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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 #137: Test Of American As A Foreign Culture

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 6, 2012

It has long been a complaint lobbed at standardized tests (like the SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and TOEFL) that they are culturally biased. Historically, this discussion has typically focused mostly on how the SAT inadvertently favors middle and upper class test takers by presenting reading passages about topics more familiar to them than to economically disadvantaged youth.

To date, we do not think that TOEFL has come under the same scrutiny. But we have noticed that there may be one part of the test that is causing everyone a lot of headache (and heartache) mainly because it favors a particularly American insensitivity regarding personal privacy.

In a nutshell, Americans are – generally speaking – more willing than almost any other country’s citizenry to share their lives with strangers.

You might be asking, “Okay. But what does this have to do with TOEFL?”

The answer is a bit complicated, so follow carefully:

1. Tasks 1 and 2 on the Speaking section of the test ask you to talk about a familiar topic, so these are topics that you should know something about because they come from daily life.

2. TOEFL wants DETAILS in your answer.

3. Put 1 and 2 together and it seems that you should give DETAILS from EVERYDAY LIFE. And, in fact, this video from ETS showing an example of a 4 out of 4 response does exactly this: the man talks about himself as the source of his details.

In contrast to this correct way of answering, many students answer Tasks 1 and 2 from a theoretical point of view. For example, they might say, “Many children should play a musical instrument because it will make them more social. If children play an instrument, then they will know how to interact with others better. Children should be more confident if they play an instrument.”

This answer is theoretical because it’s talking about a general population of “children” as if all “children” were anthropologically and sociologically the same.

But notice that when an answer is theoretical, it lacks details. And because the speaker doesn’t have details, she ends up saying the same thing over and over again. (“Instrument” is repeated in every sentence.)

When Strictly English tries to get students to tell a detailed story, we give examples to help the student see what we mean. For example, “Many children should play a musical instrument because it will make them more social. For example, the 12-year-old girl next door to me used to have no friends to play with. She was very lonely all the time. But then she learned how to play guitar and joined a band. Now she has boys and girls over at her house every day of the week.”

This is FULL of details (“12-year-old,” “guitar,” “every day,” “joined a band”)! The story really comes alive in the listener’s mind. Sadly, our students then say, “But I can’t invent a story like that so quickly.” True: not everyone is a gifted storyteller who can make up imaginary lives quickly. But that’s not the point of our sample answer. The only point we’re trying to get across is that you should have DETAILS. . . . . ANY DETAILS.

So if they can’t invent details out of thin air, then we should they find these details?

We tell them to use ideas from their own life. In my life there is a 12-year-old girl who lives next to me. So I’m not inventing a story. I’m talking about my real life. If the student talks about her own life, then Task 1 and Task 2 should be very easy to answer, right? Yet, our students still struggle, regardless of how often we tell them, “But you tell stories all day long. You tell stories to your family, your co-workers, your neighbors. Humans are story-telling machines!” Just do for TOEFL what you do all the time in your daily life.

AH HA! And here we return to the cultural bias. Most of the world is not comfortable talking about themselves. For some cultures, it’s rude to talk in detail about your life. For others, it is embarrassing. And for still others, it is just nobody’s business. Did you feel uncomfortable hearing the man in ETS’s sample answer say that his apartment was small? Would you be willing to say that to a stranger? Would you be afraid that the listener would think you’re poor because your house isn’t bigger?

So even though a test-taker will tell her husband or best friend stories all night long, she would never dream of being as open with, say, a person she has just met on an airplane.

For better or for worse, Americans will.

Of course, not ALL Americans will. Even in the USA, there are shy people. But generally speaking, an American will be more willing to talk about his or her life to strangers.

This means that TOEFL is not only a test of English, but it is also – accidentally, I’m sure – relying on an assumption that everyone can talk as easily about themselves as an American can. This is not surprising when you remember that ETS is an American company.

Want to score high? You’ll have to confront this issue directly in your own life, by asking how willing you are to tell a stranger anything about you.

Need help? Contact Us Today!

TOEFL Tip #134: Dec 17th Tests Scores Lower than Expected

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 29, 2011

If it’s true that misery loves company, then a lot of you can take comfort in that your lower-than-expected TOEFL scores from the Dec 17th TOEFL test are on average with many other people’s scores.

This is not only being reported from out clients at Strictly English, but also from other schools’ students.

But Why? How could the whole world bomb (see definition 5) the same test? Did TOEFL deliver a bad test that day? Did TOEFL design a new test that’s simply harder than before?

Probably not.

Most likely it’s because this one test is, in many test-takers’ minds, the most important test of the year. If you’re an MBA candidate, this was the last test you could take if you wanted to apply for Round Two admissions. If you’re an undergraduate applicant or an applicant to graduate school, this was the last test you could take if you wanted your scores comfortably in advance of your application deadlines. Even if you didn’t really have an official deadline for your TOEFL, there was still that desire to finish the year with TOEFL behind you!

Simply said: everyone’s nerves got the best of them. And what Strictly English has noticed over its nearly 8 years of tutoring is that nothing kills a TOEFL score quicker than being nervous. We have had scores (see definition 11) of students who have performed wonderfully week after week in our tutoring sessions, only to come back from the test and say that they froze with panic once the test started. Only after they overcame their fear of the test were they able to deploy Strictly English’s strategies (or anyone’s strategies for that matter) successfully.

So now what?

If you’re going to take the test again in January, then the most important thing to remember is: DO NOT PANIC!!! Worrying will get you nowhere. You must remind yourself that if you worry on test day, you will fail! So what’s the point in generating all that anxiety when it’s just going to work against you anyway.

What to do?

1. Read our article about how to recognize anxiety as excitement. If you can shift your perception of your emotions, you’ll do much better!

2. Get a mild anti-anxiety pill from you doctor. There is NO SHAME in telling your doctor that you get nervous on tests and that you have a big test coming up soon. You and he can discuss if there are medical options with minimal or no side effects. Most one-time antidepressants are not habit forming.

3. Schedule two tests a week apart. We have found this strategy really relaxes people!

4. Get a relaxation tape and practice some visualizing exercises.

In short. have confidence that you’re on the right track and that your English is strong!


PTE Tip #4: Make Sure Your PTE Academic Score Reports Are Authentic

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 16, 2011

Strictly English has heard reports from PTE Academic that some institutions are accepting PTE Academic score reports that may not be authentic. Programs might be accepting printed or scanned score reports, or score reports that claim to be authenticated by a third part agent or company. Programs may also be checking students’ scores through links provided by the students – links which might be to fake sites which mimic PTE Academic’s actual Score Reporting Website .

Accepting these questionable score reports is serious mistake. PTE Academic uses its secure Score Reporting Website as one of the key ways to ensure the authenticity of its reports. Because paper documents are much more susceptible to fraud, PTE Academic does not issue paper score reports.

PTE Academic has the following suggestions that institutions can take to make sure they are receiving authentic score reports:

• Ensure that your institution has access to the PTE Academic Score Report Website (SRW) by filling in the form here

• Ensure that you only access the SRW via:

• Ensure all staff that require access, have access to the SRW

• Remind students to send you their PTE Academic score report through their Pearson account

• Contact PTE Academic at with any questions or concerns

PTE Tip #3: PTE Academic Has Changed Its Score Reports

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 9, 2011

PTE Academic has updated its score reports in order to identify test takers more easily and to make the score reports easier to read. This new format will apply to all scores accessed on the score report website, no matter when someone took a particular PTE Academic exam.

PTE Academic notes the following changes in its score reports:
• Addition of test taker ID, country of residence and testing location
• Removal of test taker address
• New branding

An important element of the redesign is the new test taker ID. This new ID is a unique number associated with each test taker, and will appear on every set of PTE Academic score results. This will help ensure that the correct scores are reported for each test taker. If someone takes PTE Academic more than once, each set of scores will have a different registration number, to identify the particular day, time, and place of each exam.

Make sure you are familiar with the new score report. Even if you have copies of previous PTE Academic score reports, log in today and review the changes. That way, you won’t have any surprises if you need to discuss your PTE Academic score with an institution’s Admission office.

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 #132: Sign Up For Online TOEFL Classes This Cyber Monday

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 28, 2011

Today, November 28, 2011, is “Cyber Monday” in the United States, Canada, and several European countries. Generally the first full business day after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the U.S., Cyber Monday gets its name from the burst of online shopping on this first Monday of the typical Christmas shopping period, with sales presumably generated by employees using slow moments at the office to hunt for gifts on the Internet.

How does Cyber Monday relate to the TOEFL exam? If you need TOEFL scores by early January 2012, you should consider online tutoring so you can prepare to take the exam in the next few weeks.

Strictly English has learned that ETS has no scheduled TOEFL exams between December 17th and January 13th. If you are completing a rush application at the last minute, you may not be able to get TOEFL scores in time, because TOEFL scores aren’t available for at least 10 days after the exam. To ensure that you have your TOEFL scores when you need them, you’ll need to take the TOEFL well before December 17th.

Not ready to take the TOEFL so soon? Strictly English can help, with several programs designed to meet a variety of needs. Because our courses are online, you can set the pace for finishing in time to take the TOEFL before mid-December.

Don’t wait! Contact us today.

TOEFL Tip #130: TOEFL Scores For Student Visas To Australia And The United Kingdom

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 12, 2011

Applying for a visa to study in Australia or the United Kingdom just got a little bit easier.

Starting November 5, 2011, TOEFL test scores will be acceptable for Australian student visa applications, if you do not have International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test scores. ETS, the company that administers the TOEFL exam, researched the scores of people who had taken both tests to determine the equivalent scores between TOEFL and IELTS scores.

At the lowest and highest scores, only a few points separate the TOEFL scores from each IELTS band. For example, a TOEFL score of 31 is the equivalent of IELTS band 4, and a TOEFL 32 corresponds to IELTS band 4.5. Similarly, a TOEFL 115 equals IELTS band 8.5, and a TOEFL 118 is the same as IELTS band 9.

The biggest differences between TOEFL scores and IELTS bands are in the middle of the range, where there is a lot of variation in non-native speakers’ mastery of English. A TOEFL score of 46 matches IELTS band 5.5, but to get to the equivalent of the next IELTS band (6), a student’s TOEFL score has to go up by 14 points, to 60. There’s an even bigger jump to get to the next-highest IELTS band (6.5) – a whopping 19 point increase, for a TOEFL score of 79. (For more information, including the full chart comparing TOEFL scores with IELTS bands, click here).

This move by the Australian government follows a similar expansion by the United Kingdom earlier this year.

As of April 6, 2011, students can use TOEFL iBT scores as part of their applications for visas to the United Kingdom. Non-native speakers of English pursuing a degree in the United Kingdom need to show a minimum TOEFL score of 21 in Listening, 22 in Reading, 23 in Speaking, and 21 in Writing. For more information, click here.

As always, students need to check with the particular requirements of the institution where they will be studying, which may require higher scores than the minimum needed for a visa.

Want to study in Australia or the United Kingdom, but can’t find TOEFL classes near you? Study online with Strictly English!

TOEFL Tip #129: Request For Speaking Re-score Brings A Higher Result . . . Again

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 4, 2011

Earlier this year, we discussed examples of Strictly English students whose TOEFL test scores were significantly lower than their practice scores had been prior to the exam. Each of the three students requested a rescore, and each had his or her score raised by 4 points. As we noted, this is a substantial difference which can determine if students can continue their professional studies, or not.

It’s happened again.

Just this week, we’ve had yet ANOTHER student’s request for a re-score on his Speaking section result in a 26, after receiving a 24 in his first results.

This student is Indian, and he needed the 26 for his Pharmacy License. To improve his Speaking score, he studied with Strictly English. We were 100% sure he’d get the 26, based on our experience and the evaluation tools we have developed. He didn’t, and we told him to rescore. We were RIGHT. He *did* speak at a level of 26 on his test.

Can Strictly English score people more accurately than ETS?

While ETS graders are trained so that their results consistently meet ETS’s scoring requirements, our students’ experience strongly suggests that some accents might prove more challenging for graders to assess, at least on a first listen. Of course, you need to do as much as you can to ensure that you are clearly understood when you speak, but if your TOEFL Speaking score is surprisingly lower than your practice scores, consider asking for a re-score.

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!

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