OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 1)

Listening comprehension tests can be challenging for some, especially if they happen to be non-native English speakers. This may be down to various reasons, such as failing to understand speech sounds, having limited vocabulary, or experiencing too much anxiety.

In this series, we’ll give you handy bits of advice to do well in the IELTS Listening section.    

1. Ensure audio clarity

When your scores depend on how well you hear and understand recordings, nothing can be more important than audio clarity. At many British Council IELTS test centres, test takers get headphones so that they have the best possible audio experience. Before the test begins, use the volume wheel/button on your headphone to set the volume to what is the right level for you. If your headphone develops a problem at any point during the test, raise your hand right away. An invigilator would then come to your aid.

2. Use time wisely  

Before the recording in each section begins, test takers will receive some time (about half a minute) to read questions. How accurately you find answers will depend mostly on how well you understand questions. Use the time given to read questions carefully, taking in as much information as you possibly can. What you should also be doing is underlining important parts of the text – such as instructions and key words – so that you remember to focus on them while you listen.

3. Follow instructions

In IELTS Listening, the test taker’s ability to follow instructions is almost as important as their skill to find answers. For instance, if you have been asked to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer, then writing ‘works of art’ as the answer, instead of ‘art works’, will fetch you no marks. So, be alert all through the test!

4. Learn to anticipate

More often than not, it is possible to anticipate what the speakers might say and what vocabulary they are likely to use. This can be done in two ways: identifying the context and skimming through the questions. You’ll be able to guess who the speaker(s) will be and what they may talk about. Questions can also tell you what types of words may fit as answers – nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Remember, as far as exam success goes, strategies count as much as language skills.

Using Capital Letters (Part 3)

In this final part in our series on capitalisation, we’ll look at some more important rules that’ll help you punctuate with confidence.

Rule 8: Capitalise titles of people

Just like how we capitalise the first, middle, and last names of people, we also capitalise suffixes (e.g. William Frank Jnr, Alexander the Great) and titles (e.g. President, Governor, Senator). If the title appears just before the individual’s name, especially when it replaces the individual’s first name, it should be capitalised. However, if the title appears after the individual’s name, or if it is followed by a comma, then we do not capitalise it. 

Let’s compare:

  • Carol is a huge admirer of President Obama. (Appears before last name)
  • George W Bush served as president of the USA from 2001 to 2009. (Appears after the name)
  • The president of the club, Frank Moorcroft, has resigned. (Title separated by comma)

Formal titles that are used to address individuals should also be capitalised.

Examples

  1. Why do you think I’m losing so much weight, Doctor? (Used as a direct address)

2. I’m afraid we can’t continue funding your project, Professor. (Used as a direct address)

Rule 9: Capitalise names of family members

When we use the names of family members – such as dad, mum, and grandpa – to address them, such words should be capitalised. Also, if such a word appears just before a personal name, it gets capitalised. However, if the same words are used to denote relationships, they need to be in lower case.

Let’s compare:

  • Why are you being so difficult, Dad? (Used as a form of address)
  • My dad has been in a bad mood this entire week. (Refers to relationship) 
  • I have always been incredibly close to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Will. (Appears before personal name)
  • I have an aunt and uncle living in Canada. (Refer to relationships)

Rule 10: Capitalise letter salutations and closings

In letters, the first word in salutations (Dear Sir, Dear Cathy) is always capitalised. Similarly, when ending a letter with a closing (Yours sincerely, Lots of love, Warm regards), the first word should be capitalised.  

Capitalisation is an area of punctuation that is tricky, so the more you read and write, the more likely that the rules stick in your mind.

Using Capital Letters (Part 2)

In an earlier blog post, we looked at some situations when it is essential to use capital letters – at the beginning of a sentence; when writing the names of people, institutions, companies, and brands; when referring to cities, countries, nationalities, religions, and languages; and when using the personal pronoun ‘I’.

Here are some more rules to help you capitalise words appropriately.

Rule 5: Capitalise days, months, holidays

The names of the seven different days of the week, twelve months of the year, and holidays are all proper nouns. Do make it a point to begin with a capital letter when you write them. However, the names of seasons (e.g. winter, summer) do not fall into the same category, so they shouldn’t be capitalised unless they appear in a title.

Examples

Can we meet early next week, say Monday or Tuesday?

Both my sons were born in the month of May.

Where did you spend Christmas last year?

Haley and Tom got married on Valentine’s Day.

Rule 6: Capitalise key words in the title of a book, movie, poem, etc.

As far as capitalising words in a title is concerned, be it books, movies, poems, or other works, much depends on what style guide you choose to follow. Generally speaking, all content words get capitalised. This means that nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. need capital letters at the beginning. By comparison, smaller words, such as articles and prepositions, tend to be in lower case, unless they appear as the first or last word in the title.

Examples

Alice in Wonderland’ is a fascinating tale.

The Lord of the Rings’ is a series of epic fantasy films.

Have you read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens?

Rule 7: Capitalise the first word of a quote

When quoting someone, or quoting from a literary work, always capitalise the first word if the quotation forms a complete sentence. On the other hand, if the quote is just a phrase, it doesn’t need to be capitalised. 

Let’s compare:

Cindy said, “My husband is far from loving.”

Cindy said that her husband was “far from loving”. (No capitalisation required, as the quote is a phrase) There’s more to follow, so watch this space if you’d like to learn more about capitalising words.

The View From Campus – Making The Academic Adjustment To Life at a U.S. University

This month we hear from Kevin Beisser, Senior Immigration Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the important topic of how international students can best make the transition, academically, to life on a U.S. college campus.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, welcoming, multicultural, convenient, quality

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Academic Excellence and our graduate’s success.

Alumnus Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft, who at the time was an international student from India, received his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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

A: UWM is home to Wisconsin’s largest online education program, with more than 850 classes and 40 fully online certificate and degree programs. The university is also home to the state’s largest collaboration of health sciences, nursing and public health programs through its Partners for Health initiative. It also boasts one of the world’s top film programs. Other major programs include business, engineering, education and information studies.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/ How international is your institution?

A: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, & Iran. 

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

A: The IELTS test is used as evidence of English Proficiency.  At the undergraduate level a student would need a score of 5.0 or better for full admission and at the graduate level a score of 6.5 or higher is required. 

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges? 

A: One common challenge is fatigue.  If you are a non-native English speaker, even if you are proficient in English, spending 24 hours using that language can be tiring as your brain is constantly working.  Combine that with the normal stresses of moving to a new environment and studying and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.  Hence, focusing on your health is crucial in your success at the beginning and throughout your collegiate career. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise are essential.

Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?

A: Generally, students should expect 2-3 hours of studying for each credit hour they are enrolled in. 

Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home? 

A: U.S. academic culture requires class participation which can be a challenge to many students who are not used to this style of education.  Classroom styles can also be more informal than what students are used to in their home countries.   

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?

A: Very seriously!  Taking credit for someone else’s work or cheating at all U.S colleges and universities will result in discipline ranging from failure of the course to permanent expulsion from the institution or system.  There are two common American adages that are the best advice I can give to students when it comes to academic integrity the first is: “Honesty is the best policy” and the second is: “When in Doubt ask questions”. 

Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus? 

A: My best recommendation is to be healthy as mentioned above and try to be involved as possible.  The more people you meet the more resources you will have to ask questions.  In addition, staying busy also helps you avoid the pitfalls of culture shock.  Make sure you ask a lot of questions, Americans are very eager to help others, but they typically wait to be asked rather than assume someone needs help.  The same goes for your instructors, they will all have office hours to help with any issues you may be facing in their course.  Make sure you utilize that opportunity to clarify anything that you do not understand. 

Using Capital Letters (Part 1)

Capitalisation, the appropriate use of capital letters, is an area of punctuation that many learners pay little attention to. One reason might be that this topic can look deceptively simple at first glance. However, on exploring further, you very quickly realise that there’s quite a bit to learn. What also becomes evident is that like most grammar points, rules related to the use of capital letters aren’t always cut and dried.

Here are some handy tips to help you decide when to use capitalisation.

Rule 1: Capitalise the first word of a sentence

This one is as straightforward as grammar rules come because there’s hardly any complication here. Every time you begin a new sentence, start the first word with a capital letter.  

Examples

Hello there! How have you been?

You cannot go in there without permission.

Rule 2: Capitalise names of people, institutions, companies, brands

It goes without saying that people’s names are always capitalised. Similarly, the names of institutions, companies, and brands generally begin with a capital letter. Remember, if the name has more than one word, all important words in the name have their initial letter capitalised. 

Examples

Alan and Mathew are coming over this evening.

He works for the National Health Service.

United Airlines is a major player in the aviation sector that operates domestic and international flights.

Most people consider Sony to be the pioneers of portable music.

Rule 3: Capitalise cities, countries, nationalities, religions, languages

The names of cities, countries, nationalities, religions, and languages are proper nouns, so they should be capitalised. In the case of religion, the names of various deities are also capitalised.

Examples

Prague is a breathtakingly beautiful city.

He is from the United Arab Emirates.

Her father is Irish, whereas her mother is Scottish.

He’s had a Christian upbringing.

He speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and German.

Shiva is an ancient Hindu deity.

Rule 4: Capitalise the personal pronoun ‘I’

Unlike other personal pronouns (e.g. we, you, she, it), the personal pronoun ‘I’ is always written as a capital letter, no matter where it appears in a sentence.

Examples

I don’t know about the others, but I don’t want to go back to that restaurant.

James and I were the only ones to score goals yesterday.

We’ll be back soon with more on the use of capital letters. 

Understanding the IELTS Writing Section

Writing is arguably the most difficult language skill to master. Contrary to popular belief, skilful use of grammar and vocabulary alone wouldn’t necessarily make a person a good writer. This is because good thinking which follows a logical path and which is easy to understand lies at the very heart of good writing.

Read on to understand what to expect in the Writing section of IELTS.

Tasks

Task 1 (Academic)

Test takers are given information ‒ usually in the form of a graph, table, chart, or diagram ‒ and asked to describe it in their own words, writing at least 150 words. This could involve describing and explaining data, describing the stages of a process, describing how something works, or describing an object or event.

Task 1 (General Training)

Test takers are presented with a situation that people commonly encounter in their everyday life. They are then asked to write a letter of at least 150 words requesting information or explaining the situation. As far as the style of writing is concerned, the letter could be personal, semi-formal/neutral, or formal.

Task 2

In both Academic and General Training, test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem. Essay topics in Academic Writing are suitable for individuals entering undergraduate / postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration in an English-speaking country, whereas topics in General Training Writing tend to be of general interest and less complex.

Duration

Overall, test takers receive 1 hour to finish writing both tasks. Although the recommendation is to spend 20 and 40 minutes on Task 1 and Task 2 respectively, it is up to you to decide how to divide the time. Remember, Task 2 contributes twice as much to the final Writing score as Task 1, so you may need to spend adequate time on it.

Skills tested

Broadly speaking, the test is designed in such a way that a range of skills gets assessed. These include the test taker’s ability to produce a response that is appropriate, organise ideas skilfully, and use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures with accuracy.

Marking

Writing answers are evaluated by certificated IELTS examiners using the IELTS Writing test assessment criteria: Task Achievement (Task 1) / Task Response (Task 2), Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Scores are reported in whole and half bands.

Remember, a common mistake that test takers make is not finding out enough about the Writing section format before the exam; do familiarise yourself with the task types so that you can fulfil all task requirements.

The View From Campus: Understanding the U.S. Application Process

Marie Whalen, Associate Director of International Admissions and Recruitment at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, 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 admissions process.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.

A: Rigorous, inclusive, supportive, faith-filled

Q: For what is your institution known abroad?

A: Whitworth is best known for its academic excellence and a welcoming, supportive environment for international students.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad and grad)?

Health Sciences

Business/Economics

Biology

Psychology

English

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

Nigeria

South Korea

Mongolia

Nepal

Zimbabwe

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

A: IELTS enables us to assess the applicant’s skill overall as well as in the individual areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening. As a well-recognized and reliable assessment tool, our international admissions committee can look at an IELTS band score and know instantly what the English level at which the applicant is able to function.

Additionally, we can see if there is one specific area where the student can be successful but may need some additional support, such as writing, for example. We also appreciate that the verbal section is done with a live interview vs. with a computer.  IELTS is a critical part of determining admissibility in our international admission process.

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

A: Rolling admission is a process that allows students to apply within a wide time range of time rather than submitting to specific tight deadline, like January 1st, for example. However, rolling admission also means that students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, so places can fill up. Once places for a class are full, applications won’t be accepted. If applying to a school with rolling admission, it can be better to apply earlier than later.

Some U.S. institutions, usually highly selective, offer Early Decision (ED). Students submit their applications early and receive a decision early. If a student applies to a university ED, then they are promising to attend that institution, if admitted. Students should only apply ED if they are certain they want to attend the ED institution and they have assessed both their financial situation and type and level of aid offered by the ED school.

Early Action (EA), like ED, gives students the opportunity to apply early to institutions and receive a decision early. However, unlike ED, Early Action is not a contract, and not binding. Students can apply to multiple institutions that offer EA. If a student is admitted EA to 5 U.S. colleges, for example, they can choose which one to attend.  There are a very limited number of colleges that offer Restrictive or Single Early Action, requiring students to apply EA to only one institution.

Many institutions offer some combination of ED, EA and Regular Decision. Whitworth, for example, offers Early Action I and Early Action II, as well as Regular Decision. A regular decision deadline is the deadline after any ED or EA deadlines and is usually considered the final deadline for applying.

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

A: Institutions look to the essay to gain additional insight into an applicant, beyond their grades, test scores and any extra-curricular activities.  The essay is an excellent opportunity for an applicant to share something about themselves that we otherwise would not know. Some students have compelling life stories, or a hobby or passion, or some unique perspective.

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

A: Very important! Many U.S. institutions have strict admission, scholarship and financial aid deadlines. If you miss a deadline, even by an hour, your application may not be considered, or you may not receive any financial aid. I always tell students to begin their applications early because they often take more time than students expect. Don’t miss those deadlines!

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

A: Colleges look to teacher/professor letters of recommendation to find out what type of student an applicant is. Of course we know that a student with a 3.74/4.00 GPA is competent academically, but we want to know more: how does the student learn? How does he or she contribute to the classroom and interact with the teacher and classmates?  Does the student do the minimum work required or go beyond that to learn about a topic in-depth? Is a student who struggled academically in year 11 now making good progress?

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: Some institutions will give admissions decisions within 2-3 weeks; others can take months to respond. Some institutions have pre-set dates for releasing their decisions. Every institution has its own policy and this policy should be written on their website.

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