OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 3)

So far in this blog series, you’ve read about some handy tips that can help improve your use of academic English, such as avoiding statistics that are made up and limiting the use of personal pronouns.  

In this final part, we’ll introduce you to a few more essential features of academic English.

6. Learn to use passive voice

The passive voice is often used to change the focus of a sentence. Unlike a sentence in active voice, here, who or what gets affected by the action gets more importance than the performer of the action. 

People often destroy woodlands to make way for development. (active voice)

Woodlands are often destroyed to make way for development. (passive voice)

It is clear that people in general are the performers of the action in the above sentence, so the passive version does not even mention them. If used appropriately, passive structures can make your writing impersonal.

7. Avoid vague language and short forms  

One noticeable aspect of academic English is clarity. There is no room for ambiguity when you are putting together an IELTS essay, so avoid language that will make your writing sound vague. For example, do not use the phrases ‘et cetera’ or ‘so on’ – it sort of indicates indolence on your part. Stating one or two specific examples in support of your point will work better, making your writing clearer. Similarly, avoid using short forms such as ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ in your essay; write phrases like ‘for example’ and ‘in other words’ instead.

8. Do not use sexist language

In the past, it was okay to use words such as he, him and his to refer to all humankind, but not anymore.

If an employee is running late, he will have to inform his line manager without fail.

Sexist language, such as in the sentence above, is language that excludes one gender, or which suggests that one particular gender is superior to the other. In the present-day world, not every police officer is a he, and not every nurse is a she. Because of diminishing gender differences, people are increasingly finding sexist language offensive, so you would do well to avoid it. You could use alternatives such as ‘he/she’ or ‘they’ in place of ‘he’.  

Finally, remember that what you have read here are some basic rules of academic English; getting the tone of your essay right each time will take some practice.

To get more Writing tips and practice, visit the British Council’s LearnEnglish website by clicking here.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Programs

Are you a student thinking about studying abroad for your first university experience? If so, you are to be commended. If you are considering the United States, you will be welcomed by the college you choose. Finding the right U.S. college, however, may well take some time, with most experts suggesting students start the process between 12-18 months in advance of when they might wish to start their studies. How can you best approach the U.S. college search?

Ask important self-discovery questions

For starters, before you pick colleges, take a few minutes to ask yourself the kinds of questions that will help you find a college or university that will be the best fit for what you need. Our friends at EducationUSA have put together a useful worksheet that is well worth trying called “Define Your Priorities.”

By determining your answers to questions like why do you want to study in the U.S., as well as preferences for living in a city, suburb, or more rural area, or whether you want to be on a large campus or a small one, you can begin to codify what’s important to you in this search.

Learn about different college types

Of course, understanding the kinds of colleges that exist in the United States is equally important. With over 4,000 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, there are many different types of institutions from which you can select: public v private, college v. university v. institute, etc. As you do your research on what those differences are, keep in mind that there will be terms that might sound familiar to what you know, but may have different meanings. There is a very useful FAQ on the EducationUSA site that helps explain many of these terms.

Use search engines to narrow your choices

Perhaps the most daunting task you will face in your search is narrowing your list of possible college options down to a manageable number. There are several college search engines out there to help you in this process. The two that many students use are College Navigator, and Big Future. Each has a variety of factors you can choose from to select institutions including:

  • Location by state
  • Institution type
  • Selectivity of the institution
  • Sports and activities available
  • Types of campus housing
  • Diversity of the student body

By using all of these various criteria, you should be able to put together an appropriate list of colleges that match your wants and needs. From a list of perhaps 10-20 institutions, the next step will be to investigate each of those colleges online to learn more about how close of a fit each may be for you.

Prepare for standardized tests

If there’s one area that has changed considerably in the college search this year it is the role of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. As you may have realized, due to the pandemic, college admissions has changed in recent years. At present, over seventy-five percent of four year (and all of the two-year) colleges either do not require or won’t consider SAT or ACT scores for applicants for admissions intakes in 2022. Be sure, when you start to further narrow your choices down, to check what tests beyond an IELTS would be needed to apply to the U.S. colleges on your list.

More on applying to U.S. colleges in the months to come!

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 2)

In the first part, we looked at some features of formal language and ways to ensure that your IELTS essay has an academic tone throughout.

Picking up where we left off, here are three things to avoid if your IELTS essay needs to be appropriately formal.

3. Avoid slang words

Choice of vocabulary is arguably the key to controlling the level of formality of your written work. Naturally, it goes without saying that informal words or expressions that are commonly found in spoken language have no place in your IELTS essay. For instance, do not replace the word ‘children’ with an informal expression such as ‘kids’, as this would be inappropriate.

4. Do not use contracted forms

Contracted forms, also referred to as short forms, are words or phrases that have been shortened by dropping one or more letters. Here are some examples:

  • I’m (short form of I am)
  • they’re (short form of they are)
  • I’ve (short form of I have)
  • she’d (short form of she would and she had)
  • we’ll (short form of we will)

When forming a contraction, an apostrophe is used in place of a missing letter, or missing letters. Although contracted forms are very common in English, especially in everyday speech, they are considered inappropriate in formal writing. In IELTS Writing, the only time you can confidently use contractions is when you have been asked to write an informal letter in the IELTS General Training test.

5. Avoid clichés

A cliché is a stale phrase or proverb that has been overused and has, therefore, lost its charm. When you use a cliché like ‘all that glitters is not gold’ in your essay, you end up making your writing dull and unimaginative. A far better approach is to convey this idea in your own words – for example, something that is superficially attractive may not always be valuable or true.

Remember, clichés tend to be inherent in our everyday communication, so they may creep into your writing unnoticed. For this reason, do keep an eye out for clichéd expressions when your proofread your essay. And should you find any, paraphrase without any hesitation.

You can find more information on academic English in the final part in this series.

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 1)

The choice between formal and informal language boils down to one key consideration: context. While informal English is casual and spontaneous, which is ideal for communicating with friends or family, formal English tends to be less personal, making it suitable for work or academic purposes.

Whether our style of communication sounds formal or informal depends on the tone, type of vocabulary and complexity of grammar used when we write or speak. Generally speaking, though, formal language is more common in written than in spoken English.

In IELTS, it is important that Writing tasks have a formal tone throughout. Of course, there is the possible exception of an informal or semi-formal letter being set as Task 1 in the General Training test, but otherwise you will be expected to use an academic style of writing. In this blog series, we will consider some ways in which you can make your IELTS essay sound sufficiently formal.

1. Limit the use of pronouns

Although the tone of an IELTS essay does not have to be as serious or impersonal as that of a research paper, it is always a good idea to limit the use of the first person pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’. Of course, if the essay asks for your opinion, it would be quite natural for you to state it by using a phrase such as ‘I tend to believe’ or ‘I am of the opinion’, so go right ahead. Just don’t overuse pronouns, that’s all!

2. Do not invent statistics

While putting together an essay, it is commonplace for test takers to use statistics in support of their arguments or ideas. However, on test day, you are not expected to come armed with precise data obtained from research papers or articles that will fit your essay topic. So, do not make up facts or data in an attempt to make information in your essay appear authentic. A general phrase like ‘There is enough evidence to suggest that…’ will suffice to get your point across. Besides, you could use expressions such as ‘majority’ or ‘vast majority’ instead of inventing numbers or percentages.

Do read the remaining parts in this series if you would like to get pointers on how to improve your academic English.

The View From Campus: What are current testing requirements at U.S. universities

Over the last two years our world has changed dramatically. In higher education terms, some countries have had to completely close their borders to international students, others tried. Since March of 2020 many students have been unable to take the standardized tests that most colleges and universities require for admissions. As a result, U.S. institutions of higher education have changed the testing policies for students.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happened. For most international students considering the United States as a destination for studies, there are two types of tests normally required:

  • English proficiency tests
  • Academic ability or aptitude tests

English proficiency tests

As you well know, studying in an English language education system requires a certain level of familiarity with the language. That’s why you’ve either already taken the IELTS or will soon be. In addition to the IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic, iTEP, and Duolingo are accepted (at varying levels) by U.S. colleges and universities requiring an English language test for admissions. By far, IELTS and TOEFL are nearly universally accepted by US colleges. IELTS is, in fact, accepted by more than 3400 U.S. institutions.

Academic ability tests

If you are seeking an undergraduate (bachelor’s degree), in past years most U.S. colleges required international students to take either an SAT or an ACT test. Designed initially to test U.S. students’ academic skills in verbal and quantitative reasoning, mathematics, writing, and, in the case of the ACT, science, these two exams have been seen as a reliable standard of measuring those abilities for years.

If you are considering a master’s or doctoral program, the two tests most commonly required are the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (General Management Admissions Test). Graduate/post-graduate business schools in the U.S. have in the past relied on the GMAT to assess applicant’s general preparedness for programs like the MBA. Some have also begun to accept the GRE as well.

If you are thinking about professional programs in the U.S., like medical, dental, or pharmacy school (as well as other doctoral level studies) that require a professional license to practice in the United States, there are a different set of exams required: MCAT (medical doctor), DAT (dentist), PCAT (pharmacist), etc.

The rise of test-optional policies

One of the few bright spots that has emerged out of the pandemic regarding U.S. university admissions is the increased popularity of test-optional policies. Because many testing centers overseas (and in the United States) have not been able to offer academic ability tests where all who want to take the exams can, many colleges and universities have decided, in the interests of equity and access, to not penalize students who could not take these exams, and have become test-optional.

For this current 2021 admissions year, over 75% of all U.S. four-year (bachelor’s degree) universities are test-optional or test-blind. Most major state university systems have made the shift in the past few months mostly in response to the lack of availability of the SAT and ACT for prospective students due to the pandemic.

U.S. graduate schools have also been drawn to the test-optional movement, including the University of Miami which dropped the GRE and GMAT for most of its programs. Many top graduate/post-graduate business programs in the United States have gone test-optional for this year. Even at the University of California, Berkeley many of the graduate programs have gone GRE/GMAT optional for 2022.

Final thoughts

In the end, while these academic ability tests have become increasingly optional the last two years and may even become permanently optional, English proficiency tests are still needed. The most significant reason for this is that U.S. immigration regulations require that to start a degree program (associates, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) international students must have the required English language proficiency. Tests like IETLS are the primary way, at present, for U.S. colleges to assess English ability.

If you’re scores are not at the minimum levels for degree studies from the outset, that doesn’t mean your dream is over! Many U.S. colleges offer conditional admissions and/or full-time intensive English or pathway programs that gives you the opportunity to settle in to the country while improving your English ability before you start your degree program.

We wish you all the best on your study journey!

3 Ways to Record New Vocabulary

How quickly you learn to use new words and phrases accurately depends on how often you go over them. The more frequently you review new vocabulary, the easier it gets to recall them when you write or speak.

In this blog post, we will tell you about three different ways in which you can keep a record of new vocabulary.

Word cards

Using a set of small cards is one of the best ways to help you recall new vocabulary. All you need is a set of paper cards – write the word or phrase on one side of the card and a simple definition on the other side. It might help if you add an example sentence too along with the definition so that it is easier to fully understand the meaning.

When you are in the mood for some vocab practice, all you have got to do is spread the cards out with the word or phrase facing up. Looking at just the vocabulary item will force you to retrieve its meaning from memory. To make this activity more productive, you could also add other details – for example, word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective), translation or pronunciation.

Post-it notes

Are you a real busy bee with no time to set aside for improving your English? Do not fret, for we have just the method for you that’ll let you expand your vocabulary while you’re doing other work. Get yourself some of those coloured, sticky paper used for writing notes on and write new vocabulary on them. Then, stick them in places where you spend time doing routine tasks like ironing, washing up or cooking. 

Photos

If you are a shutterbug by any chance, then this method should be right up your street. Put the camera on your mobile phone to good use by clicking the photos of objects you don’t know the names of. You could also photograph literally anything that helps you remember a new piece of vocabulary you’re trying to learn. All you then do is organise the photos in a folder so that you can view them regularly.

Remember, spending a few minutes every day reviewing new vocabulary will be a lot more rewarding than spending hours on the activity once in a while.

Learn more about vocabulary on our website here.

The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 2)

A previous blog post on the topic focussed on three things you ought to do on the eve of your IELTS test: ensuring your physical well-being, reducing anxiety levels and eating well.

We have some more advice on how to spend the twenty-four hours leading up to your test.

Revise

Whilst it is natural for you to want to continue preparing for D-Day till the last moment, it is important to keep studies light. It is best not to attempt to study anything entirely new on the eve of your IELTS test. Instead, focus your energies on revising whatever you’ve managed to learn up until that point. Besides, do not be tempted to chop and change the strategies that have worked for you thus far. In short, last-minute changes are undesirable.  

Know when to stop

Let’s face it – there is only so much study you can do before a test. Too much cramming for an exam at the eleventh hour isn’t going to help one bit; all it would do is send you into a tizzy. If you’ve put enough hours into improving your language skills, it should give you the confidence to ease up on the day before.

Put together a to-do list

To avoid moments of panic on test day, it might be a good idea to draw up a list of things you have got to do before you set off for the test venue. This should help you remember to pick up essential things, such as your ID document and stationery. Doing a quick double-check of the location of your test venue online is also advisable if you’ve never been there before. 

Get some shut-eye

Months of hard work can quickly go down the drain if you aren’t sufficiently rested and sharp. Remember, getting a good night’s sleep is as important as anything else you could possibly do in preparation for the test. Whatever you do, do not pull an all-nighter, which is bound to leave you groggy and disoriented.

Finally, once you begin the test, you might come across topics that are unfamiliar or questions that look tricky. Just keep calm, take time to slow your breathing, and deal with things as best as you can. Good luck!

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