3 Things International Students Should Know About the IELTS Exam

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The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is one of the most widely used English language tests in the world. It comprises reading, writing, listening and speaking subtests and is designed for people who want to study or work in an English-speaking environment. The test fee is around $200, but it’s best to check specific test centres to determine the cost in the local currency.

Prospective undergraduate or graduate students who are applying to universities in English-speaking countries, or to programs where English is the language of instruction, will likely be asked to take the IELTS Academic test or the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Contact your school to find out which test is right for you, or check the IELTS Global Recognition System  for your school’s name.

[Learn how U.S. colleges gauge international students’ English skills.]

If you need an IELTS score, here are three things to know before taking the exam.

1. Why you should take it: The IELTS, which is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment, is one of the preferred English proficiency tests for universities in AustraliaBritainCanadaIrelandNew Zealand and South Africa. University College London, for example, accepts a number of tests but states on its website that the IELTS is preferred. The test is also accepted by a large number of schools in the U.S. and by English-language programs in many other countries.

However, the test itself is a preliminary measure only. Josephine Parr, director of communications at the New School in New York, which had the highest percentage of international students among National Universities in the U.S. in 2013-2014, said by email that a high IELTS score “does not always translate directly to competency in the classroom.”

As for whether to take the TOEFL or the IELTS, Parr says the New School has no preference. Students should, therefore, consult universities directly to see if the IELTS is required or even accepted.

2. What score you need: IELTS test-takers are given scores, on a scale from 1 to 9, for each part of the test; the average of the results from the four subtests is then used to determine what’s known as the overall band score. To determine the score needed for university admission, try looking at the different overall band scores required by various universities as published on the IELTS website, or consult the university you would like to attend.

The University of Oxford, for instance, requires an overall score of 7.0 for incoming international undergraduates, while the Graduate School of Princeton University prefers students who score an 8.0 on the speaking subsection. However, many reputable schools, in the U.S. and elsewhere, accept scores in the 5.0 to 6.0 range.

 

3. How to prepare: A great way to prepare for the IELTS is by taking it. This gives you the experience of the exam and knowledge of your current level, which will help determine the score you want to achieve in the time available.

Caroline McKinnon, a New York-based school manager at GEOS Languages Plus, a language training centre, says of students, “the more they surround themselves with English, the better they are.”

But students also need to learn the format of the exam, she adds, pointing out that many perform poorly due to unfamiliarity or failure to follow instructions.

For the listening and reading sections, consider using apps such as IELTS Skills or TOEFL TPO HD. The latter can be used for both TOEFL and IELTS prep , and the apps provide hours of test simulations.

In addition to IELTS-specific training, try adding English-language podcasts to your daily routine to improve listening skills. Also, try visiting newsinlevels.com, where you can read the news at various levels of English and increase your reading level over time.

If vocabulary is a concern, review a frequency list, since this will provide the words test-takers are most likely to see. Next, consider browsing the following Wikipedia articles for any unfamiliar terms: business, education, entertainment, food, games, government, politics, science (and its many subgroups), sports and technology. Having a strong vocabulary will also help you in your writing.

For the essay, McKinnon says, the best way to prepare is by writing a lot of practice essays and “working against the clock.”

Finally, there is the speaking section. This will involve four to five minutes of discussion about your hobbies, hometown, school, etc.; a prompt about a specific topic for which you will have one to two minutes of speaking time; and finally four to five minutes of additional discussion related to the prompt topic.

Websites such as dcielts.com provide lists of typical questions, as well as other useful tips, to help you prepare your answers. Topical vocabulary, such as what can be found in the Wikipedia articles suggested earlier,  and idiomatic expressions are important here.

The secret to success, though, is practice – lots of it.

“I’d sit on a bench every morning for months, going through my book and answering the questions out loud,” says Cao Shuyuan, an accounting major at Chengdu University of Technology in China who recently took the IELTS with the hope of obtaining his MBA in Britain. “I probably looked crazy, but it worked.”

 

Source – US News