need to realise that while it is good to treat the IELTS Speaking interview like a normal conversation so that you do not feel too edgy on the day, your objective is not to exchange information socially with the Examiner. Once the test begins, you should be using your whole bag of tricks to show just how good your English is. Remember, each question you are asked is an opportunity to show off your language skills, so make the most of it!

Oftentimes, factually correct answers could be short, leaving the Examiner with insufficient evidence to rate you. One way of getting round this problem is by learning to be imaginative when speaking. And if being imaginative means including details that make your answers less truthful, it should not deter you. The IELTS Speaking interview is not an exercise in information exchange; it is an opportunity for you to showcase your language skills.

Here are some tips to make your answers more interesting and varied.

Part 1     

The Speaking section begins with the test taker being asked questions about familiar topics, such as study, work, accommodation, family, friends or hobbies. Some questions here could be answered with short utterances.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:In an apartment.

As you can see, short answers will hardly help the Examiner determine your actual language level. What you need to do, instead, is to add as much detail as possible, even if some of it happens to be untrue.

Q:Do you live in a house or apartment?
A:I’ve been renting a flat for the last couple of years. It’s located in the heart of the city, so most amenities are within walking distance. Besides, flats tend to offer a better social life, which is something I love because I’m a people person.

Now, in reality, you may shun parties and social events, but it should not really stop you from saying such an answer.

There is more advice on how to be creative in the next part, so don’t miss it!

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