Top Tips to Improve Your IELTS Speaking Score (Part 1)

 

 

 

 

 

…don’t sound like a robot!

The IELTS Speaking test is a one-to-one discussion with an examiner, lasting between 11 and 14 minutes. It has three parts, with each testing a different speaking skill. Here is one simple way to improve the score you get:

 

Be natural, DON’T rehearse answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an example of how not to do it:

Examiner: Can you tell me your full name, please?
Candidate: Certainly! My full name is Mariana Georgina Gama. Mariana is my first name, Georgina is my middle name, and Gama is my surname. My friends call me Maria so you may call me Maria too.

 

The IELTS Speaking is testing your ability to use English in real-life and many test takers say the interview is similar to a conversation with a friend. So, you should speak in a natural way. Don’t memorise answers and reproduce them – the examiner can tell and mark you down. You don’t want to sound like a robot!

 

Let’s consider the example given above – the candidate’s rather long answer to a very simple question makes them sound artificial. If you don’t speak like that in everyday conversations, why would you do things differently in a test?

 

Good example

Examiner: Can you tell me your full name, please?
Candidate: Sure! It’s Mariana Georgina Gama.

 

A note of caution: although the format of the speaking interview lets you interact freely with the examiner, avoid using informal language (e.g. wanna; gonna; cheers, mate; etc.) or sounding too causal.

 

So to recap, the best way to improve your IELTS Speaking score is to relax and not to reproduce memorised answers. Just be yourself!

 

GLOSSARY

 

one-to-one
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that involves only two people
Example : I have a one-to-one meeting with my manager every month.

 

note of caution
Form : phrase
Meaning : a piece of advice or warning
Example : The old man sounded a note of caution, warning them not to play near the train tracks.

 

 

interact
Form : verb
Meaning : to communicate or be directly involved with someone/something
Example : Our new CEO is amazing – he finds time to interact with everyone in the office.

 

recap
Form : verb
Meaning : to repeat what has been said in a brief manner
Example : I’m so sorry for being late! Can you please recap on what you’ve discussed so far?

 

 

The View From Campus: Tips for Funding a U.S. Degree

EIU

Photo courtesy of jrmyers (CC licence)

 

Eastern Illinois University

We spoke to William Elliott, Assistant Dean of Graduate & International Admissions at EIU about financing a U.S degree.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

Nationally ranked comprehensive Midwestern university

 

What is your institution best known for overseas?

EIU is known primarily for its programs in Technology, Economics and Business Administration

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your institution after the U.S.?

India, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, South Korea and Nigeria. International enrollment is 373 out of 7990 total enrollment.

 

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

We use IELTS as a part of our suite of language proficiency tests accepted to gauge a non-native speaker’s mastery of English language. It’s our belief that we should be as flexible as possible in acceptance of IELTS and other testing tools so as to allow our students more flexibility in their choice of use and availability.

 

Tips for Funding a U.S. Higher Education

  1. What are the best sources of funding for international students coming to the U.S.?

Most institutions will offer scholarships and graduate assistantships based on a combination of GPA (grade point average), financial need, and/or other factors.

 

Graduate assistantships can be offered in every graduate program as well as non-academic units. Assistantships provide a monthly stipend in exchange for duties performed in research, teaching and service, as well as a tuition waiver scholarship.

 

  1. How should prospective international undergraduate students look at the price of a U.S. higher education?

A student should understand that due to the strong accreditation system in the US, price is not a good indicator as to the quality of education they will receive. It’s possible for a student to be price-conscious and still earn a degree that will not only help them succeed in their career, but also be the equivalent of a higher priced, more “prestigious” university (as long as their school is equally accredited).

 

  1. For postgraduate students, what is the best advice for finding institutional aid?

My best advice would be to be as interactive with the graduate faculty as possible via whatever technological means available. A big part of successful graduate education is to search for a program that is a good academic fit for both student and their faculty.

 

  1. Talk about the role of work in funding an international students’ education in the U.S.?

Students must have their own means of outside funding and/or scholarship and monetary awards and not plan to support themselves with on-campus employment. The best that one might hope for might be to recoup some money from OPT (Optional Practical Training) employment after graduation, but that is not guaranteed.

 

  1. Are there funding sources available for students after their first year of studies, in case they don’t receive any institutional support initially?

In some cases there might be departmental awards or scholarships that come available once a student has proven their academic talent. Again, these should serve more as an unexpected reward for great academic performance, and not as a hopeful source of base funding.

 

We’ll have more interviews with university faculty members in the campus spotlight, so stay tuned.

 

Five Résumé Tips to Get Yourself a Part-time Job

Are you a university student? Want to make some extra money, develop job skills, and get some valuable work experience before you graduate?

 

Part-time jobs, be it ‒ waiter, shop assistant, telemarketer, teaching assistant ‒ can make you richer (just a tad though) and more employable. So how do you begin looking for one? A well-constructed résumé (also known as curriculum vitae or CV) will certainly help you sell yourself effectively to employers.

 

Here are five ways to make your résumé, a written record of your education and work history, compelling!

 

  1. Functional vs. Chronological

There are as many résumé types as there are job applicants; each individual is unique and so is their résumé. Perhaps the most popular format is the chronological résumé ‒ work information is arranged beginning with the most recent job, followed by the one before and so on. Since college students may have little to no experience, it’s best to use a functional résumé, as it highlights the applicant’s skills rather than work experience.

 

When it comes to the format, choose wisely!

 

  1. Relate Past Experience to the Job

If you add details of some work, project, or assignment you did in the past that seems totally unrelated to the job you’re applying for, describe them in a manner that brings out some essential quality employers look for. For instance, if that past experience indicates that you are reliable or have a strong work ethic, employers are likely to take notice.

 

Every detail on your résumé should add value!

 

  1. Customise

Each job you apply for is different to the previous one; make small changes to your résumé so that it fits the job description posted by the employer. If a particular skill like teamwork, for example, is considered important in a job, emphasise that in your résumé; use clear examples to show that you can perform well as part of a team.

 

Your résumé should be tailored for the job you’re applying for!

 

  1. Highlight Education

Education often appears at the bottom of a résumé. If you are a student with very less experience in the target field, your education is the most valuable thing you have to offer – make sure it appears prominently. Add details such as the names of educational institutions, their location, extra-curricular activities, projects / courses completed (if relevant), etc.

 

The less experience you have, the more important your education becomes!

 

  1. Use Strong Action Verbs

Strong action verbs make your skills and achievements sound more impressive so remember to use them in descriptions. Let’s compare:

 

  • Found ways to increase business during week days
  • Identified ways to increase business during week days

 

  • Did a course in creative writing
  • Completed a course in creative writing

 

Words such as identified and completed increase the strength of your writing. Here’s a list of action verbs to get you started.

Always begin a description with a strong action verb!

 

Remember, an impressive résumé alone can’t get you hired, but what it can do is create enough interest in you to land you an interview. So, be prepared!

Five Cardinal Sins to Avoid in the IELTS Writing Test

 Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

In the IELTS Academic Writing test, candidates attempt two tasks of 150 words and 250 words. The first is an information-transfer task, asking you to describe information given in a graph, table, chart or diagram. Simple, right? Why then do so many candidates make a real hash of it?

It’s quite possible that they are guilty of one (or more) of these five cardinal sins…

 

  1. Not meeting the word limit

Even a cursory glance at the writing booklet will tell you that your response to Task 1 should have at least 150 words. Fail to meet this word limit and you’re hurting your score. Scripts that are under the minimum word length attract a penalty, which could be severe if the response is very short.

TIP: Learn to identify how long 150 words looks in your handwriting beforehand!

 

  1. Not using figures to support descriptions

Are your descriptions of the pictorial data just a series of words that describe trends?

Does it, for instance, say: “Even though the price of crude oil hit a trough, it soon surged to its earlier level, remained stable for a short period, before peaking towards the end of the year?”

Without any figures to substantiate these descriptions, it’s difficult for the reader to fully comprehend how exactly crude oil prices fluctuated over an entire year.

TIP: Add figures where necessary to provide a clear context to the reader!

 

  1. Answering the wrong question!

Example: “As per the data provided on the question paper, it’s evident that crude oil prices saw a great deal of fluctuation in just 12 months. Could it be the Gulf war? Perhaps it’s the result of a change in foreign policy?”

Why prices varied is well and truly beyond what’s provided as task input, so do not attempt to speculate. If you do that, you end up wasting time, adding totally irrelevant information to your response.

TIP: The test shouldn’t be used as a platform to showcase your general knowledge. Your job is to summarise the information provided by selecting the main features; so focus on that!

 

  1. Not producing full, connected text

IELTS Writing tasks require candidates to produce answers as full, connected text. Obviously, this means that use of bullet points and note form are inappropriate; scripts that use of them are penalised.

TIP: While writing, just stick to creating paragraphs. Disregard this simple rule and you may have to pay the penalty!

 

  1. Not drawing a conclusion

A report is a document written after careful consideration of various aspects of a situation; it needs a logical conclusion. If your response doesn’t refer to the bigger picture ‒ a statement that summaries the pictorial data provided ‒ it would be incomplete to say the least.

TIP: Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

 

Remember these handy tips when you begin preparing for the writing test; they’ll save you from underperforming when you eventually take IELTS.

Best of luck!

Financing a U.S. Degree: A Funding Overview

Money US

Photo courtesy of Thomas Galvez Flickr CC

 

When applying to colleges and universities in the United States, one of the first experiences most students have is shock at the costs involved.

For example, the annual cost for a bachelor’s degree program at an elite institution, (including tuition and fees, living expenses, books and supplies, health insurance, etc.) can exceed $75,000.

While there are institutions where the annual expenses may be under $20,000, the majority are in the middle, out of reach for many aspiring students. Yet there are currently over one million international students studying in the United States.

 

So, how do they fund their studies?

The Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors Report shows that for 64% of students, personal and family sources are the primary source of funding, followed by U.S. colleges or universities at 21%.

financing a US degree image

According to data from a 2014 NAFSA report, international students received almost $10 billion in financial support from U.S. sources in the form of scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, assistantships, etc.

 

Which schools gave that aid?

There are over 4,500 accredited U.S. colleges and universities. To find current financial aid offered to international students, use this searchable database.

 

Graduates

In general, more aid is available to students seeking graduate (masters or doctorate) degrees in the United States, in the form of graduate teaching or research assistantships that provide tuition waivers, and stipends for work done for specific departments on campus.

 

Undergraduates

The first step to financing your undergraduate degree in the U.S.  is to assess your own funds and the typical costs for your university of choice. You should also research the area you’ll be living in and the typical living costs involved. Your university will be able to advise you on this.

You’ll of course be required to prove your English ability. To find out how IELTS can prepare you for a U.S. degree, visit takeielts.org

Get off to a Flying Start with a UK Degree

London Eye large

Image courtesy of Gregg Knapp CC. Flickr

Life-changing!

For those people who have gained a degree from one of the United Kingdom’s many colleges or universities, the experience is often life-changing. For international students especially, getting a UK degree can open doors to employment and give you a chance to succeed at the highest level in your chosen field, be it there or back home.

 

Each year, thousands of students from around the world study at UK Higher Education institutions, with a high proportion of them (over 88% international graduates) satisfied with the learning experience.

 

So why are UK degrees in such demand?

 

  1. Quality education: Higher education centres in the UK offer inspirational teaching, first-class facilities and excellent research opportunities. The approach to learning is such that students receive independence to express their creativity and build on their skills. Since colleges and universities are periodically reviewed, maintaining high academic standards is given great importance.

 

  1. International reputation: The United Kingdom is home to some of the most respected educational establishments; some of them – University of Cambridge (#3), University of Oxford (#6), University College London (#7), and Imperial College London (#8) – feature among the world’s top ten universities.

 

  1. Employability: UK-educated graduates are among the most employable – they come out with the skills and abilities that employers look for. Studying on a UK course also helps students improve their English skills; and gives them the opportunity to meet people from every corner of the globe. Many courses also give students the option of spending time in industry to learn essential skills and make connections for the world of work.

 

So, if getting a world-class education and taking the fast-track route to employment are what you’re after, the United Kingdom might be your ideal destination.

Click here to start your journey to a UK degree

 

One Easy Way to Improve Your English Listening Skills

Photo courtesy of Philippe Put (Flickr) www.ineedair.org

 

So Easy A Baby Could Do It! 

As babies, we’re bombarded with sounds that our brains begin to codify almost straightaway. It’s a skill that is in-built and helps us to adapt to real life situations and understand our environment. So, as adults we should approach listening comprehension in the same way, by relating it to real-life experiences.

 

It’s all about context

Babies associate familiar people ‒ such as parents or siblings ‒ with typical situations (e.g. feeding time, bath time, naptime, etc.) and the sound chunks that are frequently produced on these occasions. Listening to repeated utterances of these chunks makes it easier for them to understand the gist of what is being said.

Let’s now take this theory and apply it to language tests.

Consider the IELTS Listening test, which is divided into four parts: the first two focus on informal contexts, whereas the last two are set in more formal situations. Just being familiar with the context can help you predict the sort of language that will be used, which subsequently helps you identify answers.

 

Filling in the gaps

In some language tests, the context of a conversation becomes clear as soon as the instructions are given. In IELTS, for instance, we hear the voiceover set the context at the beginning of each part; for example: “Section 1. You will hear a conversation between a university student and the shop assistant at a book store. First, you have some time to look at questions 1 to 4.”

 

Take a few seconds and think about your own experiences of buying books: What questions did you have? What information did the seller provide? Then, look at the questions and think of the sort of language you are likely to hear when the speakers reveal the required information ‒ i.e. how to get details such as the title of a book, its author’s name, the publisher’s name, its cost, etc.

Here are some ways in which such information can generally be sought:

Title Author Published by Cost
·   What’s it called?

·   What’s the title?

·   We have an international bestseller called …….

·   Who’s it by?

·   Who wrote it?

·   Who’s the writer?

·   Do you mean the one by Prof. Derek ……..? Oh yes, that’s the one!

·   Who’s the publisher?

·   Who’s it published by?

 

·   How much is it?

·   Is it expensive? Not really, it’s only $ ……

·   Is it cheap?

·   What’s the price?

 

Sometimes, anticipating the language for a specific context prepares you to spot answers in conversations.

So the next time you attempt a listening exercise, do what babies do – use situations you know to your advantage.

 

Click here to try this technique on a practice IELTS listening test

 

Good luck!

 

P.S. We’re going to be posting every week on a Thursday. So, come back for more English language tips, experiences and insight into studying abroad.

10 Tips for Applying for a Student Visa in the US

Good news! Over the last five years, the global average of students being approved for a U.S. student visa (F-1) has been over 80%, reaching 86% in the most recent statistics for 2013. So, with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa.

 

Here’s our top ten countdown on how to do it…

 

10. Get your I-20

Make sure you have received the I-20 & admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you make a decision as to which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

 

9. Check your passport

  • Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S.
  • Is your name spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport? It has to be!

 

8. Pay your SEVIS fee

Students can pay this fee online. You will need an e-receipt for next steps in the process.

 

7. Complete the Visa Application Form online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application).

You will need most of the following items to complete this form:

  • Passport
  • SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)
  • Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)
  • Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already
  • Admission letter from the college you will attend
  • Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.
  • Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)

After completion the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

 

6. Plan ahead 

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). In some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority.

 

5. Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you.

Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee (approximately $160, price varies slightly per country).

 

4. Attend a Visa Session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country.

EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

 

3. Enjoy the experience

A couple years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

 

2. Talk to your friends

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

 

1. Breathe, relax, and be honest

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly. Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies? It’s always a good idea to know how you might respond to these questions beforehand. 

 

Finally, good luck as you take this important next step!

A Six-Point Strategy for U.S College Applications for International Students

There is often a disappointing answer to the general question: “what does it take to be admitted to a U.S school?” That is: “It depends.” So for students coming from overseas, the process of applying to a U.S college can seem a tough nut to crack. But it doesn’t have to be. Here, we give you a check-list to help navigate the process and reach your goals.

Thomas Abbs (CC Flickr)

Thomas Abbs (CC Flickr)

  1. One size does not fit all

‘What it takes’ depends on the institution, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into finding the best course to match your goals. Like many countries, the U.S has a Common Application which allows students to apply online to up to 20 of over 500 mostly private colleges and universities. However, many excellent colleges are not part of this service, so it is up to you to cast your net wider to find those colleges that would suit you.

 

  1. Research, research, research

Be sure you do your research and choose the institutions that match your academic ability and aspirations. There’s no substitute for this work and it will give you a better idea of what’s on offer, what’s required and where you will thrive. It will pay off in the long-run.

 

  1. Have you got the grades?

Most colleges have online applications for admissions that students can complete, but each may require a different mix of standardized tests for admissions and English language proficiency. Whether it is the SATs or ACT for measuring academic aptitude, or English proficiency tests like IELTS (accepted by over 3,300 U.S Institutions), each college is free to accept some or none of these tests as part of their application requirements. It’s up to you do find out the specifics (e.g. IELTS band score) in each case.

In short – don’t take anything for granted. You must check, and check again to see that you have all the relevant requirements for the course you’re applying to.

 

  1. It just got personal

Another oddity of U.S. college admissions is that personal statement essays may be required at non-selective institutions too. These essays ask sometimes very basic or direct questions, like:

“Why have you chosen _______ University?”  or…

“What impact do you feel you can have on our college community?”

Other questions tend to be much deeper and harder to discern, like:

“Describe a traumatic time in your life and how that experience has helped define who you are as a person.” Some universities now accept videos answers to essay questions to allow students the opportunity to express their creativity.

In each case, this is your chance to make yourself memorable. It’s a good rule of thumb to put yourself in the reader’s position; if you were reading 1000s of applications, wouldn’t you remember the ones that tell a story?

 

  1. Recommendation letter

Perhaps the most difficult requirement for overseas students applying to U.S. colleges is the dreaded recommendation letter.

In some cultures, to ask a professor or teacher to write a letter of support for application to university could be met with a raised eyebrow or even laughter, but in the U.S. at many selective colleges, these letters are required.

Some universities may even request up to three recommendation letters before your application will be considered!

 

  1. Deadlines

Beyond tests, essays and recommendation letters, each institution sets their own deadlines for receiving applications and other required materials. There are even very different types of deadlines, among them rolling admissions, early decision, early action, regular admissions and others.

 

Our best advice to those considering undergraduate admission in the United States is to narrow your choices of institutions first to a reasonable number that you might apply to (perhaps 6-10), and then be certain to contact each institution’s admissions office and don’t take ‘it depends’ for an answer! It can make all the difference to your future.

 

English tips to survive the Super Bowl

Photo courtesy of Josh Lackey

Photo courtesy of Josh Lackey

If you’re thinking of studying in the USA, you’re in for incredible opportunities, adventure, and first-class teaching. And the more you immerse yourself in the culture, the more rewarding your experience becomes.

For international students, the Super Bowl is an American experience not to be missed. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, there’s something for everyone: the spectacle, the halftime show, the commercials, the chilli – it’s all to be savoured.

This Sunday, the New England Patriots take on last year’s winners the Seattle Seahawks, in a bid to lift the biggest prize in American sport.

So to help you get through the game with some idea of what is going on, we compiled a run-down of some of the unique English vocabulary that gridiron (American football) uses.

 

Audible: When the quarterback calls a last-second change to the play. It’s confusing for everyone, so you’re not alone! This has made its way into everyday speech in the USA, used when someone assumes responsibility. “Ok, the boss is away, so I’m calling an audible on this one.”

Blitz: When the defending team goes hell-for-leather to tackle the opposing quarterback. In other words, the big guys try to smash the guy with the ball before he can throw it.

Deflate-gate: The term coined for the conspiracy surrounding the Patriots’ last game, where they were accused of deflating the balls to gain an advantage. Top scientists have been explaining the physics of it to the nation for the past fortnight.

Downs: This is at the heart of the game’s rules. The team with the ball has four attempts (downs) to gain 10 yards, (the TV networks put a yellow line in for you). So, if you hear ‘3rd and 7’ it means it’s their third attempt and have seven yards still to gain. If they’re successful, the whole process starts again. If they’re too far away after three tries, they’ll usually punt (see below) the ball.

End Zone: The areas at either end of the field that are usually coloured and show the teams’ logos. Get the ball in there and you score a Touchdown.

Extra Point: After a touchdown is scored, that team can kick the football through the posts for an extra point.

Face Mask: No, this has nothing to do with beauty treatments. In football it is an illegal move when someone grabs an opposing player’s helmet to stop him. This incurs a penalty.

Fair Catch: When the guy returning a kick puts his hand in the air, he’s saying to the big guys about to tackle him: “Ok, I won’t try to run, just please don’t hurt me!”

Field Goal: A scoring option worth three points – kicking the ball between the yellow posts.

Fumble: When a player who has complete control of the ball drops it. There’s then a mad scramble for the ball, with everyone piling on top of each other.

Going for Two: Rather than kicking an ‘extra point’ after a touchdown, you can opt to run or pass into the end zone from the two yard line. The riskier option for sure, but worth two points.

Hail Mary: Desperate times call for desperate measures. A Hail Mary is when a quarterback throws the ball towards the end zone in the last seconds of the half or game, praying a teammate will catch it and win the game. When this works everyone goes berserk.

Interception: When the quarterback’s throw is caught by a player on the other team. This is about the worst thing that can happen for a quarterback.

Line of Scrimmage: The line where the ball was stopped. This is where the two teams face each other.

Pick Six: Ok, this is the worst thing that can happen for a quarterback. It’s when he throws an interception and the ball is returned by a defending player for a touchdown.

Pocket: The little space that the big guys make for their quarterback. From here he can look for the best passes up field.

Punt: A kick to the opposing team on 4th down

Quarterback: If you don’t know who this is by now, you’re better off just concentrating on the chilli and chicken wings.

Sack: When the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage. The tacklers often go for a little dance afterwards to show people how happy they are.

Snap: The start of the play when the ball is passed back to the quarter back (through the big guy’s legs).

Touchback: When a punt or kickoff is caught in the end zone.

Touchdown:  When a player takes or catches the ball in an opponent’s end zone, scoring six points. Then begins the excessive celebrations and choreographed dancing.

Unnecessary Roughness: It seems that roughness is allowed, but only where necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be penalised.

An all-nighter: If you’re one of the millions of people around the world staying up late to tune in to the big game you’ll be doing what’s called ‘an all-nighter.’ This is colloquial term which most students become familiar with at some point.

 

Enjoy the game! And follow @TakeIELTS1 for more tips on using English abroad. 

If you’re thinking of studying in the USA, and need an English test, click here.

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