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.
This month we hear from Kevin Beisser, Senior Immigration Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the important topic of how international students can best make the transition, academically, to life on a U.S. college campus.
Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Academic Excellence and our graduate’s success.
Alumnus Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft, who at the
time was an international student from India, received his master’s degree in
computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: UWM is home to Wisconsin’s largest online education program, with more than 850 classes and 40 fully online certificate and degree programs. The university is also home to the state’s largest collaboration of health sciences, nursing and public health programs through its Partners for Health initiative. It also boasts one of the world’s top film programs. Other major programs include business, engineering, education and information studies.
Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/ How international is your institution?
A: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, & Iran.
Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?
A: The IELTS test is used as evidence of English Proficiency. At the undergraduate level a student would need a score of 5.0 or better for full admission and at the graduate level a score of 6.5 or higher is required.
Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges?
A: One common challenge is fatigue. If you are a non-native English speaker, even if you are proficient in English, spending 24 hours using that language can be tiring as your brain is constantly working. Combine that with the normal stresses of moving to a new environment and studying and you will be exhausted at the end of the day. Hence, focusing on your health is crucial in your success at the beginning and throughout your collegiate career. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise are essential.
Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?
A: Generally, students should expect 2-3 hours of studying for each credit hour they are enrolled in.
Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home?
A: U.S. academic culture requires class participation which can be a challenge to many students who are not used to this style of education. Classroom styles can also be more informal than what students are used to in their home countries.
Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?
A: Very seriously! Taking credit for someone else’s work or cheating at all U.S colleges and universities will result in discipline ranging from failure of the course to permanent expulsion from the institution or system. There are two common American adages that are the best advice I can give to students when it comes to academic integrity the first is: “Honesty is the best policy” and the second is: “When in Doubt ask questions”.
Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus?
A: My best recommendation is to be healthy as mentioned above and try to be involved as possible. The more people you meet the more resources you will have to ask questions. In addition, staying busy also helps you avoid the pitfalls of culture shock. Make sure you ask a lot of questions, Americans are very eager to help others, but they typically wait to be asked rather than assume someone needs help. The same goes for your instructors, they will all have office hours to help with any issues you may be facing in their course. Make sure you utilize that opportunity to clarify anything that you do not understand.
Capitalisation, the appropriate use of capital letters, is an
area of punctuation that many learners pay little attention to. One reason
might be that this topic can look deceptively simple at first glance. However,
on exploring further, you very quickly realise that there’s quite a bit to
learn. What also becomes evident is that like most grammar points, rules
related to the use of capital letters aren’t always cut and dried.
Here are some handy tips to help you decide when to use
Rule 1: Capitalise the first
word of a sentence
This one is as straightforward as grammar rules come because
there’s hardly any complication here. Every time you begin a new sentence,
start the first word with a capital letter.
Hello there! How have
You cannot go in there without permission.
Rule 2: Capitalise names of
people, institutions, companies, brands
It goes without saying that people’s names are always
capitalised. Similarly, the names of institutions, companies, and brands
generally begin with a capital letter. Remember, if the name has more than one
word, all important words in the name have their initial letter
Alan and Mathew are
coming over this evening.
He works for the National Health Service.
United Airlines is a
major player in the aviation sector that operates domestic and international
Most people consider Sony to be the pioneers of portable
Rule 3: Capitalise cities,
countries, nationalities, religions, languages
The names of cities, countries, nationalities, religions, and
languages are proper nouns, so they should be capitalised. In the case of
religion, the names of various deities are also capitalised.
Prague is a breathtakingly beautiful city.
He is from the United Arab Emirates.
Her father is Irish, whereas her mother is Scottish.
He’s had a Christian upbringing.
He speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and German.
Shiva is an ancient Hindu
Rule 4: Capitalise the
personal pronoun ‘I’
Unlike other personal pronouns (e.g. we, you, she, it),
the personal pronoun ‘I’ is always written as a capital letter, no matter where
it appears in a sentence.
I don’t know about the others, but I don’t want to go back to that restaurant.
James and I were the only ones to score goals
We’ll be back soon with more on the use of capital letters.
Writing is arguably the most difficult language skill to master.
Contrary to popular belief, skilful use of grammar and vocabulary alone wouldn’t
necessarily make a person a good writer. This is because good thinking which
follows a logical path and which is easy to understand lies at the very heart
of good writing.
Read on to understand what to expect in the Writing section of
Task 1 (Academic)
Test takers are given information ‒ usually in the form of a graph, table, chart, or diagram ‒ and asked to describe it in their own words, writing at least
150 words. This could involve describing and explaining data, describing the
stages of a process, describing how something works, or describing an object or
Task 1 (General Training)
Test takers are presented with a situation that people commonly
encounter in their everyday life. They are then asked to write a letter of at
least 150 words requesting information or explaining the situation. As far as
the style of writing is concerned, the letter could be personal,
semi-formal/neutral, or formal.
In both Academic and General Training, test takers are asked to
write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem. Essay
topics in Academic Writing are suitable for individuals entering undergraduate
/ postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration in an
English-speaking country, whereas topics in General Training Writing tend to be
of general interest and less complex.
Overall, test takers receive 1 hour to finish writing both
tasks. Although the recommendation is to spend 20 and 40 minutes on Task 1 and
Task 2 respectively, it is up to you to decide how to divide the time. Remember,
Task 2 contributes twice as much to the final Writing score as Task 1, so you
may need to spend adequate time on it.
Broadly speaking, the test is designed in such a way that a range
of skills gets assessed. These include the test taker’s ability to produce a
response that is appropriate, organise ideas skilfully, and use a wide range of
vocabulary and grammatical structures with accuracy.
Writing answers are evaluated
by certificated IELTS examiners using the IELTS Writing test assessment
criteria: Task Achievement (Task 1) / Task Response (Task 2), Coherence and
Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Scores are reported
in whole and half bands.
Remember, a common mistake that test takers make is not finding out enough about the Writing section format before the exam; do familiarise yourself with the task types so that you can fulfil all task requirements.
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.
Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.
A: Rigorous, inclusive, supportive, faith-filled
Q: For what is your institution known abroad?
A: Whitworth is best known for its academic excellence and a welcoming, supportive environment for international students.
Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad and grad)?
Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
Q: Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability?
A: 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.
Q: Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?
A: Rolling admission 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. 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.
Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?
A: Institutions look to the essay to gain additional insight into an applicant, beyond their grades, test scores and any extra-curricular activities. The essay is an excellent opportunity for an applicant to share something about themselves that we otherwise would not know. Some students have compelling life stories, or a hobby or passion, or some unique perspective.
Q: How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?
A: Very important! Many U.S. institutions have strict admission, scholarship and financial aid deadlines. If you miss a deadline, even by an hour, your application may not be considered, or you may not receive any financial aid. I always tell students to begin their applications early because they often take more time than students expect. Don’t miss those deadlines!
Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?
A: Colleges look to teacher/professor letters of recommendation to find out what type of student an applicant is. Of course we know that a student with a 3.74/4.00 GPA is competent academically, but we want to know more: how does the student learn? How does he or she contribute to the classroom and interact with the teacher and classmates? Does the student do the minimum work required or go beyond that to learn about a topic in-depth? Is a student who struggled academically in year 11 now making good progress?
Q: Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?
A: Some institutions will give admissions decisions within 2-3 weeks; others can take months to respond. Some institutions have pre-set dates for releasing their decisions. Every institution has its own policy and this policy should be written on their website.
In a previous post, we spoke of why it’s useful to better your
ability to use various intonation patterns while speaking. We also looked at
two common types of intonation, falling and rising.
In this post, we’ll first consider some more intonation types
and then give you tips on how to improve your intonation.
Types of intonation
3. Rise-fall intonation In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice and then drop it. This pattern is often found in:
alternative questions E.g. Would you like ➚ tea or ➘coffee?
lists (pattern in the example – rise, rise, rise, fall) E.g. We’d need ➚ milk, ➚ sugar, ➚ flour, and ➘ eggs.
conditional sentences E.g. If you see ➚ Danny, please ask him to call ➘ Rebecca.
4. Fall-rise intonation In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice and then raise it. This pattern is commonly used to suggest that something is uncertain or incomplete. Have a look at these examples:
I don’t like drinking tea in
(perhaps hinting that the speaker enjoys drinking tea at other
times of the day)
The first half was ➘ex➚citing.
(perhaps hinting that the second half was boring)
Do you think this is ➘al➚lowed here?
(perhaps hinting that the speaker is not sure if something is
I can’t afford a car at the ➘mo➚ment.
(perhaps hinting that the speaker may be able to buy one in the
Ways to improve intonation
Here are some tips to help improve your ability to use various
carefully to short recordings of native speakers of English, paying particular
attention to the way their voices rise and fall. Then, imitate their intonation
by just humming along, without saying the actual words. Remember to focus on
the melody, not the words.
yourself saying a sentence with absolutely no intonation, just like how a robot
would do. Later, repeat the same sentence by using stress and intonation.
Listen to both versions to know the difference that intonation can make.
yourself saying any common word over and over again, changing your attitude
each time. For example, repeat the word ‘coffee’, giving it different meaning each
time to indicate different emotions, such as enthusiasm, displeasure, surprise,
Remember, it’s difficult to listen to our own pitch, so working
with audio materials is the way forward for improving your intonation.
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