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TOEFL Tip #171: TOEFL Accommodations For Test Takers With Special Needs

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 28, 2012

In its commitment to provide access to the TOEFL exam for those with disabilities and health-related needs, ETS offers a variety of technical accommodations and specialized services. This post will highlight a few important aspects of ETS’s accommodations for those who need them, but be sure to read the ETS webpage as well as the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Related Needs.

If you need special accommodation to take the TOEFL, you MUST contact ETS Disability Services before you can register to take the exam. There are several forms to fill out, along with supporting documentation; once these are processed, you will receive an authorization letter with instructions for registering, plus an authorization/voucher number. You will need these in order to register for the exam.

Be aware of the amount of time necessary to secure accommodations. ETS says that the process takes up to 6 weeks once the complete package of forms and documentation has been submitted. If anything is missing from your initial submission, processing your request for accommodation will take up to an additional 6 weeks, once the missing items have been supplied. In addition, all materials must be mailed to ETS; accommodation requests cannot be submitted online. Be sure to start the accommodation request process early so you can schedule your exam in time for your applications.

A wide range of accommodations are available for test takers whose disabilities directly affect how they take the test, such as blindness or low vision; deafness or hardness of hearing; speech disabilities; and ADD or learning disabilities. Options include technological accommodations, such as using a special keyboard or mouse; assistance from a specialist, such as a sign language interpreter for the spoken directions of the exam; and adaptive accommodations such as extended test time. Test takers with needs other than those addressed by the options listed by ETS can describe their needs on the registration form.

Those test takers whose health-related needs require only minor accommodations – such as special lighting, an adjustable chair, or extra rest breaks – also need to fill out the forms; however, be aware that not all medical aids require an accommodation request. Devices that help you to move (crutches, wheelchair) or communicate (hearing aid, voice amplifier) do not require a request for accommodation. Likewise, insulin pumps do not require accommodation, unless the noise is likely to disturb other test takers. In that case, request accommodation so that you can take the exam in a separate room.

If you have a disability or health-related need, help is available. Investigate your options, and request accommodations early.

TOEFL Tip #170: Take The Real TOEFL When You’re Ready, Not Before

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 21, 2012

Last week, we highlighted that ETS will only report the TOEFL scores you designate, no matter how many times you take the test. However, that does NOT mean that you should take the TOEFL exam over and over until you reach the score that you want!

We know of many students who have taken the TOEFL 10 times, or more! Think of how expensive that is. Taking the TOEFL exam in the United States costs $180 per test. If you take the exam once a month for a year, that’s over $2,100. Costs are even higher if you’re taking the TOEFL outside of the U.S.

Taking the TOEFL over and over as a method of study will not work. If all you’re doing to prepare for the exam is taking it time and again, your score will not go up because you’re not learning new strategies about HOW to take the exam. And the real TOEFL is a very expensive way to measure your progress when studying with other materials.

Instead, resources like and ETS’s practice tests can help you gauge when you’re ready to take the TOEFL exam, at a much more affordable cost. Again, we must emphasize that you should not use these tests as your study material. Instead, use them as checkpoints in your journey to the TOEFL exam. Take them once a week, AT MOST. An even better strategy is to take a practice test only when you would have scheduled a real TOEFL exam, such as when you’ve finished a set of classes with Strictly English (sign up for classes now!)

When the score on your practice test is at least 7% HIGHER than the score you need – AND you can do this on 2 consecutive practice tests – it’s time to sign up for a real TOEFL.

For the practice tests to be effective, it’s CRUCIAL that you take the WHOLE test in ONE sitting. Treat it exactly like a real exam. If you chop up the practice test into smaller time segments, then you’re not learning how you’ll really do on test day. You need the stamina – the energy and focus – to sit through the sections of the TOEFL, taking breaks only during the official times. If you don’t practice under the same conditions, your practice test score won’t reflect your genuine level of readiness.

TOEFL Tip #169: Score Reporting Differences Between The GMAT And The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 16, 2012

International MBA applicants have to take both the GMAT and the TOEFL, and there are some stark differences you should be aware of regarding how both tests handle score reporting.

First of all, there is a limit to how often you can take the GMAT. As stated on the official GMAT website, you can only take the GMAT once every 31 days, and a maximum of 5 times per consecutive 12 month period. The TOEFL exam does not have such requirements. Although the iBT used to have some restrictions on how frequently you could take the test, now there are no limitations. We even know of a student who took the TOEFL in Brazil on a Friday, and then again the next day in New York City.

Second, the GMAT has full disclosure of your scores. Again, according to the webpage: “Your scores from all of your test dates within the last five (5) years will be reported to the programs you designate as score recipients.” Many schools frown upon students who have taken the GMAT too many times. But, here again: the TOEFL is different. Even if you take 15 TOEFL tests, you can choose to send only one set of scores to the school, and that school will never know anything about the other 14 tests.

Why the difference between these two exams? Basically, admissions offices recognize that language learning is a slow and difficult process, so it is very common to take many exams to check in on your progress. On the other hand, the skills being tested on the GMAT shouldn’t take nearly as long to master. If it does take 5 or 7 tests to master them, then you might not be the kind of learner that the school wants to admit to their program. MBA programs want to graduate students who can think quickly and process new information efficiently. If you’re taking a long time to master the GMAT, MBA programs interpret this as a poor ability to process information quickly.

So remember: you do want to finish your TOEFL requirement as quickly as you can, if for no other reason than to have it behind you as soon as possible in the application process. Yet, you do not have to lay awake at night worrying that too many TOEFL tests will destroy your chances of being accepted. With the TOEFL, you can send only your best test result.

TOEFL Tip #168: Practice TOEFL Speaking In Your Native Language

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 8, 2012

Today’s post is about a strategy for the Speaking section of the TOEFL exam that seems counterintuitive at first: practicing in your native language.

Of course, many of the skills necessary to get a good score on the Speaking section of the TOEFL are language-based. If your grammar is so poor that you cannot construct a correct sentence, if your pronunciation is so far off that the TOEFL rater can’t understand what you are saying, or if your vocabulary is so limited that you can only repeat a few words in every sentence, you will not score well on the Speaking section of the TOEFL. (This applies, in varying degrees, to the Writing, Listening, and Reading sections, as well.) These skills demonstrate a level of mastery of English.

But do you know that some skills necessary to get a good score on the TOEFL exam are NOT language based?

Instead, this additional set of skills is linked to public speaking. If you can speak with strength and confidence in your voice, you will sound more convincing. If you can speak slowly and clearly into the microphone and project your voice without shouting, your recorded answers will be easier to understand. If you pause for a moment between sentences, you will sound calm. Although you are not speaking to the entire room during the TOEFL exam, it is still a kind of performance. With so much at stake, you need to give the best performance that you can.

Therefore, learn how to become a more powerful public speaker in your own language. You’ll be able to translate those performance skills into English for the Speaking section of the TOEFL exam.

How can you employ this technique? First, try answering TOEFL questions in your own language. Pretend that you’re talking to a young child who needs concepts explained step by step in order to understand them. Then try to deliver that same CONTENT in the same STYLE, but using English instead of your native language.

Good public speaking skills will showcase the content of your Speaking section answers to their best advantage.

TOEFL Tip #167: Guest Post — 4 Important Tips For International Students Looking To Get Merit Aid

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 3, 2012

Today’s post is another installment in our series on scholarships for international students, featuring advice from International College Counselors.

Some of the ideas here reflect a central core of advice that echoes the same points in our previous post on financial aid for international students, particularly regarding the need to do your research to find colleges that offer scholarships for international students, and to assess your own talents accurately.

In addition, International College Counselors makes a key point that merit aid is not limited to your academic achievement. Their view on your ability to negotiate if you have multiple admissions letters is also a valuable insight.

Read on for more details:

Merit Aid is non-need-based aid. Colleges offer this financial help to students based on academic or athletic achievements, special talents such as music, or other characteristics, rather than financial need. In other words, merit aid is not awarded based on the student’s economic situation.

Almost every traditional four-year college, public or private, offers some form of merit aid. However, not all aid is equally distributed between domestic and international students.

If you are an international student looking for merit aid, here are tips that can improve your chances of receiving merit aid.

1. Do research and find the schools that offer merit aid to international students. While not all schools offer aid to international students, there are a number that do. Some include: University of Miami, University of Richmond, Washington and Lee University, Oberlin College and St. Lawrence University.

2. Choose colleges where you’d be at the top. If your grades and tests scores put you in the top 25 percent of the student body, there is a very good chance a school will try to woo you with merit aid.

3. Take stock of your abilities. Merit aid can also be attainable for athletic achievements and special talents. If you are skilled in sports, music, etc., merit aid and scholarships designed to attract these abilities are worth looking into.

4. Negotiate. If you have received admission letters from two or more schools of equivalent standards, don’t be afraid to ‘bargain.’ Some schools may be willing to match a merit grant offered by another school.

In 2012, the college advisors at International College Counselors helped more than 200 students from around the world to find, apply to and gain acceptance into the college of their dreams. The expert college advisors at International College Counselors are dedicated to helping students and their parents with the often daunting and complex college application process. For more information on International College Counselors or to contact an expert college counselor, please call 954 414-9986 or visit