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IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we introduced you to some exam tips that can help push your IELTS Reading score up – keeping an eye on the clock, noticing special features, copying words from the reading text, and predicting answers.

In this post, you’ll receive another set of handy reading tips.

5. Watch out for paraphrasing

In the IELTS Reading section, or in any international reading comprehension test for that matter, the grammar structures and vocabulary used to form questions are different to those used to state the same information in the reading passage. This technique is called paraphrasing, i.e. expressing the same meaning of a text but by using different words. If test takers have to be able to find answers, they’ll need to have the skill of spotting paraphrases. For example, if the key word in the question is ‘dangerous’, then the reading text may have a synonym such as ‘hazardous’. Spotting information in paraphrased form is a quick way to find answers.

6. Adhere to the word limit

Whether it is IELTS Listening or Reading, if the question isn’t accompanied by a list of possible options from which the answer can be chosen, instructions generally specify the maximum number of words that the test taker can write as answer. If you’ve been asked to ‘choose NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS from the passage for each answer’, then keep that in mind and see to it that your answer doesn’t exceed the word limit.

7. Don’t be fazed by unfamiliar words

No matter how good your English is, the chances are that you will come across words that you don’t understand during the Reading test. If this happens, there’s no need to be nervous; instead, check if knowing the meaning of such unfamiliar words is essential to finding answers. If they are important, try to deduce meaning from context. Whatever you do, do not panic, as it’ll break your concentration.  

8. Be mindful of grammar and spelling

Bad spelling and incorrect grammar can cost you dear in the Reading section. While writing answers, be sure to carefully copy the spelling of words from the reading text. Similarly, pay attention to your use of singular and plural words, and other grammatical features.

There’s more IELTS Reading advice to follow in our final part in this series.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Reading (Part 1)

Reading is something which many feel is both relaxing and pleasurable. That being said, in an exam setting, completing reading comprehension exercises can be anything but a breeze.
Here are some handy tips to help you do your best in the IELTS Reading test.

1. Be wary of time

In IELTS Reading, test takers have to answer 40 questions within an hour, reading anywhere between 2,150 to 2,750 words and answering a range of question types. Clearly, time is precious so managing it well could make all the difference to achieving the required score. Do not spend too much time on a question or part, as this will stop you from completing the test. IELTS recommends that you spend no more than 20 minutes on each section or passage, so pay heed to it.

2. Notice special features

In an effort to find answers, test takers tend to be so focussed on understanding the text that they pay little attention to special features – bold or italic type, capital letters, figures, tables, diagrams, etc. More often than not, such features hold important clues that can help the reader find answers. It’s also a good idea to notice headings and subheadings because they help test takers orientate themselves to the text. 

3. Take words from the reading text

While some question types in IELTS Reading require test takers to choose the answer from a list of options, others require them to select words or numbers from the reading text as answers. In such cases, instructions make it very clear that test takers are supposed to ‘choose words from the text for each answer’. It’s worth remembering that the format or the order of the words in the text should not be changed.

4. Predict answers

Some question types in the IELTS Reading test have gaps that need to be filled. In order to save time, think of what type of word may fit the gap – for example, if an indefinite article (a, an) appears before the blank, the answer might be a noun, or an adjective followed by a noun. By using this approach, you get a fair idea of what word(s) to look for as the answer.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Reading advice that you’re likely to find helpful on your test day. 

The View From Campus – “I’ve Been Admitted, Now What Do I Do?”

This month’s article is featuring Brooke O’Donnell Mitchell, Director of International Student Services at Pepperdine University. Ms. Mitchell explains what steps international students should take after they are admitted to U.S. colleges.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Breathtaking. Caring. Impactful. Spiritual. Prestigious. 

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas? 
A: Ranked within the top #50 national universities and #39 Best Value, we are known for having 7 other global campuses and 80%+ of our students study and intern abroad. We are also known for our incredible coastal location near Los Angeles, which has been ranked the “most beautiful” campus in the nation several times. 

Q: What are your top academic programs
A: Business Administration, Biology, Psychology, Economics, Sports Medicine,#3 Dispute Resolution, #47 Best Law Schools, #83 Best Business Schools, Combined Master of Dispute Resolution/Master of Business Administration (MDR/MBA), #65 Public Policy.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Brazil

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
A: An IELTS exam with a score of 6.5 or higher can waive our English proficiency requirement. Because Pepperdine is a top university and does not have an English Language Center on campus, it’s essential that students can demonstrate proficiency in the admissions process. 

Q: If international students are admitted to more than one institution, what are the most important next steps they should take?
A: Students are choosing their home for the next few years, which warrants candid questions to enrolled students about life, rumors about the school, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask the tender questions…we expect them and students will be honest in their response. Additionally, have honest conversations about financing your education with family and the institutions.  

Q: What advice would you give to students making their final decision where to attend?
A: Trust your intuition. Listen to counselors, parents, friends, etc. but, honor yourself. This is an important life lesson that is most freeing and impactful when heeded early. 

Q: Can international students receive financial aid from U.S. universities?
A: Financial aid and scholarships are different. Both are available by many institutions, but scholarships are offered more frequently than financial aid. Aid requires that students demonstrate their financial capacity for review. Most scholarships are independent of such evaluations and are related to academic merit or special talents.  

Q: Is a deposit needed to secure a place at the college or university students choose?
A: In most cases a deposit or tuition prepayment (deposit is used towards the first tuition payment) is required. May 1 is the national deadline in the U.S., however due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, some institutions may consider an extension. It is important to clarify well in advance as wire transfers can take a few days to post. 

Q: What is an I-20, and how can international students get theirs?
A: The I-20 is essentially a permission slip to study in the United States. The University will initiate next steps with students usually once a deposit is received. At Pepperdine, our office renders the admission as well as assists students with the I-20, orientation, making connections on campus, and managing their F-1 student visa throughout their time as a student! 

IELTS Writing: Describing a Life Cycle

In the Academic version of IELTS Writing, test takers can be asked to write a report describing the life cycle of a living thing, such as a butterfly or frog.

Here’s some advice to help you do a good job of it.

Introduction

Like other question types in Academic Writing Task 1, a life cycle needs only a one-sentence introduction. The easiest way to introduce the task is by paraphrasing the information given in the question. Here’s an example:

QuestionSuggested introduction
The diagrams below show the life cycle of a species of large fish called the salmon.The diagrams provided illustrate various stages in the life of a large type of fish called the salmon.

Main Body

A life cycle is the series of changes that a living thing goes through from the beginning of its existence to the end. In general, most creatures begin life as fertilized eggs, develop into juveniles and later become mature adults. Since a life cycle is a set of scientific facts, most of your sentences will be in the present simple tense. Begin with the first stage and then describe each stage in some detail, using descriptive adjectives (e.g. immature juveniles, sandy river bed). Don’t forget to use sequencing words such as to begin with, later, and at this stage so that the descriptions you write stick together. Remember, overusing discourse markers can make your writing look artificial, so use them only when necessary. To avoid repetition, look out for opportunities to use synonyms and reference words (e.g. it, this, their).

Overview

As far as Academic Task 1 goes, the overview you write can pretty much decide the fate of your response. A quick glance at the IELTS Writing band descriptors will tell you that in the absence of a clear overview, the best score you could hope for on Task Achievement is a band 5. Naturally, it’s common sense to invest sufficient time so that you’re able to produce a well-thought-out overview that summarises the main stages.

Broadly speaking, it is easier to write a response to a life cycle than to most other task types, provided that you know what to do and that you’ve had enough practice.

A Quick Guide to Conditionals (Part 3)

So far in our series of blog posts on conditional sentences, we’ve discussed the zero, first and second conditionals.

In this final part, we’ll talk about the third conditional and then do a quick comparison of all four structures.  

Third conditional

Unlike the first and second conditionals, which talk about situations in the present or future, the third conditional is used to talk about a past situation that is unreal. In fact, we imagine a change in a past situation, where something did or did not happen, and then imagine a different result for it.

Examples

If Tom had played, he would have scored for sure.

If I had married her, I would have lived in Switzerland.

Sam wouldn’t have passed the test if his girlfriend hadn’t helped him.

The first example is about Tom, who did not play in a particular match. However, the speaker imagines just the opposite and then talks about an imaginary result, i.e. Tom getting his name on the score sheet. The third conditional is often used to express regret or to complain about something.

Structure

if + past perfectwould + have + past participle
conditional clausemain clause

Comparison

Even proficient language users would be quick to admit that it isn’t easy to get your head around the concept of conditionals. One thing to remember is to NOT focus on form, as it may be misleading. For instance, although the second conditional structure has the past tense, such sentences usually talk about the present or future.      

Here’s a quick comparison of the various conditional structures to help you decide when to use what:

ConditionalExampleTimeMeaning
ZeroIf you heat chocolate, it melts.AnyTalks about something that is always true
FirstIf I get this job, I’ll buy you a new phone.FutureTalks about something that is likely to happen
SecondIf I won the lottery, I would buy a Ferrari.Present or futureTalks about something that is unlikely to happen
ThirdIf I hadn’t drunk so much, I wouldn’t have got into trouble.PastTalks about an unreal past and its imaginary result

Conditional sentences can be hard to master, but remember, if you know how to use them well, you can talk about imaginary situations with confidence.

The View From Campus: Explaining the U.S. Admissions Process

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.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.
A: Innovative, Collaborative, Compassionate, Beautiful!

Q: For what is your institution known abroad?
A: 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.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad)?
A: 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 Bio-engineering. 

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college? 
A: India, China, Japan, Singapore, and Philippines.

Q: How international is your institution? 
A: 4% of our student population is international coming from 44 different countries.

Q: Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability? 
A: Santa Clara University requires proof of English proficiency.  To be considered for admission, we accept IELTS as a strong indicator of English ability. SCU minimum accepted IELTS score is 6.5.

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

Rolling admissions:

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

Early decision (ED) 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

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. 

Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose? 
A: 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 utilise 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.  

Q: How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?   
A: Meeting application deadlines for U.S. institutions is very important.  By meeting the assigned deadline, students demonstrate that they are organised and serious about the possibility of attending their institution. 

Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?  
A: Strong letters of recommendation include details regarding academic achievement, how the student engages in a classroom environment, work ethic and character.

Q: Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?  
A: Students can expect to receive an admissions decision approximately 1.5 – 2 months after the application deadline.

A Quick Guide to Conditionals (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we began exploring conditional sentences, a set of grammar structures that describe situations and results. We also looked at some uses of the zero conditional.

In this part, we’ll take a closer look at the first and second conditional.

First conditional

The first conditional is used to talk about an imaginary situation in the future and its possible result. Even though the outcome here is likely, it is not guaranteed, as in the case of the zero conditional.

Examples

If it begins to rain, we’ll get a cab.

If you lie to the police, you might get into trouble.

You’ll miss your flight if you don’t wake up before sunrise.

Modal verbs other than will are sometimes used in the main clause to convey different shades of meaning. For instance, might can be used instead of will to show a slightly lesser degree of likelihood (see example 2 above).

Structure

if + present simplewill + infinitive
conditional clausemain clause

Second conditional

We use the second conditional to describe situations in the present or future that are imaginary. By choosing to use the second conditional, we are saying that the situation we are referring to is unlikely to happen in reality.

Examples

If I became president, I would abolish all taxes.

If I were you, I wouldn’t buy those shoes.

I would marry him if I were single.

Remember, in the second conditional, when if is followed by the verb be, it is common to use were in place of was (e.g. if I were, if he were, if she were, if it were). In fact, in the English-speaking world, the phrase ‘if I were you’ often accompanies a piece of informal advice (see example 2 above). You can use it to tell someone what you think they should do in a particular situation.

Structure

if + past simplewould + infinitive
conditional clausemain clause

Although the conditional clause here has a past tense, it does not indicate past time. The use of past tenses indicates a distance from present reality, thereby making what is being said imaginary.

Do make sure you come back to read the final part on conditional structures.

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