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TOEFL Tip #192: Sleep Learning Has Limited Applications …. For Now

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 22, 2013

In last week’s post, we discussed how sleep plays an important role in memory. When you are asleep, your brain consolidates everything you learned during the day and prepares your memory for the next day’s information. Rather than avoiding sleep and trying to cram overnight before taking the TOEFL, you should plan your schedule to get a full night’s sleep.

If your brain strengthens memories while you sleep, can you learn while you are asleep, too?

According to a 2012 article in Nature Neuroscience, yes, you can.

To test whether people can learn something entirely new while asleep, researchers first exposed sleeping test subjects to pleasant or unpleasant odors, and recorded how deeply they inhaled (deeply for pleasant odors, shallowly for unpleasant ones). Then, they paired the odors with sounds. Again, the test subjects inhaled deeply when exposed to the pleasant odor, and shallowly for the unpleasant smells. After waking up, the test subjects inhaled in the same way when they heard the sounds, even though the corresponding odor was not present. This demonstrates that the test subjects learned the connection between the pleasant/unpleasant odors and the sounds while asleep, and that the brain retained the information.

But don’t rush to replace typical studying methods with playing recordings while you sleep! As this article from National Public Radio points out, there is still a long way to go before scientists fully understand how the brain acquires information while asleep. The brain can be conditioned to associate smells and sounds, but whether it can learn language-based concepts is unproven right now.

Learning while asleep might be an option for future students, but for now, it’s just a dream.

TOEFL Tip #191: Sleep Is Crucial For Memory

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 15, 2013

For many students, the following scenario is all too familiar – it’s the day before a big test, and you feel like you’re not ready. You know that you should get a good night’s sleep, but you’re tempted to stay up very late, or even pull an all-nighter, to cram as much as possible. What should you do?

For the best chances of remembering what you’ve learned, study during the day and early evening, and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

According to a recent study by Robert Stickgold and Matthew P. Walker published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, sleep has several functions regarding memory. In an interview about the study, Dr. Stickgold says the brain not only sorts new information into categories during sleep, but it also begins to let go of unneeded information. According to Stickgold, “you have to clean out your “Inbox” before you take in more information, and sleep seems [sic] (def) to be really good at that. Somehow, it’s filing, it’s reorganizing, and I think what we’re most impressed with is that it’s doing it in a really smart way.”

Stickgold points out that your brain needs about 1 hour asleep for every 2 hours that you’re awake and taking in new information. What type of activity you are doing doesn’t matter. You could be studying or watching TV. This is why a full night of sleep is so important. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain cannot process what it’s learned and is not prepared to take in new information. Furthermore, for the brain to do this works in relation to memory, it has to be fully asleep, not resting lightly.

Because sleep helps the brain to detect patterns and rules, sleep is especially important for the TOEFL test-taker who is struggling to remember the rules of English grammar.

Make getting a good night’s sleep part of your TOEFL preparation!

TOEFL Tip #190: Improving Gets Harder As You Go

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 10, 2013

Have you ever noticed a pattern when learning to do something new? At first, you make a lot of progress. After a while, however, you need to work harder and harder and you get only a little bit better. This is common when losing weight, for example. The first 10 pounds might come off quickly and with only a few changes to your diet and lifestyle, but the next 10 take longer and require more of your effort.

TOEFL study can be the same way. Maybe the score for your first diagnostic test was an 80. You study for 10 hours, working on your most frequent grammar mistakes, practicing answers to speaking prompts, and your score goes up to 95. But that’s lower than the score you need, so you study for another 10 hours. This time, you practice writing organized essays, correct even more grammar errors, learn a lot of new vocabulary, and listen to news broadcasts in English. Your score does go up, but only from 95 to 104. To get from 104 to 109 will take more than 10 additional hours of study.

The following chart shows the relationship between the time and effort you put into a task, and the quality of your results.


We know it can be frustrating to have a score that’s just a little bit lower than what you need.

To get to your goal, you need to make a number of small changes that will add up to the result that you want. Study your performance for patterns, and look for places you can adjust your strategies. Knowing that the last phase of your TOEFL studying might take the longest can help you focus your efforts, and schedule exams when you are truly ready.

TOEFL Tip #189: Take Advantage Of TOEFL’s New 21 Day Waiting Period

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 2, 2013


ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day waiting period between TOEFL exams has been in effect for a month, and everyone is getting used to this adjusted timetable. We have seen some test-takers schedule their TOEFL exam well before application deadlines so they can retake it if necessary. Others are only scheduling their TOEFL exam when they’re confident that they’ll get the score they need. Both of these are good strategies.


But what if you’re not sure whether you’ve earned the score that you need? What if you’re just a few points lower than the score required for your application?


Use the 21 day waiting period to your advantage! Take a course or two with Strictly English to target your specific trouble areas.


You can find out your iBT scores approximately 10 days after your exam (for ETS’s list of estimated dates for viewing your iBT scores online, click here). That leaves nearly 2 weeks for improving your skills before your next exam. Or, if you know that you didn’t perform well on one section of the test, contact us right away to schedule some tutoring sessions during the full 3 week period.


Strictly English has a variety of courses to suit your needs. Do you need to fine-tune your skills in one particular area, such as one Speaking task, or one type of Listening question? We can help you improve in as little as 2 hours. Do you need a better set of strategies for a task on the TOEFL, such as the Integrated essay? Work with us for 4 hours. Do you need to boost your overall performance for an entire section of the TOEFL? That’s just 8 hours. Although everyone’s pace of learning varies, we have found that many students improve substantially within these time frames.


As you can see, the 21 day wait period provides enough time to tweak your skills between exams. Instead of chafing against this restriction, view instead as an opportunity to focus intensely on improving your TOEFL performance. By looking at this in a positive light, you will be more likely to produce the change that you want to see. Contact us today!