IELTS Tips from the Teacher

help-1468281_1920

In the first of our ‘Tips from the Teacher’ series, we spoke to Claire Hunter, EFL Teacher and long-time IELTS expert, about her top tips for people learning English as a Foreign Language.

 

For how long and where have you taught EFL?

Only in Scotland. I taught at Basil Paterson for six years and have been at Edinburgh School of English for three years now.

 

From your experience, what are the biggest hurdles for a student learning English as a foreign language?

Putting the language that they’ve learned to use! Students learn all sorts of grammar rules etc, but need to develop a ‘feel’ for the language, and you can only do that by actually using it!

Also, the range of vocabulary and structures that we have in English can be difficult for learners. There’s not only one correct way to say something – that can be daunting!

 

What are your top three tips for students preparing for an IELTS test?

1.     Strike a balance between: a) language improvement, b) test techniques and strategies, and c) test practice. All three are important, not just the last one!

2.     Don’t worry about speed/timing straight away! Get your techniques right, then get faster. Think of it like driving; you don’t drive at 70mph straight away! Master the techniques at slower speeds first!

3.     Read as much as you can of whatever you can!  Read, read, read!  It’s a great way to collect vocabulary and grammar, and see how it’s used. You’ll also start to get the ‘feel’ of the language. Take every chance to talk about what you’ve read too. This helps recycle the vocabulary and structures you’ve learnt.

 

Where have your students gone on to study/work?

Everywhere! They’ve been all around the world, including: Oxford, MIT, Edinburgh… I’ve had students go on to work at the Roslin Institute (think Dolly the Sheep), Ernst and Young, as well as a number of fine artists, doctors, pilots…the list goes on!

The View From Campus: the low-down on U.S. student visas

We quizzed Martin A. Bennett, Director, International Admissions & Services, University of Findlay, Ohio about the ins and outs of getting a U.S student visa and what makes UF tick…

  • Describe your institution in 5 words? Innovative, Safe, Friendly, Affordable, Meaningful
  • What is your institution best known for overseas? Having a strong international community.
  • What are your top academic programs? Undergraduate: computer science, business, equestrian studies, animal science, nuclear medical technology.  For  Graduate:  MBA, environmental safety & occupational health management, TESOL, applied security & analytics, health informatics.
  • What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution? Saudi Arabia, India, Nepal, China, Japan; 15% international
  • How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process? We accept IELTS for both undergraduate and graduate studies. Generally, a 6.0 allows a student direct entry in an undergraduate academic program, while for each graduate program the minimum scores range from a 6.5 to an 8.0 on the IELTS test.

 

Student Visas for the U.S. – Your questions answered

 

  • What is the I-20/DS-2019 form that a student receives after they have been admitted and documented funding? The I-20 or DS-2019 form is a non-immigrant document produced by the college that students are admitted to that is used to apply for an F-1 or J-1 student visa (respectively).
  • How soon can a student apply for a student visa after receiving the I-20/DS-2019 form? Students can apply for a student visa no more than 120 days before the program start date listed on their I-20/DS-2019.
  • What is the SEVIS fee students have to pay? The SEVIS fee is an administrative fee charged by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which helps to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Students must pay this fee before they can apply for their student visa interview at the U.S. consulate/embassy.
  • What advice would you give to students who are nervous about their student visa interview? Prepare by having all the right documents (I-20, admission letters, proof of funding, test scores, etc.); Relax; Dress appropriately; Be honest; Be yourself! Good luck!

Top Tips to Improve Your IELTS Speaking Score (Part 2)

In the previous part, we spoke of how it is best to avoid memorised answers in the IELTS Speaking test. Here’s another way to be yourself during the interview.

State YOUR opinion, not the examiner’s

 

Bad example

Examiner: Let’s now talk about the role of advertising. Do you think advertising influences what people buy?
Candidate: Hmm… No, I don’t think so!
Examiner: Well, how do we then explain companies spending billions on advertisements?
Candidate: Oh, OK; I guess advertisements do influence people in some ways. Sorry!

 

The Speaking module has three parts:

  1. Introduction and interview (4 – 5 minutes)
  2. Individual long turn (3 – 4 minutes)
  3. Two-way discussion (4 – 5 minutes)

 

The third part gives candidates an opportunity to state their views on abstract topics and justify them. Sadly, some candidates don’t express how they really feel about a topic; instead they agree with whatever the examiner says the whole time!

 

As a candidate, you are assessed on your language, not your ideas or views. All the examiner wants to know is how wide your range of language is, so focus on exhibiting that. If your opinions are different to those of the examiner, feel free to disagree with him/her. Be confident and speak your mind.

 

Good example

Examiner: Let’s now talk about the role of advertising. Do you think advertising influences what people buy?
Candidate: No, I don’t think so!
Examiner: Well, how do we explain companies spending so much money on advertisements?
Candidate: In a highly competitive market, it becomes necessary for companies to promote their products and services. Advertising helps them reach out to billions of people. How else would people notice a particular product or come to know of its existence? But the question here is whether it influences consumer behaviour. Now, I strongly believe that there isn’t enough evidence to ….

 

Remember, always be frank and express your thoughts; do not change your opinion to mirror that of the examiner – just be yourself!

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

be yourself
Form : phrase
Meaning : behave or act naturally
Example : Why do you put on an accent, Tom? Have the confidence to be yourself!

 

abstract
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something based on general ideas, not anything in particular
Example : They spoke about love in abstract terms – for example, is it valued in today’s world?

 

justify
Form : verb
Meaning : to show that something is right, especially when others think it is wrong
Example : It’s difficult to justify paying huge salaries when the company is making a loss.

 

 

 

 

 

exhibit
Form : verb
Meaning : to show something such as a quality or skill
Example : He exhibited his skills during the football match.

 

speak your mind
Form : phrase
Meaning : to honestly say what you think, usually in a direct way
Example : Clara always speaks her mind, which sometimes gets her into trouble. 

 

frank
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes someone who is honest about their opinions
Example : Dan was completely frank about the problems he was facing in his marriage.

 

mirror
Form : verb
Meaning : to match the feelings of someone
Example : He always makes sure his views on office matters mirror those of his boss.

 

 

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.

Pin It on Pinterest