Indian students planning to study abroad are currently running errands to compile their portfolios as college application deadlines come closer in January next year. Simultaneously, there are also students still contemplating and preparing for competitive tests to apply for admissions to the Fall 2017 batches. The demand for test prep courses like GMAT, GRE, TOEFL and IELTS will continue to rise so long as there is a strong desire for studying abroad. With an array of courses available online, PaGaLGuY interviewed academic experts from Magoosh, a US-based website for test prep with a wide user base in India for GRE, GMAT and TOEFL online preparations. Both academic experts – Chris Lele (GMAT and GRE) and Lucas Fink (TOEFL) have given some study tips and some perspective to the business of study abroad for Indian students. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
What is the one fundamental problem in the way aspirants study for TOEFL?
It is important to realise that languages cannot be learnt in a few weeks. Students should have strong basics in the language to crack the exam. Test prep institutes can teach you how to tackle different questions and strategise for the exam, but learning a language is a process which takes years of practice and regular communication with people in that language.
How can aspirants who come from countries where the use of English language is as low as 10%, improve their communication skills?
Such aspirants should make maximum use of online and social media, watch English language shows and videos, join the online community for language exchanges and speak to people from different countries in that language. It’s possible to learn a little English everyday by consuming and responding to English articles/videos, even if you are alone in a room or talking with a language exchange partner in another country.
GRE vs GMAT for business schools in US?
There is a general notion among aspirants that the GMAT is more widely accepted for business school applications in US. However, we believe that even the GRE is being increasingly accepted by colleges here. The benefit of GRE is that the scores can be used for MS and MBA applications, while the GMAT is accepted only in business schools.
Do you think aspirants from an engineering background prefer to apply for GRE instead of GMAT when applying to business schools?
I would suggest that aspirants with a degree in engineering should attempt the GMAT when applying to B-Schools because it is a tougher exam to crack in terms of maths. Engineering students tend to have a strong grasp of Maths, and can target the Quant section better than other aspirants. It is usually the verbal section that Indian engineering graduates dread because they find it difficult to pen the long essay section well. The GRE tends to be more difficult because many of its questions are writing style-based instead of logic-based. However, my advice to all students is to take a mock test for each exam—one for the GRE and one for GMAT. Regardless of any student’s background, this is the best way for a student to determine which exam they should take.
While education is going online, do you think it can reach a point where it completely negates the benefits of a traditional classroom?
We usually think that traditional classrooms enable one on one conversations, and allow instant replies from teachers, but that doesn’t practically happen every time. There are multiple students in a classroom which makes it difficult for the teacher to give undivided attention, and instant replies from teachers are usually not possible after the class. Virtual teaching has the benefit of a personal coach and 24/7 assistance facility. We think it’s possible that some day, the benefits of virtual teaching might outweigh the benefits of traditional classrooms, .but at the moment we believe the two complement each other very well.
ETS – the organisers of GRE and TOEFL – is providing test prep courses for free on MOOC platforms along with course certification . Why do you think aspirants would then pay a price to take test prep from websites like Magoosh?
Study material by ETS will tell you what kind of questions to expect in the exam and how to answer them, but they do not give precise reviews to practice questions solved by students. Most explanations will be vague, such as ‘answer choice (B) is not supported by the passage,’ and will not explain the process of finding the right answer. While students should refer to these courses for practice questions, websites like Magoosh will help them strategise for the test. It will teach students how to frame answers for the speaking section and how to tackle comprehension questions.
How important do you think is a student’s English accent when it comes to scoring in the speaking section of TOEFL?
There is a very fine line between accent and pronunciation. We understand that many students in non-native English speaking countries have been communicating in English long enough to develop a certain accent. Students aren’t expected to alter their accents to score better in the TOEFL. The speaking section marks you on your pronunciation and how comprehensible you are. If the accent is heavy enough that it leads to incorrect pronunciations, only then students are advised to work on improving it.