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TOEFL Tip #180: Consider Taking An Extra Year To Prepare

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 30, 2012

A “gap year” is a break between phases in a person’s life, particularly a break from education. High school students are increasingly taking a gap year before starting college to better prepare themselves for college-level expectations and workloads. Mark Greenstein of has a recent newsletter article addressing the ways in which students with widely varying levels of college readiness can benefit from taking what he calls a “planned gap year.” A planned gap year is an intentional break before college, with specific goals for how to use the time away from school.

A yearlong break between high school and college can also benefit students preparing to take the TOEFL exam. You might need more time to study for the TOEFL without the competing demands of your high school classes. Maybe you started the college application process late, and now you don’t have much time to make sure you get the TOEFL score you need for admission to your first choice schools. Perhaps you have not been exposed to much English in your daily life, and you’re nervous about suddenly switching to an all-English college campus. Whatever the reason, a gap year can help you be more prepared for the TOEFL exam, and for college.

What should you do if you take a break between high school and college?

Immerse yourself in as much English as possible, every day. Read newspaper and magazine articles in English. Change your internet browser settings to English. Choose English-language entertainment – movies, television and radio programs, music. The more English that is around you on a daily basis, the more vocabulary, syntax, and inflection you will learn.

While you are absorbing English from these sources, you also need to be producing English. Seek out friends – perhaps online – with whom you can practice communicating in English. If you are able to do so, take a job where you will be required to use English frequently. Similarly, join a club or a group that is related to one of your interests and whose members speak English. Because you would be familiar with the club’s main activity, you can focus on improving your English. The more you communicate in English, the better your skills will be.

Taking a year before college to focus on improving your English can significantly improve your TOEFL scores and your college applications. Consider taking a year so you can take concrete steps to develop your skills.

TOEFL Tip #179: Cyber Monday Weekend Sale – 55% Off

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 23, 2012

Strictly English is running a weekend sale for Cyber Monday!

From now through 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday, November 26th, you will receive 55% off of our REGULAR prices for 1:1 Private Tutoring. Save 100s of dollars!

Contact us today to find out which package is right for you!

TOEFL Tip #178: Tips For Better Performance On TOEFL Speaking Section

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 16, 2012

For many students, the Speaking section of the TOEFL is the hardest. Not only do you have to show mastery of spoken English, but you also need to perform well. If you’re not used to speaking in front of an audience, or if you’re generally shy or soft-spoken, the performance aspect of your oral answers can affect your score significantly.

Why does this happen?

Inexperienced public speakers aren’t used to calibrating their voice and speed. They may mumble, speak too quickly or in a monotone, or insert filler phrases like “um” when uncertain of what to say next. Without the feedback of an audience, such speakers don’t realize that the WAY they’re speaking is creating a negative impression about WHAT they’re saying.

How can you avoid these pitfalls?

Create opportunities for public speaking, if you can. Volunteer to lead a group presentation, or teach a group of friends how to do something that you know well. Read a newspaper item out loud to your family. If you can’t practice in front of an audience, you should still practice speaking out loud to an empty room. The goal is to get used to projecting your voice, speaking clearly, and pacing yourself.

Here are some additional tips for good public speaking:

Breathe. Students often try to say as much as possible in their answers. This causes their words to blur together, and makes the rater’s job harder. Slow down by taking a breath at the end of each sentence. This will also give you a moment to organize your thoughts.

Sit up in your chair. Or even better, stand. Projecting your voice is difficult if you’re slouched into a chair. Whether sitting or standing, have your back straight and your head up. Breathe slowly and deeply.

Avoid caffeine and dairy products. Caffeine dehydrates. Since nervousness alone can cause dry mouth, you don’t want to make the situation worse by drinking caffeinated beverages before the TOEFL exam. Similarly, dairy products create the sensation of needing to clear your throat. Drink water instead.

Warm up your voice. Try a few tongue twisters or other brief speaking exercises to warm up your voice. This will help you to enunciate clearly.

Even though you can’t practice answers for the content of the Speaking section, you can practice your performance skills. By improving the performance aspect of your answer on the Speaking section, you might raise your score by two or more points!

TOEFL Tip #177: Studying In A Group Is Helpful

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 9, 2012

While group study has long been a staple (see adj, meaning 2) tool of education, this practice has increased sharply for the so-called digital native generation. Many students today expect to collaborate on projects and share information in a variety of formats. Once the bastion of silent study, even libraries are increasingly restructuring their facilities to accommodate students working in groups. Clearly, group study is a significant element in education today.

In light of this, consider studying for the TOEFL with others who are also learning English.

Group study benefits students in a variety of ways. Being accountable to the groups helps everyone to stay focused and get their work done. Preparing for the study session meeting becomes a mini-deadline that adds some structure to your own schedule. Group members not only share their knowledge, but also can work together to figure out missing information. In addition, explaining something to another person reinforces that information for yourself, making it easier to remember. Finally, the emotional support of a group helps students feel less isolated and eases their frustration.

While these are the benefits of group work for any subject, studying for the TOEFL in a group has the additional benefit of providing more opportunities to practice speaking English. The more you practice, the better your English will be.

Although group study can have some drawbacks, such as chatting about non-TOEFL topics and some group members being unprepared for the study session, these are issues that can be resolved by the group members as they occur. Compared with the benefits of group study, these challenges are relatively minor.

If you’re studying for the TOEFL on your own, consider joining a study group. If you’re already part of a study group, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave us a comment below!

TOEFL Tips #176: Flor Wins 2 Free Hours Of TOEFL Tutoring!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 2, 2012

 Strictly English is excited to announce that Flor has won our contest! Last week’s entry was filled with errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Readers who emailed us the corrected errors were entered in the contest; the prize is 2 free hours of tutoring with Strictly English. Congratulations, Flor!

Here is the post again, with the errors highlighted and a brief explanation of the problem.

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 [misspelled word] 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; [use a comma before a phrase, not a semicolon] such as the one after “green” in this example: red, green, and blue). Whatever your particular circumstances, students often has [subject-verb agreement – should be “have”] “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 [misspelled word] 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 [parallel structure – should be “to practice”] 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 [misspelled word] score. Its [contraction for “it is” – missing apostrophe] worth taking the time to improve this skill.


How many did you get right?