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TOEFL Tip #63: Bad Suggestion From “ETS TOEFL Tips”

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 26, 2009

Sorry to say, but ETS’s TOEFL Tip is not very good this week.   It suggests that listening to movies and TV will improve your listening.  I agree, but only to a point.  I have many students who go to the movies all the time, and they still do not score high on the TOEFL.  There are many reasons for this:

1. The content of movies are not even close to the content of TOEFL lectures.  Therefore, movies and TV might improve your ability to understand general English, but it will not give you the specific vocabulary and content that you’ll need for TOEFL.

2. If you process information more through your eyes than through your ears, you can easily understand a movie by focusing more on the images than by focusing on the words.  Now this is good, because most everyone uses their eyes to understand the world around them, but this won’t help you with TOEFL.  TOEFL offers no visual prompts or visual clues. You only have your ears.

So if you really want to use movies to improve your listening, then go to the theater with a blindfold on!  Okay, that was a joke.  But here are a few ideas that might improve this ETS Tip:

1. Go to movies with very little action.  Action movies do not have as much talking, so they do not help you improve your listening.

2. Watch documentaries, like Disney’s EARTH. These movies have content that is more akin to TOEFL content.

3. Watch TV channels like PBS , the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel. Again, they have content that is similar to TOEFL content.

TOEFL Tip #62: Using Your TOEFL Skills Beyond TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 23, 2009

M. K. Thompson has a very compelling article titled The Many Shortcomings of Standardized Tests in the Korean Herald today.  In it, she argues that the information you learn when studying for any standardized test is only good for the test itself.  Most students do not apply the knowledge they learn for the test to other academic situations.  As a university tester for more than 15 years, I completely agree with Ms. Thompson.

This is why Strictly English has designed a TOEFL program that can be directly applied to university life.  Our methods and strategies will be helpful when writing university essays and when giving oral presentations in your university classes.

Case in point: during the Spring 2009 semester, Strictly English received a phone call from an ex-student who has already completed her TOEFL study and was now at college taking a history class.  She called requesting help with her midterm essay. Although Strictly English does not regularly offer academic tutoring, I did take the time to meet with this ex-student to show her how all of Strictly English’s strategies for the 30-Minute essay could be applied to her college midterm paper.

Not only did she get an A- on that paper, but that grade was significantly higher than the other essays she had written without the Strictly English method!

So remember: a good TOEFL tutor will give you skills that go far beyond the test!

TOEFL Tip #61: 3 Questions Every TOEFL Tutor Should Be Able to Answer

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on

Strictly English has a list of 21 questions about the TOEFL iBT exam that we use when interviewing TOEFL tutors. If they cannot answer these questions correctly, then they don’t get the job!

If you’re looking for an iBT tutor, make sure he or she can answer at least these three questions below. If your tutor cannot answer these questions, then you might want someone who knows more about the test to be teaching you!

1. Can I get a 25 out of 30 on the Speaking section of the iBT?
2. What section of the TOEFL iBT asks you questions that directly test your knowledge of Grammar?
3. On what part of the iBT are you most likely to use modals?

1. NO. TOEFL does not give a score of 25 on the Speaking.
2. NONE: There are NO grammar questions on the iBT.
3. Speaking Task 5. It is the only place where you talk about offering suggestions.

EXTRA NOTE: Make sure you see the tutor’s TOEFL SCORE. Even if he/she is a native English speaker, your tutor should have taken the TOEFL so that he/she knows exactly what you’ll experience on test day. Every Strictly English tutor has taken the TOEFL. This also means that we know exactly how the real test is different from what is taught in the books. Much of the information in the books is out of date because the books were published 3-5 years ago. TOEFL books should be updated at least every 2 years if not every year. If your tutor is not taking the test regularly, then he/she is relying on information in the books, which is usually old and out-of-date information.

TOEFL Tip #60: TOEFL Speaking Task 1: Describe A PERSON

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 22, 2009

When TOEFL asks you to describe a PERSON in Speaking Task 1, you can talk about that person’s:


EX: “I really respected my chemistry teacher because he was SMART (mind) and PATIENT (emotion)”

You can also:

1. Talk about the effect this person has had on you (for example, this person made you more interested in volunteer work, or this person introduced you to jazz music)

Or: 2. talk about why you respect this person (for example, you really respect their work ethic, or you admire their sense of humor).

For more tips on how to generate speaking ideas, come back and read more on our blog!