Describing Visual Data (Part 2)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we looked at some useful advice to produce a good report – adding data to descriptions and choosing data carefully.

Here are some more tips on report writing.

 

3. Use comparative language

As well as choosing the right kind of data, a report writing exercise tests the writer’s ability to compare information where relevant. In other words, for a report to be good, you need to be able to look at trends in the graph and identify both similarities and differences.

Naturally, use of language to compare things is a must here, so keep looking for opportunities to use comparative phrases such as greater than, a lot less than, and relatively unpopular. Superlative adjectives (e.g. the tallest, the fastest, the costliest, etc.) also come in handy when something is being compared to a group of objects.

 

4. Use appropriate vocabulary

There’s no doubt that the wider the range of vocabulary used, the clearer descriptions get. A powerful word like skyrocket or plummet can help the reader visualise the trend being described even without having to look at figures. Of course, range alone will not do the trick. What is equally important is that vocabulary gets used precisely.

A graph is usually full of trends, which means that skillful use of trend vocabulary can better the overall quality of a report. Learning such vocabulary can go a long way towards improving your descriptions.

 

5. Look at the big picture

An overload of statistics can possibly suck the writer in, meaning that they spend all their energies on details. When writing a report, if you can’t see the wood for the trees, then that definitely is a major handicap.  Always look for the big picture, that one overriding pattern or trend that captures the essence of the graph that you are interpreting.

 

Practise using these tips, and report writing should be manageable even if you aren’t mathematically inclined.

 

 

GLOSSARY

do the trick
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to mean that something achieved what you wanted it to
Example : Complaining to the manager did the trick, as we got a discount on the meal.

 

not see the wood for the trees
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that someone is so focused on details that they fail to notice the main point
Example : People who lack experience are often unable to see the wood for the trees.

 

handicap
Form : noun
Meaning : a disadvantage
Example : Playing in Canada was a handicap, as they were used to warmer conditions.

 

the big picture
Form : phrase
Meaning : an overview of a situation
Example : The article focuses on the big picture of how the internet influences what we buy. 

 

 

Describing Visual Data (Part 1)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Describing information that is presented in visual form can be a hard row to hoe, especially if Mathematics isn’t your thing. For a start, there could be so much data that you wouldn’t know where to begin. Identifying the overall trend that captures the essence of the graph isn’t easy either.

 

It then comes as no surprise that different types of tests commonly use graphs to assess the test taker’s ability to interpret and describe data with some degree of precision. In IELTS Academic, Task 1 is a report writing exercise that can be based on visual data – line graph, bar graph, pie chart, or a combination of them.

 

Here are some handy tips for writing a good report.

1. Add data to support descriptions

Sometimes we get so caught up in making any sense out of all the numbers that are plotted on a graph that we forget to get the basics right. A fundamental part of report writing is effective use of figures. Leave them out, and your descriptions could make little sense to the reader.

Imagine reading an automobile sales report that includes various trends but has absolutely no numerical data to support descriptions. The chances are you wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of the situation just by reading about trends. So, add figures wherever needed to support trends or patterns you describe.

 

2. Pick data wisely

Although it is important to include numerical data when describing trends, it doesn’t mean that every number plotted on a graph needs to find its way into your report. Too many figures can make a report less effective, just like one without any data.

One ability that report writing assesses is whether the writer can pick key figures out as well as leave those out which are non-essential to the task. While there are no shortcuts to making this decision, thinking about the purpose of the report should help you decide what numbers to include and what not to.

 

Remember, time spent analysing the graph is time well spent.

 

 

GLOSSARY

hard row to hoe
Form : phrase
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : With just four matches left this season, winning the championship will be a hard row to hoe.

 

isn’t your thing
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to explain that you are not interested in something
Example : Camping under the stars isn’t really my thing, so I think I’ll pass.

 

not make head or tail (of something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : unable to understand something
Example : All the dialogues were in Italian so I couldn’t make head or tail of the play.

 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it’s important to sensibly utilise the one minute allotted for preparation during the IELTS Speaking section.

 

Read on for more advice on how to do well in the IELTS Speaking section.

2. Generate some main ideas, not many

Test takers commonly but wrongly try to produce as many different ideas related to the topic as possible, which doesn’t always work. After all, thinking up new ideas is a lot harder than extending ideas you already have. What they really should be doing is to come up with a few main ideas and then think of ways to develop them. Wh-words (what, when, which, where, why, and how) come in handy when you wish to elaborate a point. Learn to put them to good use, and you should be able to keep talking until the two-minute time is up.

 

3. Be descriptive

Topics used in the second part of the IELTS Speaking section often encourage test takers to draw on their own experience and feelings. And when doing so, it’s a good idea to vividly describe people and things you include in your talk. If you’ve been asked to talk about your favourite type of food, for example, talk about its appearance, smell, texture, and aroma. That way, you’ll have a lot more to say, meaning that you are less likely to dry up. As well as this, the examiner might also find your response more impressive, as detailed descriptions involve use of precise vocabulary.

 

4. Speak at a steady pace

It’s only human nature to talk faster than usual when we are fairly stressed out, and exam conditions can do just that sort of thing to you. The problem, though, is that the faster you go, the more content you need to produce to last the two-minute duration. Going at breakneck speed can also interfere with your diction, lowering your pronunciation score. It is best to stay calm and speak at a steady pace – not too fast, not too slow.

 

Equip yourself with these sound strategies, and speaking non-stop will be a walk in the park!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

come in handy
Form : phrase
Meaning : be useful
Example : Some ability to speak European languages will come in handy in this job.

 

draw on (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to make use of skill or experience that you have 
Example : The book draws heavily on the author’s experiences as a tourist in Asia.

 

a walk in the park
Form : phrase
Meaning : something that is easy to do
Example : I’ve been a cop for over two decades, so investigating petty crimes is a walk in the park. 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 1)

 

Talking about any topic at length, in itself, is never too easy, so imagine having to do it without any prior preparation.

 

Giving an extempore speech, or an impromptu speech, is something that many people find daunting. For one thing, the speaker needs to be able to think on their feet. With zero preparation done beforehand, they have to make up content as they go along. Another challenge is that the speaker also needs to organise the ideas they generate as they speak. If not, there is every chance of the talk becoming directionless, with ideas popping up randomly.

 

An extempore task brings to the fore a person’s ability to think, organise, and talk all at the same time, when little to no preparation time is available. No mean feat, right? No wonder then that B-schools commonly use such tasks to measure the speaking as well as logical thinking ability of applicants. Several international language tests also have a component that assesses the test taker’s ability to speak at length without preparation.

 

In IELTS, the second part of the speaking section, known as the individual long turn, requires the test taker to speak on a particular topic for up to 2 minutes uninterruptedly. Of course, there is the advantage of having a minute to prepare and make notes, but the task is essentially extempore speaking.

 

Here are some ways to perform well in the extempore part of the IELTS speaking test:

1. Use prep time wisely

Test takers do get time to think about the topic and make notes before they start talking, but one minute is not a lot of time. So, do not write in full sentences. Instead, jot down keywords that can help you talk elaborately on the topic. For instance, if you have been asked to talk about an unforgettable meal you’ve had, add words such as ‘exotic’ and ‘flavoursome’ to the notes you make. Once you begin talking, they’ll serve as a reminder to describe the origin of the food and its distinctive flavours.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Speaking tips in the next part. Stay tuned!

 

 

GLOSSARY

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long period of time
Example : The ministers spoke at length about the need to bring down crime rates.

 

think on your feet
Form : phrase
Meaning : to have the ability to think and react quickly 
Example : Stand-up comedians need to have the ability to think on their feet while doing live shows.

 

no mean feat
Form : phrase
Meaning : not easy to do
Example : He has played in over 300 international matches, and that’s no mean feat.

 

The View From Campus: Finals in the USA

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

 

In this month’s edition, Dr. Mandy Hansen, Director of Global Engagement, at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, explains some of the more striking differences about academic life at U.S. colleges and universities.

 

Q. Describe your institution in 5 words?

A. Innovative, scenic, caring, safe, and inclusive.

 

Q. What is your institution best known for overseas?

A. We have strong innovation programs and community relationships that complement our academics. For example, UCCS collaborates with the government entities on the National Cyber Security Center and is involved in a unique project with the US Olympic Committee as Colorado Springs is the Olympic City.

 

Q. What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A. Business, Engineering, the Arts and Sports related program (like a sports management program for golf and soccer)

 

Q. What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

A. India, Saudi Arabia, China, Spain, Canada/Kuwait are tied for fifth

 

Q. How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A. IELTS is used for admission into our undergraduate and graduate programs. We have a baseline score that is required for admission into our degree programs. We use the test as a predictor for academic success in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These are skills that our students need for success and to feel comfortable with as many classes are focused on group work, note-taking, and interactions that require fluency on all levels.

 

Q. What is finals week at U.S. colleges and universities like?

A. It is a time that many offices on campus pull together to offer support to their students. Here at UCCS, we assist our students during this stressful time by having a free breakfast for students to make sure they are nourished and energized for their studies and keep the library open for longer. These are a pivotal effort to assist in the students’ success.

 

Q. How do finals exams differ from what most international students experience in their home countries?

A. Finals exams abroad are often the only contributing factor to a students’ grade. However, in the United States most classes give a final grade based upon a variety of activities ranging from group work, class attendance, presentations, exams, and papers.

The final exam, which may even be a final paper, lab report, or presentation, is one part of a student’s grade. Therefore, it is essential that international students attend each class and keep up with the assignments that are due throughout.

 

Q. Is it true that how well a student participates in classroom discussions is often a portion of a student’s final grade for a class?

A. The U.S. classroom often includes group work and interactions between the instructor and other students. This type of interaction is fostered when a student enters elementary or primary school as a child.

Collaborative activities and team projects are the norm and are often values that an employer will want from employees. Having confidence in speaking up, participating, and being involved is essential for success.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Ben Grey via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 3)

 

Image courtesy of Fe Ilya via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at some ways in which test takers make mistakes in IELTS listening: losing concentration when distractors are used, spelling words wrongly, looking for instances of word match, and not understanding different ways of referring to time.

Here are two more ways in which you could lose marks:

 

Word limit

All questions in the listening part come with clear instructions. While some questions require the test takers to choose answers from a list of options, others contain blanks that need to be filled in. When filling in blanks, you need to be cautious not to exceed the word limit. If not, your answer will be marked incorrect.

 

In IELTS, even small words such as articles (a, an, the) and pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, it) are counted as individual lexical items. So, if you don’t keep track of the number of words you enter as answer, you’ll certainly lose marks in perhaps the silliest of ways.

 

Example

Question

Complete the sentences below.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.

 

35. During such rituals, the tribal chief used to wear a __________

 

36. _________ offerings were often made to the gods.

 

 

In this example, the task clearly instructs test takers to complete each sentence using no more than two words. Let’s assume the answer to question 35 is silk jacket. If you happen to rephrase this as jacket made of silk, your answer will obviously be marked wrong, as it has four words.

 

Transferring answers

Listening is the only part of IELTS where test takers receive extra time to transfer answers. This is because they are asked to jot down answers to all 40 questions on the question booklet itself as they listen.

 

The extra 10 minutes is for candidates to write answers legibly and sequentially (entered in boxes 1 to 40). Of course, answers that are out of sequence will be marked wrong.

 

Remember, while these tips may sound simple enough, it takes a bit of practice to get them right.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

blank
Form : noun
Meaning : an empty space
Example : Please fill in the blanks using words from the reading passage.

 

jot down
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to write something
Example : Give me a second, Sam. Let me find a notepad to jot down the address.

 

legibly
Form : adverb
Meaning : (written or printed) in a way that can be understood easily
Example : Please fill in the application form legibly

 

US Study: Get There with IELTS

Hear what IELTS means for international students in the U.S

 

The U.S. is a popular place for students from across the world.

Each year, thousands of U.S. colleges and universities accept hundreds of thousands of students from other countries.

If you’re thinking of joining them, then you’ll need IELTS.

IELTS is the most popular English test for people who want to live, study or work in another country. IELTS is also accepted by more than 3,300 institutions in the U.S, including all Ivy League colleges, so you have a huge choice of where to go.

An IELTS test score is proof of your English language proficiency and can help you achieve your goal of getting a place at a U.S. college or university.

Click on the video above to hear what some of the U.S. international students are saying about IELTS.

And to hear more from IELTS students who are already living their dream by studying in the U.S., be sure to check out our monthly View From Campus blog posts.

Get there with IELTS!

View From Campus: Swati from Bangladesh

Swati Roy

 

This month we invited Swati from Bangladesh to give her insights on studying at a U.S. college.

 

Who are you? Name, university, academic degree program, and home country.

My name is Swati Roy. I am an international undergraduate student from Bangladesh at Ohio University, majoring in Accounting and Finance.

 

How would you describe your experience in preparing for and taking the IELTS test

I would describe my experience in preparing for and taking the IELTS test as simple. It is avery simple way to demonstrate your English proficiency since it’s broken down into components and the British Council has plenty of resources to prepare for each. The process was seamless from preparing for the test, taking the test, to submitting my scores through British Council to my university choices.

 

How did you decide on the U.S. as your study destination?

I decided to study in the U.S. because colleges in the U.S. provide a greater flexibility to study what you want. You can explore multiple courses to recognise your passion before you declare your major. And there are various resources to help you with the decision.

 

How has IELTS prepared you for your degree program?

I believe the IELTS prepared me to better understand the content in my college classes because the curriculum is in English. It has also saved me time because I was able to enrol directly into my degree program without having to go through any English learning program or proficiency testing upon arrival. Especially, preparing for the listening and speaking components of the IELTS has also prepared me to effectively communicate with my faculty and peers at the university.

 

Why did you choose Ohio University?

I chose Ohio University because it is one of the best public universities for studying business in the U.S. It provides top notch, student centred learning. In addition to that it has a college culture that is unmatched and an extremely beautiful campus.

 

Describe your role as an international ambassador at your institution?

As an Ohio University Global Ambassador, I work as a liaison between the University and prospective international students. I help answer any questions they have about the admissions process or the university in general. It is always more relatable to them coming from an international student already studying at the University than someone from the administration. I also work along with other Global Ambassadors on different media and outreach efforts to attract more international students to the university and add more diversity to our ever-growing international community at Ohio University.

 

What is most important thing for students considering coming to the U.S. to know about applying to colleges and universities?

I believe the most important thing for students considering coming to the U.S. to know are the specific requirements of a college or university for admission that includes minimum SAT/ACT score, IELTS, minimum GPA, high school transcripts etc.

 

What are your plans after graduation?

Upon graduation, I would love to move to a big city such as Chicago or New York. I would like to work for a multinational consulting firm.

 

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Britt Reints via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In part 1, we spoke of two kinds of traps – distractors and spelling.

Here are two other ways in which you could lose marks in IELTS listening.

 

  1. Word match

Sometimes test-takers choose a certain answer because the exact same words are used in the conversation and the question paper. This is particularly true when attempting multiple choice questions. However, most answers in IELTS listening are paraphrased. In other words, the vocabulary used in the conversation is usually different to the one in the question.

 

Example

Question

23. What does the woman like most about the house?

A   the design

B   the locality

C   the living room

 

Recording script

Estate agent: So, what do you think?  

 

Woman: Very nice! I mean, I love the living room – it’s spacious and so tastefully done up. And the design is so European! I’ve always wanted to live in a house with French windows and a brick fireplace. But the best bit, without doubt, is the neighbourhood. It’s so pretty and peaceful – just the kind we were looking for.  

 

As you can see, the actual answer is paraphrased – the word locality in the question is replaced with the word neighbourhood in the conversation. Understandably, listening for matching words will only mislead you, so spend time on improving your comprehension instead.

 

  1. Time conventions

If you are a non-native speaker, the chances are you don’t refer to time the way people in English-speaking countries do. Being an international test, IELTS listening makes use of such native terms to talk about specific periods of time. Here are some examples:

 

 

Convention Used to talk about Example
quarter to 15 minutes before any hour on the clock quarter to six = 5.45
quarter past 15 minutes after any hour on the clock quarter past six = 6.15
half past 30 minutes after any hour on the clock half past six = 6.30

 

Do learn more about them, or you could be left with a blank when it comes to taking the test!

 

 

 

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