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TOEFL Tip #144: Speaking Really Well Vs. Knowing A Lot

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 24, 2012

People who are fluent in several languages are called “polyglots.” Those who have studied a wide range of subjects are called “polymaths.” (Note the prefix these two words share: “poly-,” meaning “many”).

Because the TOEFL tests someone’s ability to understand and communicate in English, it’s easy to assume that people who have achieved complete fluency in English will score far better than those who have less mastery of the language, even if they have a broader knowledge base. To be sure, a polyglot may be able to answer the vocabulary questions on the Reading section more easily, simply because he or she recognizes the words.

However, in Strictly English’s experience across 10,000 tutoring hours, we have consistently seen that a high degree of fluency in many languages is not as helpful as knowing something about many academic subject areas. Remember, the Reading passages and some of the Listening tasks cover a very wide range of academic topics, from paleontology to business letter writing. Therefore, the Polymath’s ability to answer questions comfortably within many subject areas will be of great help, both because he/she is familiar with the content, and because that familiarity will boost his/her overall confidence.

For example, consider a polyglot who only knows about fishing. That person will only be able to talk about fishing, even if he or she can do so in 10 languages. Since the TOEFL only tests English, the ability to talk about fishing in the other 9 languages isn’t very useful for the exam. Even if the topic of fishing happens to come up on a particular TOEFL exam, it’s only going to be on the exam once, which means that the polyglot who only knows about fishing will probably have a hard time on the rest of the exam.

On the other hand, if you have a body of knowledge of 10 academic topics, and a working knowledge of English (plus your native language, of course), you will probably do better on the TOEFL because most academic topics have cognates that cross what would otherwise be linguistic barriers. Having a general knowledge of a topic is probably enough for TOEFL because the test is geared toward high school seniors. You don’t need to be an expert in the topic; you just need to be familiar with its main ideas. Your general knowledge can help to fill in the blanks created by gaps in your English.

Take the extreme example of a person who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but has, at best, intermediate English skills. That person would probably score higher on a Reading passage about chemistry, if he or she can pick out key words and use them to extrapolate the meaning of the rest of the passage, than the Polyglot who speaks advanced English beautifully but who has had no exposure to the concepts of chemistry.

An important note of caution – it is the golden rule of TOEFL preparation that you should answer the questions from the knowledge in the PASSAGE and not from your own professional or personal knowledge. We are NOT saying that your general knowledge should REPLACE or SUPERSEDE the knowledge in the passage. We are saying that you can USE your knowledge to better understand what the passage is saying.

So, our advice: nurture your inner Polymath! Read widely on academic topics in both English AND your own language so that you build up a base of knowledge to draw upon when you take the TOEFL exam.

TOEFL Tip #143: TOEFL Journey Program

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 17, 2012

If you are planning to study abroad at an English-speaking institution, you know that the process encompasses (see definition 2b) a lot more than taking the TOEFL exam. You have to do research on the program – or several programs – you’re interested in, apply for a visa, research sources of financial support, and so on. Tracking the different pieces of information, and the many steps along the way, can be a challenge.

To help manage the application process, you might consider using ETS’s TOEFL Journey Program (). TOEFL Journey is a free, personalized program that delivers timely information to students on a wide variety of topics related to studying abroad at English-speaking institutions. Wherever you are in the application cycle, from just beginning to research options and study for the TOEFL through submitting applications, the TOEFL Journey Program provides information and online tools specific to each student’s needs.

If you do sign up for the TOEFL Journey Program – or are already participating in it – we’d love to hear from you about your experience. Leave us a comment and tell us how the TOEFL Journey Program helped you!

TOEFL Tip #142: Using The Strictly English Blog For Self-Study

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 10, 2012

We cover a lot of different topics here on the Strictly English blog, from study and test-taking tips, to changes in the exams, to reports and testimonials from our students. With well over one hundred entries, that’s a lot of material to help with your self-study.

While you certainly can scroll through each of the entries to find the ones that you need, that would be an inefficient use of your time.

Instead, use the blog’s CATEGORIES and SEARCH BOX to hone (see tr.v., definition 2) your search.

For example, are you working on improving your TOEFL Speaking score? In the right column of the blog, you’ll see the list of Categories for all of our posts. Click on Speaking, and you’ll bring up all of our articles that mention the Speaking section. You can work through each section of the TOEFL this way, and also read about other topics related to the TOEFL Exam.

If you don’t see a category for the topic you want to read about, type it in the search box. Be sure to type in variation on your search term, to bring up all of the possible matches. Maybe you’d like to read about time management on the TOEFL. Typing “time management” in the search box has only one result. Entering “clock” brings 2 articles — the same result for the time management search, plus an additional entry. On the other hand, “running out of time” brings three articles that are entirely different from either of these other two examples.

If you’ve tried the categories and search box and you still can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a comment. Perhaps we can do a future blog post about your topic!

TOEFL Tip #141: TOEFL Junior Test: English Proficiency Exam For Middle School Students

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 3, 2012

With the global prevalence of English, families often wish to assess students’ mastery of English at an early stage of their education. Such a benchmark provides opportunities to adjust their school programs so that students are fully prepared for tests such as the TOEFL if they want to pursue advanced education in English.

To address this need, ETS has created the TOEFL Junior Test , a paper-based, multi-choice exam for middle-school students.

TOEFL Junior measures students’ mastery of the social and academic English language skills for medium-level English instruction. The test has three sections – Listening, Language Form and Meaning, and Reading. Together, these sections assess a student’s ability to listen for a variety of purposes (intrapersonal, instructional, academic), his or her knowledge of English language fundamentals such as grammar and vocabulary, and his or her ability to understand academic and non-academic material. The score reports provide further assistance, through comparative contexts for understanding the results, as well as a Lexile measure to help find books at each student’s reading level.

The TOEFL Junior Test is currently offered in more than 25 countries. For further information, click here .