To get: free TOEFL Tips Emails, then Become a Free Member

TOEFL Tip #72: Admissions Offices Prefer TOEFL Over IELTS

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 11, 2010

Not surprisingly, many admissions offices prefer TOEFL over IELTS, and why not? TOEFL is more academically focused and it is more objective in its assessment of Speaking. (Entry continues below picture.)

On the TOEFL, six different  raters evaluate your Speaking responses, and they cannot be swayed by your smile or your tears to give you a higher grade because they feel bad for you.  I know IELTS says that they train their raters to be objective, but I just don’t see how you can coldly grade someone very low who is clearly nervous or afraid.  I would hope people are more compassionate than that, but I would also hope that a test taker doesn’t get a higher grade than their ability just because a rater feels sorry for them.

TOEFL Tip #58: ETS Now Allows Score Recipients To Verify Your Results

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 25, 2009

The following letter explains that institutions that receive your score can now contact ETS and verify that the scores you submitted to the institution are the same as the scores ETS gave you. This will help eliminate fraud. So don’t send fake scores to your school; they will find out! Here is the original email:

Dear TOEFL Test Taker,

Thank you for taking the TOEFL® Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT™). This message is to inform you of a change in ETS policy regarding verification of scores by institutions and agencies.

Effective July 2009, if you provide an institution or agency with your score information and/or TOEFL registration number, you are giving ETS permission to allow that institution or agency to verify your scores.

If you do not want an institution or agency to have access to your score information, do not provide them with information about your scores or your TOEFL registration number.

You can read more about this change at under Test Takers, Internet-based Test, Scores, Policies.

TOEFL Tip #55: Picking The Boarding School That Is Right For You!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 3, 2009

This article was written by Heather Johnson, CEO and Founder of Heather Johnson Associates. You can visit her company at

When I was a boarding school admission officer, the range of questions I would answer from families would sometimes surprise me. However, there were some concerns that would repeatedly surface. For students, as much as they might be interested in the idea of going away to boarding school, they were usually very concerned about leaving their friends from home. For parents, there were always questions about how their child would be supported and guided when they, as parents, were not there to do that themselves.

Of course there is not one set answer to either of these concerns, as they are particular to the individual student and to the individual school. Therefore, it’s most important to keep your eyes and ears open when visiting a school to see how these questions will best be answered for you. As a student you know best what makes you feel comfortable. Would you rather be a large fish in a small pond or doesn’t that matter to you? Is there something in particular that you would like to participate in at your next school? Maybe a single-sex environment is more comfortable for you than one that is co-ed. Perhaps you love the idea of “dressing up” for school in khakis and a blazer or a skirt and jacket; on the other hand, it’s quite possible that you would feel much more comfortable in different clothes.

The truth is that while traditional boarding schools are college-preparatory in nature, there will be many variations on this theme. You might be very conscious of the names of some schools, yet the best fit for you may be a school you have never heard about before. A visit to your schools of interest is most important. Ask to meet a coach or instructor of a sport, activity or of a class that interests you. Ask your student tour guide what his/her transition was like to boarding school. Ask your admission officer all of the additional questions you have to see how you might fit into this particular place.

Boarding schools are full of students who can become lifelong friends like your friends at home. They are also designed to be places that are supportive and guide students in their pursuits of intellectual and extra-curricular interest. It’s all about finding the right “fit.”

TOEFL Tip #51: College In The US | Does Brand-Name Matter?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 15, 2009

Strictly English asked Adam Goldberg, M.Ed. (CEO and Educational Consultant of The Goldberg Center for Educational Planning) if the name of the school you attend really matters.  Here’s what he said:

If you are considering an American college education as a non-US citizen, don’t limit yourself by applying to only the “big name” institutions.

A good example of this bias came to our educational consulting office this morning from China:

“My son wants to go to USA for the high school and the college from Beijing, China. We are hoping for entry to the top 20 universities in USA. To get this done easily we decide to spend the high school in USA. He had taken a tours to visit 10 famous university and likes MIT, Princeton, and Yale very much.”

This is actually a very typical inquiry. Whether they come from China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, England, Australia, Panama, Argentina, or any other country for that matter, prospective students and their families come with “brand name biases.” Most have either only heard of the most prominent colleges (like those listed in the inquiry above), or have decided in their own minds that it is only worth pursuing an American college education if it’s at one of these “famous” institutions.

While I do not intend to crush dreams, suppress ambitions, or change others’ plans, I feel it is necessary to present the reality so that these prospective students and their families can make more informed decisions.

Here are some facts to consider:

• There are many tier three colleges in the US with a quality of education, as well as of prestige as those on the lists of the top 10, 20, or even 50 US universities.
Application volume is still high relative to prior generations, especially due to the movement of applications online. As a result, acceptance rates are considerably lower. Colleges mentioned in the above inquiry generally end up accepting no more than 7-15% of all applicants … and those applicants are collectively credentialed well above the norm to begin with.
• The currency imbalance has caused many international students to study in the US for much less money. Therefore international demand is up as well.
• You gain no advantage by applying to the same colleges to which your country-mates apply.
• Attending a top or “famous” private school in the US does not guarantee admission at the aforementioned colleges.

So, now that you have some of the basics and perhaps a slightly new perspective on American colleges, what can you do to more successfully navigate the admissions process?

1. Open up your scope of college options! Beware of lists such as the Shanghai Jiao Tong Rankings in Asia – they are not focused on individual student needs and don’t necessarily give you a truly accurate picture from afar. Besides, in my opinion, it doesn’t do you much good if everyone is operating off the same list in your geography. You will need to do more research, perhaps enlisting some help to do so, but it is well worth the time and effort in the end. As a hiring manager, there are many brands beyond the “famous” ones on a resume that stand to impress me.
2. At the same time, I certainly won’t fully minimize the importance of name brands since they do matter in some domains… you just have to consider which domains are most relevant. If a student is planning on ultimately taking a job in the US, brand name will mean something very different from a scenario where a student is likely returning to his/her home country for work. Carefully consider and discuss the longer-term outlook.
3. Differentiate yourself as a student. US colleges are not looking for generalists these days. They want specialists… those students who have demonstrated a commitment to thoroughly studying one academic topic. Again, extending the scope beyond institutions to which peers are applying immediately creates differentiation as well.
4. Most importantly, consider the fit of a college (and a private school if you decide to get an earlier start in the US system) before anything. Would you rather be a miserable student at Harvard or thrive at a slightly lesser known (but still top quality) institution? Most studies show that the latter student is more successful in the end. Socialization, acquiring work skills and ethics, and gaining confidence and self-advocacy skills, along with building productive relationships, are considered integral assets in the college experience here in the US.

The bottom line is that brand names do matter in the US college realm … but only to a certain extent. My experience tells me that prospective international students can achieve much greater success in both the admissions process and post-matriculation by merely opening up their minds a bit more.

For additional insights into both college and private school admissions, feel welcome to visit our educational consulting blog. For information on educational consulting services offered through companies, visit EnCompass Education.

TOEFL Tip #46: Want to Learn More From Strictly English?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 25, 2009

Strictly English also has helpful TOEFL information on Twitter. Follow us on Twitter to learn even more about the TOEFL! Just click on the Blue Bird on this webpage and you’ll be taken to Twitter directly!

You can also be aware of what the admissions offices are saying by following them on Twitter. But be careful! If they follow you back, they will be able to read your Tweets, and if those Tweets are not professional or if they are too personal, then it could hurt your image at the school. It’s always best to keep TWO Twitter accounts: one professional and the other for fun!

Twitter also helps improve your Writing. YOu can only send 140 “characters” (letters) so you have to keep your sentences short. It’s a great way to practice clear direct communication!


by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 24, 2009

I’m rather surprised that the only iPhone applications for sale are vocabulary builders. With so many sections of the test: (Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing) and with each of these sections testing a different language or reasoning skill (pronoun identification, paraphrasing, copy editing, spelling, logic, as well as the ability to infer and summarize), it shocks me that no one has taken the initiative to make applications that help improve these other skills.  TOEFL is, after all, a multiple choice test.  You would think that an iPhone app based on picking multiple choice answers wouldn’t be that hard to design.  And it isn’t.  The problem is, as usual, time and money.  Creating the content for just one application could take a team of 10 English teachers working 10 hours a day for 10 months.  Add to this the cost of developing the application itself, and you have a big hurdle to jump.

But Strictly English is not afraid to take on this challenge!  We are currently in negotiations with iPhone application developers to design a series of applications that will help strengthen your TOEFL skills.

Until Strictly English releases these applications, though, TOEFL Students will only have the small array of vocabulary applications currently on the market, which haven’t been well-received so far. Early reports indicate that the vocabulary builders are not selling very well, primarily because students would prefer to learn new English words in relation to the student’s original language.  For example, what spanish speaker person wants read “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune,” in order to understand the English word “Anxiety” when he/she could just know that “anxiety” = “ansiedad”.  Hence, these TOEFL vocabulary building apps have it wrong from the start.

But let’s look a little closer at some of these applications anyway:

1. Kaplan TOEFL Vocabulary (by TestPrepWiz): At the time of this writing, the application is not running on the new 3.0 upgrade. I’ve contacted the developer and they are working to fix this problem. In general, though, this program is nothing more than a digital set of flashcards. And with only 350 words, it doesn’t cover much vocabulary. It does have a test mode, which is probably its best function.

Kaplan Vocabulary

Kaplan Vocabulary

2. TOEFL – GMAT Vocabulary Builder (by and Unigate): This application is not helpful for TOEFL vocabulary study mainly because there is just one long list of words.  The user cannot know which vocabulary words are TOEFL words and which words are GMAT words.  Now it is true that all TOEFL words are also GMAT words, but it is NOT true that all GMAT words are also TOEFL words.  GMAT vocabulary is much harder than TOEFL vocabulary.  Using this application would be much better if you could chose a list of TOEFL vocabulary words ONLY, and not study the GMAT words.  It’s games are cute, but it’s hard to know what to do, and the “help” page doesn’t explain how to play.  Look at this screen shot of the game “Bubble”.  Since the balloons rise from the bottom of the screen, your eye focuses on the word EXPANSION, but this is not the word you’re trying to match.  Instead, you have to look at the top of the page to find the definition you’re trying to match.  It is written in small print and does not catch your eye.

3. TOEFL Vocabulary (AudioLearn): By far, this is the least dynamic of the three programs. As you can see form the screenshot, it is a solid stream of text, which just blurs together. In addition, all the text is read aloud in a monotonous stream. Click here download and to listen.


by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 21, 2009

The most interesting advice I received from the AIGAC conference is that International Applicants to American Educational Institutions should be WORKING at the time that they apply to college, university, or graduate school. Schools do NOT like to hear that you’re spending all your time studying English or preparing your applications. It makes you look like you can only handle one task at a time. In college, you’ll have to constantly multi-task. So prove to the admissions office that you can do more than one thing at once.

Now, many of you cannot legally “work” in America, but anyone can volunteer! This is a great way to prove to an admissions board that you are serious about your career choice! It is also a great opportunity to meet English speakers and practice your English in real-life situations. You might also be able to ask the person who manages you at your volunteer job to write you a letter of support for your application!

In sum, by volunteering, you’ll be strengthening your English, making English-speaking friends, developing professional connections, and impressing admissions offices. Oh, yeah: and you’ll be doing a great thing for the community, too!

TOEFL Tip #34: GUEST TIP: The College Admissions Essay

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 6, 2009

Although Strictly English works exclusively with TOEFL preparation, we often get questions about how to write the College Admissions Essay.  Here’s a good blog entry sent to us from Adam R. Goldberg, Educational Consultant.

| Newer Posts »