Articles and tips from Evgenia Efremova

What score can I get in IELTS and how do Russian-speaking students pass the test?


What score can I get in IELTS and how do Russian-speaking students pass the test?



If you plan to enroll in higher education programs abroad and study in English, then you must provide a certificate in English, confirming knowledge of the language at the required level. One of the most popular tests that are accepted by almost all universities where teaching is conducted in English is the IELTS exam. Each university sets a minimum score that you must confirm when applying for a particular program of study.

In order to successfully prepare for such a test, it is important to clearly understand what the scores required by universities mean in terms of language level. We will also pay attention to how Russian-speaking students pass the test in order to conclude which skills should be emphasized in preparation.


General or Academic

IELTS exists in two versions - General Module and Academic Module. As a rule, the IELTS General Module is required by employers to confirm the language level sufficient for successful communication in a professional environment, as well as immigration programs, for example, in Canada, or training training programs. IELTS Academic is a module that is required for admission to higher education programs. In addition, like most international English tests, IELTS has four parts and separately assesses the level of language proficiency in all four competencies: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Accordingly, the first thing you must clearly understand is which module you need to take, because due to the difference in goals, different skills are assessed, respectively, the nature and level of training will differ. Although the content of the Listening and Speaking parts of the General and Academic parts are the same, they differ significantly in the Reading and Writing parts.

In general, the content of the texts and the nature of the essay questions in the Academic Module is more difficult, as it assesses more complex English language skills for the academic environment.

Although both the academic and the general module assess the level of language development due to the difference in structure and questions, the same score in IELTS General and IELTS Academic does not mean the same language level. Achieving a 7.0 score in the Academic Module is significantly more difficult than scoring the same score in the General Module.


Minimum score

Second, you must know the minimum required score for the chosen program of study. IELTS evaluates the overall level and the level of each skill on a scale of 0 to 9.0 in 0.5 point increments. The test designer makes recommendations to educational institutions on setting minimum acceptable scores depending on the nature of the program. So, for example, for "linguistically demanding programs" - these may include competitive undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs in the humanities, as well as programs in top universities - the minimum recommended score is 7.5 or more, which corresponds to the level C1 (Advanced) according to the standards European scale (CEFR). For “linguistically less demanding programs”, the recommended level is 7.0, which also corresponds to the advanced level on the European scale. For many universities in Europe and streaming universities, a score of 6.5 is sufficient, which corresponds to an upper-intermediate level - B2 (upper-intermediate).

Each year, the test developer releases a pass statistics report where you can compare scores by demographics, country of take, taker's native language, and track differences in scores across sections.

Interestingly, according to the average scores of students from the Russian Federation who passed the test in 2017, the average student passes below the minimum required scores of highly competitive educational institutions in countries such as the USA and Canada, however, such scores are quite suitable for admission to many programs in Europe and the average paid universities especially in technical specialties.

IELTS statistics

Data source: Official statistics


Scores for each part of IELTS

Third, pay attention to whether the university has a minimum score requirement for each individual part. Statistically, the majority of those who pass the exam have skills in the four parts that are unevenly developed. That is why many universities have begun to set minimum requirements not only for the overall score, but also for the minimum scores for individual parts that they consider important for successful study in a particular program.

This is understandable! Reading and listening are passive language skills and are easier and more enjoyable to train, especially in education systems where we are used to “book” learning. Speaking and writing skills are “active skills” and require a lot of practice to excel. Such activity involves a large load on the brain and causes a desire to postpone the completion of the essay until later. According to the results of the analysis of the homework of students of IELTS preparation courses in Global Ambassador, many students perform written and oral assignments reluctantly or do not complete them at all.

It is not uncommon for a student to feel that they can handle oral and written assignments without any problems, as many of the questions are “open-ended” questions that appeal to the student's knowledge and experience. However, many students forget or do not know that such answers are evaluated according to certain criteria. When compiling such questions, testing developers assume the use of a certain grammar, answer structure, and logical connectives. All this is taken into account when evaluating answers in conjunction with the vocabulary and semantic content of the answer. The student may falsely feel that he gave an excellent answer, because he “had something to say”, and the examiner gave him a nice and active nod, while as a result he received low scores.

Below are vivid examples of how much section scores can vary (from real IELTS certificates):

IELTS score 1

Example 1. Table of official results of a Russian-speaking student. 


In this example, the student demonstrates an advanced general level (C1), but only “intermediate to above average” (B2) in the writing and speaking parts. Therefore, if the selected study program has requirements of at least 7.0 in each of the sections, the student is no longer suitable for such a program, despite the high overall score.

IELTS score 2

Example 2. Table of official results of a Russian-speaking student. 


The same can be seen in the second example, where the student demonstrates the highest result in reading and slightly lower in listening, but a relatively low result in writing. Most likely, when entering a program of a humanitarian nature, such a score in writing will not be enough for admission.


Conclusions and recommendations

From all this, it is worth drawing a few conclusions about how best to organize the preparation for the IELTS exam:

1. Take the IELTS pre-test for the required module. This will allow you to evaluate the level of skill development in each of the four sections in the testing format, get a preliminary score and focus training on those skills that are significantly deficient.

2. Understand your current level and adequately estimate the required training period. For example, if you need to get a score of 7.0, which corresponds to the level of advanced, and your current level is average (intermediate), which, approximately, will allow you to pass the test at 4.5, then you need to not only spend a lot of time on preparation, but also concentrate on improving language level in general before starting preparation.

3. Select courses, materials, and instructors that are appropriate to prepare not only for the format of the test, but also for the types of items, the skills that the items test, and the criteria for assessing them. Many preparation courses pay little attention to the development of language skills, which are tested by certain IELTS tasks. They put more emphasis on getting to know the format of the tests by “training”. Such preparation will, of course, familiarize you with the format, but if the subject matter or the structure of the task changes, you may not have the skill to successfully complete it.

4. Practice active skills - writing and speaking, because their development requires more practice. Don't rely on familiar reading and writing questions - and they won't help if you don't know how to use the right structures for constructing arguments, descriptive answers, and so on. Take advantage of the experience of other students who have confirmed that writing and speaking tend to get lower scores for students. Set yourself up to work on these skills.


We wish you successful and effective training!


Author: Evgenia Efremova, master of Harvard University, author of preparation courses for IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. 



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Why can preparing for TOEFL or IELTS take longer than it looks?


Why can preparing for TOEFL or IELTS take longer than it looks?

 toefl ielts case

Why does TOEFL/IELTS preparation take longer than it looks? 


If you plan to study abroad in English, you will need to pass one of the international language proficiency tests. The most common are IELTS Academic and TOEFL ibt. The admissions committee of each university where teaching is conducted in English sets a minimum score. To assess the prospects for obtaining the required scores in TOEFL or IELTS, you need to know what the main difficulty of these exams is. Let's understand on the basis of a typical case.

You have decided to enter a good foreign university. This university requires to provide TOEFL ibt scores of at least 100 points, and the submission deadline is in 2 months. At the same time, your current level is Intermediate, but you are aiming for admission this year and want to pass the exam. Will you be able to pass the exam with 100+ points in 2 months? Let's figure it out.

You probably studied English at school. Perhaps they studied at the language center. In any case, you studied general English, the purpose of which (especially at the initial levels of study) is the formation of vocabulary, the study of basic grammatical and syntactic structures, as well as the development of basic listening and speaking skills - that is, everything that will allow you to communicate in a daily environment and solve domestic issues. With knowledge of general English at the Intermediate level, you feel confident communicating while traveling, maintaining everyday conversations with native speakers, and even traveling on the Work & Travel program. But this level is not enough when you need to express your opinion, think about something or argue your point of view - there is discomfort associated with a lack of vocabulary and the inability to clearly formulate your thoughts.

It is skills such as the ability to reason, understand the structure of what is read and build arguments in the context of academic topics that are the skills that are mainly tested by the IELTS Academic and TOEFL ibt exams, that is, they assess academic English proficiency. Academic English is a language for learning and thinking (it is also called cognitive). It involves the development and application of cognitive skills, but not in the native language, but in English. These skills include critical analysis and logical reasoning, which must be used not only in reading and listening, but also in writing and speaking. Skills of a highly cognitive order (analysis, evaluation, critical thinking, generation of new ideas) require a high level of English proficiency.

The TOEFL and IELTS tests are based on academic vocabulary, complex syntactic and grammatical structures, without mastering which it will not be possible to fully understand the essence of what is read or heard. In this case, questions and tasks involving the synthesis, analysis and evaluation of ideas turn out to be difficult and incomprehensible for us. Therefore, when you start preparing for TOEFL or IELTS with an intermediate level of general English in a short time, you should not try to sharply increase your level of knowledge of the language, but you need to study academic vocabulary that will help you grasp the meaning and answer basic questions of a factual nature. After 2 months of preparation, you can count on 50-75 points in TOEFL and 4.5-6.0 in IELTS. However, if you need higher scores, the situation is not hopeless: to begin with, you need to allocate more time for preparation, and in the process of preparing, remember that there are individual differences in the development of cognitive skills. 


Author: Evgenia Efremova, Ed.M. in Mind, Brain & Education (Harvard University), 
academic director Global Ambassador and developer of training programs for TOEFL и IELTS 


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Building a personal brand for career and education abroad


Building a personal brand for career and education abroad

skill 10 1

10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student


Habit number 10. Building a personal brand

I want to end this series with a talk about the importance of building a personal brand. Personal brand, you think?! Yes, yes, exactly ... And no matter how surprising it is, you already have it. You can omit this beautiful professional term for a second and it turns out that these are just those feelings and emotions, images and associations that different people have when they hear your name. Why is a personal brand so important, and why should you devote as much time to building it as to personal and career development?

Emotions are stronger than rational thinking

As much as we want to think and make decisions rationally and think that this is how things happen, our world is driven by emotions. If we talk about the labor market, then here you will be perceived on an emotional level. I don’t want to compare a person with a product, but in essence any person in the labor market is a “commodity” that competes with others due to its values, functionality and emotional attractiveness. And if you want to be chosen among the many deserving ones, then it makes sense to adapt to the demand and expectations of the audience.

What emotions are embedded in your resume? Every detail forms the impression of you as a professional. Guess what is read between the lines in the mailbox titles “thebestgirlinthewholeworld” or “the_brightest_star” or from an inappropriate photo in the kitchen with half-bare breasts? What does a personal assessment of a foreign language at the “Advanced” level look like in a summary full of banal errors like mismatch of tenses and others? When talking on the phone for the first time, according to the tone of your words: your benevolence or its absence, an image is formed about you that either encourages communication or encourages you to end the conversation immediately and forever. Not to mention personal contact. Your look and smile, speech and appearance, thoughts and mannerisms, gestures and tact - all this together forms a completely clear emotion in relation to you. And no matter how great your resume may seem in terms of professional experience, the emotional center of your audience is sometimes stronger than their rational thinking.

Subjective perception of a personal brand

Even when we consciously form a positive image, our personality is perceived subjectively. As the saying goes, you can't please everyone. Different people perceive information differently. Any new information and image is passed by other people through the prism of their personal previous experience, which subconsciously forms a positive or negative perception. Therefore, if your professional career depends on other people, then it is important that you clearly understand what kind of audience it is, what its expectations are, and develop your brand in such a way that it is perceived as unambiguously as possible. It's like the story of Apple, which evokes unambiguous, understandable emotions in almost all of its audience.

Multi-channel and public access to information about you

In the era of social media, where your personal and professional information is practically in the public domain for life, anything associated with your name can affect the sustainability of your brand in one way or another. Therefore, it is important to evaluate what information about you is available on social networks, and what image it forms about you in the long term. Imagine that what you are going to post on a social network cannot be deleted? Will you do it anyway? Will a potential employer want to hire you if they accidentally stumble upon such information on the Internet?

Personal brand value

The development of a strong sustainable brand is impossible if it does not carry some value. What is your value as an interlocutor, as a friend, as a professional or just as an individual? Can you articulate it clearly? In fact, understanding and being able to articulate your value to a specific audience is an important aspect of fruitful and mutually beneficial communication. You have probably found yourself in a situation where an appointment was canceled and you breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, either the interlocutor was of no value to you, or you had nothing to offer in return. Any communication is based on the principle of an unspoken mutually beneficial contract.

History of personal brand development

In addition to the value of the brand and understanding “why” I do this or that, it is important to be able to tell the story of the development of the brand. The ability to tell a story about your life, which connects the individual stages into a coherent coherent story, overcoming life's difficulties, emphasizing your strengths and achievements, as well as the uniqueness of your personality, will set you apart from others. Storytelling, or "storytelling", is not only a powerful literary technique, but also a marketing tool, because it takes into account the peculiarities of the formation of long-term memory. A connected storyline and unexpected twists, accompanied by emotions and metaphors, will allow you to perceive information on an emotional level that feeds a person's long-term memory. Any story, its tone, syllable, style and actual content must correspond to the listener, his values ​​and expectations. So once you have the foundation, be sure to tailor your story so that it comes naturally to your real audience. The good old ways of asking questions and listening to your interlocutor will allow you to not only win over your audience, but also adapt your story.

The development of a personal brand is a constant conscious work not only on defining your personal values, but also on your qualities as an interlocutor. This can be learned endlessly and improved throughout life. You can start by answering three simple questions that you can ask yourself or others:

  1. Why do people like to spend time with you?
  2. What value are you giving people?
  3. What is the first thing people think of when they hear your name?

Finding answers to these questions will allow you to not only better understand yourself and increase self-esteem, while maintaining a share of self-criticism, but also become a more confident partner and interlocutor. I propose to reinforce these reflections by viewing "TED Talk The Golden Circleon the difference between true leaders and companies.


Author: Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University 
and academic director Global Ambassador


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