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TOEFL Tip #188: Poor Grammar Can Limit Your Job Opportunities

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 25, 2013

At Strictly English, we sometimes hear students talk about having to learn the rules of English grammar “for the TOEFL.” These students seem to see mastery of English grammar as a stepping stone to the TOEFL exam, rather than as a skill that they will continue to use throughout their careers.

Kyle Wiens has a simple answer to the question of whether good grammar REALLY matters in the “real world” beyond college, “Yes, it does.”

In fact, good grammar is so important to Wiens that his companies, iFixit and Dozuki, require all job applicants to take a grammar test, even for jobs that are not primarily about writing. Those who don’t do well on the exam are not hired, even if they are otherwise excellent candidates. The grammar test helps his companies maintain a high standard of professionalism.

In July 2012, Wiens explained his views about the link between good grammar and good job performance in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review. For Wiens, “Good grammar makes good business sense.” Wiens’ experience shows that people who make the effort to use correct grammar are also careful about other aspects of their job performance. Similarly, Wiens says, “Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important.” Wiens also insists that his companies are not alone in valuing good grammar, “I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés.”

How is this related to preparing for the TOEFL? Think of mastering English grammar as a long-term investment in your future career, not as something you need to do “just” for the TOEFL exam.

TOEFL Tip #187: Answers To Your Questions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 18, 2013

We love getting comments on the Strictly English blog! We want to hear how your experience compares with a situation described in a post, or suggestions for future posts. Did you find a particular post especially helpful? Let us know!

Lately, readers have also asked a number of questions in the comment section. Because these are questions that we think a lot of people might have, we wanted to answer them in a post, rather than just respond directly to the original question.

Question #1: Scheduled exams and the new 21 day policy

ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day wait between exams is causing some anxiety. One reader said that he has two TOEFL exams scheduled within 21 days of each other in January. He scheduled the exams in 2012, but is worried that he won’t be allowed to take the second exam because of the new policy. He asked whether these two test dates are a problem, and what he can do about it.

The new policy started as of January 1, 2013, regarding scheduling exams after that date. As far as we know, this does not affect close-together exams that were scheduled in 2012, but which now violate the new policy. If you are in this position and want to make sure that you can still take the second-scheduled exam, contact ETS and ask for clarification.

Question #2: How to answer the Speaking section questions

Another question asked what format to use when answering the prompts for the Speaking section. The reader wanted to know if Speaking Section answers were more like a response to a teacher’s question in a classroom, or more like a spoken essay with a thesis, support, and a conclusion.

The answer is – some of both (depending on what your classroom is like, of course!). There are 6 Speaking tasks. Some of them ask for your opinion on a topic, and those answers should have a main idea that answers the question, and supporting details for that main idea. Other sections will require you to read and/or listen to a passage, and answer a question based on information from the passage. That might be more like a classroom answer, where you are repeating key points from the passage rather than giving your own opinion. There are lots of resources for practicing the speaking section and getting a better feel for how to answer the prompts. For a quick example, see this page.

Question #3: Retaking the TOEFL to get the score you need

A reader has the total score that he or she needs, but the score in one section does not meet the minimum required by the program to which he or she is applying. The question is, does the reader need to retake the TOEFL to boost his or her score in the section that is too low, knowing that he or she would miss the application deadline by taking the exam again?

We don’t know – this depends on the policy at each school or program to which you are applying. We have found that policies vary quite a lot, so it is not wise to assume anything about a program’s requirements. Call the program, ask to speak to an admissions counselor (or other staff person who knows the school’s policies well), and explain your situation. Do this as soon as possible in order to have the greatest number of options for addressing your issue.

Got a question? Leave it in the comments!

TOEFL Tip #186: Take PTE Academic When In Need Of Last Minute Testing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 11, 2013

Last week, we suggested making New Year resolutions to help you reach the TOEFL score you need in 2013. In light of the new restriction from ETS requiring a 21-day wait between exams, perhaps you have resolved to be more organized this year. Your application deadlines are already on your calendar, you’ve registered to take the TOEFL weeks before the deadline, and you are already studying. Congratulations! You are well on your way to reaching your TOEFL goal!

But sometimes, even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Maybe you are sick on the day you take the TOEFL, and your score is lower than you need it to be. Maybe you need tutoring for the exam (sign up with Strictly English!), but those classes will not be finished before your scheduled TOEFL date. Maybe you have only recently decided to apply to a program, and their deadline is only a few weeks away.

What can you do?

Take the PTE Academic, instead!

Many institutions accept both PTE Academic and TOEFL test reports. Be sure to double check if the institutions you’re applying to are among those that accept both scores!

With their fast turn-around time, you will know very quickly if you have reached the score you need. While PTE Academic’s website says that the turn-around on test results is typically 5 business days, our contact at the company reports that scores were ready in 2 days, on average, in 2012. As soon as students get a set of test results, they can take the PTE Academic exam again.

As you look ahead to your application deadlines, remember that PTE Academic’s substantially shorter turn-around time can make a big difference.

TOEFL Tip #185: Successful New Year’s Resolutions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 4, 2013

The beginning of January is a season of transition and assessment. After relaxing over the holidays, we look ahead to the new year with refreshed determination to achieve our goals. And yet, all too often, we slip back into old habits, despite our best intentions to change.

If you are preparing to take the TOEFL exam in 2013, how can you use New Year’s resolutions to help you reach the score you need?

First, decide if you need to explore or exploit. That is, do you need to develop new study habits, or learn new test-taking strategies? This is a resolution to explore – you will be absorbing new material, using new ways of thinking, and reinventing your TOEFL-prep process. On the other hand, do you need to make adjustments to techniques that already work pretty well for you? Then you will be exploiting the process that you already have, fine-tuning it to meet your needs more effectively.

Most likely, you will need a combination of exploring and exploiting. Think carefully about how you learn and how you study for tests. If you need to explore new areas, you need to be willing to try lots of things, discard those that don’t work for you, and move on. If you need to exploit your current resources, make small adjustments and track their effectiveness. Knowing which type of resolution you’re working on can help target your approach.

Overall, you will be more successful with any New Year’s resolution if you break large goals into smaller sub-goals, and if you are specific about what you want to do. To take a simplified example, if your current score is 80 and you need a score of 100, instead of making one resolution – to get a 100 – establish sub-goals. Maybe your goal will be to take the test twice, and raise your overall score by 10 points each time. Maybe your goal will be to take the test four times, and focus on raising your score on one section at a time. Maybe you will take the TOEFL before a new study program and again afterwards in order to measure how well that new system is working for you. By breaking your major goal into smaller pieces, you can build motivation and momentum toward the overall goal.

Think about HOW you want to reach your goal, rather than focusing only on the end result you want to achieve. Leave us a comment, and tell us how you are going to reach your TOEFL goal in 2013!