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Is Your English good enough?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

English proficiency tests like IELTS and TOEFL are primary requirements alongside various entrance procedures to gauge the proficiency levels of aspirants wanting to apply to foreign universities, and even for work-related purposes. Although most aspirants find it easy to crack these tests, there are however, certain underlying aspects that provide further valuable insights to acing these preparatory exams. Sharada Iyer reports.

A common misconception that arises about IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is that an individual has to appear for both exams so as to get through the admissions eligibility criteria. Generally TOEFL as an English proficiency test is mandated for applying to universities in the United States and Canada. In parallel, IELTS is the necessary requirement for admissions in universities in the commonwealth countries. But there are certain exceptions to this classification considering that certain US-based educational institutes accept test scores of either proficiency exam. Students therefore need to first ascertain the test requirement of the concerned institute prior to attempting the test.

Both tests consist of four sections – reading, listening, speaking and writing. Although the difficulty level of questions asked in each section is quite low, each section has aspects that can be tricky. According to Ruhi Kumar, who gave the IELTS test, students need to focus on the requirements stipulated rather than over-thinking and over-analysing each of their steps. “Be in-line with what the requirements are. Be clear and to the point. These tests aren’t complicated but just gauge individuals’ ability to demonstrate and maintain good grammar skills, thinking ability and communication skills,” she emphasises.

Practicing thus becomes a major key for students to ensure that they are able to do well in each of the four sections of the exams, and more specifically when in it comes to those sections where a student is weak. While reading and writing practice can be obtained comparatively easily through test manuals and other general reading and writing content, it’s the listening and the speaking sections that are slightly difficult to crack. Recounting his personal experience with the listening section, Sagar Chhadva says, “I found listening to be the trickiest part. This is because the tape is playing continuously and you have to answer questions at the same time, so there is no chance to think over. Once you misunderstand something or your concentration wanders there is a good chance you will answer a couple of questions wrong. The key here is to concentrate for the entire duration of this part as they want to see how good you listen to others.”

Speaking as an educator with more than two decades of experience in this field, Prof. Amar Singh of Amar Tutorials, adds, “Listening for some students can be very tricky as most students are not used to international accents. Therefore, it’s a good idea to watch some good news channels like CNN, BBC, etc. Listening to news programmes on All India Radio (AIR) also is a good idea.” About the ‘Speaking’ section, he further explains, “As regards speaking, students can learn a lot from Radio Jockeys (RJs).They should try to inculcate the quality of being spontaneous from a good RJ. A good RJ speaks with clarity and does not fumble. Even if a RJ fumbles, he does not stop (But unlike RJs, a student should know where to stop) but excuses himself and moves ahead. In the same manner, students also should avoid fumbling. And if one has fumbled, it’s not like a crime has been committed. Therefore, it’s better to maintain one’s calm and move ahead. Reading out from newspapers, magazines, etc. improves students’ diction and clarity. Thus helping their purpose well, in the end.”

Details about the Tests
IELTS:  IELTS is a necessary requirement for both professionals seeking jobs abroad and students wanting to migrate for further studies. While the examination pattern mainly remains same for both categories in the listening and the speaking sections, they differ substantially in the writing and reading sections.

For people attempting to clear the IELTS for work-related purposes, the reading section consists of three to five textual paragraphs, based on which a set of questions are asked. Aspirants are required to answer the questions as per their understanding of the textual paragraphs provided. As regards the writing section for such individuals, the questions are more professionally oriented requiring individuals to write formal letters and essays on a given topic.

For students applying to foreign universities, reading section includes textual paragraphs with a totality of 40-odd questions for the aspirants to answer. In the writing section, students are given flow-charts and diagrams alongside requiring to produce an argumentative essay on a given topic.

Listening section for both categories consists of a voice-over of a monologue or dialogue, after which students have to answer the given set of questions to the best of their understanding.

In the speaking section, aspirants either face a personal interview one-on-one with an interviewer and/or go through a group discussion on a given topic.
 
TOEFL: TOEFL doesn’t have any such specialised categories for professionals and students. The reading section in TOEFL consists of textual paragraphs with questions at the end of it. The candidates have to answer the questions to the best of their ability. Like in the IELTS, the TOEFL listening section also consists of a voice tape recording with questions for the candidates to answer after the end of the recording. Writing consists of two rounds; one in which candidates are expected to write an essay on a given topic and the second where candidates are expected to summarise key-notes based on a textual paragraph provided and a voice-tape of a speaker discussing the same topic. The last section, speaking, requires the candidates to speak on their topic of choice and also requires them to participate in a group-oriented project.

Important Links
TOEFL: http://www.ets.org/
IELTS: http://www.ielts.org/default.aspx

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