To get: free TOEFL Tips Emails, then Become a Free Member

TOEFL Tip #84: Elocution: focusing on HOW you speak

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 28, 2011

This post will be the first in a series examining the subtle but important differences among terms used to describe speaking. Understanding these terms will make you more aware of how you speak, and will help you understand and correct some common speech problems. Look for new installments about once per month.

We’ll start by taking a look at “elocution.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “elocution” as a “way or manner of speaking,” with a focus on the speaker’s “delivery, pronunciation, tones, and gestures; manner or style of oral delivery.” As you can see, elocution is about the performance of what you’re saying, not the content of what you’re saying. With good elocution, reading the phone book sounds interesting. With bad elocution, a speaker can’t hold the audience’s attention, no matter how exciting the topic is. Let’s focus on each part of this performance.

Delivery is mostly about your speaking speed. Do you speak quickly? Slowly? Do you speak at about the same speed for the entire answer? Do you slow down or speed up at any point in the answer? Do you stumble over common words? Do you stutter? Do you use a lot of filler words, such as “um” or “like”? You goal is a consistent, medium speed that is not interrupted by filler words.

We’ll discuss pronunciation in depth in a future post, but for now, a key point about pronunciation is that there is a correct way – or sometimes, more than one correct way – to pronounce a word. To do well on the TOEFL, you must pronounce words correctly. For example, the word “epitome” is pronounced “ee-PIT-oh-me,” with emphasis on the second syllable. Saying “EP-ih-tohm,” is wrong.

We’ll also discuss tone in a future post. But for now, keep in mind that you want to convey interest with your tone of voice as well as with the words you’re speaking. Avoid speaking in a monotone, or sounding bored by using the same 5 words over and over!

Obviously, your gestures won’t be recorded as part of the TOEFL, but you should still pay attention to how and when you move your hands when you speak. For example, if you usually point your finger to emphasize something you’re saying, then you should also do that when giving your TOEFL answer. You will sound more natural, and you will be more likely to vary your tone as well.

TOEFL Tip #83: TOEFL Scores And Admissions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 21, 2011

Strictly English noticed that there has been discussion throughout the web about whether high TOEFL scores play a big role in admissions decisions. The question is: do you only need to get the  minimum TOEFL score requested by the university or can a higher TOEFL score sway the decisions of college admissions?

Some internationals are convinced that a high TOEFL score will get you into the university of your choosing. For example, two non-native students are trying to get into an MBA program where the TOEFL requirement is a 90 on the iBT. If one student scored a 99 on the TOEFL iBT and another student scored a 110, then most test-takers erroneously assume that the higher score would get admitted into the university while the lower score would be declined. According to this view, even though both students made the minimum requirement, only the higher score would be accepted.

Luckily, this is not the case. Even if the applicant with a 110 got accepted and the person with the 99 did not, it was definitely not because the applicant with 110 had a higher TOEFL score. Rather, the person with the 110 must have had a better application essay, and he or she probably interviewed better. Application essays and interviews are where a student is critiqued on whether he or she will be able to excel in a university classroom. For example, an essay on the TOEFL with a perfect score is at best a C+ essay in a university classroom. TOEFL graders have different criteria about what makes a good essay than admission officers have.

To recap: If the applicant who scored a 99 submitted a great application essay while the applicant who scored a 110 wrote a terrible, or even a mediocre, application essay, then the score of 99 would be admitted and the 110 would be declined acceptance. The perspective of most American college admissions officers is that the applicant who scored 99 would be admitted because he or she achieved the minimum TOEFL requirement and had a good application essay. This applicant had two positive points while the applicant with the 110 only had one positive point (a high TOEFL score, but a poor essay). Remember there are a lot of people who speak perfect English, but are not capable of college-level thinking.

Having now explained why a higher TOEFL score won’t help you get into college, there are two possible caveats to this rule. One, the Speaking section of the TOEFL exam is important to admissions. A high Speaking sub-score will benefit the student applying to schools because verbal articulation plays a vital role in the university classroom. Your TOEFL’s overall score does not need to be higher than the requirement, but the Speaking score must be as high as possible if you want to sound your best in the admissions interview and in the classroom. Also, a high overall TOEFL score may be vital to the applicant indirectly. The preparation needed to acquire a top TOEFL score does not only develop one’s English skills but also his or her communication skills in general. If applicants can harness these skills during their TOEFL preparation, then they have a higher chance of putting together a competitive and outstanding application packet.

So a higher TOEFL score will not directly improve your chances of acceptance, but the skills you learn in order to get a higher TOEFL score might make all the difference in how you present yourself in your written and spoken communication to the school.

TOEFL Tip #82: Even Native Speakers Don’t Score 120 On The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 10, 2011

Strictly English has recently researched how a native speaker of English would perform on the TOEFL iBT. Many of our clients assume that native speakers will score perfect 120s on the test, but this turned out not to be true.

Because TOEFL is designed for high school seniors, we wanted our English-speaker to be 17 or 18 years old. Our most important characteristic for the native English speaker was that he had excellent high-school grades and that he had no knowledge about the TOEFL exam nor of Strictly English’s strategies. In fact, he did not even know how many sections there were on the exam.

Our native speaker scored a 105. Like so many of our clients, his worst sections were Writing (25) and Speaking (26). Granted, a 26 is a fantastic Speaking score for an international test-taker, but it’s pretty low for a native speaker. Clearly this indicates that scores of 27 and above are not just about being able to speak English. Instead, you have to speak English with a professional clarity and purpose that even the most intelligent high-school students are years away from mastering.

Our native speaker’s highest score was a 28 on the Reading, which he admitted tired him out a lot and had a significant effect on his performance as the exam went on.

After the exam, all he said was, “A little knowledge of the exam prior to would have been extremely helpful,” which suggests that even a native-born speaker could have benefited from guidance on the TOEFL.

For an American student who had previously scored in the 95th percentile for the SATs to come into the TOEFL and only get a 105 on the iBT should send a message to all those internationals who are aiming to get a similar score or higher. If a straight-A native speaker only scored a 105 without coaching, you should be prepared to need some tutoring yourself if you’re trying to get a 100 of higher.