TOEFL and TOEIC No Longer Accepted in the UK Student Visa Process


The Story

As many aspiring international students already know, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) – the organization in charge of regulating student visas in the United Kingdom – requires that applicants demonstrate their proficiency in the English language before granting students permission to live and study in that country. To do this, the UKBA has traditionally turned to a number of English language tests to provide applicants with what it calls “Secure English Language Testing.”  Unfortunately, as we first reported in March, two of the biggest players in English language testing, the TOEFL and the TOEIC, were not as “secure” as many had believed. As an undercover investigation conducted by the BBC news program Panorama revealed that month, systemic problems affected the administration of exams offered at certified Educational Testing Service (ETS) exam locations called the validity of results from both exams into questions. These problems, which included (but were not limited to)  substitute test takers and corrupt proctors, led the UKBA to review its regulations and, in the meantime, suspend all pending Tier 4 student visa applicants that used an UK-based, ETS-delivered exam to demonstrate their English proficiency.

New Developments

Now, two months later, the UKBA has announced that, effective April 5th, it will not be extending its license agreement with ETS. Though ETS exams – including the TOEFL and the TOEIC – can still be used in order to prove English proficiency to UK universities, neither exam will satisfy the UKBA’s language proficiency requirement. As the ETS itself said in a statement released on its website, “TOEIC and TOEFL testing will no longer be offered for U.K. visa-granting purposes.” As these exams are two of the most popular in use around the world, such a change has major implications for the English language testing industry far beyond the United Kingdom. Students interested in applying to schools in both the US and UK with one set of test results, for example, will have to turn to exams – such as the IELTS – which are accepted by both countries. Though the story is still developing, this news is bound to affect the testing decisions of thousands of would-be international students.

Pronunciation and Patience Pay!

cup of coffee181764721Not all of the commonly confused words in English look or even sound alike. Nevertheless, the quick tempo of modern life – and the language itself – often obscures these distinctions. The letter p, for example, has a number of these example where two distinct words appear to be almost twins.

Past vs Passed

While many people often believe these words sound the same, a more careful pronunciation of each reveals their distinctions. When both are said aloud, for example, the final letter of each should be clear. Past, which means at an earlier time, ends with a nice crisp t while passed, the past tense of pass, ends with the softer d. Remember things clearly this way: “Dee passed the tea in the past but now we drink coffee!”

Patience vs Patients

Even native speakers confuse these two but the differences should be quite clear to all. Though they do, in truth, sound the same, patience with a c is an adjective used when people tolerate annoyances well. Patients, on the other hand, are people under medical care. Thus while patients often need patience, the opposite cannot be true!

Peace vs Piece

Though these two nouns sound just about the same – both rhyme with niece, lease, and fleece – they are used to describe wildly different things. Peace, for example, describes a state of being without war while a piece is simply a part of a whole. Thus we could say that peace is the most important piece of tranquil international affairs.

Plain vs. Plane

Though both of these words rhyme with insane, you do not have to be to keep them apart! Plain with an i is an adjective meaning “ordinary” while plane with an e is a shortened version of the noun “airplane”. Thus while a plane could be described as plain, the opposite is grammatically impossible!

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.

English Can Be “D”lightful!

Woman shhh sign462440593As with some of the best things in life, a little goes a long way. So it is with English where, as many learners know, a little change in spelling can have a huge difference in meaning. Fortunately, we know the lay of the land and are happy to help to mind your p’s and q’s.

Discreet / Discrete

Though both of the adjectives are comprised of the exact same letters – and pronounced exactly the same way – these two words are quite different.

Consider their definitions: discreet means “modest, shy” while discrete means “completely separate, distinct.”

Context clues will help you tell which is being used when other people are talking but it might help to remember that the “t” in discrete separates the e’s and, likewise, separates it from discreet.

Die / Dye

As with discreet and discrete, the pronunciation of this pair is the same despite their spelling differences. Aside from sound, however, these two have nothing in common.

Die, a verb, means to lose life or cease to exist. Dye, by contrast, is alternately a noun (meaning color) or a verb (meaning to change or add such color) depending on it is use, and is therefore a far less gloomy word!

To remember the difference just think “’y’ don’t we add a little color to our lives with some dye?”

Dyeing / Dying

The trouble with die and dye does not stop there, though. Because both can be verbs, both can take the –ing suffix. As a result of the rule for adding suffixes to words that end in “ie, though (change the “ie” to “y” as in penny and pennies) these two can look the same if you are not careful. To keep them apart, remember that the “ie” in die does change to “y” but the “ye” in dye is permanent – just like the dye itself!

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.

Break Out of the Ordinary with Phrasal Verbs

woman biting into dark chocolate 78629003As examples like chocolate, vacations, and friends can prove, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing* and we are here to tell you that phrasal verbs are no different. Just take these examples – all of which use the base verb “break” – if you don’t believe us!

Break … Off – to end something (typically in a dramatic or sudden way)

  • James was in the middle of a call with his girlfriend when, without warning, the connection broke off completely.

Note: Although the above example may not sound so serious, it is quite common to use “break off” to describe the conclusions of friendships, relationships, or engagements.

Break … Off – to take a smaller piece off a larger chunk

  • Although Jill and Sandy each bought different candy bars, each broke off a piece so that the other the other could try some.

Note: Context, no grammar, will help you determine which of the two versions of “break off” is being used in a given situation.

Break out / – appear in a sudden or unexpected way

  • With resentment against the government at all-time highs many observers were concerned that violence could break out at any moment.

Note: It is this meaning of break out that explains why people sometime refer to a bad case of acne as a “breakout”.

Break Out Of / – to escape

  • The dog was a real escape artist – she could always find a way to break out of any place her owners tried to leave her!

Note: This phrasal verb should not be confused with the two word “break out” which, though less common, means to use something special (as in champagne in a celebration).

* In fact, if you are interested in seeing our complete overview of phrasal verbs you can see it here.

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on Phrasal Verbs and learn more tips and tricks at our Learn English section.