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TOEFL Tip # 53: Improving TOEFL Comprehension Via 360 Research

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 30, 2009

Since TOEFL is a Test of ENGLISH as a Second Language, you can greatly improve your TOEFL score by improving your English comprehension. One way to do that is to initiate a 360-review of an academically-oriented or politically-focused news story. 360-Research means looking at the story from all possible angles. For example, you could:

1. Read about the story in respected American news papers such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Huffington Post.

2. Read about the story in respected English-Language magazines, such as The Economist, The New Yorker, and

3. Listen to radio reports about the story on or on respected radio shows like On Point, Talk of the Nation, Here and Now, or The Diane Rehm Show.

4. Watch videos about the story on or on your local Public Television station.

5. Look up key ideas relevant to the story

6. Follow the story on

7. Read about the story in your own language.

This last point is very helpful. Because it is hard to understand the more subtle ideas in news stories, it is often good to read about the story first in your own language. That way you’ll understand the story, which will improve your comprehension of the story in English. Once you understand the story in your own language, then you’ll be able to focus on how the English is conveying the same idea. This is particularly helpful when the entire story focuses on one central idea or quotation. For example, do a search in your own language for Judge Sotomayor’s statement that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” In Spanish, one blogger translated this as una latina inteligente podría tomar mejores decisiones que un hombre blanco que no ha tenido las mismas experiencias vitales”, and if you search the web in Spanish for “Sotomayor,” you’ll find every hit mentions “latina inteligente”. So when you read “wise latina” in English, you’ll quickly figure out that WISE must mean INTELIGENTE, since you’ve seen “latina inteligente” 20-30 times already.

Here are some links to get you started for a more recent story: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.





Talk of the Nation

PBS: (click on the STREAMING VIDEO link)



Definition of racial profiling.

article about racial profiling.

Definition of 911 calls.

Definition of sensitivity training.

Article on how diversity training doesn’t work.


Do this once a week on a new topic, and your English will improve much more quickly!


TOEFL Tip #52: Praise For Online Tutoring

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 23, 2009

The following two quotations come from this article:

The Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their on-line classes as they are with traditional ones. In fact, the comprehension is better in a virtual class than in an in-person class.

Test preps like GRE and GMAT are intensive studies. In such deep studies, a wholesale classroom treatment can not be as effective as the one-to-one online tutoring. Many who have been gullible victims of the public-meeting type of classroom tutorials with over fifty students and  with no chance to clarify their doubts, will understand the difference between mass teaching and private coaching.

So don’t be afraid to sign up for online tutoring!

TOEFL Tip #51: College In The US | Does Brand-Name Matter?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 15, 2009

Strictly English asked Adam Goldberg, M.Ed. (CEO and Educational Consultant of The Goldberg Center for Educational Planning) if the name of the school you attend really matters.  Here’s what he said:

If you are considering an American college education as a non-US citizen, don’t limit yourself by applying to only the “big name” institutions.

A good example of this bias came to our educational consulting office this morning from China:

“My son wants to go to USA for the high school and the college from Beijing, China. We are hoping for entry to the top 20 universities in USA. To get this done easily we decide to spend the high school in USA. He had taken a tours to visit 10 famous university and likes MIT, Princeton, and Yale very much.”

This is actually a very typical inquiry. Whether they come from China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, England, Australia, Panama, Argentina, or any other country for that matter, prospective students and their families come with “brand name biases.” Most have either only heard of the most prominent colleges (like those listed in the inquiry above), or have decided in their own minds that it is only worth pursuing an American college education if it’s at one of these “famous” institutions.

While I do not intend to crush dreams, suppress ambitions, or change others’ plans, I feel it is necessary to present the reality so that these prospective students and their families can make more informed decisions.

Here are some facts to consider:

• There are many tier three colleges in the US with a quality of education, as well as of prestige as those on the lists of the top 10, 20, or even 50 US universities.
Application volume is still high relative to prior generations, especially due to the movement of applications online. As a result, acceptance rates are considerably lower. Colleges mentioned in the above inquiry generally end up accepting no more than 7-15% of all applicants … and those applicants are collectively credentialed well above the norm to begin with.
• The currency imbalance has caused many international students to study in the US for much less money. Therefore international demand is up as well.
• You gain no advantage by applying to the same colleges to which your country-mates apply.
• Attending a top or “famous” private school in the US does not guarantee admission at the aforementioned colleges.

So, now that you have some of the basics and perhaps a slightly new perspective on American colleges, what can you do to more successfully navigate the admissions process?

1. Open up your scope of college options! Beware of lists such as the Shanghai Jiao Tong Rankings in Asia – they are not focused on individual student needs and don’t necessarily give you a truly accurate picture from afar. Besides, in my opinion, it doesn’t do you much good if everyone is operating off the same list in your geography. You will need to do more research, perhaps enlisting some help to do so, but it is well worth the time and effort in the end. As a hiring manager, there are many brands beyond the “famous” ones on a resume that stand to impress me.
2. At the same time, I certainly won’t fully minimize the importance of name brands since they do matter in some domains… you just have to consider which domains are most relevant. If a student is planning on ultimately taking a job in the US, brand name will mean something very different from a scenario where a student is likely returning to his/her home country for work. Carefully consider and discuss the longer-term outlook.
3. Differentiate yourself as a student. US colleges are not looking for generalists these days. They want specialists… those students who have demonstrated a commitment to thoroughly studying one academic topic. Again, extending the scope beyond institutions to which peers are applying immediately creates differentiation as well.
4. Most importantly, consider the fit of a college (and a private school if you decide to get an earlier start in the US system) before anything. Would you rather be a miserable student at Harvard or thrive at a slightly lesser known (but still top quality) institution? Most studies show that the latter student is more successful in the end. Socialization, acquiring work skills and ethics, and gaining confidence and self-advocacy skills, along with building productive relationships, are considered integral assets in the college experience here in the US.

The bottom line is that brand names do matter in the US college realm … but only to a certain extent. My experience tells me that prospective international students can achieve much greater success in both the admissions process and post-matriculation by merely opening up their minds a bit more.

For additional insights into both college and private school admissions, feel welcome to visit our educational consulting blog. For information on educational consulting services offered through companies, visit EnCompass Education.

TOEFL Tip #50: Kind Words From A Friend Of Strictly English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 10, 2009

I would like to thank you for the tips on the speaking section, and also for leting me know that the integrated writing had changed. I did not have a lot of time for studying these changes, but I did have some time to search the ETS website for some examples of level 5 essays.

Again, thanks a lot for helping me achieve this score.

TOEFL Tip #49: Strictly English Will Launch TOEFL Videos July 15th!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 8, 2009

Strictly English has been working on a series of HOW TO videos about the TOEFL test. For example:
How to sign up at ETS.
How to register for the TOEFL.
How to View your TOEFL results online.

We will also be making videos that will help you improve your TOEFL English!

TOEFL Tip #48: Good Advice from Recent TOEFL Test Taker

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 3, 2009

Here is what one Test Taker wrote on his blog about his TOEFL experience:

“I took TOEFL exam 10 days ago. I felt that practise is very important on every single part of the test. For example, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. When I was doing sample test I feel that the time is very sufficient for me, because I always finished my test ahead of time. But the real exam was different. I hardly could not finish my tests on reading and listening. The reason is that I did not want to do wrong on the real test. I was more seriouser and spent more longer time on real test than sample test. I did not get my score yet, but I hope I will get a higher score.

What I am going to is please start your preperation earlier. Please do more practice on sample test, every part of the test. Then you will be more confident x, and you will be able to control your time more efficiently when you take the real test.”