Free British Council IELTS prep tools

Image: Martin Fisch via Flickr (CC 2.0)

Most IELTS candidates leave their test preparation to the last minute. When they go into the test centre, they discover they don’t understand the question types, they’re not sure how to allocate their time efficiently, and they don’t know what the examiner is looking for. And this is just the basic knowledge they lack.

ClarityEnglish and the British Council are trying to solve this problem, and to go much further. We have developed three free resources that tackle the nuts and bolts of IELTS prep, but also provide the scope for committed candidates to go further, and find out more.

 

IELTS blog

Clarity’s IELTS blog includes dozens of posts from IELTS experts explaining task types, preparation ideas and pitfalls to avoid..

Peter Hare (British Council Addis Ababa) reveals that 23% of answers submitted in IELTS Writing are under the required word count and develops a strategy for avoiding this problem. Colm Downes (British Council Indonesia) points to a TED Talk showing that just two minutes of ‘power posing’ before the IELTS Speaking test really can change the outcome. Andrew Stokes from ClarityEnglish points to a 1970s study suggesting that a test taker’s cultural background can influence their performance in the Reading paper. What measures can Chinese or Arab candidates take to avoid being disadvantaged?

Point your students to the IELTS blog here.

 

IELTS Tips phone app

The IELTS Tips phone app drip feeds key IELTS information one day at a time for 30 days. There are five categories of tips: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Preparation. Test takers can spend as little as a minute reading key facts or can follow links to get their hands on more comprehensive resources on the Internet. It’s all about repeatedly stimulating their interest!

Download the IELTS Tips app at www.ielts.tips

 

IELTS practice Facebook page

The IELTS Facebook page has attracted over half a million fans. It features downloadable worksheets, sample questions from the different papers, videos of candidates explaining how they prepared for IELTS, and a lot more.

Click here to visit the IELTS Facebook page.

 

These resources are cross-platform, and students can access them on their desktops, or on the go on their phones or tablets. They are all available free of charge. If you think they would be useful for your students, simply post them the links below.

IELTS blog blog.ieltspractice.com

IELTS phone app www.ielts.tips

IELTS Facebook page www.facebook.com/PractiseforIELTS/

 

This post first appeared on Clarity IELTS blog here.

Deike’s Story: Globetrotting With IELTS

IELTS Award winner Deike (right) tells us about her work, experiences abroad and study goals.

Congratulations on winning your IELTS Award! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background? Where are you from and what are you studying or working on at the moment?

Deike: I’m from the northern part of Germany; I was born in East Friesland which is where the name Deike is from. It’s quite an unusual name that even most Germans have never heard of. I have a background in medicine, more specifically in paediatrics. I always knew that I wanted to work with children, so after completing my degree in Medicine at the Medical School Münster, I specialised in paediatrics, working with children with cancer. After a year, I was given the opportunity to go abroad to work in a hospital in Peru for four months which was a great and intense experience. As this project was developing so well, we decided to do another project to help children in Myanmar. We worked in a hospital there with local doctors to identify the most pressing needs. We found that the main problem was incorrect diagnoses, leading to wrong treatments. We tried to help by sending a specialist over to train the doctors in diagnostics which made a huge difference. I then went to Africa with the organisation German DoctorsOpens in a new tab or window. to work in the second biggest slum in Nairobi, treating babies and young children. This experience has had a tremendous impact on my life and my ambition to help more children through structural changes in the healthcare system.

How did you find out about IELTS and this Awards programme?

Deike: The study programme I wanted to apply for required proof of English language proficiency. I compared different language tests and decided on IELTS as it is globally recognised and had a test centre near my hometown of Oldenburg. I found out about the IELTS Award while checking the British Council Germany website for information about the IELTS test.

You’ve already told us a bit about your work with children in Germany and abroad. Will this be the focus of your studies?

Deike: I doing a Master in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineOpens in a new tab or window.. The reason for doing this is that after all my experience in working with children in Africa, Myanmar, Peru and at home, what I felt I really wanted to do was not only help single children with acute problems, such as malnutrition, but to get to the cause of the problems and help change these, in order to be able to help a lot of children, not only one single child at the time. This is what Public Health is about – improving and maintaining the health of a whole population through structural changes in the healthcare system.

What made you choose the institution and destination for your Master’s programme?

Deike: After deciding that I wanted to study Public Health I looked up which institutions offered this programme and compared their rankings. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and education in the health sector. They have excellent facilities and some of the best professors to learn from, which were the main reasons for my choice. That the school is located in London is the cherry on top!

Why do you think studying or working abroad is important to young people’s lives and development?   

Deike: As we live in a globalised world I think it gets more and more important to not only think of your own country or culture, but to get to know and engage with other people with different cultural backgrounds. Especially if you work in a field with a more global outlook, it’s important that you move around, travel and get involved with different cultures, which for me, always equals personal growth.

Finally, where did you take your IELTS test and how was the test experience for you? Would you recommend this test to others who are aiming to study abroad?

Deike: I took my IELTS test in Bremen which is very close to where I live. They offered different slots and I found one that suited me perfectly. On the test day, I felt that everything was really well organised and structured. I always knew what I had to do which helped me focus on the actual tasks. I enjoyed all four parts of the test, but must admit that I was a bit rusty with my writing, mainly as I hadn’t written a free text in a while. I would recommend IELTS to everyone and was pleased with the organisation and experience of the test.

Thank you for these great insights, Deike!

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 3)

Image courtesy of QuInn Domborwski (CC Flickr)

 

In the previous part, we covered some uses of the exclamation mark, question mark, and hyphen. Moving on, let’s take a closer look at three more punctuation marks, beginning with the dash.

 

  1. Dash

The dash and hyphen are often confused by many language learners, as they are similar in appearance. The difference, of course, is that the dash is wider than the hyphen. However, their usage is entirely different.

 

While a hyphen holds different parts of a word (or different words) together, a dash is used to separate non-essential information in a sentence. It can also be used in a sentence instead of a comma, semicolon, or colon.

 

Used Example
to separate information that is not essential to understand the sentence Getting the train ‒ though it’s often crowded ‒ is the fastest way to the city centre.
in place of a comma, semicolon, or colon, to show breaks in a sentence He lives in a cottage ‒ which was built in the 1950s ‒ beside the lake.

 

  1. Apostrophe

There are two main uses of the apostrophe: to show possession (i.e. something belongs to somebody) and to show omission (i.e. not including something).

 

Used Example
to show how a person or thing is related to, or belongs to, someone or something Ben’s car (= a car owned by Ben)
to indicate that letters or numbers have been left out she’ll (short for  she will) | We got married in ’83 (short for 1983).
with the plurals of letters and digits He hit four 6’s in an over. | There are two m’s in this word.

 

Using an apostrophe to form the plural form of decades or abbreviations is considered incorrect these days. For example:

 

1930s ✔ (1930’s)

several MPs ✔ (several MP’s)

 

  1. Quotation mark

Known as inverted commas in British English, quotation marks can be single (‘s’) or double (“d”). They are commonly used at the beginning and end of direct speech – i.e. words someone said that are written down exactly as they were spoken.

 

Used Example
to mark the beginning and end of direct speech The air hostess asked, “What would you like to have?”
to separate a word or phrase that is being discussed His new book is called ‘The Rising Sons’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The View From Campus – Public Universities Admissions

This month’s article features Robert Hardin, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for International Recruitment, at the University of Oregon

 

  • Describe your institution in 5 words? Green, unique, groundbreaking, welcoming, and thoughtful.
  • What is your institution best known for overseas? The University of Oregon has alumni from around the world that have made an impact, including: Phil Knight (founder and president of Nike), Daniel Wu (actor), Renee James (former president of Intel), Ann Curry (journalist), Ken Kesey (author), and Chuck Palahniuk (author) to name just a few. UO is also known around the world for having successful sports teams and individual athletes.
  • What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
    The University of Oregon’s top academic programs are: Accounting, Architecture, Education, Psychology, and our sciences, particularly Biology and Physics.
  • What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?
    China, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. We are an international university with over 3,200 international students (about 14% of the student body) from 103 different countries.
  • How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
    IELTS is one of the few ways we allow students to prove English proficiency. It is a helpful and valuable tool for us to determine if a student has the level of English needed to be successful at the University of Oregon.

 

Making Admissions Decisions

 

Do most public universities have set deadlines for international admissions?
Yes, most US public universities have deadlines. However, some deadlines are more flexible than others. At the University of Oregon, we accept applications after the deadline if there are spaces available. However, if you want to apply for scholarships, you will need to meet all posted application deadlines.

 

What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?

We want to get to know a little about the applicant. The essay is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself other than your grades and test scores.

 

What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?
Teacher letters of recommendation should go beyond what grade you received in a class. We want to know more about how you performed as a student. For example, a letter of recommendation from your math teacher talking about the hard work and effort it took to earn your grade in the class will help us better understand your true academic potential.

 

How important are test scores in university admissions decisions?

In the US, there is no standard practice for admission decisions, so each university sets different expectations. However, the vast majority of US universities value your class grades more than your test scores or other factors.What are the most important factors public universities use to determine admissibility of international students?
Grades are usually the factor that public universities consider the most important. At the University of Oregon, our research shows that high school grades are the best predictor of success for new college students. Test scores are often the second most important factor. After test scores and grades, it is common for public universities to use other factors such as grade trend, strength of curriculum, extracurricular activities, essay, and teacher recommendations.

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Mark Morgan (CC Flickr)

Ever felt punctuation is just a set of decorative symbols that can be done away with? Well, think again!

 

A poorly punctuated sentence can severely distort meaning, thereby confusing the reader. Here’s a good example:

  1. I had lunch with my parents, an architect and a Labrador.
  2. I had lunch with my parents, an architect, and a Labrador.

 

What these two sentences mean are entirely different, the change in meaning caused by the presence or absence of a comma after the word architect.

Sentence 1 means: I had lunch with 2 people, i.e. my parents. One of them is an architect, whereas the other is a breed of dog (Labrador).

Sentence 2 means: I had lunch with 3 people and an animal, i.e. my parents, an architect, and a dog.

 

Though many of us make an effort to use punctuation, we often restrict ourselves to just two – comma and full stop. It’s a shame that a dozen other punctuation marks that can make our writing cohesive remain largely ignored.

 

In this series, we’ll explore the entire set:

 

full stop comma exclamation mark question mark hyphen dash apostrophe
. , ! ?
quotation marks colon semi colon slash ellipsis square bracket round bracket
“ ” : ; / [ ] ( )

 

  1. Full stop

The most common use of a full stop is to signal the end of a statement; it is also used in indirect questions and abbreviations. Do keep in mind that there is no space between the last letter (in a word) and the full stop.

 

Used Example
to signal the end of a statement I work as a teacher.
at the end of an indirect question She asked me where I had been.
with abbreviated (shortened) forms etc. | e.g. | Sept. | p.m.

 

 

  1. Comma

Generally speaking, commas indicate slight pauses or breaks in a sentence: they may separate items in a list, extra information, or clauses.

 

Used Example
to separate each item in a list We bought flowers, fruit, pudding, and sweets.
to separate extra information that is not part of the main sentence Graham’s brother, Phil, is very naughty.
to separate a clause Tim, who lives in London these days, was at the party.

 

Remember, efficient use of punctuation can make your writing a lot clearer.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

do away with (something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : remove; get rid of
Example : We’re doing away with all the traditions this Christmas and not having a tree.

 

distort
Form : verb
Meaning : to change a piece of information so that it is no longer accurate
Example : Newspaper articles sometimes distort the truth. 

 

a shame
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to mean that something is disappointing
Example : It’s a shame that they lost the match even after playing so well.

U.S Liberal Arts Colleges Explained: The View From Campus

 

Reed College, USA

 

“We see IELTS Academic as an important tool in evaluating a prospective student’s readiness for the academic demands of our curriculum.”

 

This month’s edition of the view from campus features Reed College, a private liberal arts institution in Portland, Oregon. Virginia Groves, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission, explains the function of small liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

 

  • Describe your institution in 5 words?

While it is tough to use just five: Intellectual, Love of Learning (ok, I know that was a cheat), inclusive, inquisitive and intentional.

 

  • What is your institution best known for overseas?

Reed has both a unique campus culture and academic rigor.

 

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

Our three most popular programs are English, Biology and Psychology.  We also offer the option of getting your nuclear reactor operator certification, which is a popular program across all majors.

 

  • What are the top five countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

Reed College is 8% international with many of our students coming from China, India, Canada, Vietnam, Singapore.

 

  • How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?

It is recommended that applicants submit an English Proficiency exam if they score below a 600 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT or if the medium of instruction at their school is not English. We see IELTS Academic as an important tool in evaluating a prospective student’s readiness for the academic demands of our curriculum.

 

 

  • What is the most significant challenge most international students have when first considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?

Higher education in the U.S. is incredibly unique when compared to most institutions overseas, where the curriculum and institutions push students to focus on their chosen profession.

International students looking at U.S. liberal arts colleges and universities need to mentally prepare for a system that does not have one way of doing things.  You will have to take classes outside of your chosen area of study and there is no one single path that a student “should” take after they leave their liberal arts college experience.

 

  • How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?

It depends on the deadline of the institution, but typically, if a regular deadline is in early January, we recommend that our students start at least thinking about researching and learning about a school’s application process and requirements at the end of their junior (11th) year.

If the schools you are applying to do require exams, make sure to allow for enough time to take these exams twice (just in case).

 

  • What do prospective international students who are beginning their research need to know about liberal arts colleges in the United States?

You do not have to be fiscally or politically liberal nor particularly artistic to study at a liberal arts college! The goal of a liberal arts college is to prepare you for ANYTHING that you are interested in pursuing after graduation.  The variety of courses and the way that most private, liberal arts colleges structure the curriculum will enable you to learn how to think critically, analytically and creatively.

 

 

  • There are a lot of possible tests international students might need to take. For students considering liberal arts colleges are there some tests that those schools consider that other schools don’t?

It all depends on the institution and how they use those tests to evaluate their applicants.  Some will require the SAT or ACT of all students, international and domestic.  Some will require the English proficiency exams such as IELTS.

Universities will also, on occasion, use these exams to help inform what classes to place admitted students in, while others will require that you take internal placement exams when you arrive on campus.

 

Collocation: Finding The Right Words For The Job

Image courtesy of Janet Galore (CC Flickr)

Even Words Love and Hate Each Other!

 

Many of us are picky when it comes to socialising. We hang out with the people we like; and as for the others – we don’t tend to bother.

 

Guess what? Words do the same, in the sense that they are often seen together in exclusive groups. This relationship that words in a language share with each other is known as collocation. For example, you can have a drink or make a cup of tea, but you can’t do a drink.

 

Types of collocations

There are different varieties of collocations in English. Here are some:

 

Type Example
adjective + noun express train
verb + noun run a marathon
noun + noun car salesman
verb + adverb speak softly
adverb + adjective newly married
verb + prepositional phrase run out of

 

Why words collocate

There’s no specific reason. It’s just that users of a language put certain words together more frequently than they do others. This also means that there are no clear rules that govern the use of collocations. So, as a learner, you just have to know which words go with which others.

 

Why learn collocations?

When you learn collocations, you are learning words in chunks, or groups of words. Naturally, this not only improves your accuracy but also fluency. For instance, suppose you learn the word ‘good’ along with the many other words it collocates with; this will widen your vocabulary and enable you to speak more fluently.

 

Adjective Preposition Meaning Example
good at something able to do something well He is good at singing.
with something able to use something well She is good with computers.
for health having a useful effect This drink is good for health.
to me Loving, friendly My Grandma is really good to me.

 

Remember, English tests such as IELTS assess a candidate’s ability to use collocations correctly. So, learn new vocabulary in chunks, never in isolation.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

picky
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes someone who is difficult to please
Example : Olga is quite picky about what she eats.

 

hang out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to spend time with particular people in a particular place
Example : Sylvan enjoys hanging out with his cousins at the local pub.

 

bother
Form : verb
Meaning : (often used in a negative sense) to spend time or energy doing something
Example : Miguel doesn’t bother brushing his hair.

 

fluency
Form : noun
Meaning : ability to speak or write a language easily and to a high standard
Example : Philip is fluent in Swahili.

 

isolation
Form : noun
Meaning : the state of being alone or separate
Example : Prisoners at this prison are kept in isolation if they cause trouble.

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 3)

man-reading

Image courtesy of baraa_kell (CC Flickr)

 

So far in this series, we’ve considered two question types: Identifying information (True/False/Not Given) and Matching headings to paragraphs.

 

Let’s now look at a third variety that many find difficult: Multiple Choice (MCQ). Here, test takers have to choose the best answer from a list of alternatives that are lettered (A, B, C, etc.).

 

Here’s a sample exercise.

 

Reading text

Kathakali, a dance form that originated in the South Indian state of Kerala, is a visual treat, particularly to the discerning eye. A typical play entails dancers, who wear vibrant costumes and elaborate make-up, bringing to life characters from various Indian epics, while supported by musicians and vocalists. In doing so, they create the perfect blend of dance, music and acting. Artistes typically make use of various body parts while executing Kathakali movements, most of which are adopted from ancient martial art forms.

 

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.
1. Which one of the following is mentioned in the paragraph?
A People with a good understanding of dance find Kathakali more enjoyable
B Colourful dresses are a part of only some Kathakali performances
C Music is a more integral part of Kathakali than dance
D Kathakali has influenced arts of olden times

 

Tips to answer

 

  • Begin by understanding what the question is asking – here, you need to identify which point appears in the text.
  • The easiest way to find the answer is by checking if any alternative appears in the text in a different form (i.e. a paraphrase). For example, here the answer is alternative A:

 

A People with a good understanding of dance find Kathakali more enjoyable
Text Kathakali is a visual treat, particularly to the discerning eye.

 

  • Sometimes spotting a paraphrase may be quite difficult, especially if your vocabulary is limited. Then, taking an indirect approach works better ‒ eliminate any alternative which you think cannot be correct. And how do you do it? Simple, by spotting contradictions (differences in what the text says and what the alternative says)!

 

B Colourful dresses are a part of only some Kathakali performances
Text A typical play entails dancers, who wear vibrant costumes and elaborate make-up…

 

C Music is a more integral part of Kathakali than dance
Text …while supported by musicians and vocalists.

 

D Kathakali has influenced arts of olden times
Text Kathakali movements, most of which are adopted from ancient martial art forms.

 

Remember, at first glance, it may look as though two (or more) alternatives may be correct. So, always read closely to identify contradictory information.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

alternative
Form : noun
Meaning : a thing you can choose out of two or more possibilities
Example : An apple is a healthier alternative to chocolate.

 

paraphrase
Form : noun
Meaning : a statement that expresses something using different words
Example : This is a paraphrase of what he actually said at the meeting.

 

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 2)

bookshelf

Image courtesy of poppet with a camera (CC Flickr)

 

In the earlier part, we discussed how best to answer an IELTS Reading question most people find difficult – identifying information (True/False/Not Given).

 

Let’s now look at another that many find hard – Matching headings to paragraphs.

Here, candidates are given a list of headings and a text with about 6 to 8 paragraphs (or sections). They have to identify the right heading for each paragraph.

 

Here’s a simplified version of this question type.

 

Reading text

Elephants are gigantic creatures that can grow over 12 feet tall and weigh as much as 7 tonnes. They are herbivorous, feasting on vegetation such as leaves, twigs, roots, and grass. However, the quantities consumed are huge, and understandably so – an adult elephant needs about 150 kilos of food a day to survive. These large mammals may be broadly classified into two species – the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Though the African variety is slightly larger and wrinklier than its Asian counterpart, both are mammoth and possess brute strength. Their trunk, for example, can withstand weights of approximately 300 kilos.

 

Choose the correct heading for this paragraph from the list of headings below.

 

 
List of Headings
i Why African elephants are superior to their Asian cousins
ii The might of elephants
iii A varied diet and its benefits

 

 

 

 

Tips to answer

This question type checks the test taker’s ability to differentiate main ideas from supporting ones, so you must learn to identify the main theme in a paragraph. Also, before choosing a heading, make sure the key words in it agree with the information in the paragraph.

 

The paragraph details the size and strength of elephants, so the correct heading is: ii The might of elephants.

 

Although the text compares African and Asian elephants, the focus is on how both species are huge and strong, despite some physical differences. So, heading i is wrong. Similarly, there’s mention of the elephant’s diet, but it’s a supporting idea. Also, the text doesn’t talk about how elephants benefit from eating a variety of food, so heading iii is wrong.

 

Remember, identifying the central theme of a paragraph is the key to cracking this question type.

 

GLOSSARY

 

differentiate (A from B)
Form : verb
Meaning : to understand that two things are not the same
Example : His paintings are so similar that I can’t differentiate one from another.

 

detail
Form : verb
Meaning : to list all the information about something
Example : The article details how red wine is produced at our farm.

 

diet
Form : noun
Meaning : the food and drink that a person or an animal eats regularly
Example : Micah’s dog is on a diet of brown bread and milk.

 

crack (something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to find a way to do something that is difficult
Example : The police are trying hard to crack the case of the missing boy.

 

An Insider’s IELTS Preparation Tips: Listening and Reading

newspaper stack

 

This week we’re going to look at preparation tips for the IELTS Listening and Reading components.

 

The Listening Test

The first, but most obvious point to remember is to listen carefully to the recording. Listen for overall meaning, but especially for those words that can give you a clear idea of what is being talked about. You will be listening for the answers to the questions on the paper, so try to follow the recording closely and write at the same time. You’ll have 10 minutes after the recording has ended to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

 

TIP: Good practice is to listen to English radio stations online or your favourite English language podcasts with a friend and then discuss what is being talked about.

 

  • Try and anticipate what the speaker will say; this will require concentration
  • Don’t worry if there is a word you don’t understand; you may not need to use it
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one

listening-video

 

 

The Reading Test

There are a number of different types of reading, as we’ve talked about on this blog before, so preparing for the Reading component should include practising these different skills.

 

TIP: Practice reading online and newspaper articles on a range of subjects and give yourself different time limits to do it. Then hide the text and write down everything you can that you took from the passage. You’ll then become familiar with reading different types of text and be able to quickly absorb and relay the information.

 

Remember, in the Reading test you shouldn’t try to read every word in the passage. For some questions, scanning the text will give you what you need, so long as you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Read with purpose. If you’re asked for something in particular – be on the lookout for it.

  • Make sure that you understand the questions and follow instructions carefully
  • Pay attention to timing; do not spend too long on one passage or question
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one
  • Don’t panic if you do not know anything about the subject of the text; all the answers can be found in the text

 

reading-video

 

 

 

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