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TOEFL Tip #175: Enter Our Editing Contest!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 26, 2012

Win 2 FREE HOURS of tutoring! Correct all 7 mistakes in this blog article (they could be spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors), and you will be entered in a drawing for 2 FREE HOURS of TOEFL Tutoring! The winner will be announced in our blog post next week, on November 2nd.

To enter the contest, please email us your corrections highlighted in RED at before 11:59 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 31st. Then write a comment on this blog article that says “I think I corrected all the mistakes!” Be sure to do *both* steps for your entry to count. Good luck!



Misspellings and grammar errors are often the trickiest part of the Writing Section to correct. Perhaps you’re used to working with programs like Microsoft Word which identify speling errors with red squiggly lines under misspelled words, and green squiggly lines under ungrammatical phrases. Perhaps your software even autocorrects typos, so you never even realize you’ve made them. Perhaps you’re working on the basics of English grammar, so you’re not thinking about whether or not to use the Oxford comma (that’s the comma that comes before the “and” in a list of items; such as the one after “green” in this example: red, green, and blue). Whatever your particular circumstances, students often has “blind spots” that make it hard for them to recognize and fix grammar errors.

What can you do?

Use your software to help learn what kinds of mistakes you make most often. Rather than simply letting hte software correct mistakes, turn off autocorrect. Write down every word identified by red squiggles and every phrase identified by green ones, and fix them yourself in the document. Use sites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab to learn about the particular grammar mistakes you keep making and practicing correcting them. You could even ask a native speaker of English to take a paragraph from the newspaper, purposely change it to include mistakes, and give it to you as a quiz. The more you practice spotting these sorts of mistakes in other people’s writing, the easier it will be to identify them in your own writing.

Numerous spelling and grammar errors can make a significant difference to your TEOFL score. Its worth taking the time to improve this skill.

TOEFL Tip #174: Understand The Logic Behind The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 19, 2012

Last week, we discussed a strategy for the Reading section of the TOEFL which advises test-takers to read as little of the passage as possible. This week, we want to highlight an implicit point about that strategy.

Understanding the logic of the TOEFL is essential for doing well on the exam.

It’s important to realize that the TOEFL is not a test of your academic knowledge, per se. Of course, you need to know the rules and conventions of formal English in order to understand the Reading and Listening passages, and to communicate effectively in the Writing and Speaking sections. Similarly, the Reading section has questions asking about the meaning of a specific word from the passage. If you’ve never encountered that word before, you may have trouble figuring out its meaning from context.

In the big picture, however, the TOEFL does not test what you already know about academic topics as diverse as chemistry and prehistoric art. There would be no effective way to study for such a test, because it’s simply not possible to know something about every potential topic that might appear in a TOEFL passage.

Keep in mind, then, that the TOEFL assesses how well you comprehend and communicate in English. If you happen to know something about the topic of the passage, that will certainly assist you in choosing the correct answers. However, even if you know nothing about the topic, the passage itself contains everything you need to answer the questions.

This is where understanding the logic of the TOEFL becomes central. When you understand what each section of the test measures, you can answer more effectively. For example, the Writing and Speaking sections are not only about whether you can answer a question with sentences that are grammatically correct. They also gauge your ability to express and develop unique ideas and persuade your audience. To do this, you need to know how many points you need to support your main idea, how much detail to include, and how to structure your answer.

Once you’re familiar with the logic behind the TOEFL exam – HOW to take the test – you can focus on WHAT the answers are.

TOEFL Tip #173: Don’t Read The Reading Passage

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 12, 2012

It’s a common experience on tests like the TOEFL: students spend so much time making sure they understand a reading passage that they run out of time to answer all of the questions. Maybe they end up guessing some answers, or maybe they pick the decoy answer – the choice that refers to something in the passage, but which doesn’t answer the question correctly. This can lead to lower scores on the Reading section, and higher student anxiety about the rest of the test.

Strictly English has a solution that creates more time for answering the questions, increases student confidence, and leads to better Reading scores.

Don’t read the passage before answering the questions.

We know this is counterintuitive. Answering the questions without reading the passage first seems really risky. However, this technique works because of the way that the questions are structured.

The questions generally follow the order of the reading passage. The first few questions refer to the beginning of the passage, the next few questions refer to the middle of the passage, and so on. In addition, some of the questions will refer to a specific line or paragraph in the passage. Other questions will refer to the meaning of a particular word in the passage. You can use this to your advantage to only read the part of the passage necessary to answer the question. As you work through the questions, you will generally end up reading the entire passage anyway. Often, one of the last questions asks about the overall theme of the passage. You will probably have a good idea of the theme from answering the previous questions; if you don’t know the theme, you’ll be able to read the passage quickly because you already know what most of it is about. You can even answer the summary question, in which you’re given a lead-in sentence and you need to choose the 3 answers that work with it to summarize the reading passage, without reading the passage at all.

If you don’t need to spend 5-7 minutes reading the passage, you can spend that extra time answering the questions. Because you won’t feel rushed, you’ll have more confidence in your answers, and that confidence will follow into the other sections of the exam.

Want to learn more about this technique and practice using it? Contact us!

TOEFL Tip #172: More Information About Subject/Verb Agreement Errors

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 6, 2012

Some time ago, Strictly English had a post highlighting the fact that numerous errors in subject-verb agreement in the Writing section of the TOEFL could substantially lower your score. Our researchers have recently discovered that subject-verb agreement errors affect not only your Writing score, but also your Speaking score.

In both the Writing and Speaking sections, our researchers’ answers were nearly grammatically perfect. For this study, their only “problem” area was in subject-verb agreement. As a result, their scores in both sections dropped. Their Writing scores went down by as much as 4 points, and their Speaking scores were 2 or so points lower.

What accounts for the same error costing different points on the Writing and Speaking sections?

We attribute this to the ability to proof-read your answers in the Writing section before submitting them. If you use your response time well, you can leave a few minutes at the end to review what you’ve written and correct any mistakes. Since you technically CAN fix your errors, it seems as if ETS penalizes you more for any mistakes which remain in the answer.

On the other hand, you can’t go back and correct mistakes in your Speaking section answers. Even if you do correct one or two errors right after you say them, it’s just not feasible to expect that you can correct all of them and still give a good answer. ETS knows this, and seems to deduct fewer points because speaking on the fly (scroll to the bottom of the page) is harder than writing and revising.

Since subject-verb agreement errors are easy to recognize (click here for a review), make sure that you practice eliminating them from both your written and spoken English.