IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of how it’s important to be well-rested, well-fed, and comfortably clothed on the test day so that you can give a good account of yourself in IELTS.

Read on for some more tried and tested tips that can help you on the day.

Take your ID document along

On arrival, one of the first things that a test taker needs to undergo at the test venue is an identity check. When registering for IELTS, you receive information on what type of ID you’ll be expected to carry. In many regions, this would be the test taker’s passport. If you fail to take along your ID, you will not be allowed to sit the test. So, whatever you do, do not forget your ID.

Carry enough stationery

If you’re taking paper-based IELTS, you’ll have to write mostly in pencil. Time is invaluable, so anything that helps you save precious seconds is good news. Have 3 to 4 pencils ready to be used so that you don’t lose time sharpening when one goes dull. Similarly, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, and a couple of pens are also essential.
In some cases, the stationery is provided to you at the test venue. But, if this is not clearly mentioned to you when you book the test, ensure you carry enough stationery with you on the test day.

Leave electronic devices outside

Mobile phones or other electronic devices shouldn’t be taken into the test room, so leave them at home. At some test venues, designated places may be available where personal belongings can be stored. Remember, if an electronic item is found on you while you are in the test room, it would be considered a serious breach of test rules.

Arrive early

It’s really in your best interest to arrive on time at the test venue. For one thing, when you’re running late, you slip into panic mode. More importantly, test takers who report late may not be allowed to participate.

Watch how much water you drink

The Listening, Reading, and Writing tests are conducted one after the other, with no breaks in between. If you do choose to use the toilet, you’ll lose that time. Hence be mindful of how much water you drink during the test. It might also be a good idea to pay a quick visit to the toilet just before you enter the test room.

Remember these tips, and you should have a stress-free test experience.

IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 1)

Sitting an exam can be pretty nerve-wracking for most, even if it happens to be a straightforward language test. Often test takers are so caught up in exam preparation that they fail to get the simple things right.

Every year, thousands take IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. If you are thinking of having a crack at it anytime soon, we have some handy advice to help you perform to the best of your abilities.

Get adequate sleep

The IELTS test is considerably long, with the test taker spending 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the Listening, Reading, and Writing tests alone. Add to this the time taken by venue staff to check identity, collect biometric data, and give instructions, and the test taker might spend close to 4 hours under examination conditions.

To get through test day without having your energy levels drop, it’s important that you give yourself sufficient sleep. Once you’re well-rested, you’ll arrive at the venue feeling fresh, ready to take on any challenge. 

Have a heavy meal

It is common to experience pre-exam jitters on the eve of a high-stakes test such as IELTS. Test takers are so consumed by the anxiety to do well that they don’t always eat adequately.

If you begin the test on a near-empty stomach, you’ll soon suffer hunger pangs, and consequently lose your concentration or feel nauseous. See to it that you have a hearty meal before you set off for the exam venue. Food and drink cannot be taken into the test room, so what you eat has to be substantial.

Wear something comfortable

Formal or casual, the clothing you wear has no bearing on your test scores, so choose wisely. While you may be tempted to dress to impress, comfort should clearly be the priority here.

Wear something that you’ll be comfortable in and that’ll give you confidence to perform. At many test centres, the air-conditioning will remain switched on throughout, so don’t forget to take along an extra layer of clothing to keep warm.

We’ll be back soon with more simple yet effective exam tips.

Understanding the IELTS Speaking Section

Being able to speak with confidence and clarity is a reliable indicator of an individual’s language proficiency. Naturally, all language tests have a component that assesses the test taker’s oral skills.  

Here’s an overview of the IELTS Speaking test.

Parts

Part 1: Introduction and interview (four to five minutes)

This part aims to put test takers at ease by getting them to talk on familiar topics, such as home, work, studies, family, and interests. Being the easiest part of the test, it’s a great chance to overcome nerves.

Part 2: Individual long turn (three to four minutes)

The test taker receives a task card with a particular topic. They get one minute to prepare, after which they have to speak for up to two minutes on the topic. They may need to draw on their personal experiences and feelings to do well.

Part 3: Two-way discussion (four to five minutes)

Thematically linked to the previous part, here the examiner asks the test taker questions about more abstract issues and ideas. Since questions tend to be of a complex nature, it gives test takers the perfect opportunity to show off their language skills. 

Skills tested

Over three parts, IELTS Speaking assesses a wide range of skills. Initially, test takers get to communicate opinions and information on everyday topics. Later on, they need to exhibit an ability to speak at length on a given topic without much effort, organising ideas coherently as they go along. Towards the end, they also have to express and justify opinions, analyse situations, and speculate about issues.

Marking

Speaking interviews are conducted and assessed by certificated IELTS examiners, who hold relevant teaching qualifications and have sufficient teaching experience. Tests are marked according to the IELTS Speaking test assessment criteria (Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, Pronunciation). To do well, test takers have to produce a wide range of language throughout with accuracy. The wider the range you display, the higher the accuracy, the better the outcome.  

Unlike other tests, the Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interview that is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get, so prepare well to make the most of it.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 3)

So far in the series on letter writing, we’ve considered four ways in which you could end up losing marks – not stating the purpose clearly, employing an inappropriate tone, not fully covering bullet points, and failing to notice plural forms. 

Now, read on for some more advice on what not to do when attempting Writing task 1 in IELTS General Training.

5. Poor organisation

Structuring the letter shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, as test takers have enough help, a fact that not many cotton on to. The bullet points on your examination paper will always be ordered logically, so all you have to do is follow it.  Do not waste time trying to rearrange the sequence. There’s absolutely no point in you reinventing the wheel!

Similarly, there is a misconception that the more linking expressions a letter has, the better its organisation. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Just like how underuse of linking expressions is a problem, overuse too is something to be avoided.

Remember, there’s no substitute for clarity of thought. This means even a generous sprinkle of linking expressions cannot help you achieve good organisation if the ideas you’ve presented aren’t clearly related to each other.

6. Memorizing model letters

Like with any other exam, success in IELTS demands a disciplined effort from the test taker. So, it’s best to draw up a timetable and work on your English skills systematically. When you’ve not been able to do this, last-minute exam jitters can get the better of you, and you begin searching for shortcuts. It isn’t uncommon for test takers to memorize entire model letters in the hope that one among them might appear in the exam.

However, there are no quick fixes here. At first sight, tasks may appear to be the same, but there’s always a difference. Besides, IELTS examiners are language experts trained to spot and penalise memorised responses. A better approach would be to learn language chunks that help you perform common letter writing functions, such as apologising, making suggestions, and turning someone down.

And here’s a final tip: friendly letters may look easy, but they are often the hardest to write if you are a non-native speaker. So, don’t forget to give yourself loads of practice.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we considered how to avoid two potential pitfalls when attempting the letter writing task in IELTS. 

Here are a few more things to watch out for if you wish to achieve a good writing band score.

3. Not covering bullet points adequately

In IELTS, test takers are told exactly what information to add in the letter, in the form of three bullet points. It goes without saying that these three points form the very heart of the task, so they have to be sufficiently developed. Failing to do so will mean a lower band score on Task Achievement, one of the four assessment criterions. Of course, a lower band in one area equals a lower overall writing score.

See to it that you read the bulleted list carefully, thinking up ways to extend each point purposefully. Everyday situations are used to set IELTS letter writing tasks, so use this knowledge to your advantage. Imagine yourself in the situation detailed in the task, and you’ll soon have enough ideas to flesh out each bullet point.

4. Failing to notice plural forms

One thing that snares even competent users of English is the use of plural forms in the task. The bulleted list, or the part above it that sets the context, may have plural nouns (e.g. problems) or determiners (e.g. some) that refer to an indefinite quantity.

Test takers need to pick up on any suggestion of plural forms in the task and respond appropriately. For instance, if the task states that you have some furniture to sell, make sure you include details of more than one piece of furniture. Similarly, if you’ve been asked to explain problems you are facing, the letter should mention at least two problems. If you happen to write about only one, you’ll get penalised for sure. To avoid running such a risk, it might be a good idea to underline plural nouns, or determiners such as some, as soon as you see them. That way, you’ll remember to include enough information later on while drawing up a plan.   

Remember, in an exam situation, staying alert is as important a thing to do as anything else. We’ll be back with more advice on letter writing.

Understanding the IELTS Reading Section

Reading comprehension is a key language ability that determines how much of a text an individual understands when they go through it. Not surprisingly, most language tests assess this skill.

Here’s what you can expect in the IELTS Reading section.

Skills tested

The Reading section in IELTS is designed to test a range of skills that we employ to read various kinds of text and derive meaning. This includes forming a general understanding of a long text, looking for specific details (e.g. a date, figure), identifying the writer’s opinion or attitudes, and following how an argument develops.

Content

In both IELTS tests, Academic and General Training, candidates receive three sections to read, each accompanied by a set of questions. Texts are normally adapted from books, newspapers, magazines, and journals, and tend to be of general interest. So, no specialist knowledge is required to understand them.

One key difference between the two tests is that the IELTS General Training Reading section is simpler, as it focuses mostly on basic survival skills.

Timing

The Reading section in IELTS lasts 60 minutes, and test takers are recommended to spend 20 minutes per section. Unlike IELTS Listening, no extra time is given to transfer answers, so they have to be written directly on to the answer sheet. Managing time can be tricky here, as candidates aren’t really told when to begin or end each section.

Questions

A total of 40 questions need to be answered in the Reading section. A variety of question types is used so that the difficulty level remains uniform across test sessions. Answers tend to be short, with most of them being a word or short phrase. Sometimes, a letter or number will do.

Scores

Each correct answer is worth one mark. A raw score out of 40 is calculated and later converted to the IELTS 9-band scale using a conversion table. Scores are reported in whole (e.g. 6, 7, 8) and half bands (e.g. 6.5, 7.5, 8.5). To score well in IELTS Reading, see to it that you read up on the format and spend enough time understanding the various question types. Good luck!

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we looked at how the IELTS journey begins when test takers arrive at the test venue, following which they deposit belongings, and get registered. Read on to know what happens from then on.

 

Entering the examination room

On completing registration, test takers are ushered into the examination room, where they’ll be spending the next few hours doing the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections. Once the test taker enters this space, they are expected to remain there until the end of the session.

 Each individual is allotted a specific place in the room as per a seating plan that is prepared beforehand. Test takers are sat at a distance from each other to prevent malpractice of any kind, such as copying from one another or helping each other in any other way.

Attempting the written part

The Listening, Reading, and Writing sections of IELTS last approximately 3 hours and are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them. Should the test taker decide to go to the restroom during this time, they lose that time. While the restroom is out of bounds during the Listening section, test takers may choose to quickly use the loo during Reading or Writing. Time checks are provided periodically to help test takers manage time efficiently.

In the Listening and Reading sections, answers have to be written on the answer sheet in pencil. For the Writing section, though, test takers get a choice between pen and pencil.

Attending the Speaking interview

The Speaking section is a one-to-one interaction with a trained examiner, which can be held before or after the written test. The date and time of the interview is normally announced a week in advance so that test takers have enough time to prepare. On the day, they are asked to report 20 to 30 minutes before the interview along with the passport or ID document. At this stage, biometric data is used to verify that the same individual has appeared for the speaking and written parts.

Once the test is over, IELTS results are made available online on the 13th day. A Test Report Form (TRF), which has individual scores as well as an overall band score, is also issued to the test taker.

 

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 1)

 

Say the word ‘test’ or ‘exam’, and it’s natural for some to turn into a bundle of nerves. Let’s face it, exam fear cuts across different age groups, with both the young and old likely to get sweaty palms.

Many of us tend to harbour a deep-seated fear of the unknown. So, one way to get around exam fear is by familiarising yourself with the test that you’re planning to take.  In this post, we’ll trace the IELTS test day journey undertaken by candidates.

 

Arriving at the test venue

An IELTS test taker’s exam journey usually begins when they arrive at the test venue on the chosen test date. Depending on which part of the world you sit the test, this may be early in the morning or around noon.

At most test centres, only three sections of the test are conducted on the test date – Listening, Reading, and Writing. Speaking, on the other hand, can be scheduled before or after the written part. At small centres, however, all four sections may be held on the same day, especially if test takers numbers are low.

 

Depositing personal belongings   

As IELTS is a high-stakes test, there are strict regulations that need to be followed by test providers. Test venues tend to have designated areas where personal belongings are to be left. Only authorised items (e.g. pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener, identity document) can be carried into the examination room.

 

Test taker registration

IELTS uses cutting-edge technology, such as biometric registration and verification systems, to ensure that test security isn’t compromised at any point. Apart from fingerprints, the candidate’s photograph is also taken at the time of registration. Their identity document, which is usually the passport, is also subjected to close scrutiny.

Test security is safe in the hands of expert venue staff, who are hand-picked for the job. Once selected, they have to go through extensive training that prepares them to spot fraudulent behaviour or imposters.

 

In a later post, we’ll talk about the rest of the journey undertaken by millions of test takers who have chosen IELTS, the world’s leading English proficiency test.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Colleges and Universities

 

This month we hear from Sofia de la Garza, Adviser at EducationUSA Mexico City. Sofia has been advising students on U.S. study opportunities for several years through her work in Mexico.

 

Q: Describe your role at EducationUSA?

A: I’m an adviser at the EducationUSA Mexico City office. My role is to assist students to be successful in their intention to study in the United States. We offer them all the information they need and guide them through the process from teaching them how to search for institutions that are a good fit, preparing a financial plan and finding financial aid, navigating the admission process in general and all of its requirements, to pre-departure orientations where students learn valuable information that will make their transition to study and live in the U.S. a lot easier for them and their families.

 

Q: What are the most common academic programs that prospective international undergraduate students seek out in the United States?

A: It varies from region to region. In Mexico, it varies from city to city too! Commonly, students are interested in engineering or business because students usually look for what they know or have heard of. Here in Mexico City, you will find that students are interested in a variety of programs related to fine arts, sports, entertainment, international affairs, etc. As advisers, our job is to explain to the students the concept, the value and benefits of education in the U.S., where you can combine programs (majors and minors) to get exactly the program that they want.

 

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for undergraduate education?

A: I think the application process time frame is the most challenging element. Studying in the U.S. requires planning, preparation, and research. It takes time to learn about the process you need to go through in order to be accepted at a university or college, and after that you need to develop an action plan to achieve it. This plan includes studying for the tests, writing essays, requesting recommendations, etc.

 

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for undergraduate study?

A: Prospective students should consider at least 1.5 years in advance to the time they want to start the program. The earlier they start the better. Ideally, 2 years would be enough if students are really following the action plan.

 

Q: How can international students seeking undergraduate study in the United States begin their search?

A: We usually recommend to start searching for schools in the College Board search engine, but besides finding the schools in that web page, they need to visit each institution’s website to find requirements, deadlines, financial aid, campus culture, majors, etc. Another key resource is talking directly to the institutions through fairs. Another great opportunity to learn about institutions is attending the events at EducationUSA centers. These events could be either virtual or in-person.

 

Q: What are the most important factors prospective international undergraduate students look at when reviewing U.S. colleges and universities?
A: Prospective students usually start by looking at the majors offered and financial aid. They also look into extracurricular activities, campus culture, location, weather, etc. After they determine the institutions that would be a good fit for them, they look into the admission requirements and deadlines among other things.

 

Q:What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international undergraduate applicants?

A: English proficiency is very important not only to thrive at college, but also to make friends and have an easier adjustment to the campus life. When an institution is requesting these tests, they are trying to make sure a student is proficient in English for the student’s own good and success in their program. Some institutions have programs for students that did not make the minimum English requirements, where they can start taking classes on campus during or after an English program. Tests like IELTS provide a working reference of the students skills, competencies and readiness for academic engagement. Additionally, in some cases, language proficiency can be factored in for financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

 

Q: What does finding a “good fit” mean when it comes to finding the right college or university in the United States?
A: A Good fit is when a prospective student researches beyond rankings and names of institutions to find his/her goals, expectations and needs aligning with a university or college. Each individual should determinate what are the important aspects, characteristics and conditions an institution should offer to put it in the “right fit list”. We can only determine if an institution is a good fit or not if we have done comprehensive research about it.

Describing a Process (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we suggested doing two useful things when describing a process – identifying logical stages and using powerful verbs.

Here are three more tips to help you.

 

3. Be descriptive

Processes carried out in the modern-day factory are either fully or partly automated, which means that there is extensive use of machinery. One way to improve your score is by forming the ability to describe the appearance of machines in detail. Here’s an example:

The next stage involves use of an injection moulder, which is a long, narrow cylindrical apparatus with an outlet at the top through which liquid can be funnelled in.

 

4. Use linking devices adequately

A process has various stages that are interconnected, so it’s important that pieces of text which describe various stages blend seamlessly with each other. To achieve this, skillful use of linking devices (i.e. words and phrases) is a must. The reader will then find it easier to follow the order of information in a piece of writing or identify how parts are related. Here’s an example:

To begin with, oranges are sourced from large groves where they are grown in optimal conditions. The fruit collected is then inspected and graded before being transported to the production site. On arrival, the oranges are rinsed while they pass over rollers, and are segregated thereafter.

 

5. Choose tenses appropriately

In a process, some actions may take place naturally (e.g. the fruit ripens in about 3 months), whereas others are performed by humans (e.g. the ripe fruit is pulled off the trees by pickers). When describing things done by workers, we often use passive structures, as the doer of the action is not important. Here are some examples:

  • Oranges are sourced / are grown
  • The fruit is inspected / is collected / is graded

 

In each activity mentioned above, the result is important, not the person who does the action. So, before choosing the tense, think whether the doer of the action needs a mention.

 

Do remember to follow these tips the next time you attempt to describe a process.

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