OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

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!

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. master’s and doctoral programs

Over the past twenty months, many international students seeking to study in the United States have had their dreams put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding whether universities would be open has caused many students to either defer enrollment for a year or begin their studies online from their home countries. But as travel restrictions loosen, changes to admission requirements happen, and the guarantee of vaccinations being available to new international students on arrival, the United States is seeing a significant spike in student interest this year. When it comes to researching master’s and doctoral degree programs in the United States, while the process is largely the same, there are some important changes to keep in mind.

Start early

When should you begin your search? Most U.S. experts now say you should start at least 12-24 months ahead of when you wish to start studies. With the quickly moving landscape on which countries are even open to accept international students, it can be hard to plan effectively for what your future might look like, let alone where you may be studying. However, in the United States there are over 1100 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

Define your priorities

As part of your search, before you go looking for academic programs that meet your needs, a necessary first step should be to ask yourself defining questions as to what’s most important to you. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of advising centers in 170+ countries, have prepared a great resource on researching graduate study options to assist students. One of those tools to consider using is the Define Your Priorities worksheet. Some of those self-discovery questions to ask include:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How will you pay for your graduate program in the United States?
  • What are your academic grades?
  • What are your English test scores?
  • What size institution do you like?
  • Would you like to attend a private or public institution?
  • Do you prefer living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
  • Would you like to live on campus or off campus?

Once you have identified those answers, you will have the most valuable criteria you need to begin you search in a more circumspect manner.

Narrow your options

EducationUSA lists four search engines you can use to begin to find a possible list of the academic programs, locations, institutions that meet your needs. Those search sites will only give you so much information about the colleges and universities that match some of the broad strokes of what you need. Once you have identified those programs, to get much closer to what you need to know about each institution, you will need to review each school’s website where the real details are you need to know on costs, deadlines, tests, and admissions process.  

Because this year, like the last one, there really are no in-person college fairs and events where direct representatives have not been able to connect with you in your home country, it is more important than ever to connect virtually with the U.S. colleges that you’re considering. Whether that be in a virtual university fair, a live chat with representatives from your top choices, a webinar with other international students who may already be attending those institutions, and/or a visit to a local EducationUSA advising center for more specific resources, you have several ways to narrow your options.

Find your right fit

In the end, there may be several schools/programs that you research that you can see yourself attending. At this stage it’s time to do deep look at the institutions involved, the strength of the program, and the quality and areas of research conducted by the faculty. Only after getting this next level details will you be able to make the decisions on where you wish to apply.

Prepare for tests

And, finally, before physically applying to these programs, it is essential to know which tests might be required. Certainly, rest assured that for most all quality master’s and doctoral program in the U.S. will accept an IELTS score toward meeting the English proficiency standards set by each program. The question will be whether any other academic standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT are required. Because of the pandemic, there are an increasingly large number of programs that are test-optional this year when it comes to GRE or GMAT requirements. Even top business schools in the United States are, for this current 2021 recruitment cycle, not requiring GRE or GMAT scores. More recently, over 85% of the graduate degree programs at the University of California, Berkeley (one of the top 25 U.S. national universities) decided to make the GRE optional for all applicants.

The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 1)

When you are due to take a high-stakes test such as IELTS, it is perfectly natural for you to get the jitters, especially on the day before. You may even have to fight hard to block out the thought that every plan you’ve made for the future depends on the outcome of the test you are about to take.

Learning to cope with exam stress is the key to turning in a strong performance on test day. Check out these tips that will help you manage stress and give a good account of yourself.

Focus on your physical well-being

If you need to be able to give your best in a test, it is important that you are fighting fit. Too much study can trigger headaches or leave you with tense muscles, among other things. Spending hours in the same position poring over study material isn’t the ideal way to prepare. See to it that you take regular breaks, getting up each time and moving around a bit.

Manage anxiety

Exam preparation can also affect you emotionally, making your feel blue or unusually moody because of the high levels of anxiety you experience. Learning to absorb stress is often half the battle. One thing you should definitely avoid is too much exam talk in the hours leading up to your test. To lift your spirits, do something during the day that will help take your mind off any exam worries and put you in the best frame of mind – for example, listening to music or watching something funny.

Eat right  

Eating a well-balanced diet will boost you energy levels for sure, so include fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and protein in your meals. While it might be tempting to sip energy drinks when studying, do realise that they can increase nerves. Also, snacking on junk food, such as chocolate or crisps, over the course of the day might get you a sudden burst of energy. However, it is bound to wear off soon, at which point you will begin to feel sluggish.    

In the next part, you will find some more handy tips on how to spend the day before your IELTS test. 

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