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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 #169: Score Reporting Differences Between The GMAT And The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 16, 2012

International MBA applicants have to take both the GMAT and the TOEFL, and there are some stark differences you should be aware of regarding how both tests handle score reporting.

First of all, there is a limit to how often you can take the GMAT. As stated on the official GMAT website, you can only take the GMAT once every 31 days, and a maximum of 5 times per consecutive 12 month period. The TOEFL exam does not have such requirements. Although the iBT used to have some restrictions on how frequently you could take the test, now there are no limitations. We even know of a student who took the TOEFL in Brazil on a Friday, and then again the next day in New York City.

Second, the GMAT has full disclosure of your scores. Again, according to the webpage: “Your scores from all of your test dates within the last five (5) years will be reported to the programs you designate as score recipients.” Many schools frown upon students who have taken the GMAT too many times. But, here again: the TOEFL is different. Even if you take 15 TOEFL tests, you can choose to send only one set of scores to the school, and that school will never know anything about the other 14 tests.

Why the difference between these two exams? Basically, admissions offices recognize that language learning is a slow and difficult process, so it is very common to take many exams to check in on your progress. On the other hand, the skills being tested on the GMAT shouldn’t take nearly as long to master. If it does take 5 or 7 tests to master them, then you might not be the kind of learner that the school wants to admit to their program. MBA programs want to graduate students who can think quickly and process new information efficiently. If you’re taking a long time to master the GMAT, MBA programs interpret this as a poor ability to process information quickly.

So remember: you do want to finish your TOEFL requirement as quickly as you can, if for no other reason than to have it behind you as soon as possible in the application process. Yet, you do not have to lay awake at night worrying that too many TOEFL tests will destroy your chances of being accepted. With the TOEFL, you can send only your best test result.

TOEFL Tip #150: Security And Standardized Testing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 6, 2012

The issue of cheating on standardized tests has been in the news several times in the past few weeks. Substantial cheating has been found in circumstances as diverse as the TOEFL exam in Vietnam and the ACT and SAT in the United States .

While these are just two examples, they are part of a growing trend to enhance security measures to ensure that the person whose name is on the test registration is indeed the person who takes the test. Strictly English has heard of several developments designed to ensure the integrity of the TOEFL exam.

Some new measures limit where students can take the exam. One Boarding School admissions councilor found that one of her seniors used the opportunity of attending a TOEFL cram-school in China over winter break to hire a proxy to take the TOEFL exam for him. This is causing more and more institutions to demand that the test be taken State-side.

Another example comes from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), whose website now states, “You must take the TOEFL iBT at an Educational Testing Service (ETS) test center located within one of the NABP member and associate member jurisdictions including the 50 United States, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Australia, eight Canadian provinces, and New Zealand. The FPGEC will no longer accept TOEFL iBT score reports from international ETS test site locations. Check with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for dates and locations.”

Strictly English has seen an additional approach taken by many of the boarding schools that now rely on us for their TOEFL preparation classes. Because such institutions know their students personally, some administrators have begun requiring that their students take the test on a day arranged by the school. The school also provides transportation to and from the test center to ensure that no proxy steps in.

Because the issue of cheating links directly to the integrity of all standardized test scores, it’s understandable that all of the involved institutions want to have as many safeguards as possible. It gets tricky, though, for two reasons. One, as shown above, there are proxy test takers in the U.S.A. also, although they are harder to come by. Two, not every institution can request a State-side test. It’s easy for boarding schools and the NABP to require this since their students / members are already in the U.S. Although Strictly English has had two international students who took our online tutoring course from their home country and then flew over to America specifically to take the exam, this is not a feasible option for most TOEFL test takers. Since the majority of people who take the TOEFL already live overseas – for example, most international applicants to U.S. colleges and graduate programs – it is not possible to request all of these people to schedule their tests in America.

However, if you are an institution that already has most of your test takers residing in the U.S.A., it probably is best to require them to take the TOEFL with as much of your oversight as possible. Additionally, ETS needs to inspect rigorously the test centers and the companies that run those centers.

In light of the increasing focus on preventing cheating, make sure that you have the most up-to-date information about registration and day-of-exam requirements.

UPDATE: Since we first posted this item, we’ve received a press release from Eileen Tyson, Executive Director, Global Client Relations, ETS on the topic of security on the TOEFL exam. Her email reads in part, “I am writing today to share news of a recent event where ETS’s test security measures played a vital role in identifying and stopping individuals who attempted to take the TOEFL and GRE tests dishonestly. On February 25, three individuals in Hong Kong who were attempting to take the TOEFL test on behalf of others were arrested. ETS’s Office of Testing Integrity identified these individuals and their planned impersonation in advance and alerted test center personnel and local law enforcement.

On the day of the test, the individuals were arrested during a break in testing. They subsequently admitted their scheme to authorities, which involved attempts to test for others on both the TOEFL and GRE tests. These individuals have since been sentenced, and the culmination of this case has led to consequences for both the impersonators and those for whom they were testing. ETS is taking steps to alert institutions of TOEFL and GRE scores canceled in association with this case. Those institutions affected will be receiving notification from ETS this week.”

Ms. Tyson’s message directs readers interested in more information to ETS’s webpage on TOEFL security.

TOEFL Tip #143: TOEFL Journey Program

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 17, 2012

If you are planning to study abroad at an English-speaking institution, you know that the process encompasses (see definition 2b) a lot more than taking the TOEFL exam. You have to do research on the program – or several programs – you’re interested in, apply for a visa, research sources of financial support, and so on. Tracking the different pieces of information, and the many steps along the way, can be a challenge.

To help manage the application process, you might consider using ETS’s TOEFL Journey Program (). TOEFL Journey is a free, personalized program that delivers timely information to students on a wide variety of topics related to studying abroad at English-speaking institutions. Wherever you are in the application cycle, from just beginning to research options and study for the TOEFL through submitting applications, the TOEFL Journey Program provides information and online tools specific to each student’s needs.

If you do sign up for the TOEFL Journey Program – or are already participating in it – we’d love to hear from you about your experience. Leave us a comment and tell us how the TOEFL Journey Program helped you!

TOEFL Tip #133: Strictly English’s $8,000.00 University Scholarship

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 16, 2011

Strictly English is proud to announce that it will match one of ETS’s five US$8,000.00 scholarships, to be given to any Japanese student who wins ETS’s 2012 award and who studied TOEFL(R) with Strictly English anytime between December 17, 2011 and March 13, 2012.

This could amount to $16,000.00 that you’d be able to apply toward your educational expenses!

That’s a lot of money to win for the small price of some TOEFL tutoring! ^_^

Restrictions apply (For example):
1. You must meet all of ETS’s eligibility requirements. To learn more about ETS’s scholarships, read more here.

2. You must enroll in all 4 of Strictly English’s Complete Strategies Programs (one for each section of the test).

3. You much provide documented proof of having received ETS’s scholarship.

4. This is not a cash prize. The money you win will be given directly to your educational institution on your behalf and will not exceed the cost of tuition for that institution.

5. You must be enrolled with Strictly English before January 10, 2012.

Please Note: Strictly English’s scholarship award is in no way endorsed by ETS or TOEFL. Strictly English is a wholly separate entity from TOEFL and ETS.

For more information, please contact Strictly English.


PTE Tip #2: Take The PTE While TOEFL Is Closed From December 17th To January 13th

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 2, 2011

As you may have read earlier this week , Strictly English has learned that ETS has no scheduled TOEFL exams between December 17th and January 13th. Such a long period without exams seems to us like a strange gap in ETS’s testing calendar. The next several weeks are the busiest peak in many students’ application process. Perhaps the score from a recent TOEFL exam was just a little bit lower than you need, or perhaps you’ve made a recent decision to apply to a program with an upcoming deadline. Maybe you just took the TOEFL and don’t have your scores yet, but want to schedule another one in case you need to take it again. This would seem to be a time to ramp up exam availability, not shut it down.

For whatever reason, if you need to take a TOEFL exam between December 17th and January 13th, you won’t be able to.

There is another option!

Although the TOEFL will be unavailable for a few weeks, the Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic will be offering exams throughout this period. As PTE Academic has told Strictly English:

PTE Academic tests are available throughout the US through December and January by request. If you wish to book a test simply contact 1-800-901-0229 and make a request for a test booking and Pearson’s customer services team will try to identify an available seat in your chosen location. For a list of locations please visit

Be sure to check directly with the Admissions Office to find out if an institution accepts PTE Academic, and what score you need. Their Admissions webpage may not be fully up to date.

Strictly English offers classes to prepare students for PTE Academic. Whether you need to take the TOEFL before December 17th, or PTE Academic later in the month, contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #107: Use a U.S. Admissions Consultant When Applying to U.S. Universities

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 28, 2011

Strictly English refers our students to many U.S. Educational Consultants because we believe that U.S. Consultants are better prepared to help internationals get into U.S. universities and graduate programs. We’ve asked EqualApp to explain why. Here’s what they wrote!

The rumors, unfortunately, are true.

Application volume at most competitive colleges in the United States hit an all-time high this year. The year before was also record-breaking. And the year before that? The same.

What’s behind this trend? Two years ago, we saw the highest number of graduating high school seniors in the U.S. That number is predicted to hold steady for another six years, and then go up again. Other factors have contributed to the application increase: a greater percentage of high school seniors are continuing on to four-year colleges; the average student today applies to many more colleges; financial aid has made attending college possible for many; and international students come to the U.S. to study in greater numbers than ever before.

With all this competition, how can you give yourself an advantage in the admissions process? Although it is tempting to use an educational consultant from your own country, who speaks your language, knows your customs, and understands the strengths of your educational system, it might not always be to your advantage to use such home-grown consultants. Instead, working with a U.S. admissions consultant (or counselor) is one way to ensure that your application will stand out. This is very important to build an application that works for U.S. admissions officers. So, how can a U.S. admissions consultant help you?

1. Consultants who have worked in at U.S. admissions offices know what can get you admitted. Those who have evaluated applications can provide you with an insider’s perspective. It’s important to make sure that your consultant has actual admissions experience at a U.S. university! A consultant from your country that graduated from college X doesn’t have the same knowledge as a former American admissions officer at that same college.

2. Consultants provide an objective opinion. If you ask your parents or friends to look at your application essays, they’ll be biased and perhaps not give you their real opinion. Instead, a consultant will be more honest when it comes to giving you constructive criticism. U.S. admissions consultants will not write your essays, but instead give guidance on what works (and what doesn’t work) to get you admitted.

3. You’ve got lots of questions that you need answered. Non-U.S. consultants might not have the most recent information to your questions or will not know what works best in the U.S to gain admission. For example, consultants outside the U.S. might value high test scores, but U.S. admissions officers might instead value other areas of the application, like your leadership, non-academic activities, and essays.

4. Consultants think creatively to help you stand out. U.S. admissions consultants can give you ideas about summer and extracurricular activities to make you stand out and appear different from other applicants from your country. For example, perhaps almost all applicants from your country play a certain musical instrument or participate in science research. While these are terrific activities, it’s not very unique if everyone from your country “looks” the same as you! Instead, you’ll need guidance on joining other activities that highlight your uniqueness and leadership.

EqualApp is not only a U.S.-based admissions counseling firm, but our counselors are all former admissions officers from highly selective U.S. colleges and universities. Because we deliver our counseling “virtually” – by phone or online – we’re able to bring all the advantages of a U.S. education consultant into your home for a fraction of the cost of face-to-face educational consultants, regardless of location. Our counseling packages are more flexible and affordable than any other alternative out there.

Hiring a consultant is an important decision – be sure to do your homework and pick the consultant that you feel will most enable your success as an applicant.

Visit EqualApp‘s website to learn more about how they can help you in your application process!

TOEFL Tip #97: An Incentive to Begin TOEFL Preparation Today!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 29, 2011

As the current school year starts to come to a close, we know it’s hard to think about the college application process next fall and winter. And yet, you really need to start preparing for the TOEFL now so that you will have everything you need on time for your applications.

Let’s look at the timeline, working backwards from your application deadlines.

Many college applications are due in early January at the latest; some are due in early December. Even if your deadlines are later, the rush of holidays in late December can distract you while preparing your materials, so you should complete as much as you can before mid-December.

Putting together your application – writing letters, writing an essay, and so on – should take about six weeks. You need to leave enough time for the people who write letters of recommendation on your behalf, and you need time to draft and then revise your essay. Your timeline is now back to November 1st.

You also need to take the SAT by November 1st, so that your scores will be reported on time for your application. Students typically need 3 months of prep time for the SAT, which means you’re starting to study for the SAT in early August.

You should take the TOEFL before the SAT, which means that your last chance to take the TOEFL is in late July. TOEFL preparation can take 2-3 months, which means you need to start TOEFL preparation at the end of April – now.

Strictly English has courses designed for different levels of study; classes for each section of the TOEFL typically take 3-4 weeks to complete, depending on your schedule.

If you sign up by April 30th – today – you can take advantage of our best price on TOEFL prep classes: 50% off of your first purchase. See details here. The discount will be 40% off of your first purchase if you sign up in May, and 30% off if you sign up in June. There will be no discount if you wait until the fall to sign up for classes, so sign up today to get the best savings!

TOEFL Tip #83: TOEFL Scores And Admissions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 21, 2011

Strictly English noticed that there has been discussion throughout the web about whether high TOEFL scores play a big role in admissions decisions. The question is: do you only need to get the  minimum TOEFL score requested by the university or can a higher TOEFL score sway the decisions of college admissions?

Some internationals are convinced that a high TOEFL score will get you into the university of your choosing. For example, two non-native students are trying to get into an MBA program where the TOEFL requirement is a 90 on the iBT. If one student scored a 99 on the TOEFL iBT and another student scored a 110, then most test-takers erroneously assume that the higher score would get admitted into the university while the lower score would be declined. According to this view, even though both students made the minimum requirement, only the higher score would be accepted.

Luckily, this is not the case. Even if the applicant with a 110 got accepted and the person with the 99 did not, it was definitely not because the applicant with 110 had a higher TOEFL score. Rather, the person with the 110 must have had a better application essay, and he or she probably interviewed better. Application essays and interviews are where a student is critiqued on whether he or she will be able to excel in a university classroom. For example, an essay on the TOEFL with a perfect score is at best a C+ essay in a university classroom. TOEFL graders have different criteria about what makes a good essay than admission officers have.

To recap: If the applicant who scored a 99 submitted a great application essay while the applicant who scored a 110 wrote a terrible, or even a mediocre, application essay, then the score of 99 would be admitted and the 110 would be declined acceptance. The perspective of most American college admissions officers is that the applicant who scored 99 would be admitted because he or she achieved the minimum TOEFL requirement and had a good application essay. This applicant had two positive points while the applicant with the 110 only had one positive point (a high TOEFL score, but a poor essay). Remember there are a lot of people who speak perfect English, but are not capable of college-level thinking.

Having now explained why a higher TOEFL score won’t help you get into college, there are two possible caveats to this rule. One, the Speaking section of the TOEFL exam is important to admissions. A high Speaking sub-score will benefit the student applying to schools because verbal articulation plays a vital role in the university classroom. Your TOEFL’s overall score does not need to be higher than the requirement, but the Speaking score must be as high as possible if you want to sound your best in the admissions interview and in the classroom. Also, a high overall TOEFL score may be vital to the applicant indirectly. The preparation needed to acquire a top TOEFL score does not only develop one’s English skills but also his or her communication skills in general. If applicants can harness these skills during their TOEFL preparation, then they have a higher chance of putting together a competitive and outstanding application packet.

So a higher TOEFL score will not directly improve your chances of acceptance, but the skills you learn in order to get a higher TOEFL score might make all the difference in how you present yourself in your written and spoken communication to the school.

TOEFL Tip #79: Brazilian Testimonial

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 20, 2010

Antes de fazer o curso de Strictly English, já havia realizado duas vezes o Toelf. A primeira vez 93 e na segunda 94, bem abaixo dos 100 pontos que necessitava. Comecei meu curso com SE no dia 29 de setembro e no dia 9 de outubro tirei 103 de score. O diferencial do SE é que eles dominam a metodologia do exame e te dizem exatamente como deves responder cada uma das questões. Na hora da prova eu estava muito relaxado e confiante. O resultado foi que em 10 dias eu consegui o score que estava buscando fazia 3 meses. Não acredito que haja outra opção melhor que SE, nem em qualidade nem em preço. Você não vai se arrepender! RFMM, Porto Alegre – Brazil. Outubro 2010.

TRANSLATION: Before I took Strictly English’s course, I had taken the TOEFL twice. The first time I got a 93 and the second a 94, far below the 100 points I needed. I started my course with Strictly English on September 29th and on october 9th, I scored 103. The big difference between Strictly English and another courses is that they master the format and methodology of the exam, and they tell you exactly how you have to answer in which question. In the exam I was very relaxed and confident. As a result, in only ten days, I got the score I want and that I had been pursuing for three months. I really believe that Strictly English is the better choice both in quality and price. Once you`ve tried it, you will never regret it! RFMM, Porto Alegre – Brazil. October, 2010

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