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TOEFL Tip #216: Say what you’ve LEARNED, not what You’ve HEARD

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 22, 2014

The Speaking section of the TOEFL asks you to orally summarize short reading passages as well as conversations and lectures. But almost every test-taker has the wrong idea about what the content of that summary should be. The biggest error is that they want to repeat the same words that they heard in the lecture or read in the passage. Understandably, they think that if they use the same words, then they will be proving to TOEFL that they have covered all the lecture’s or passage’s points. But there are many drawbacks to repeating the exact same words.

First of all, there is the idiomatic nature of language. If you heard:
“Carbohydrates are vital nutrients for a growing body to maintain optimal health.”

and you wrote down:
“Carbo, vital, body, optimal”

then you might try to string these SAME words together like this: “Carbohydrates make vital the body for optimal condition.”

And as we say in English, “Close, but no cigar.” This is “close” because you have used the same words as you heard, but it is “no cigar” (you didn’t win the prize) because you got the English all wrong. For example, the body cannot be “made vital”. Again, “for optimal condition” is not really an English phrase. A listener can figure out what you mean, but he/she will also figure out that you don’t know English well enough to know that this is not really an English phrase.

So what is the solution to this problem?

Don’t repeat what you HEARD, repeat what you LEARNED, and—-most importantly—-in your OWN WORDS.

A summary like this would be much better and score a lot higher: “Carbohydrates are very important. Kids need them in order to stay in the best possible health.”

The complaint that this advice usually receives is: “But what happened to those advanced vocabulary words like ‘vital’ and ‘optimal’? I need those advanced words to prove to TOEFL that I understood what I read/heard and to prove that I’m smart!”

In brief: No. You. Don’t.

TOEFL wants to hear natural English delivered in an effortless stream of fluid prose. The level of the vocabulary doesn’t really matter. By the very nature of the topic they give you to summarize, you’ll be forced to use some advanced words. Let’s face it, you really can’t talk about the biochemistry of nutrition without using some big words. But the best answer will be the one that relies on your own vocabulary as you explain what the materials taught you about the topic. If you focus your attention on proving to TOEFL that you learned something from the reading and listening passage, then the language will take care of itself!

TOEFL Tip #215: You’re a Storyteller, Not a Theorist

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 12, 2014

Let me give you two prompts. You decide which to answer:

1. Tell me a children’s story.

Or

2. Tell me the general theory of relativity.

 

You have ten seconds to prepare . . .

Done?

Let me guess, you decided to answer the first prompt. Why? Because it is much easier to tell a story than to describe a theory or concept. And yet, most TOEFL takers do exactly that. When asked to respond to a relatively simple prompt or lecture, suddenly these test takers try to appear as Nobel laureates.

ETS is not judging how smart you are, but how well you can speak English. Period. But most TOEFL takers try to ‘wow’ the graders by showing their elaborate reasoning skills.

Don’t.

You are only given thirty seconds for your response and not even the smartest among us can create a good theoretical outline in that time.

So make it easier on yourself and the grader. Be a story teller.

The very first things we read as children is stories because they are easy to comprehend. We also create our own stories at a young age for that same reason. All of us, no matter the cultural background, know how to tell a story. You probably have shared one or two with a friend today.

Take all that training and use it to aid you in the TOEFL. This skill will most certainly help you in the first two speaking questions, and can often help you even in trickier lectures.

Here is an example:

TOEFL Speaking Question 1: For many people living in countries that have a natural coastline, laying and playing on the beach is a main past time. What is a main past time in your country and why? Use examples to aid in your response.Theorist:

People in my country of America like to go to shopping malls. I believe this is mainly due to…um….the high number of commercials shown on television. They…uh…watch television and then think about the products so much that they…uh… go to the mall because of their desire to own the products they…uh…have seen.

Story Teller:

People in my country love to go to malls. For example, when I was a small child growing up in Boston, my mother took me to the mall every Friday. During cold months, the mall was often very warm, and in warm months it had an air conditioner. So the mall was very comfortable for us. Moreover, it also let my mother and I have a great time together eating at the restaurants and playing in the video arcade.

See the difference? Even if you could construct that theory in fifteen seconds, you would be hard pressed to give it clearly. So next time, think like a storyteller, not a theorist.

ETS Suspension in UK

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 21, 2014

Here is ETS’s latest update about their suspension in the UK:

 

20 March 2014

Dear Colleague:

In an effort to keep you informed of activities related to TOEFL® testing, we are writing to provide an update on the status of the U.K. Home Office suspension of ETS’s license.

As you know, investigations into the visa application process in the U.K. have found evidence of fraud at two test centers where ETS’s TOEIC® tests are conducted. The ETS license was suspended and, because the license covers both programs, the suspension applied to the TOEFL test as well as the TOEIC test. Since the suspension, ETS has been working closely with the Home Office to provide information and a remediation plan for TOEIC visa testing. Because discussions are progressing but not yet concluded, the Home Office has decided to extend the suspension, which applies to both the TOEFL and TOEIC tests, until 1 April 2014.

The following remains true:

  • TOEFL testing continues to be available in the U.K. for non-visa related purposes.
  • TOEFL scores still may not be used for visa purposes by students already in the U.K.
  • TOEFL scores continue to be acceptable for students from everywhere else in the world.

We will continue to keep you updated as more information is received. This message is being sent from an unmonitored mailbox. Questions may be directed to sbhangal@etsglobal.org.

Best regards,

Eileen Tyson
Executive Director, Global Client Relations

Sandy Bhangal
Associate Director, Global Client Relations, U.K.

Educational Testing Service
Rosedale Road
Princeton, NJ 08541

 

Pharmacist Boards Raise Minimum TOEFL Requirements

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 19, 2014

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy will be changing its minimum TOEFL score in the next few months from a total of 89 to a total of 93.

Two of the four sub-scores are also changing:

The minimum sub-score for the Reading is increasing 1 point from a 21 to a 22.

The minimum sub-score for the Listening is increasing 3 points from an 18 to a 21.

Thankfully, the Speaking and the Writing sub-scores are not changing.

These changes go into effect at different times this year depending on how much of the pharmacist-application process you have already completed. For complete details, read more here.

To help pharmacists complete their TOEFL before these changes go into effect, Strictly English will be offering tutoring in Reading and Listening strategies for 50% off our regular prices to any pharmacist who signs up before April 1, 2014!

SIGN UP TODAY!

TOEFL TIP #214: Strictly English’s TOEFL Guarantee Program

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 3, 2013

Have you taken the TOEFL multiple times, only to be a few points away from the score you need? Are you wondering what it will take to get those last few points?

Strictly English has a new program that will help you get the scores you need – the TOEFL Guarantee. If you have a TOEFL score from within the past 3 months, and you know that the score you’re trying to reach is no more than 4 points higher per section than your current score, this program is designed to work with you until you pass.

Working with dedicated tutors, you’ll take 3 classes per week, and a third-party practice test (such as from ETS or Testden) every 2 weeks. Once you reach the score you want in one section of the exam, you’ll keep studying for the other sections until you pass all sections. Send your test scores directly to Strictly English so we can keep track of your progress!

 We guarantee that we’ll keep tutoring you until you pass, for ONE flat price! 

For full details, including pricing, visit the TOEFL Guarantee Program page. Ready to enroll? Contact us today! 

$1 for Online Writing Class!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 7, 2013

Strictly English is having a sale on its ONLINE GROUP WRITING CLASS. We call it STRICTLY ENGLISH STUDY HALL and it’s only $1 a hour for a text-based writing class in which the student writes an essay ONE sentence at a time and gets immediate feedback on each sentence. The goal is to write one perfect sentence before continuing on to the next one. It is VERY effective!
Here is a video that shows you how it works:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=skvgZYOM8rU
These $1 classes are on Sunday AUG 11 and Monday AUG 12 every other hour starting at 9am!
Please call or email if you have any questions!

TOEFL Tip #213: Inference Is King!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 26, 2013

An important key for doing well on the TOEFL exam is understanding how the exam is set up. TOEFL is NOT designed for test-takers to find information as if the exam were an Easter egg hunt with relevant information scattered throughout it. Instead, it’s designed for you to derive information through critical thinking skills.

We know there are fact questions and inference questions, and to the native speaker these are starkly different. Fact questions for a particular passage are similar to an Easter egg hunt. Like Easter eggs hidden in tall grass or behind a rock, the answers to fact questions are in the passage, but may be tricky to find. If you look carefully enough, however, you will be able to locate them. Inference questions require critical thinking skills. You have to put together pieces of information in the passage to infer something that the passage does not directly state. For example, if the passage states that the weather has been rainy for several weeks, and that it’s spring, you can infer that spring has rainy weather.

But sadly, only the most fluent of non-native English speakers will find FACT questions as simple as looking for a truth that is explicitly stated on the page. To be sure: the truth IS THERE, but it is buried under tricky vocabulary, confusing phrasal verbs, or advanced grammar. So it’s a fact question for a native Speaker, but ultimately it becomes an inference question for anyone who doesn’t know all of the vocabulary or who has never encountered the idiomatic expressions used.

Consequently, even though there may be only 1 or 2 questions per passage explicitly identified as INFERENCE questions (those are the ones that have the word “IMPLY” or “INFER” in the question), there might be 8-10 questions that require the same critical thinking skills as does a question explicitly identified as “inference.”

Therefore, studying critical thinking skills and lateral thinking skills will be very useful when preparing for the TOEFL. Our recent posts about absolute modifiers in general and modal verbs in particular demonstrate how critical thinking can help you to choose the correct answers. Similarly, this post on the limits of memorized answers points out the need to evaluate the information on the TOEFL exam, rather than attempting to memorize answers that you can plug into the prompts for the Speaking and Writing sections. This Wikipedia entry describes lateral thinking, and here are some exercises to challenge you!

TOEFL Tip #212: Avoiding Absolute Modifiers: Modal Verbs

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 21, 2013

In last week’s post, we talked about the importance of avoiding absolute answers on the TOEFL exam. TOEFL wants to avoid making its answers too easy with choices such as ALWAYS or NEVER. Instead, TOEFL wants test-takers to have to think carefully about the question and evaluate which answer is the best choice.

 

In addition to adverbs like “always” and “never,” English grammar also uses modal verbs to indicate a suggested or required action. A “modal verb,” sometimes called a “helper verb,” is a word that adds further meaning to the primary verb in a sentence. The main group of modal verbs is can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, would.

 

So how can you use modal verbs to avoid choosing absolute answers, and increase your chances of picking the correct answer?  Think about the modal verbs on a sliding scale, with suggestions at one end, and requirements at the other end.

 

On this scale, “can” and “could” are at the suggestion end of the scale, indicating that it is possible to take the action of the verb, but not indicating whether the subject will do it. Think of these as a 20% requirement. 

Other modal verbs on the sliding scale increase the necessity for the sentence’s subject to do what the verb says. “Might” indicates that subject has a choice about whether to do the verb’s action, perhaps a 40% requirement. “Should” and “ought” are very strong suggestions, with a sense of obligation to do what the verb says – 80% requirement. “Must” indicates a required action, one that the subject has no choice about; it’s a 100% requirement.

 

Here is a series of example, using illnesses: 

If you feel dizzy, you CAN lie down for a few minutes.

If you have a sinus infection, you MIGHT want to see a doctor.

If you have the flu, you SHOULD go to the doctor.

If you have cancer, you MUST go to the doctor.

 Since the TOEFL exam avoids answers that indicate 100%, definitely avoid answers that use “must.” Because “should” and “ought” are strong suggestions, you probably want to think carefully about choices with those words. “Should” and “ought” could be the correct answers if the issue in the question is serious enough. Use your judgment, but in general, “might” and “could” will be safe bets.

 

 

TOEFL Tip #211: TOEFL Avoids Absolute Modifiers Throughout The Test

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 12, 2013

A common strategy for multiple choice exams such as the TOEFL is to try to eliminate one or more answers per question before selecting the answer you think is correct. By avoiding obviously-wrong choices, you can improve your chances of answering the question correctly.

But, if you’re not confident that you know the answer, how can you figure out which answers are obviously wrong?

In general, it’s best to be suspicious of answer choices on the Reading and Listening that indicate absolute conditions, or 100% agreement/disagreement about a topic. Words like these 

never
always
must
can’t
entirely

are red flags.

WHY does the TOEFL exam use these words in answers that are probably wrong?

Remember that the TOEFL is a test of your skill in English. If the answers are too obvious, then it would be very easy to pick answer choices as right or wrong.

So, TOEFL wants to challenge the test-taker. It’s better to present content that is full of POSSIBILITIES so that the test-taker struggles to decide MAYBE the correct answer is THIS or MAYBE it’s THAT.  Words like the ones listed above reduce, rather than expand, possibilities in an answer, and that makes them more likely to be wrong answers on the TOEFL.

Is it fair for TOEFL to use tricks like this one?

YES! As Benjamin Franklin is often credited as saying, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If the real world is not 100%, then how can TOEFL be 100%?

We at Strictly English applaud TOEFL for basing their exam on this fundamental truth of life and of critical engagement! Think twice before choosing the easy, obvious answer!

 

TOEFL Tip #210: Paraphrasing Out Of Order Is Easier

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 29, 2013

As we’ve noted before, paraphrasing is an essential skill on the TOEFL exam. You need to be able to rephrase ideas you read and hear on the exam to avoid repetition and to demonstrate your mastery of English.

Today’s post focuses on word order when you are paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is not only about replacing one word with another in the same sentence structure. Good paraphrasing preserves the meaning of the sentence while also rearranging and changing its grammar.

Paraphrasing is easier if you can separate the parts of the sentence and recombine them. Trying thinking of the elements in a sentence like playing cards that can be shuffled:

1. Identify the KEY WORDS in a sentence (verbs, negatives, subjects, and direct objects). Do not focus on grammar elements (prepositions, articles, suffixes, etc).

2. Write each keyword on separate pieces of paper.

3. On the back side of each piece of paper, write a synonym for that word.

4. Shuffle your papers with the key words, and lay them out in a random new order with the synonym side facing up.

5. Try to write a sentence using this new order and conveying the same meaning.

6. Shuffle the papers again and make a second paraphrase.

 Here’s an example from the beeoasis.com article, “Simplifying Complexity.”

“We’re discovering in nature that simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity.”

1. The key words are “we,” “discovering,” “nature,” “simplicity,” “often,” “lies,” “other side,” “complexity.”

2. Index cards are great for this exercise, but any small pieces of paper will do.

3. Synonyms could be “scientists,” “finding out,” “natural world,” “simple” “frequent” “exists” “opposite side” “complex”

4. New shuffled order, using the synonyms:  natural world frequent finding out scientists simple exist complex opposite

5. A paraphrase based on this new order: “In the natural world, a frequent finding by scientists is that simple things exist as complex things’ opposite side.”  (Notice that the verb “finding out” has been switched to the noun “finding,” so that the sentence is grammatically correct.)

6. Shuffle again, and a second paraphrase: complex simple natural world scientists frequent finding out opposite side exists

“The difference between something that is complex and something that is simple in the natural world, scientists are frequently finding out, is that these are opposite sides of existence.” (Again, notice that the form of “exists” changes to suit the new sentence.)

 

Shuffling the synonyms and making a new sentence with the words in a new order will challenge your grammar, and will strengthen your ability to think of several ways to express one idea. How many different paraphrases can you make with one sentence? Give us your examples in the comments!

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