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TOEFL Tip #141: TOEFL Junior Test: English Proficiency Exam For Middle School Students

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 3, 2012

With the global prevalence of English, families often wish to assess students’ mastery of English at an early stage of their education. Such a benchmark provides opportunities to adjust their school programs so that students are fully prepared for tests such as the TOEFL if they want to pursue advanced education in English.

To address this need, ETS has created the TOEFL Junior Test , a paper-based, multi-choice exam for middle-school students.

TOEFL Junior measures students’ mastery of the social and academic English language skills for medium-level English instruction. The test has three sections – Listening, Language Form and Meaning, and Reading. Together, these sections assess a student’s ability to listen for a variety of purposes (intrapersonal, instructional, academic), his or her knowledge of English language fundamentals such as grammar and vocabulary, and his or her ability to understand academic and non-academic material. The score reports provide further assistance, through comparative contexts for understanding the results, as well as a Lexile measure to help find books at each student’s reading level.

The TOEFL Junior Test is currently offered in more than 25 countries. For further information, click here .

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!

GOOD LUCK!

PTE Tip #5: Start Early With PTE Young Learners

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 23, 2011

Young students who are not yet ready to prepare for the full Pearson Test of English Academic might consider the PTE Young Learners. The program is aimed at students who are 8 – 14 years old. This could be especially helpful for non-native speakers of English who plan to enroll in high school or college in an English speaking country.

PTE Young Learners features English as it is used in realistic, day-to-day scenarios, and measures students’ ability to communicate in English. Because of this, the test is not focused on memorizing the formal structures and grammar of English. Instead, the material in PTE Young Learners centers on stories and conversations about the routines of a fictional family.

Like PTE Academic, PTE Young Learners tests students’ Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking skills. An external assessor measures students’ Speaking skills, while the rest of the exam is on paper.

In addition, PTE Young Learners is divided into four levels to reflect increasing language acquisition – Firstwords, Springboard, Quickmarch, and Breakthrough. Students move to the next level as they gain confidence and experience in communicating in English. Pearson provides students with feedback on their test performance, and successful PTE Young Learners test takers receive a certificate indicating their achievement in English.

For students who will be educated in English-speaking institutions, PTE Young Learners could be a valuable early step toward that goal. For more information about PTE Young Learners, click here

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 #127: Not all TOEFL Books Are Created Equal

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 25, 2011

When an individual is picking which TOEFL book is best for his/her self-study or when a teacher is picking which TOEFL book is best for his/her group class, the first thing to remember is that there are basically three types of TOEFL books.

1. exercise books

2. sample test books

3. language skills books

And each of these books is also targeted to a particular English level. At the bottom of Strictly English’s Exercises Page you’ll find a score chart that indicates the level each book targets. So in this blog article we’ll focus on the three above mentioned differences.

Ideally, if you had the time and the budget, you’d work with all three types of books since they each have a valuable purpose to serve.

All three types give an overview of the test and the types of questions you will be asked to answer and tasks you will be asked to perform. And basically, you’ll learn the same thing from any of these books with regard to this basic introductory information.

The Exercise Books (The Longman & the Delta) give you,  . . . well . . . , a lot of exercises, or at least more than the other two types of books do. We at Strictly English think these books are indispensable. The more you rehearse the mechanical steps to answering a question type, the more accurate (and over time, the faster) you’ll become. I call this category “Exercise Books”, but to be fair, they do have sample tests as well. In fact, Longman has a large amount of both exercises and tests. Yet, I put it in the exercises category because although it has many “Mini-Tests” on its CD, it only has two full tests.

The books that I’ve categorized as “Sample Test Books” (Cambridge & Barrons) are often woefully deficient in exercises. Now they might reply, “HEY! we have lots of, say, paraphrase questions in our book. They are just not grouped together in a section called PARAPHRASE. Instead they are scattered throughout our sample tests.” I cannot argue against this point, but I don’t think of it as an “exercise” unless it’s in a drill-able format, which (as I stated above) is crucial to acclimating to the mechanical steps needed to answer a question correctly. This is not to say Sample Test Books are useless. They are great! You just want to begin using them AFTER you’ve done an exercise book. Once you’ve mastered the strategies/skills for answering each question type, THEN you can begin to integrate them into each other in a test-like format.

Finally, there are the Language Skills Books. This approach to English learning is fantastic. Arguably it cannot be beat. If Strictly English were a English Language school, we would definitely buy these books and use them in our general English classes. But language learning and TOEFL study are not the same. To learn a language, you need so much more facility than you do to pass the TOEFL. Case in point, I would argue that you can get through 99% of the TOEFL test without really understanding nor using models (the one exception being Task 5 of the Speaking where you have to give advice). So Language Skills Books are a time-sink and are too wide-reaching for TOEFL preparation.

These categories are not rigidly segregated. As I’ve already said, Longman has some full practice tests in them. Also, Cambridge is a Language Skills Book AND a Sample Test Book. Therefore, Strictly English uses only the Sample Tests from the book and ignores the Language Skills part of it.

So if you can’t buy all of them or you don’t have the time to study them all, how do you decide which ones to use? We suggest getting one Exercise Book and one Sample Test Book. For example, Longman & Cambridge or Delta & Barrons. Start there and see how you do. If you have more time, then move onto the pair you didn’t buy at first.

WARNING ONE: Please note that many of these books are out of date. Even the ETS’s 2011 Official Guide to the TOEFL inaccurately portrays the Integrated Essay and the Reading’s Chart Questions (of which not one of our students has reported seeing on a real test). This is because some of the books have not been revised recently. For example, when the Reading Section changes on Nov 1, all the books will be describing that section incorrectly. Also, Task 1 of the Speaking changed from requesting a Description to requesting Advice, which none of the books have had a chance to update either. Only a company like Strictly English, which does its own research, can keep you abreast of these changes as they happen.

WARNING TWO: Even very bright students do not often achieve the score they want through self-study alone. This is because these books are purposefully designed as teachers’ aides. They work best when you’re guided through them in a group class or with a private tutor.

Good luck!

(PS: please comment below about YOUR favorite TOEFL Book and why you like it!—-THANKS!)

TOEFL Tip #123: Rapid Improvement is Possible in TOEFL Study if . . .

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 9, 2011

. . . you already have a high level of fluency in English, and just need to learn strategies for taking the TOEFL.

A recent student, João, already had a TOEFL score of 104 when he came to Strictly English. He studied with us for 6 hours over 3 days, and he went up to a 108 on his next exam. Then he came back for 4 more hours and got 112.

João’s scores show that rapid improvement IS possible. He worked hard during his Strictly English sessions to learn the strategies and apply them on the TOEFL. We’re proud of his achievement, and confident that our techniques made a big difference on his TOEFL performance.

However, not everyone can increase their test scores by so many points after a relatively small number of tutoring hours. João was already thoroughly fluent in English before starting with Strictly English. He could focus all of his effort on learning our strategies for the TOEFL. Any language issues WILL slow down your progress.

If you know that you still need to master English fully, you will not be able to reproduce João’s success until you have improved these fundamental components. On the other hand, if you can speak and write in perfect English but just need to focus those skills for the TOEFL, you SHOULD be aiming for this kind of quick turn-around. Wherever you are in your study of the language, Strictly English can help you reach your TOEFL goals.

TOEFL Tip #122: Develop Your Skills by Listening to Public Radio

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 30, 2011

We’ve recently discussed some research conducted by Strictly English this summer which suggests that students need to have sharp listening skills for the TOEFL. We discovered that there seems to be two “paths” of connected answers for each listening passage. Each “path” is a series of related answers that follow from the first question. Whichever answer you give for the first question will lead you to select the related choices in subsequent questions. If you’ve answered the first question correctly, you’ll more likely pick the correct answers all the way through that section. If, however, you’ve chosen the incorrect answer for the first question, the “path” of answers will make it more likely that you will miss most of the answers for that passage.

How can you sharpen your listening skills?

Listen to National Public Radio (NPR) programs on your local public radio station.

The TOEFL focuses relentlessly on American-accented English, so listening to NPR will expose you to a wide range of accents. The hosts and reporters who work for NPR generally have slight accents, so they are easy to understand. They also interview people from around the United States and the world, giving you a chance to listen to English spoken with a variety of accents.

In addition to the live broadcasts of NPR programs, many of the shows also have podcasts. You can download them through NPR’s webpage. Consider listening to interviews first, as the flow of conversation might be easier to follow. As your listening skills increase, listen to longer reports on news and other topics.
Another suggestion for sharpening your language skills overall and your listening in particular, is to read about a major world event in a newspaper written in your first language, then read about that same event in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Next, listen to NPR reports about that event. Finally, read about that event in the New Yorker and The Economist. This sequence will help you to compare the ways in which different sources report on the same story, and the types of language each source uses. In addition, you will understand a lot more from the NPR reports because you are already familiar with the story they are discussing.

TOEFL Tip #115: Listen Carefully

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 19, 2011

Today’s post is the third in our series about the results of Strictly English’s research on the TOEFL exam, conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Listening section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking and Reading sections.

Because Strictly English fully respects ETS’s copyright protection, the examples below have been fabricated in order to illustrate the issues we’d like to discuss from our research. This material is not quoted from the TOEFL exam.

Last week’s post about the Reading section showed that students can use specific strategies to read only parts of the passage, yet still answer the questions correctly and efficiently. This approach helps students focus on what the questions are specifically asking, rather than get distracted by all of the details in the passage.

Our researcher, an American and a native speaker of English, used this same technique with the Listening section. He did not listen to any of the spoken passages or conversations; he only listened to the questions. This resulted in a score of 16! (When this researcher skipped all of the Reading passages and only answered the questions, he got a 26).

Why the big difference in scores between the Reading and Listening, when using the same technique? Our research suggests that the Listening section actually seems to build out two possible scenarios throughout the questions for a given listening passage.

What do we mean by “two scenarios”? The FIRST question will ask, “Why did the man go to the doctor’s office?” In typical standardized test design, two answers will be silly and obviously incorrect, but the remaining two both seem possible: He needed a prescription filled. He was coming in for a follow up appointment. From here, all of the remaining questions return to these same two possibilities. So the next question might be, “What was the man’s problem when he arrived?” Again, two answers are easily eliminated, and the remaining two are: He forgot his wallet and didn’t have a credit card to pay for the prescription. He forgot his wallet and didn’t have his insurance card to give to the receptionist. If you chose “He needed a prescription filled” for question one (which is wrong), then you’re very likely to continue on that wrong path in question two and incorrectly pick, “He forgot his wallet and didn’t have a credit card to pay for the prescription.” You can see how this might lead to giving incorrect answers for all of the questions related to this particular listening passage.

It’s good to keep in mind that the Listening is the same as the Reading in this respect – an answer for one question can help you pick the next answer for another question. The crucial difference for the Listening passage is that this only benefits you IF YOU GOT THE FIRST QUESTION CORRECT. While the Reading doesn’t seem to have a coherent, consistent, counter narrative that runs through all the questions, the Listening does. This can really trip you up.

Our research suggests that your listening skills need to be sharp in order to do well on this section. If you listen carefully and can take good notes on the passage, you should be able to answer the first question correctly. Since the subsequent questions build on that first one, you will be in a good position to do well on each passage.

TOEFL Tip #111: Study WITH Distraction

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 22, 2011

In our recent post about study skills, we suggested that one key for a successful TOEFL study session was to eliminate distractions as much as possible. Work in a quiet space or wear headphones to block out noise, turn off your mobile phone, and ask friends and family not to interrupt you. This approach will help establish your study habits, and will make each session more productive.

However, as your test date approaches and your skills improve, you should switch strategies. Test centers can be loud, so you should study with distractions in the two weeks leading up to your test date. TOEFL test centers are not intentionally noisy, but the circumstances of taking the test, plus common technical glitches that must be resolved, can disrupt your concentration if you’ve not studied with noise in the background before. By practicing the TOEFL with distractions, you will be better prepared on test day. There are a variety of possible distractions on test day, but you will not be able to stop your test until the distraction is over. Once you begin your exam, you must continue with each section, except for the scheduled break.

First, new people might come in to start the test after you have begun your exam. The test center staff has to get that person set up, explain directions, and so on, while you are trying to focus on the test material. This might happen several times.

Second, there may be a technical problem with a computer in your room. Because students have to finish the TOEFL on the same computer that they start on, the staff has to fix any computer with a problem WHILE everyone else is still taking their tests. One of our students reported that during his reading section, there was a test center employee on the phone with ETS for 15 minutes, trying to resolve another student’s computer problem.

Third, not everyone moves through the TOEFL at the same pace. People who started the test before you will move on to the speaking while you’re still in the listening section. People who started after you will be talking while you’re trying to concentrate on your writing.

So, what can you do about distractions at the test center? Many centers have earplugs, but you should also consider bringing your own. You want the earplugs to be comfortable, and you should practice having them in your ears so you are used to the way that they feel (if you’ve never used earplugs before, they can feel a bit odd at first).

In addition, during the 2 weeks leading up to your test date, make a point if studying WITH distractions around you. Study in a café or another location where people come and go frequently and talk loudly. Have the radio or television on in the background. Tune the radio or TV to an American news station or talk show, so you can hear a variety of American accents. Finally, study in the same room with your children (or younger siblings) – their play will likely create bursts of noise and movement. Knowing how to ignore distractions such as these will keep you calm on test day when something is inevitably loud.

TOEFL Tip #110: What Study Time is For

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 16, 2011

In recent posts (here and here), we have focused on having strong study skills as a foundation for success on the TOEFL exam. Today’s post looks at what you’re trying to achieve while you study.

It might seem obvious that the purpose of studying is to demonstrate your mastery of strategies and skills for the TOEFL exam. You might even think of your study sessions as mini-TOEFLs, running through sections of the exam, or even a full practice exam, as if it were test day. If your TOEFL exam is in less than a week, this is a smart approach for your study time.

However, for most students, especially for those who have just started preparing for the TOEFL exam, using your study sessions to prove to yourself that you have mastered what you have recently learned is a less-effective use of your time. Too many Strictly English students never open their notebook after class when they are doing their homework. Instead, they use the evening’s study time as a way to test their memory of the day’s tutoring session. For example, Strictly English has a 120 point checklist that walks you through EVERY sentence of the independent (30 minute) essay in the Writing section. If you use it WHILE you write, then you’ll write a PERFECT essay! But too many of our clients go over the checklist with us in class, say they’ve “got it” and then “test themselves” outside of class by writing an essay WITHOUT the checklist. They want to see “how much they remember from class.”

But that’s only causing them to write a bad essay, and even worse, to memorize incorrect grammar and sentence structures.

Instead of thinking about study time as proving your mastery of class content, use the session to go SLOWLY over the process, WITH your notes OPEN. Your goal is to internalize everything that you have learned until you can do it easily and accurately. That takes time; skipping the steps only reinforces skills that you then need to un-learn.

By using your notes while you study for the TOEFL exam, you will build up your mastery at an even, consistent pace.

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