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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!

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