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TOEFL Tip #193: Talk For 30 Minutes Before The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 2, 2013

Imagine running a marathon without warming-up first. You walk up to the starting line, and simply begin running. Your muscles are stiff, your breathing is uneven, and you take several miles to find a comfortable pace.

If you approached a marathon this way, would you win? Of course not. Your body needs to prepare for the longer effort of a marathon by doing smaller stretches first. By warming up before the marathon, your body is ready for peak performance.

Just like stretching your legs before running a marathon, you need to warm up your brain before taking the TOEFL exam.

To do this, speak – in English – for 30 minutes before taking the TOEFL.

Ideally, you should talk about a wide range of academic topics with a native English speaker. This way, you are warming up your voice for the Speaking section, practicing your English grammar for the Writing and Speaking sections, and thinking about the kinds of topics that are likely to be on all sections of the TOEFL exam. A native speaker is more likely to use standard academic English, and may be able to give you some last-minute feedback.

Even if you can’t arrange to have a conversation like this before the exam, you can still use this technique. Bring a textbook from one of your classes or a newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, and read sections of it out loud. Talk about something in the news with your family members. Anything you can do to focus your mind on speaking in English before the exam is going to help you be at your best when the TOEFL begins.

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!

TOEFL Tip #174: Understand The Logic Behind The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 19, 2012

Last week, we discussed a strategy for the Reading section of the TOEFL which advises test-takers to read as little of the passage as possible. This week, we want to highlight an implicit point about that strategy.

Understanding the logic of the TOEFL is essential for doing well on the exam.

It’s important to realize that the TOEFL is not a test of your academic knowledge, per se. Of course, you need to know the rules and conventions of formal English in order to understand the Reading and Listening passages, and to communicate effectively in the Writing and Speaking sections. Similarly, the Reading section has questions asking about the meaning of a specific word from the passage. If you’ve never encountered that word before, you may have trouble figuring out its meaning from context.

In the big picture, however, the TOEFL does not test what you already know about academic topics as diverse as chemistry and prehistoric art. There would be no effective way to study for such a test, because it’s simply not possible to know something about every potential topic that might appear in a TOEFL passage.

Keep in mind, then, that the TOEFL assesses how well you comprehend and communicate in English. If you happen to know something about the topic of the passage, that will certainly assist you in choosing the correct answers. However, even if you know nothing about the topic, the passage itself contains everything you need to answer the questions.

This is where understanding the logic of the TOEFL becomes central. When you understand what each section of the test measures, you can answer more effectively. For example, the Writing and Speaking sections are not only about whether you can answer a question with sentences that are grammatically correct. They also gauge your ability to express and develop unique ideas and persuade your audience. To do this, you need to know how many points you need to support your main idea, how much detail to include, and how to structure your answer.

Once you’re familiar with the logic behind the TOEFL exam – HOW to take the test – you can focus on WHAT the answers are.

TOEFL Tip#166: Strictly English’s YouTube Channel

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 24, 2012

Did you know that Strictly English has its own YouTube channel ? We do! Check out our videos on a variety of topics:

We have a number of videos which showcase a particular skill or tip for taking the TOEFL exam. Whether you want to improve your Reading, Speaking, or Writing (part 1, part 2) score, we have helpful advice.

Of course, we have information about our programs, such as the Study Hall, and a Frequently Asked Questions video made at xtranormal.com.

But don’t take just our word about how effective our programs are. Listen to what our clients say about our services.

Several students have contacted Strictly English after getting the TOEFL score they needed, and have shared their experiences in videos. We recently discussed one client’s success on the TOEFL, which she needed in order to get her nursing license. Other students have needed a particular TOEFL score for dentistry or pharmacy. As these students say, working with Strictly English made the crucial difference in their TOEFL scores.

Come back often and see what’s new on Strictly English’s YouTube channel!

TOEFL Tip #161: K.I.S.S.ing Occam’s Razor

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 13, 2012

The title of today’s post is a play on words that combines the modern expression “Keep It Short and Simple” (K.I.S.S) with the same idea in its much older form, Occam’s Razor.

The “K.I.S.S. Principle” comes from the field of engineering. It reminds designers that elaborate systems are not inherently better than simple ones. In fact, simple systems are often easier for a wide variety of people to understand. An example of the K.I.S.S. Principle is a car engine that can be fixed with a wrench and a screwdriver, instead of needing to be hooked up to a computerized diagnostic system.

Similarly, the idea behind Occam’s Razor is that the best explanation of events is the one that makes the fewest assumptions while still accounting for all of the facts. The razor slices away unnecessary details, so that what remains is both essential and accurate. If you make lunch in the morning but arrive at work without it, Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s far more likely that you left your lunch at home, rather than thinking that someone snuck into the back seat of your car and stole your lunch while you were stopped at a red light.

The reasons why we’re talking about these two idioms is because simplicity is key for the TOEFL exam. In addition, so is avoiding redundancy, which is why we’re highlighting this ONE idea with TWO different phrases!

This idea of “using simple thought processes” is the best way to think throughout the test. In fact, the clearest answers on the Writing and Speaking sections follow these principles. Clearly expressing a few details is better than creating complicated arguments that require more and more sentences.

Now, we’ll follow our own advice, and Keep (this post) Short and Simple!

TOEFL Tip #155: Managing Your Note Paper

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 18, 2012

Understandably, ETS wants to make sure that no information about the TOEFL exam leaves the test center. This ensures that the test’s answers cannot be given to a future test taker.

One way that ETS promotes security is to limit the amount of paper you receive. If everyone in the test center is given the same quantity of paper, then the monitor (first definition) will know to collect that number of pages from you. If you give the monitor only three sheets of paper when she knows everyone got four sheets, she will ask you for that fourth sheet. This means you cannot hide that fourth paper in your pocket with all the answers on it.

But this security measure poses a risk to your TOEFL score! You can easily imagine how this might happen: you need more paper, but the monitor is busy with someone else, or she is looking somewhere else and doesn’t see that your hand is up. You’re wasting valuable waiting to catch her attention – time that you can’t afford.

So here’s what we suggest to help you manage your paper:

1. You will be given three or four pieces of paper at the beginning of the test. Even if you think you don’t need the paper, take it anyway. It’s better to be prepared!

2. Stack the sheets together, and lay them in front of you so that the pile is longer from left to right (the same as “landscape layout” for a printer). Fold all the sheets in half. This makes every sheet into a little book with four pages. Now you have four “pages” per sheet of paper instead of only two (front and back of an unfolded sheet).

3. Use only one of these “pages” for each Reading passage and each Listening passage. If you have large handwriting or tend to scrawl your notes, you will need to practice writing a bit smaller and/or more neatly to use your paper more effectively.

4. On the break, ASK FOR MORE PAPER. Do this even if you’ve got some sheets left over! It’s better to start with four new sheets instead of having only one or two sheets when you start the Speaking section. You will have to surrender any pieces of paper that you’ve used.

5. Fold your sheets again and use one “page” for each of the Speaking tasks.

When you manage your paper this way, you will not run out of space for notes during the second half of the test. You really do not want to have to raise your hand, and wait for the attendant to see you.

Not only will you never run out of paper if you follow these steps, but you’ll also keep your notes more clearly organized. Besides having to wait for more paper while the timer keeps running, you don’t want to get confused because you crammed all of your notes from multiple lectures or passages onto the same page!

TOEFL Tip #153: TOEFL Details Are Divinely Devilish

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 27, 2012

English has two idioms about the importance of details. One is “The devil is in the details.” The other is “God is in the details.” Someone hearing these two expressions might ask: How can both God and the devil be in the details? And more relevant to our purposes as TOEFL tutors, we might ask, what do these expressions have to do with TOEFL study?

Let’s tackle the first question first. “God is in the details,” the older expression, means that anything you do, you should do well. There is no satisfaction in doing a task in a sloppy or inattentive way, or in leaving the task unfinished. The opposite expression, “The devil is in the details” points to the difficulty in doing something well, especially if that difficulty is not apparent in the beginning. For example, close examination of the details might reveal additional complexity in the task, or the need for more in-depth knowledge.

So turning to the second question, “What does this have to do with TOEFL?,” we have to remember that TOEFL rewards attention to detail, and these details are fiendishly frustrating to most TOEFL test takers. For example, fact questions in the Reading might ask you to differentiate between two similarly written words, like “stalagmite” and “stalactite.” In the Listening section, you may need to recall a specific number like 1,000 B.C. and must be sure you don’t accidentally choose 10,000 B.C. or 1,000 A.D. Details in the Speaking usually means having extremely accurate pronunciation, while your Writing has to have detailed examples to prove your argument.

If you can master these devils, then you are rewarded with the “godly” satisfaction of razor sharp accuracy and precision in both choosing answer choices and in communicating your ideas in flawless intermediate English.

So what’s the takeaway (definition 2) of this entry? To receive a “godly” TOEFL score that might put you in seventh heaven , you have demonstrate a strong ability to work with details, which can be a real devil of a time for most people to accomplish.

TOEFL Tip #152: Improving Your Comprehension

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 20, 2012

Having a high level of reading and listening comprehension is integral for success in those sections of the exam. Perhaps you’re already listening to public radio and limiting your use of your native language in your daily routine. Doing this will improve your comprehension in English, but how can you gauge your progress?

One way is to regularly compare articles in Simple English Wikipedia with those on the same topic on the main Wikipedia site. Read the Simple English version first, and when you completely understand it, switch to the main Wikipedia version. Notice what’s different about the main Wikipedia version: more advanced vocabulary and sentence structure, as well as additional details about the topic. If you have high reading comprehension, you should be able to read the main Wikipedia site with minimal difficulty. You could also switch the comparison by reading the main Wikipedia entry first, and then the Simple English version. If your understanding of the main Wikipedia article does not match what the Simple English version says, you need to work on your comprehension skills.

Let’s look at an example about the American Revolution.

The Simple English version says, “The American Revolutionary War was a war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in America. . . . The colonies became independent, which meant that the British Empire was no longer in charge of them.” The sentence structure is simple, and a key vocabulary term, “independent,” is defined.

The corresponding article on the main Wikipedia site says, “The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which the thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America. … Ultimately, the states collectively determined that the British monarchy, by acts of tyranny, could no longer legitimately claim their allegiance. They then severed ties with the British Empire in July 1776, when the Congress issues the United States Declaration of Independence, rejecting the monarchy on behalf of the new sovereign nation separate and external to the British Empire.” Here, the sentence structure is more complex, the vocabulary is more sophisticated and is not defined, and there is substantially more detail.

Measure your comprehension by looking for opportunities to compare articles on the same topic written for different audiences. The more easily you can switch from an article written for an introductory-level audience to one written for an intermediate-level (or higher!) audience, the better your comprehension.

TOEFL Tip #147: Paraphrasing Is The Most Important Skill For The iBT

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 16, 2012

The TOEFL exam draws on a diverse skill set for each section, but there is one skill you will use for all four sections – paraphrasing.

The Reading section not only has a type of question directly asking you to paraphrase, but in the end, ALL answers are paraphrases of the relevant part of the Reading Passage. The Listening section works in the same way.

The Speaking section requires two different sorts of paraphrasing. In Tasks 3, 4, 5, 6, you must avoid repeating exactly what you read and heard. But T1 and 2 are a bit different because you’re now trying to avoid repeating YOURSELF, instead of trying to avoid repeating what you read and heard. The same goes for the Writing section. In the integrated essay (INT), you have to avoid repeating the exact phrasing used in the Passage and the lecture. In the independent essay (IND), you again, have to avoid paraphrasing yourself.

So, how do you paraphrase?

To understand good paraphrasing, you have to know what NOT to do. Do NOT think that you’re just swapping vocabulary words. It’s a disaster to think that you can take a sentence like, “Jon works in the financial market” and replace “work” with “job,” “financial” with “money,” and “market” with “store” and end up with “Jon jobs in the money store.” First of all, although my “work” (noun) is the same as my “job” (noun), there is no VERB “to job” even though there is a verb “to work”. Also, although a “market” could be a “store” sometimes, here it is not. In this sentence, “market” refers to trading stocks and the like.

The problem gets even worse when some word swapping also requires changes in grammatical construction. For example, “although” and “despite” have the same purpose within logic – they both represent the opposition of ideas – but “although” takes a clause while “despite” takes a noun phrase. “Although it was raining” should become “Despite the rain.” If you just assume that the grammar stays the same, then you would paraphrase “Although it was raining” as “Despite it was raining.” Whoops! Wrong. Very wrong. Score of 14 wrong.

These are only a couple of the hundreds of ways paraphrasing can go wrong. Another pitfall is preserving word order when changing a sentence from passage to active. When the sentence’s agent and object switch places, you have to reformulate the sentence or else the wrong noun is receiving the verb’s action.

To paraphrase correctly, you really need to free yourself completely from the structure you see in the original that you’re paraphrasing. You’re ONLY trying to preserve the original meaning, WITHOUT adding any new information. This means that the paraphrase you create could have a completely different construction than the original. You need to stop thinking that you can only swap words in and out of a cemented structure. Once you begin building a new sentence from the ground up, you will have a higher chance of paraphrasing correctly.

Let’s look at an example from the paraphrasing exercise on Strictly English’s website:

1) One of the key elements to a healthy life is your diet. There are many different types of diets that people follow: some don’t eat meat, and are called vegetarians; some are lactose intolerant, which means that they can’t digest dairy products; and others are called vegans, or people who do not eat meat, fish, eggs, or milk products. No matter the diet, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Which is the correct paraphrase of the bold sentence above?

(a) Some people are constantly dieting because they have to follow certain rules about what they can or cannot eat.

(b) Certain dietary restrictions, such as not consuming meat, dairy, or any by-products of living animals, can vary over a wide range of people’s lifestyles.

(c) It is important for vegetarians, vegans, and those who are lactose intolerant to diet on a regular basis in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

(d) Eating meat, dairy, or any other by-product of an animal requires great effort to stay healthy.

Answer (a) is wrong because it adds something new – the idea of “constantly” dieting. Similarly, (c) is wrong because it changes “diet” from a noun in the original – meaning the food that a person eats – to a verb in the paraphrase – meaning to eat in a certain way for a set period of time (and, by implication, to eat in a different way after that period of time). Finally, (d) is wrong because it also introduces something new – the “great effort” to stay healthy. The original sentence says nothing about the ease or difficulty of eating according to certain food restrictions.

Answer (b) is correct. It notes that there are “certain” restrictions – the original gave 3 examples of dietary restrictions, but says there are many others. The second sentence also completely rephrases the 3 examples – most clearly changing the list of foods vegans won’t eat into “by-products of living animals.” Equally important, this example does not add any additional information that is not in the original, as the other three answers do.

As you can see from this example, successful paraphrasing depends on holding on to the main IDEA of a sentence or passage, and letting go of the WAY that idea was expressed.

Good paraphrasing takes a lot of practice, but keep in mind that it’s a skill for the entire TOEFL, so it’s worth the time to get it right.

TOEFL Tip #144: Speaking Really Well Vs. Knowing A Lot

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 24, 2012

People who are fluent in several languages are called “polyglots.” Those who have studied a wide range of subjects are called “polymaths.” (Note the prefix these two words share: “poly-,” meaning “many”).

Because the TOEFL tests someone’s ability to understand and communicate in English, it’s easy to assume that people who have achieved complete fluency in English will score far better than those who have less mastery of the language, even if they have a broader knowledge base. To be sure, a polyglot may be able to answer the vocabulary questions on the Reading section more easily, simply because he or she recognizes the words.

However, in Strictly English’s experience across 10,000 tutoring hours, we have consistently seen that a high degree of fluency in many languages is not as helpful as knowing something about many academic subject areas. Remember, the Reading passages and some of the Listening tasks cover a very wide range of academic topics, from paleontology to business letter writing. Therefore, the Polymath’s ability to answer questions comfortably within many subject areas will be of great help, both because he/she is familiar with the content, and because that familiarity will boost his/her overall confidence.

For example, consider a polyglot who only knows about fishing. That person will only be able to talk about fishing, even if he or she can do so in 10 languages. Since the TOEFL only tests English, the ability to talk about fishing in the other 9 languages isn’t very useful for the exam. Even if the topic of fishing happens to come up on a particular TOEFL exam, it’s only going to be on the exam once, which means that the polyglot who only knows about fishing will probably have a hard time on the rest of the exam.

On the other hand, if you have a body of knowledge of 10 academic topics, and a working knowledge of English (plus your native language, of course), you will probably do better on the TOEFL because most academic topics have cognates that cross what would otherwise be linguistic barriers. Having a general knowledge of a topic is probably enough for TOEFL because the test is geared toward high school seniors. You don’t need to be an expert in the topic; you just need to be familiar with its main ideas. Your general knowledge can help to fill in the blanks created by gaps in your English.

Take the extreme example of a person who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but has, at best, intermediate English skills. That person would probably score higher on a Reading passage about chemistry, if he or she can pick out key words and use them to extrapolate the meaning of the rest of the passage, than the Polyglot who speaks advanced English beautifully but who has had no exposure to the concepts of chemistry.

An important note of caution – it is the golden rule of TOEFL preparation that you should answer the questions from the knowledge in the PASSAGE and not from your own professional or personal knowledge. We are NOT saying that your general knowledge should REPLACE or SUPERSEDE the knowledge in the passage. We are saying that you can USE your knowledge to better understand what the passage is saying.

So, our advice: nurture your inner Polymath! Read widely on academic topics in both English AND your own language so that you build up a base of knowledge to draw upon when you take the TOEFL exam.

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