OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

IELTS Test Day Advice: Speaking (Part 1)

The Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interaction between the test taker and examiner that lasts around 14 minutes. There’s no doubt that it is as close to a real-life situation as a test could possibly get.

Here are some handy tips that’ll help you give a good account of yourself on test day.

1. Avoid prepared answers

Many of the questions that examiners ask, especially in Parts 1 and 2, tend to be highly predictable. Naturally, the idea of rehearsing answers beforehand might be a tad tempting. But remember that prepared answers won’t get you too far – you wouldn’t sound natural when you speak, and the examiner is likely to notice this.

2. Have a good warm-up

Just like how on a cold day you’d rev your car engine to warm it up before driving off, it’s important to have some warm-up exercise before your Speaking interview. This could be a friendly chat in English with a friend, or some quick practice with your teacher. As well as getting rid of pre-test jitters, it should also help you get in the zone, ensuring that you’re performing at your best.

3. Wear something comfortable

The IELTS Speaking interview isn’t a formal affair, so it’s best not to approach it like you would a job interview. There’s a popular misconception that you need to be dressed formally to form an impression on the examiner. That’s so not true – the examiner will only be interested in how much language you produce and how skilfully you do it. So, don’t let others pressure you to go overdressed for the occasion.  

4. Remember the test format

Once the venue staff register you, it may be a while before you’re ushered into the test room for the interview. This is precious time, so make it count. Run through the different parts of the Speaking section and remind yourself of what to expect in each. For example, Part 1 tends to focus on familiar topics, which means the responses here can be shorter and more personal than the ones in subsequent parts.

We’ll be back with more useful tips that can help you up your Speaking score. You can check other Speaking tips here.

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 3)

So far in this series we’ve talked about how you should ideally draw up a plan and then arrange your ideas logically before you begin writing your essay.

Let’s now discuss how the last two stages can help produce a response that is both error-free and relevant.

4. Evaluating

On studying the essay question carefully, generating ideas and sequencing them, it isn’t uncommon for test takers to spend the rest of the time available on writing as long a response as possible. In a language test like IELTS, such an approach is hardly advisable. Instead, it’s best to write only what is needed to meet the word limit and the requirements of the task, and then use the remaining time to check your work for errors.

It’s a race against the clock to finish writing an essay in 40 minutes. You are likely to make grammar mistakes, omit punctuation, or misspell words, any of which could affect your writing score.  Given the pressure cooker atmosphere of a test, even competent language users are known to make the occasional slip. Finding time to evaluate what you’ve written helps you to identify such errors and improve the accuracy of your response.

5. Revising

Revising what you’ve written forms the final stage of the POWER writing plan. Here you need to go through your response in its entirety and consider it in relation to the essay question. It’s worth remembering at this point that an essay will be penalised if it is tangential or completely off topic. The key is relevance. This means that you are now reading to make sure that all the paragraphs you wrote in stage 3 have come together to fully answer all parts of the essay question. If there’s any doubt that a point isn’t absolutely relevant, think of something more appropriate and write it in its place.

Now that you know what the POWER writing strategy is, practise using it so that your essays always stay on topic and never consume too much time.  

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 2)

In the first part, we spoke about what you need to do in the ‘Planning’ stage of the POWER writing plan – analyse the task and generate ideas. 

Read on to know about what happens in the next couple of stages.

2. Organising

Once you’ve gone through the essay question with a fine-toothed comb and jotted down some useful ideas, it’s time to think of how you’re going to organise your writing. The essay type you receive on test day should help you decide the overall structure of your response. For instance, if you receive an opinion essay, you would want to state your position clearly at the beginning and then provide reasons for taking such a stance in two to three paragraphs.

If you experience difficulty expanding upon an idea that you’ve generated, now is the time to get rid of it and think of an alternative. Remember that irrespective of how brilliant an idea sounds, you’ve got to be able to say more about it and add details in order to write a meaningful paragraph. Failing to do so could mean you end up with an essay that lacks progression in parts. To make your writing cohesive, see to it that you link sentences and ideas using discourse markers, such as besides, further, and for example.

3. Writing

As far as essay writing goes, building a skeleton is without doubt half the battle. Having done that, you can focus your energies on fleshing out the skeleton by adding more details and examples. Although this stage of POWER writing should obviously last the longest, work done in the previous stages will help you write faster than usual. It’s also the time to impress the examiner by showing off your grammar and vocabulary skills – the range of grammar structures and lexical items you display is just as important as how accurate your language is.

While writing, invest more time developing the body paragraphs of your essay because that’s where all your ideas lie. Of course, for this very reason, your examiner will spend a lot more time reading those paragraphs, deliberating how well you’ve met the requirements of the task. 

Do read our next blog post in the series that’ll deal with the remaining stages of the POWER strategy.

Applying to U.S. Colleges in Uncertain Times

Over the last five months the world has come to grips with a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed the way we live. From the simple act of washing our hands or getting food to complex tasks of travel and work, how we interact with others outside our immediate families is dramatically different than in was in 2019.

For students seeking study opportunities in the United States for the next academic year, you likely have many questions. While we don’t have all the answers, we do hope to at least point you in the right directions for the information you seek.

College social media and website

While never a substitute for physically visiting campus or interacting with an admissions officers, faculty, or alumni from a college or university you are interested in, institutional websites and social media accounts can provide useful information to assist you in making informed decisions. Here are a few examples of what you can access to get what you need.

  • Reviewing Facebook pages and groups for important updates on changes and announcements.
  • Watching YouTube videos of current students explaining how they are experiencing life on campus during the pandemic.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Visiting Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Oregon.

Particularly if you are looking for admissions information, these university sites that have specific details about any changes to the application process in terms of tests required, alternatives available, and changes in deadlines or deposits.

Virtual tours and events online

One unintended consequence of the impact of Covid-19 is how U.S. colleges increasingly connect with their prospective students through digital means like offering virtual tours to their campuses and events.  These resources will help you in:

  • Seeing campus through online videos and self-guided tours gives you a window into what life would look like for you at colleges you are considering.
  • Hearing student experiences about everything from arrival on campus, attending class, studying, participating in activities and events paints an important picture.
  • Learning process/procedures related to applying for admission, funding your studies, getting your visa and more.
  • Attending student pre-departure events to make sure you are ready for your journey to campus.

These virtual connections will be essential as you ensure you are making the right choice for your higher education options in the United States.

Chats with current international students

In the end, nothing means more for prospective students like yourself to have conversations with currently enrolled students at the colleges and universities you are considering. That insight from a fellow international student, maybe even someone from your country, is invaluable to get the full perspective you need about where you will spend the next two to four years (or more).

  • Asking questions directly
  • Connecting with students from your country
  • Dispelling rumors about what’s happening

As you narrow down your list of colleges you may apply to, be sure to ask the international admissions office about opportunities to chat with their international students. To hear some of the discussion around this topic, check out a recent Facebook Live Chat we did that shares some useful insights. Good luck!

POWER Your Way Through IELTS Essay Writing (Part 1)

Writing a 250-word essay on a topic of general interest, that too within 40 minutes, can be an overwhelming task, especially if you haven’t got in enough exam practice. It’s hardly surprising then that the Writing section in IELTS is what worries test takers the most.

Often a great deal of time is spent on identifying the perfect beginning to an essay or deciding what points to include, resulting in test takers losing valuable time. One effective way to manage time well is to consider the essay writing task as a process that has different stages: Planning, Organising, Writing, Evaluating, and Revising.  

Let’s take a closer look at the five stages that make up the POWER writing plan.

1. Planning

Some test takers hurriedly read the essay question and begin their response; some others spend too much time mulling over what to write. As you might imagine, neither approach is likely to yield good results in IELTS.

In this first stage, it is essential that the test taker reads the essay question carefully and identifies what the topic is. Remember, forming an understanding of the overall topic and knowing vocabulary are key to ensuring that the response you write does not digress. Sometimes this may mean spending adequate time to read the question twice or thrice, but that should be okay. Underlining important parts as you read the question could help you stay focussed on what you need to write about.   

What’s also important at this point is to not get distracted by specific words in the question. For instance, if the topic is ‘use of technology leading to social isolation’, do not zero in on the word ‘technology’ and look for related ideas. Simply writing about technological advances will certainly earn you a penalty, subsequently affecting your writing score. Therefore, only after you gain a full understanding of the essay task and its parts should you brainstorm possible ideas. Before you move on to the next stage, check whether the ideas you’ve generated are sufficient to fully answer the question.

We’ll be back soon with information about the remaining stages of the acronym, POWER.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 3)

Thus far in our series of posts about IELTS test day advice on the Reading section, we’ve had a look at several little things that you need to get right in order to score well.

Here are four more Reading tips to help you ace the test.

9. Write answers on the answer sheet   

Unlike IELTS Listening, the Reading section doesn’t allow test takers extra time to transfer answers on to the answer sheet. Naturally, writing answers in the question booklet as you find them and then transferring them later just doesn’t make sense. While it’s perfectly okay to underline text in the question booklet or to write short notes, answers written there don’t get looked at. Therefore, right from when you begin practising reading, form a habit of entering answers straight on to the answer sheet.

10. Attempt all questions

In IELTS Listening and Reading, the test taker is not penalised if they go wrong. While each correct answer receives one mark, any wrong answer that they write does not affect their total score in any way. Remember, in some cases a single additional mark can elevate your Reading score by half a band. Even if you aren’t sure what the answer is, take a guess, as you clearly have nothing to lose.

11. Use upper case if required

As we’ve said before, spelling is important in the IELTS test. Although you can copy the spelling of answers from the reading text, bad handwriting could sometimes cause confusion to the clerical marker evaluating your answer sheet. To play safe, see to it that you write all answers in UPPER CASE.

12. Check all answers

It’s true that a lot of people struggle to complete a reading comprehension test in time, so checking answers may be the last thing on their minds on the day. The key to finding spare time to check answers is to give yourself enough reading practice. Do that, and you’ll be able to check all your answers before the test ends. 

During the IELTS Reading section, stay calm and alert so that you’re able to recollect and use all the tips you’ve read here.

Worried about the U.S. student visa process? 10 tips to help you prepare

Everyone has heard a story of a friend, or friend of a friend, who has been denied a student visa to study in the U.S., right? Well, the truth is, yes, prospective students can be turned down at this next to last hurdle to realizing their dream of attending a university in the United States. While this can be a cruel end, it doesn’t have to be. The reality is that over the last 5 years, the global average of students being APPROVED for a U.S. student visa has been over 80%. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa. Here are the steps you will need to take as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic.

1. Got your I-20?

Make sure you have received the I-20 and 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.

2.  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!

3.  Pay your SEVIS fee

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for next steps in the process.

4.  Complete the Visa Application Form

You can do that 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)
  • Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

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

5.  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.

6.  Schedule your visa appointment

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.

7.  Attend a Visa Session

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.

8.  Enjoy the experience

A few 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.

9.  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.

10.  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?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

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