OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of egrodziak via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

 

Ever thought what listening tests are designed to do? Well, the primary aim is to separate the wheat from the chaff – identify which test takers are able to fully comprehend what they hear, and which aren’t. And to accomplish this, traps are set across the test to trick test takers and induce errors.

 

Here are some traps you should avoid in the IELTS listening test.

 

  1. Distractor

As the name suggests, a distractor is something that causes confusion so that the test taker does not pay enough attention to what they should be doing – which is listening for the right answers. For instance, in a conversation, a speaker may say something and then quickly correct themselves, or they may be corrected by another speaker. As a result, the listener hears two versions of the same piece of information – obviously, one is correct while the other is incorrect.

 

Example

Question

5. Telephone number: 9342__________

Recording script

Receptionist: Okay, what’s the best number for us to contact you on?

 

Customer:  You can call me at the hotel where I’m staying. The number is: nine-three-four-two-six-five-three-nine… Oh no, did I say five-three-nine? Sorry, it should be three-nine-five.

 

If you’re not careful, a distractor can make you choose the wrong answer, so be prepared. And here’s an additional tip: in IELTS listening, distractors are most commonly used in section 1, and they usually involve some type of number (telephone number, credit card number, postcode, cost of something, time, date, etc).

 

  1. Spelling

In IELTS listening, poor spelling is penalised, so test takers need to be able to accurately spell words that are long and complicated. If your spelling isn’t great, try learning commonly misspelt words.  Additionally, make a list of words that you have already find trouble spelling.

Mnemonics can also be incredibly helpful in remembering the spelling of tricky words. For example, if you find it challenging to spell the word island, just remember this sentence: An island is land surrounded by water.

 

Remember, one way to avoid falling into a trap is to spot it early on, so keep an eye out while reading questions.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

separate the wheat from the chaff
Form : phrase
Meaning : to identify a good group from the other, less desirable ones
Example : Face-to-face interviews with applicants can help recruiters separate the wheat from the chaff.

 

induce
Form : verb
Meaning : to cause
Example : Drinking cough syrup can induce sleepiness in a person. 

 

mnemonic
Form : noun
Meaning : something, such as a poem or word, that helps a person remember something
Example : Use the mnemonic VIBGYOR to remember the colours of a rainbow.

 

keep an eye out (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to watch carefully for something
Example : While shopping I always keep an eye out for clothes sold at a discount.

View From Campus: How to Research U.S. College Options

Grinnell College, IA, USA

 

This month, Jonathan Edwards, Senior Associate Director of Admission, Grinnell College in Iowa, USA, discusses how international students can best approach finding the college or university in the United States that is right for them.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

Open, rigorous, independent, liberal, diverse

 

What is your institution best known for overseas?

We’re known as a small school with a big heart that offers a rigorous, innovative curriculum in an environment that fosters intellectual and social independence.

 

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

Economics, Math, English, Computer Science, Psychology

 

What are the top five countries represented at your college?

China, India, South Korean, Vietnam, and Japan are the best represented at Grinnell. Non-US students comprise 20 percent of total enrollment.

 

How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?

We require proof of high-level English language competency. IELTS scores help us best understand an applicant’s English proficiency.

 

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

I would say at least 2-3 years in order to prepare for required standardized tests,  as well as to do the research to find the schools that best suit them.

 

If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?            

Liberal arts colleges don’t typically offer one path to a particular career goal. We are more interested in helping students, who are still at an age of discovery, to explore their options, affinities, and passions.

They continue to develop the critical skill sets, work ethic, and compassion that will afford them a rewarding life, not only a rewarding job. This is why liberal arts schools encourage broad, inquiry-based learning in small, diverse, residential environments.

 

What kinds of students can be successful at liberal arts colleges in the United States?

Those that are curious, motivated, critical, and adaptable.

5 Tips to Ace IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)


Image courtesy of davide vizzini via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of two tips to score well in the IELTS letter writing task: following letter-writing rules and adding finer details.  Here are three more:

 

  1. Fully develop bullet points

The letter-writing task in IELTS requires test takers to include specific information, which is generally presented in the form of three bullet points. Here’s a sample task:

 

 

A friend has agreed to look after your house and pet while you are on holiday.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

 

·         give contact details for when you are away

·         give instructions about how to care for your pet

·         describe other household duties

 

 

 

Remember, each bullet point has to be fully developed, so a passing reference wouldn’t be enough. For example, to fully extend the first bullet point, you could provide alternative ways of contacting you.

 

Example text

I’ll be staying at The Grand Hotel in Krakow, so you can always call me there, or leave a message if I’m out. If it’s something urgent though, I’d like you to ring my colleague Jake’s mobile, as I don’t have international roaming. I’ve jotted down the numbers on a sheet of paper and stuck it on the kitchen door so that you don’t lose them – we both know your memory isn’t great!  

 

  1. Keep the writing style consistent

The writing style you employ mainly depends on two factors: how well you are supposed to know the person you are writing to and why you are writing. It’s important that the style you use is consistent across the letter. In the above example, a reference to your friend’s poor memory lends the letter an informal feel. Further, the use of the exclamation mark at the end, and informal words such as jot down, help maintain the friendly tone.

 

  1. Produce a full, connected text

Your letter should be a full, connected text, which means use of bullet points or note form will attract an immediate penalty. While most candidates are aware of the importance of linking sentences within a paragraph, few think of establishing a connection between paragraphs. See if you can achieve this.

Most importantly, no matter how well-written your letter is, all that hard work will go down the drain if you don’t meet the word limit, so be sure to write more than 150 words.

 

So, follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to doing well in the IELTS letter-writing task.

 

GLOSSARY

 

passing reference (to something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : brief mention (of something)
Example : The boss made a passing reference to lack of punctuality among staff.

 

employ
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something
Example : The police had to employ force to stop protesters from entering the mayor’s office.

 

lend
Form : verb
Meaning : to give a particular quality to something
Example : The minister’s presence will certainly lend the campaign some importance.

 

go down the drain
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be wasted
Example : If it rains, the sand castles will collapse, and all our hard work will go down the drain.

 

Starting University? Your Guide to Support and Well-being

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University is a one of the best times in your life. But sometimes it can prove difficult and students need support for those problems that arise. Here we give you a quick guide on what support is available that will help you manage what life throws at you.

 

Stress and Mental Health

Living away from your family (often for the first time) can be hard for many people at first. You’re in new social situations and dealing with all the stresses that studying can bring. That is normal.

Luckily, the stigma of talking about these difficulties is rapidly falling away, so whether it’s your doctor, student support groups or national mental health bodies, the options are there for students to seek help when they need it.

Look for your Student Services centre, university website or speak to a student representative to find out more.

 

Social life and Activities

Life away from the classroom can provide much needed distraction from study stresses and a chance to left off steam. Universities have a wide range of societies and sports clubs to cater to your interests and connect you with people who share them. These are a great way to make friends and find your feet in a new environment – so get involved.

 

Staying Safe

The vast majority of people go through their student years without any trouble, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of the law (especially if you’re studying abroad) and take precautions. For example, insurance for your belongings will save you lots of heartache if they are lost or stolen. And knowing that some countries driving on the left hand side of the road (including the UK) is a must!

 

Managing Finances

As well as being the first time away from home, many students will be managing their finances for the first time at university. Money in your pocket can be liberating, but it can also contribute to stress if you’re not careful.

So, as well as trying to keep on top of your budget students should be aware that they can get help and advice from Student Services and other university services. Don’t worry, they’ve heard it all before!

 

 

5 Tips to Ace the IELTS Letter Writing (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the IELTS General Training format, test takers are given a situation and asked to respond to it by writing a letter, which may be informal, semi-formal, or formal.

 

Situations deal with everyday topics, such as writing to a friend about recent changes in your life, writing to a neighbour inviting them to an event, or writing to the council about some problem that people in your locality are facing.

 

Letter writing might look simple, but if IELTS test takers disregard certain aspects of the task, they could end up scoring a lower band than what they are capable of.

 

So, here are 5 tips to help you ace the letter writing task in IELTS…

 

  1. Follow general letter-writing rules

This task assesses the test taker’s ability to follow English letter-writing conventions, so it’s important that you provide enough evidence of it: start and end the letter appropriately, organise information logically, and use an appropriate style of writing.

 

For example, if the salutation at the beginning is Dear Sir or Madam, you should end the letter with something suitable, such as Yours faithfully. Similarly, a letter should have an opening sentence that is appropriate and sets the scene for what is to follow. Here are a couple of examples:

 

Formal Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with a meal I had at your restaurant last Friday.

Informal Dear Jane,

Thanks once again for agreeing to look after Bruno over the weekend – you’re a star!  

 

 

 

  1. Make your letter look authentic

You may be attempting this task as part of an exam, but the reader should still find your letter authentic. So, how do you do it? Simple! Keep adding finer details that make your letter believable. For instance, if you are asked to write to a friend inviting them to an event, make sure you add enough details about the location.

Bad example

The party is at a popular club in Central London.

 

Good example

The party is at the Grooves club in Leicester Square, London. It’s directly opposite the National Art Gallery, so you won’t miss it.

 

Remember, the more authentic your letter looks, the better your chances of getting a high score.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

disregard
Form : verb
Meaning : to not consider something as important or ignore
Example : Mary burnt after disregarding her mother’s advice to wear sunblock.

 

Ace (slang)
Form : verb
Meaning : to succeed/perform in a competitive situation
Example : Clive studied hard so I’m sure he’ll ace the exam.

 

convention
Form : noun
Meaning : A well-established rule
Example : Her novel doesn’t follow the narrative conventions of modern fiction.

 

 

 

set the scene (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to give someone enough information so that they understand what comes next
Example : He set the scene by telling us a bit about life in 19th-century New York.

 

authentic
Form : adjective
Meaning : The original / genuine
Example : Criminals try to make fake banknotes look as authentic as possible.

 

View From Campus: U.S. College Applications Explained

Santa Clara University, California

This month, Rosalie Saladzis, Assistant Director of International Admission at Santa Clara University in California, shares a brief overview of her institution, her views on the value of IELTS in evaluating students’ English readiness for university study, as well as an overview of the U.S. college application process.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words or less:

Innovative, Collaborative, Compassionate, Beautiful!

 

What is your institution known for abroad?

Santa Clara University is known as a mid-sized private liberal arts institution located in the heart of Silicon Valley that blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in a Jesuit education tradition.

 

What are your top academic programs (undergraduate) 

As a comprehensive liberal arts school, students can study business or engineering while not giving up their passion for the arts. Our Leavey School of Business majors such as Finance or Accounting are popular amongst undergraduate students.  Minors like Entrepreneurship and International Business are popular across the entire student body.

Within our School of Engineering some of our more popular programs are Computer Science and Engineering or Bioengineering.  The hallmark of our engineering education is a solid foundation of theory and practice that is imparted on each student. Besides developing technical skills for the workplace, SCU engineering also focuses on the development of the whole person, and incorporates a broad liberal arts-based general education into its curriculum. The idea of engineering for the betterment of society is at the core of our programs.

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college? 

India, China, Japan, Singapore, Philippines

 

How international is your institution? 

4% of our student population is international, coming from 44 different countries.

 

Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability? 

Santa Clara University requires proof of English proficiency.  To be considered for admission, we accept IELTS as a strong indicator of English ability.

 

Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?  

  • Rolling admissions permits students to submit their applications to the University anytime within a designated window. The average duration of time students are eligible to submit their rolling application is 6 months, while other Universities may indicate their intent to accept applications until the class is filled.   Students can expect to receive a decision within a few weeks of applying under rolling admissions.

 

  • Early decision programs are usually binding. ‘Binding’ means that the applicant is committing to enrolling at the university if they are offered admission.  The ED option is for students who have decided that a specific university is their first choice.  You may not submit Early Decision applications to more than one institution.  Students may apply to other Early Action programs, but must agree to promptly withdraw their applications from all other institutions if admitted into their Early Decision school.

 

  • Early Action is a non-binding admission program that allows you to get an admission decision sooner. Admission decisions may include: ‘admit’, ‘deferred to regular decision’ or ‘denied’.  Early action applicants are not limited to applying to just one University.

**Please note that Santa Clara University only offers rolling admissions for transfer applicants.

 

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

Institutions are looking for students who are capable of writing at a university level.  It’s important that an applicant’s writing sample is grammatically correct and persuasive.  I encourage students to utilize the personal essay as an opportunity to share more about what’s important to them and how they may be a good fit for our campus community.

 

How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?   

Meeting application deadlines for U.S. institutions is very important.  By meeting the assigned deadline, students demonstrate that they are organized and serious about the possibility of attending their institution.

SCU utilizes Common Application.  Our application is open and available for students to begin completing as early as August 1st.  The postmark deadline for early decision/early action applicants is November 1st.  Regular decision applicants have a postmark deadline of January 7th.

 

What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?  

Strong letters of recommendation include details regarding academic achievement, how the student engages in a classroom environment, work ethic and character.

 

Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?  

Students can expect to receive an admissions decision around 2 months after the application deadline.

Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

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