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TOEFL Tip #184: The Year In Review

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 28, 2012

For our last post of 2012, we’re taking a look back at a year’s worth of news items, study tips, and section strategies. Take a look at a post you may have missed when it was originally published, or review an especially pertinent item. As always, we appreciate hearing from you. Leave a comment telling us which posts were most helpful, and what topics you would like to see covered.

Our most dramatic news item was also one of our most recent posts – starting in January 2013, test-takers must wait 21 days between scheduled TOEFL exams. We also alerted readers to changes in security policies to prevent TOEFL test-takers from using a fraudulent identity, as well as differences between how GMAT and TOEFL test scores are reported. We highlighted ETS’s policies for test-takers with special needs and for rescheduling an exam, and discussed two programs – TOEFL Junior and TOEFL Journey.

Most of our posts discussed the specific sections of the TOEFL exam, with many topics applying to multiple sections. The important skill of paraphrasing applies to all 4 sections. Reading and Listening both indicate the greater value of broad-based knowledge instead of perfect fluency in English. We also advised test-takers to answer as few Reading questions as necessary, to know the various types of Reading questions, and to go straight to the questions instead of reading the Reading passage first.

Strategies for the Writing and Speaking sections have a significant degree of overlap, reflecting the two areas in which many of our students need the most assistance. For both sections, we emphasized how tricky it can be to get the details right, as well as the importance of keeping the details simple and vivid. The test-taker’s grammar is a significant element in the Writing and Speaking sections, so we focused on the level of grammar necessary for a high score, effective intermediate English, including subject-verb agreement and appropriate use of coordinating conjunctions. An additional Writing section strategy advised test-takers to avoid redundancy.

By far, we addressed issues concerning the Speaking section most often this year. In addition to the strategies mentioned above which also apply to the Writing section, we had a lot of Speaking-specific advice. We discussed two cultural elements that can unexpectedly affect the Speaking score – Americans’ greater tendency to share personal details, and the speed at which a test-taker’s native language is typically spoken. Because the Speaking section has a unique performance aspect that the other sections do not have, we suggested that test-takers develop a speaking persona and warm up their voices, as well as sharing other performance tips. We also noted the various implications of the casual “OK.” To further improve Speaking performance, we advised test-takers to practice in their native language and to ignore the clock.

Beyond these strategies for particular sections, we discussed several general techniques for studying: eliminating distractions, immersing oneself in English, being enthusiastic about the TOEFL, improving comprehension, and understanding the logic of how the TOEFL exam is structured. We looked at the value of group study, and how to use the Strictly English blog for self-study. We advised students against taking multiple exams to prepare, and suggested that some students can benefit from taking a gap year to prepare for the TOEFL. On a broader level, we examined why students who are considered “smart” in high school sometimes perform poorly on the TOEFL.

For the day of the exam, we gave test-takers an effective way to manage their notepaper.

In addition to two guest posts addressing different aspects of merit scholarships for international students (here and here), we had several posts about Strictly English itself. We launched our YouTube channel this year, as well as our Study Hall service. As always, we appreciate hearing about our students’ success, as in this testimonial. We had a contest to locate typos in a post, and the winner received 2 free hours of tutoring. Congratulations, Flor! We also ran a Cyber Monday sale. Finally, we asked Cambridge about when they will update their instructional CDs to run on Macs using the Lion operating system — look for these in early 2013!

Thank you for a terrific 2012! See you next year!

TOEFL Tip #183: Mac Users Get Closer To New TOEFL CDs From Cambridge (And Barrons?)

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 21, 2012

When Apple launched its Lion operating system in July 2011, Mac users were instantly crippled in their TOEFL study. This is because the CDs that came with two of the best study guides for TOEFL no longer worked in this new operating system. Unfortunately, this problem persists with Apple’s newest operating system, Mountain Lion.

If you put your Cambridge CD or your Barrons CD into an Apple computer, it just wouldn’t work.

So Strictly English called up Cambridge and Barrons to ask them when they would release CDs that would work for Mac users. We got an update from Cambridge, but have not heard from Barrons.

Cambridge says it will have a Mac-friendly CD by early 2013. Of course, we’re very glad to hear this, but we have to admit that this is a bit slow. Lion came out a year and a half ago, which means that all new Mac owners have not been able to use the Cambridge CD for all of that time.

Publishers of educational material need to remember that Apple computers are far more popular in educational institutions than PCs are. Perhaps this is too much of a generalization, but the basic trend is that PCs are found in businesses and Macs are found in schools.

Therefore, educational companies can’t afford to put their Mac users on the back burner for so long, especially since Apple products continue to take a larger share of the computer market.

THANK YOU, CAMBRIDGE for getting a CD ready for release. But please BE QUICKER next time so all of us Mac users can enjoy your fantastic products without interruption.

TOEFL Tip #182: Know The Types of Reading Questions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 18, 2012

Time is of the essence on the TOEFL exam. You have a specific amount of time to finish each section, and you cannot get any extensions. You need to use your time effectively in order to have the best chance at a high score.

One way to use your time well on the Reading section is to be able to identify the different types of questions quickly. For example, if a question asks about a fact stated in the passage, you will use a different strategy to find that answer than you would use to answer a question about something inferred by the passage. Similarly, you can generally identify a vocabulary word’s meaning by reading the sentence in which the target word appears, but you may need to read the entire paragraph to answer a reference question correctly.

Being able to identify each type of question on the Reading passage quickly has three benefits.

First, the more quickly you can identify the category for each question in the Reading section, the less time you will waste re-reading too much of the passage to answer each question. By using your time efficiently, you will have a few extra minutes to answer a question that you find particularly challenging.

Second, once you have identified each type of question, you can answer all of the questions in a particular category, then move to the next category, and so on. This keeps your brain focused on one type of task until it is finished, rather than switching among multiple tasks repeatedly. The more you can focus on one thing at a time, the better you will perform.

Third, being confident about each type of Reading question will boost your overall confidence on the TOEFL exam. Since Reading is the first section, this confidence will carry over to the other sections.

So, as you prepare for the Reading section of the TOEFL, practice categorizing the questions, too!

URGENT NOTICE: TOEFL to Limit How Many Tests You Can Take!!!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 16, 2012

On Friday, December 14, 2012, ETS announced a new policy regarding retaking the TOEFL exam. Here is the announcement in full:

Beginning in January 2013, there will be a change in the Repeat Policy for the TOEFL iBT® test. Test takers can still take the test as many times as they wish, but only once within a 21-day period. If a test taker has an existing test appointment, he or she cannot register for another test date that is within 21 days of the existing appointment.

This policy change will have serious, immediate repercussions for students with upcoming deadlines. Many students register to take the TOEFL 3or 4 times in the two months preceding an application deadline. That won’t be possible starting in January 2013. First, you have to wait 10 days to get your scores to decide if you want to take the exam again. If you do want to retake it, you have to choose a date that is 21 days after your most recent exam. These two factors significantly cut down a student’s opportunities to take the exam just before a deadline. For example, if your deadline is January 13, 2013, you have to take your last TOEFL by January 3rd, and you cannot have taken a previous test any closer to that January 3rd date than December 13th.

Even for those test-takers without deadlines in the next few weeks, this new policy is going to drastically change how almost every TOEFL student approaches studying and preparing for the exam. You will NO longer be able to CRAM in multiple exams and hoping for the best. Students are going to have to plan much further ahead, and pay very close attention to schedules and deadlines.

Another issue is that many professionals, like pharmacists, are being given a deadline for when their licensing application expires. This year, we had a lot of students at Strictly English who knew in FEBRUARY that they had to pass TOEFL before December 15th. Many of these professionals planned on taking the exam every week until they passed. However, this new policy will dramatically reduce their chances to take the TOEFL. If, for example, they found out on February 1st that they had until December 31st to pass the exam, that’s 48 weeks – 48 chances to pass under the previous policy. With the new policy, they will only be able to take the exam 16 times – cutting their chances in thirds.

Perhaps the most important complication regarding the new policy is the subtle difference between 21 days and 3 weeks. What if you take a test on a SATURDAY, and “three weeks” later you want to take a test again, but that weekend only has a FRIDAY date available. This is only 20 days later, and you would have to sign up for the following week, instead. This is effectively 27 days before you can take the next test, a significant delay if your deadline is coming up soon.

Strictly English believes that this is a terrible decision by ETS. It will reduce their income significantly and give PTE Academic a huge advantage in the English proficiency testing market. By making it possible to register for an exam 48 hours before taking it, PTE Academic offers nearly on-demand testing, and results are typically ready within 5 working days. For students applying to institutions which accept both the TOEFL and PTE Academic, the flexibility of PTE Academic may be more appealing.

TOEFL Tip #181: Use Appropriate, Vivid Details

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 9, 2012

Vision is most people’s dominant sense. We take in more information by seeing than we do by hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. That’s why there are so many aphorisms about sight: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” “Seeing is believing,” “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Keep this in mind as you prepare for the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL exam. For the rater, hearing and reading your words is not enough. He or she needs to SEE the images that your words create in his or her own mind. When you create a visual image with your words, you are using language in a more sophisticated way, which can have a positive effect on your score.

Here’s an example to clarify the different between an answer that paints a picture and one that does not. One friend tells you that she had “a big meal,” but a second friend tells you that he had a “huge medium rare steak, with a big baked potato and a side of green beans with tons of butter on them.” Which dinner do you see in your head? A generic “big meal,” or steak and vegetables?

Of course you see the second friend’s dinner.

This example might make you think that you just need to pack your answer full of details to get a good score. This is partly true; detailed answers are stronger than general ones. However, not all details have the same effect, and if you string a lot of details together, the list itself might become the answer’s main focus. That will not create the CORRECT image in the rater’s head. For example, a long list of food on your plate might make the rater see only a shopping list in his or her mind, instead of seeing you at dinner with your friends, enjoying a rich dessert while music plays in the background.

You need the art of using appropriate details that will work to your benefit. Like too much food piled on a flimsy paper plate, too many details piled onto a weak narrative will cause your whole answer to fall on the floor. Once that happens, you can’t put it back together.

We at Strictly English can teach you how to have the RIGHT amount of APPROPRIATE details to score over a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL. Contact us today!