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

TOEFL Tip #99: Blending Sounds

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 13, 2011

All speakers use blended sounds to give rhythm to their words. At the most basic level, pronunciation is blending the sounds of individual letters to form a word. Many languages – including English – also use blending between words to carry the momentum of what the speaker is saying. Understanding blending also affects your performance on the TOEFL.

A common example of blending happens when one word ends with a particular sound, and the next word starts with the same sound. In this case, the speaker will often blend the two words into one word. The sentence, “I want to eat tomatoes with you” would sound like “Eye wanna ee-ta-may-tas wih-ya.” Letters that have similar sounds, such as “t” and “d” are often blended as well: “What do you want to do?” becomes “Whadayah wanna do?” While this looks strange in writing, it’s usually easily understood when spoken.

Awareness of blending in spoken English is important for several sections of the TOEFL exam.

In the Speaking section, being able to blend sounds between words in English will help you sound more like a native speaker. If you stop and fully articulate every sound in every word, you will sound robotic. If you just drop the last sound from every word, you may sound like you don’t fully understand how to pronounce English. Blending is in the middle between these two extremes. Of course, be careful not to run all of your words together into one long word. That’s not blending; it’s just taking out the proper spacing between words.

Blending is also important in the Speaking, Listening, and Writing sections of the TOEFL. These are all sections where you need to understand what is being said in order to complete the section correctly. While the directions throughout the exam will generally speak clearly and slowly – that is, with minimal or no blending – the academic lectures and the conversations between students may feature differing amounts of blending. To be a good listener, you need to be able to quickly separate the blended sounds back into their original words so you can follow what is being said.

To get a good sense of what blending sounds like, listen to a lot of conversations, especially if the speakers are talking quickly. You will hear how blended sounds make for smoother pronunciation.

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 #92: Understand Campus Life

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 29, 2011

Because most people take the TOEFL as part of their application to college, some material on the exam draws on this area of knowledge. Knowing about campus life in the United States is important for all TOEFL test-takers, even if you are taking it for other reasons, such as for professional certification. Both the Listening and the Speaking sections of the TOEFL have passages and questions about college life. Even if you have not been educated in the United States, you can do well on these questions by knowing a few general points about how college campuses work.

On the TOEFL, conversations between professors and students, or between two students, will be supportive, helpful, and friendly in tone. In an ideal world, professors and other university employees (such as financial aid counselors or librarians) would never say mean things to students or be annoyed at them. Likewise, students appreciate advice given by another student. College life on the TOEFL reflects this ideal world. Professors are always available to talk with students, librarians can find many resources on any topic, and students have helpful suggestions on how to figure out a difficult situation.

When deciding on an answer about the Listening or Speaking conversation, avoid choices that seem unlikely in an ideal academic setting, no matter how reasonable they may be in a non-academic setting. Be careful – an answer might seem “right” because it has many of the content words of the Listening or Speaking passage. The key is whether the answer is negative or positive. For example, if one choice insults the student (“I can’t believe you can’t figure this out”) or seems unconcerned with the student’s problem (“I don’t have time to answer that question”), that’s negative, and the wrong answer. Choices that answer the student’s question (“Let me show you how to solve that equation”) or help to solve his or her problem (“You need to fill out these forms and bring them to the Registrar’s office”) are positive, and are more likely to be the correct answer.

Another aspect of campus culture that will help you on the TOEFL is being familiar with typical names for aspects of student life. You may know that students sleep in “dormitories,” but do you also know that “dorm” is a nickname for the same building? Perhaps the purpose of the Student Center is obvious, but do you know what the Student Union is? (It’s another name for “Student Center”). Registrar, Bursar, Dean, quad, fraternity/sorority, meal plan, work-study – these are a few of the typical departments, places, organizations, or programs at American colleges. Knowing the names campus features such as these will help you to understand the Reading or Listening passage, and can help you to choose the correct answer.

To learn about campus culture, visit the websites of several colleges or talk with current college students. You will quickly get a sense of what college life is like!

TOEFL Tip #91: Use A Holistic Approach: An Example

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 18, 2011

In last week’s post, we talked about using a holistic approach for answering questions in the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL. Keeping in mind that the questions work together, and using information from one question to answer another, can help you make sure your answers are correct, and can save you time.

Today, we wanted to work through a specific example of how a holistic approach would work. This example comes from the Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test (second edition, 2007), the Reading Diagnostic Pre-Test, pages 3-7.

The reading passage is about aggressive behavior in people, and theories about what causes it. Here is the entire first paragraph; the words in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS are words we want to emphasize for this post. They are not in bold or capital letters in the original passage.

Aggressive behavior is any behavior that is INTENDED to cause injury, pain, suffering, damage, or destruction. While aggressive behavior is often thought of as purely physical, verbal attacks such as screaming and shouting or belittling and humiliating comments AIMED AT causing harm and suffering can also be a type of aggression. What is key to the definition of aggression is that whenever harm is inflicted, be it physical or verbal, it is INTENTIONAL.

The first thing to notice when you are reading this paragraph is that it says three times that aggression is something that is done on purpose (“intended,” “aimed at,” “intentional”). Whenever you see an idea repeated several times in a short paragraph, that’s a tip that the idea is important.

Here is the first question and its answer choices:

1. Which of the following is NOT defined as aggressive behavior?
a. Inflicting pain accidentally
b. Making insulting remarks
c. Destroying property
d. Trying unsuccessfully to injure someone

Right away, you know that the answer is “a,” because the passage emphasized that aggression is intentional. While you should always double check the rest of the answer choices, you can be confident that “a” is the right answer for this question. The answers for b, c, and d ARE acts which someone does on purpose.

This is where using a holistic approach can help you on the TOEFL. As you move on to the next questions, remember this answer. You know that any answer that suggests that aggression is an accident or is unintentional is a wrong answer.

Here is question 5 and its answer choices:

5. According to paragraph 3, displacement is
a. internally directed aggression
b. a modeled type of aggression
c. aggression that is unintentional
d. aggression that is directed outward

Because you remember from question 1 that aggression always intentional, you can immediately see that answer “c” is WRONG, and you can eliminate it. Can you eliminate any other answers? Look at the key word in each choice. The key word of answer “a” is “internally,” the key word of “b” is “modeled,” and the key word of “d” is “outward.” Maybe you don’t remember these words from the passage. You can return to the reading and focus on finding the definition of displacement that uses one of these three key words. Every time you can quickly eliminate one or more choices because you remember a similar answer from earlier in the section, you have saved time, and have reduced your chances of making a mistake.

The more you practice taking a holistic approach to the Reading and Listening sections, the easier it will be to link related answers together.

TOEFL Tip #90: Reading and Listening: Use a Holistic Approach

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 11, 2011

Many people lose a lot of time on the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL because of the way they approach the questions. They mentally review everything they know about the reading or listening passage in order answer the first question, then they stop thinking, move on to the next question, and start all over again. It’s almost like they empty their minds, and each question is about a new topic.

Don’t do this! All of the questions work together. Treating them like separate items will slow you down. You might even make mistakes that you would not otherwise make.

Instead, use a holistic approach on the Reading and Listening sections. That is, keep in mind that the questions are pieces that work together to form a unit, and each of the pieces depends on the others. Think of the questions as a jigsaw puzzle: when working on a puzzle with an outdoor scene, you group all of the blue pieces together because they’re probably the sky, and you can guess that all of the green pieces are the grass, and so on. By grouping each color together, you can find the piece you want more easily, rather than having to search through all of the puzzle pieces each time.

If you think holistically about the questions for a Reading or Listening passage, you will realize that information from an earlier answer can help answer a later question. We’ll have an example of this in next week’s post, on March 18th.

Thinking holistically can not only save you time on the Reading and Listening sections, but it can also boost your confidence. Having a technique to help answer difficult questions means that you won’t waste precious time, and you won’t panic. Try it as you practice, and see the difference that holistic thinking will make!

TOEFL Tip #85: Understanding Idioms: It’s A Piece Of Cake

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 3, 2011

Back in August, we wrote a blog article that identified three different kinds of idioms: metaphoric (for example, “it’s raining cats and dogs”), phrasal verbs (for example, to LOOK UP means “to research”), and idiomatic conventions (articles, prepositions, and so on that may not be properly called idioms, yet their usage is definitely idiomatic). The advice in that post was that your focus should be on the second and third category of idioms, because you will use many more of those in the Writing and Speaking sections of the TOEFL than you’ll use of metaphoric idioms.

Although Strictly English still encourages you to avoid metaphoric idioms when writing and speaking on the TOEFL, you do need knowledge of them because they often appear in the Listening sections of the test, and only the Listening section. That is, the listening section will have common phrases in English (idioms) that use colorful or descriptive language to make a point. These phrases are not meant literally; instead, they make a comparison by drawing a picture in your mind (that is to say, they use metaphor). Metaphoric idioms are always in the questions that start with the instructions to “listen to part of the lecture again.” The question will then replay part of the lecture when the teacher uses an idiom.

Here are two common metaphoric idioms in English:

• The female manager was angry that she had hit a glass ceiling at her company.
• “The groundhog isn’t batting much more than fifty-fifty (when “predicting” if winter is over).” (This example comes from the 2nd edition of the Longman TOEFL prep book)

You can figure out idioms like these by thinking about the separate pieces of the phrase, and seeing how they might work together.

Glass ceiling: The first thing to do is VISUALIZE a glass ceiling. You’re looking at the ceiling in your living room and it’s glass. You think that’s pretty because you can see the birds flying over your head and you can see the clouds go by. So is a glass ceiling a *good* thing? Well our sentence says that the female manager felt ANGRY. So that’s a bad thing. How can this beautiful ceiling be bad? Therefore, we might have to think about it differently. Let’s imagine you’re a child walking past a candy store, and you see chocolate, and cake, and licorice in the shop window. You want it, but you can’t have it because the glass is separating you from the candy. See, glass can both (1) let you see what you want and (2) be a barrier to having it. So now we understand the “glass” part of “glass ceiling”, but why is it a ceiling and not a window or a floor? Well, now we have to think about the difference between a floor (which is below us) and a ceiling (which is above us). The manager is looking UP to see the ceiling. Just like the child wants the candy, the manager wants to go “up”. But what does that mean? Does she want to fly in a plane? No. She wants to go *up* at work. She wants a promotion. So just like the child who sees candy and is denied it, the female manager can see a promotion but is denied it. This is why we use the term glass ceiling when talking about minorities. Very often women, or homosexuals, or racial minorities, are denied the ability to get a better job, even though they can see the possibility of having that job.

Batting fifty-fifty: Start with batting. Which sports in the United States use a bat? Only baseball. What do you do with the bat in baseball? Swing at the ball; sometimes you hit the ball, sometimes you miss it. The more often you hit the ball, the more likely you are to score a run for your team. If you don’t hit the ball very often, you’re not a good baseball player. Now on to fifty-fifty. If something is split 50-50, that means it’s divided in two equal halves. When you combine the image of swinging at a baseball together with the idea of something being split in two equal halves, you see that batting fifty-fifty means that you hit the ball about half of the times you swing at it, and you miss about half of the times. So, by extension, someone who correctly does something about half of the time is batting fifty-fifty. If the groundhog isn’t batting much more than fifty-fifty when predicting that winter is over, that means the groundhog is right in its prediction more often than it is wrong, but only by a little bit. Maybe the groundhog is batting 55-45.

So, if you have a question on the TOEFL with a metaphoric idiom you’ve never heard before, try to figure out the literal meaning behind the words. We know that you can’t think through a metaphor as carefully as the explanations above when you’re actually taking the TOEFL, because of its time limits, but (1) if you practice doing this when reading and listening in general, then you’ll get faster for the test and (2) writing out the thought process is MUCH SLOWER than the thought process itself. If it takes 3 minutes to read one of the explanations above it might only take 45 seconds to think about it. PLUS you have the four answer choices to help guide you in your thinking. Practice idioms, and soon you’ll take to them like a duck to water!

TOEFL Tip #80: Reading Is Key To Improving All TOEFL Sections

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 24, 2010

You already know that reading more will improve your score on the Reading section of the TOEFL (see our March 2010 blog entry), but now you’re wondering how to improve your Speaking, Listening and Writing, too.  Surprisingly, the answer is the same: read.  Read every day, read a lot, read a wide range of topics, read different kinds of materials (poems, newspapers, magazines, novels, etc).  Study after study shows that any kind of reading improves every other aspect of language learning.

But, you might ask, what should I read?  How will I know that I’m reading the correct things?  How can I be sure that what I’m reading is at the right level for my ability?

In general, TOEFL-level reading is about the same as  the articles in The New York Times and The Guardian.  Consider reading one news story across both newspapers, and notice the differences in the way each article reports the story. Once you understand the facts of the story well in these publications, try reading about the same issue in a publication that has writing slightly above TOEFL (The New Yorker Magazine). For a real challenge, then try reading about the same topic again in The Economist, which is much harder than the TOEFL. Read articles in history, arts, culture, business, technology, science, and health because these are common TOEFL topics.

Want more?

Services such as Lexile and Bee Oasis can help target reading materials to your level.  At Lexile’s site, you can enter your current TOEFL score (or your target score!), select topics of interest to you, and they will produce a reading list that matches your reading level.  Bee Oasis is a subscription service that gives you “graded materials,” which means texts that that match your reading “grade” level.  The targeted reading from both of these sites can help support your language development by effectively focusing your reading.  You’ll have more confidence that the material is appropriate for your current level, and you can get a clearer sense of what reading level you need to reach for your desired TOEFL score.Language development takes time and consistency, but if you keep reading, you WILL get better.  Start reading today!

TOEFL Tip #69: Video Testimonial: Score 104. Speaking 27

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 15, 2010

He did it, so can you!  Sign up today!

TOEFL Tip #66: Strictly English On FaceBook!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 14, 2010

Strictly English has now launched a FaceBook page called TOEFL 101.  There are a lot of great discussions on it.  Post questions about iBT Reading, Listening, Writing, Speaking, and we’ll answer those questions within 12 hours!  See you there!

TOEFL Tip #63: Bad Suggestion From “ETS TOEFL Tips”

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 26, 2009

Sorry to say, but ETS’s TOEFL Tip is not very good this week.   It suggests that listening to movies and TV will improve your listening.  I agree, but only to a point.  I have many students who go to the movies all the time, and they still do not score high on the TOEFL.  There are many reasons for this:

1. The content of movies are not even close to the content of TOEFL lectures.  Therefore, movies and TV might improve your ability to understand general English, but it will not give you the specific vocabulary and content that you’ll need for TOEFL.

2. If you process information more through your eyes than through your ears, you can easily understand a movie by focusing more on the images than by focusing on the words.  Now this is good, because most everyone uses their eyes to understand the world around them, but this won’t help you with TOEFL.  TOEFL offers no visual prompts or visual clues. You only have your ears.

So if you really want to use movies to improve your listening, then go to the theater with a blindfold on!  Okay, that was a joke.  But here are a few ideas that might improve this ETS Tip:

1. Go to movies with very little action.  Action movies do not have as much talking, so they do not help you improve your listening.

2. Watch documentaries, like Disney’s EARTH. These movies have content that is more akin to TOEFL content.

3. Watch TV channels like PBS , the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel. Again, they have content that is similar to TOEFL content.

« Older Posts | Newer Posts »