OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

5 Tips to Ace the IELTS Letter Writing (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the IELTS General Training format, test takers are given a situation and asked to respond to it by writing a letter, which may be informal, semi-formal, or formal.

 

Situations deal with everyday topics, such as writing to a friend about recent changes in your life, writing to a neighbour inviting them to an event, or writing to the council about some problem that people in your locality are facing.

 

Letter writing might look simple, but if IELTS test takers disregard certain aspects of the task, they could end up scoring a lower band than what they are capable of.

 

So, here are 5 tips to help you ace the letter writing task in IELTS…

 

  1. Follow general letter-writing rules

This task assesses the test taker’s ability to follow English letter-writing conventions, so it’s important that you provide enough evidence of it: start and end the letter appropriately, organise information logically, and use an appropriate style of writing.

 

For example, if the salutation at the beginning is Dear Sir or Madam, you should end the letter with something suitable, such as Yours faithfully. Similarly, a letter should have an opening sentence that is appropriate and sets the scene for what is to follow. Here are a couple of examples:

 

Formal Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with a meal I had at your restaurant last Friday.

Informal Dear Jane,

Thanks once again for agreeing to look after Bruno over the weekend – you’re a star!  

 

 

 

  1. Make your letter look authentic

You may be attempting this task as part of an exam, but the reader should still find your letter authentic. So, how do you do it? Simple! Keep adding finer details that make your letter believable. For instance, if you are asked to write to a friend inviting them to an event, make sure you add enough details about the location.

Bad example

The party is at a popular club in Central London.

 

Good example

The party is at the Grooves club in Leicester Square, London. It’s directly opposite the National Art Gallery, so you won’t miss it.

 

Remember, the more authentic your letter looks, the better your chances of getting a high score.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

disregard
Form : verb
Meaning : to not consider something as important or ignore
Example : Mary burnt after disregarding her mother’s advice to wear sunblock.

 

Ace (slang)
Form : verb
Meaning : to succeed/perform in a competitive situation
Example : Clive studied hard so I’m sure he’ll ace the exam.

 

convention
Form : noun
Meaning : A well-established rule
Example : Her novel doesn’t follow the narrative conventions of modern fiction.

 

 

 

set the scene (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to give someone enough information so that they understand what comes next
Example : He set the scene by telling us a bit about life in 19th-century New York.

 

authentic
Form : adjective
Meaning : The original / genuine
Example : Criminals try to make fake banknotes look as authentic as possible.

 

View From Campus: U.S. College Applications Explained

Santa Clara University, California

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.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words or less:

Innovative, Collaborative, Compassionate, Beautiful!

 

What is your institution known for abroad?

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.

 

What are your top academic programs (undergraduate) 

As a comprehensive liberal arts school, students can study business or engineering while not giving up their passion for the arts. 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 Bioengineering.  The hallmark of our engineering education is a solid foundation of theory and practice that is imparted on each student. Besides developing technical skills for the workplace, SCU engineering also focuses on the development of the whole person, and incorporates a broad liberal arts-based general education into its curriculum. The idea of engineering for the betterment of society is at the core of our programs.

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college? 

India, China, Japan, Singapore, Philippines

 

How international is your institution? 

4% of our student population is international, coming from 44 different countries.

 

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

Santa Clara University requires proof of English proficiency.  To be considered for admission, we accept IELTS as a strong indicator of English ability.

 

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

  • 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 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 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.

**Please note that Santa Clara University only offers rolling admissions for transfer applicants.

 

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

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 utilize 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.

 

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

Meeting application deadlines for U.S. institutions is very important.  By meeting the assigned deadline, students demonstrate that they are organized and serious about the possibility of attending their institution.

SCU utilizes Common Application.  Our application is open and available for students to begin completing as early as August 1st.  The postmark deadline for early decision/early action applicants is November 1st.  Regular decision applicants have a postmark deadline of January 7th.

 

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

Strong letters of recommendation include details regarding academic achievement, how the student engages in a classroom environment, work ethic and character.

 

Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?  

Students can expect to receive an admissions decision around 2 months after the application deadline.

Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

Improve Your Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Matthias Uhlig via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Let’s face it, among all the language skills, reading is perhaps what most people least enjoy, especially if it happens to be an academic text. The reason for this can vary – a wandering mind, narrow vocabulary, or just impatience.

 

However, there are situations where this skill is a must; an exam perhaps being the best example. Almost all popular language tests have a reading component. IELTS, for instance, has a reading module designed to test a wide range of reading skills.

 

So, how do you improve your comprehension if you are not the reading kind? Here are some ways:

 

  1. Use speed reading

Speed reading is the technique of reading a text quickly with the aim of understanding its overall idea. In a reading comprehension test, this skill is priceless, as test takers find themselves in a race against the clock to answer all the questions. When dealing with long passages, the reader often focuses on content words – i.e. words that carry the message, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This way, they save time, allowing them to better focus understanding and answering those questions.

 

  1. Learn to deduce meaning

One thing that slows readers down is unfamiliar vocabulary. Each time they come across a word they don’t recognise, it hinders their reading speed, thereby affecting comprehension too. One way to overcome this problem is to develop the ability to deduce meaning. In other words, form an ability to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know by looking at words surrounding it. Let’s put this technique to test with the help of an example:

 

We drove past hyacinth fields in full bloom, the air filled with their sweet, lingering fragrance.

 

If you don’t recognise the word ‘hyacinth’, focus on words surrounding it – fields, in full bloom, sweet, lingering, and fragrance. From the context, it is clear that hyacinth is something that grows in fields, develops over time, and has a pleasant smell that is long-lasting. If your guess at this point is that it’s a flower, then you are dead right!

 

So, the next time you come across an unfamiliar word, try to deduce its meaning; then look it up in a dictionary to confirm you guessed right.

 

GLOSSARY

 

let’s face it
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to indicate what you are about to say is unpleasant but true
Example : Let’s face it, we both know you shouldn’t be marrying a guy like Jake.

 

wandering
Form : adjective
Meaning : moving aimless from one place to another
Example : Sally fares poorly in studies because of her wandering mind.

 

comprehension
Form : noun
Meaning : an individual’s ability to understand things
Example : Miguel had no comprehension of how difficult it was to raise a child.

 

a race against the clock
Form : phrase
Meaning : a situation when someone has to do something quickly, as they only have a limited amount of time
Example : Rescuing people during floods is always a race against the clock.

 

hinder
Form : verb
Meaning : to make it difficult for someone or something to make progress
Example : A leg injury hindered Roger from playing his best tennis.

 

View From Campus: Adjusting to Life at a U.S. University

Susquehanna University, USA

 

This month, James Goonan, Director of International Admissions at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, USA shares his thoughts on the often overlooked topic of academic adjustment to life on a U.S. college campus for international students.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

  • selective
  • residential
  • national
  • liberal arts

 

For what is your institution best known overseas?

Susquehanna University ranks No. 15 among the top 30 most affordable colleges with the best study abroad programs in the nation, according to Great Value Colleges (GVC).  And, we are ranked #1 in PA and #9 nationally for getting a job after graduation.

 

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

We are undergraduate only. Our top majors are Business (AACSB Accredited), Susquehanna has one of only two undergraduate liberal arts colleges in North America that have been accepted into the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Recognition program. The Publishing & Editing Major is one of the best in the US and ranks #9.

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

Saudi Arabia, China, Macao, Japan, Brazil.

 

How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

IELTS is used to evaluate English language proficiency for applicants from countries where English is not the native language.  The normal entry requirement is 6.0 for degree programs.  IELTS is also used for placement in our English Language Learners program.

 

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

Cultural differences.  Our customs are different; school system is different, language is different, and students are expected to be more independent than they might be at home.

 

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

We recommend that students plan to study 2 to 3 hours for every hour in the classroom.

 

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

Students on our campus are expected to be engaged and independent learners.  In addition, they are expected to participate in class, question their professors, and take responsibility for their own academic progress.  This atmosphere can be much different than their home countries, where instruction can be more lecture based there and students usually do not question their professors.

 

 

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

We recommend that entering international students participate in a pre-departure orientation in their home country.  These are provided by their local EducationUSA offices.  And, once on campus, the university offers a mandatory Orientation for new International Students.  The most important topics of concern and covered during the orientation.

 

 

How To Use Time Conjunctions Correctly

Image courtesy of David Vega via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Imagine you are asked to deliver an impromptu speech on some topic. Chances are that you would just focus on producing sentence after sentence, paying little attention to the order in which they appear.

 

However, when speaking at length, it’s important that what we say is coherent, i.e. our thoughts appear in a logical sequence. Using conjunctions of time is one way of achieving this.

 

Wondering what conjunctions of time are?  They are tiny words (such as before, after, once, while, etc.) which connect an action to a point in time. Put simply, they indicate when something happens.

 

In part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test, candidates need to speak continuously on a topic for two minutes. Here’s how time conjunctions can help structure your answer better:

 

Topic

 

IELTS Speaking: Part 2

 

Describe a holiday you went on recently.

 

 

Sample Answer

I love exploring new places, so holidays are something I always look forward to. The last holiday I went on was to a place called Kumarakom, which is in Southern India.

 

I first heard about Kumarakom when a friend spoke of her trip to India. Her vivid descriptions of the place and its people intrigued me so much that I knew I had to visit it. In fact, while she was busy recollecting her holiday experiences, I’d already started comparing tour packages on my phone. The following week, I found a great deal on a travel website. Before booking the holiday, I checked with my sister if she wanted to come. She jumped at the chance, and thus began our exciting journey.

 

Once we reached Kumarakom, I couldn’t contain my excitement. To be honest, since a visit to Egypt in my teens, never had I been to such an exotic location. As soon as we checked into the resort we were staying at, my sister and I decided to go for a swim. We enjoyed ourselves so thoroughly that we remained in the pool until sunset. After a sumptuous dinner that night, we decided to ….

 

Remember, time conjunctions also help create complex grammar structures, which is a major plus in a test situation.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

impromptu
Form : adjective
Meaning : not planned in advance
Example : He gave an impromptu performance at the wedding.

 

chances are that
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that something is likely to happen
Example : Chances are that Lilly will be moving abroad soon to join her parents.

 

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long time and in great detail
Example : Mike and I spoke about his career choices at length.

 

plus
Form : noun
Meaning : advantage
Example : Knowledge of current fashion trends would be a major plus in this job.

 

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

The first part looked at some information that is typically found in most dictionaries – meaning(s), part of speech, pronunciation, verb forms, and miscellaneous grammar points.

 

Here’s some more information you are likely to come across:

 

  1. Synonyms and antonyms

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning, or nearly the same, as another word. An antonym, on the other hand, is a word that means the opposite of another word.

Example:

honest

Synonyms – truthful, sincere, trustworthy, straightforward, reliable

Antonym – dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, insincere, untrustworthy, unreliable

 

  1. Collocations

The word collocation refers to a word combination that happens naturally in a language. Learning such typical combinations is important because it broadens the scope for expressing ideas clearly.

Example:

food

Verb collocations – consume / eat / have / cook / make / prepare food

Adjective collocations – fast / junk / takeaway / fresh / organic / canned food

 

  1. Example sentences

Example sentences are perhaps the best way to learn how to use a word or phrase accurately in a sentence. They show us the way various grammatical features work together to form a sentence. Some dictionaries print fixed expressions or phrases in bold to help users learn faster.

Example:

The change in policy will do serious harm to our business.

Though I’m not particularly fond of my mother-in-law, I don’t wish her any harm.

I know our neighbour’s dog looks ferocious, but he means no harm.

 

  1. Register

The term register means the degree of formality associated with a word. At times, dictionaries also highlight words that are old-fashioned or offensive.

Example:

ascertain (formal) = to find out

ripping (old-fashioned) = wonderful

gaffer (informal) = an individual who is in charge of a group of people

dude (slang) = a man

bird (sometimes offensive) = a way of referring to a young woman

 

  1. Spelling

A lot of words have alternative spellings, depending on the version used – British English (BrE) or North American English (NAmE).

Example:

theatre (BrE) / theater (NAmE)

doughnut / donut (NAmE)

colour (BrE) / color (NAmE)

 

So, the next time you use a dictionary, gather different types of information that can help you better your English.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

miscellaneous
Form : adjective
Meaning : consisting of different kinds of things
Example : Tom has a box of miscellaneous items from his childhood.

 

scope (for something)
Form : noun
Meaning : the opportunity to do something
Example : Sally’s new job offers plenty of scope for international travel.

 

offensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : rude or unpleasant
Example : Students who use offensive language in the classroom will be punished.

 

alternative
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that can be used instead of something else
Example : Swimming is a good alternative to running when recovering from an injury

 

 

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