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

TOEFL Tip #92: Understand Campus Life

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 29, 2011

Because most people take the TOEFL as part of their application to college, some material on the exam draws on this area of knowledge. Knowing about campus life in the United States is important for all TOEFL test-takers, even if you are taking it for other reasons, such as for professional certification. Both the Listening and the Speaking sections of the TOEFL have passages and questions about college life. Even if you have not been educated in the United States, you can do well on these questions by knowing a few general points about how college campuses work.

On the TOEFL, conversations between professors and students, or between two students, will be supportive, helpful, and friendly in tone. In an ideal world, professors and other university employees (such as financial aid counselors or librarians) would never say mean things to students or be annoyed at them. Likewise, students appreciate advice given by another student. College life on the TOEFL reflects this ideal world. Professors are always available to talk with students, librarians can find many resources on any topic, and students have helpful suggestions on how to figure out a difficult situation.

When deciding on an answer about the Listening or Speaking conversation, avoid choices that seem unlikely in an ideal academic setting, no matter how reasonable they may be in a non-academic setting. Be careful – an answer might seem “right” because it has many of the content words of the Listening or Speaking passage. The key is whether the answer is negative or positive. For example, if one choice insults the student (“I can’t believe you can’t figure this out”) or seems unconcerned with the student’s problem (“I don’t have time to answer that question”), that’s negative, and the wrong answer. Choices that answer the student’s question (“Let me show you how to solve that equation”) or help to solve his or her problem (“You need to fill out these forms and bring them to the Registrar’s office”) are positive, and are more likely to be the correct answer.

Another aspect of campus culture that will help you on the TOEFL is being familiar with typical names for aspects of student life. You may know that students sleep in “dormitories,” but do you also know that “dorm” is a nickname for the same building? Perhaps the purpose of the Student Center is obvious, but do you know what the Student Union is? (It’s another name for “Student Center”). Registrar, Bursar, Dean, quad, fraternity/sorority, meal plan, work-study – these are a few of the typical departments, places, organizations, or programs at American colleges. Knowing the names campus features such as these will help you to understand the Reading or Listening passage, and can help you to choose the correct answer.

To learn about campus culture, visit the websites of several colleges or talk with current college students. You will quickly get a sense of what college life is like!

TOEFL Tip #91: Use A Holistic Approach: An Example

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 18, 2011

In last week’s post, we talked about using a holistic approach for answering questions in the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL. Keeping in mind that the questions work together, and using information from one question to answer another, can help you make sure your answers are correct, and can save you time.

Today, we wanted to work through a specific example of how a holistic approach would work. This example comes from the Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test (second edition, 2007), the Reading Diagnostic Pre-Test, pages 3-7.

The reading passage is about aggressive behavior in people, and theories about what causes it. Here is the entire first paragraph; the words in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS are words we want to emphasize for this post. They are not in bold or capital letters in the original passage.

Aggressive behavior is any behavior that is INTENDED to cause injury, pain, suffering, damage, or destruction. While aggressive behavior is often thought of as purely physical, verbal attacks such as screaming and shouting or belittling and humiliating comments AIMED AT causing harm and suffering can also be a type of aggression. What is key to the definition of aggression is that whenever harm is inflicted, be it physical or verbal, it is INTENTIONAL.

The first thing to notice when you are reading this paragraph is that it says three times that aggression is something that is done on purpose (“intended,” “aimed at,” “intentional”). Whenever you see an idea repeated several times in a short paragraph, that’s a tip that the idea is important.

Here is the first question and its answer choices:

1. Which of the following is NOT defined as aggressive behavior?
a. Inflicting pain accidentally
b. Making insulting remarks
c. Destroying property
d. Trying unsuccessfully to injure someone

Right away, you know that the answer is “a,” because the passage emphasized that aggression is intentional. While you should always double check the rest of the answer choices, you can be confident that “a” is the right answer for this question. The answers for b, c, and d ARE acts which someone does on purpose.

This is where using a holistic approach can help you on the TOEFL. As you move on to the next questions, remember this answer. You know that any answer that suggests that aggression is an accident or is unintentional is a wrong answer.

Here is question 5 and its answer choices:

5. According to paragraph 3, displacement is
a. internally directed aggression
b. a modeled type of aggression
c. aggression that is unintentional
d. aggression that is directed outward

Because you remember from question 1 that aggression always intentional, you can immediately see that answer “c” is WRONG, and you can eliminate it. Can you eliminate any other answers? Look at the key word in each choice. The key word of answer “a” is “internally,” the key word of “b” is “modeled,” and the key word of “d” is “outward.” Maybe you don’t remember these words from the passage. You can return to the reading and focus on finding the definition of displacement that uses one of these three key words. Every time you can quickly eliminate one or more choices because you remember a similar answer from earlier in the section, you have saved time, and have reduced your chances of making a mistake.

The more you practice taking a holistic approach to the Reading and Listening sections, the easier it will be to link related answers together.

TOEFL Tip #90: Reading and Listening: Use a Holistic Approach

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 11, 2011

Many people lose a lot of time on the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL because of the way they approach the questions. They mentally review everything they know about the reading or listening passage in order answer the first question, then they stop thinking, move on to the next question, and start all over again. It’s almost like they empty their minds, and each question is about a new topic.

Don’t do this! All of the questions work together. Treating them like separate items will slow you down. You might even make mistakes that you would not otherwise make.

Instead, use a holistic approach on the Reading and Listening sections. That is, keep in mind that the questions are pieces that work together to form a unit, and each of the pieces depends on the others. Think of the questions as a jigsaw puzzle: when working on a puzzle with an outdoor scene, you group all of the blue pieces together because they’re probably the sky, and you can guess that all of the green pieces are the grass, and so on. By grouping each color together, you can find the piece you want more easily, rather than having to search through all of the puzzle pieces each time.

If you think holistically about the questions for a Reading or Listening passage, you will realize that information from an earlier answer can help answer a later question. We’ll have an example of this in next week’s post, on March 18th.

Thinking holistically can not only save you time on the Reading and Listening sections, but it can also boost your confidence. Having a technique to help answer difficult questions means that you won’t waste precious time, and you won’t panic. Try it as you practice, and see the difference that holistic thinking will make!

TOEFL Tip #89: Touch Typing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 4, 2011

Although it may seem like getting a good TOEFL score only requires being able to read, speak, write, and listen to English well, this is not quite the case. You ALSO need to be able to work quickly without being distracted by the clock, for example. If you’re taking the iBT, you need to be familiar with using a mouse. When you have mastered general skills like these, you can put all of your attention on the exam questions. The more you have to focus on HOW to take the test, the harder it will be to do well ON the test.

A big area that slows people down on the iBT is typing out their essays for the writing section. They use only one or two fingers on each hand to type, and have to scan the entire keyboard for each letter. Or, they type quickly, but make so many mistakes that they waste a lot of time going back to fix obvious spelling errors, or putting spaces between words. It makes sense that this would slow you down, and time might run out before you finish the essay, even if you know exactly what you want to say.

To avoid this problem, practice touch typing as you get ready for the writing section of the TOEFL. “Touch Typing” means being able to type quickly and accurately without looking at the keyboard very often. If you can type with all of your fingers without looking at the keyboard, you will go a lot faster.

There are free sites on the web that will teach you how to touch type. One example is the site from The site features a clear description of each step in learning to touch type, a series of typing lessons, and a space where you can paste in your own text, and then practice typing it. For example, you can write a sample 30 minute or 20 minute essay, then practice typing it accurately.

Once you have learned to touch type and are practicing on your own, be sure to turn off the feature on your word processor that automatically corrects your mistakes. For example, auto-correct will fix simple mistakes like typing “teh” for “the.” You know how to spell “the,” but if you’re used to the computer fixing mistakes like that, you won’t be in the habit of checking your work carefully. You don’t want to lose points because of small mistakes that you can easily fix!

Touch typing well will increase your speed and accuracy, and that will help make sure that you have time to write your best essays on the TOEFL.