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TOEFL Tip #186: Take PTE Academic When In Need Of Last Minute Testing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 11, 2013

Last week, we suggested making New Year resolutions to help you reach the TOEFL score you need in 2013. In light of the new restriction from ETS requiring a 21-day wait between exams, perhaps you have resolved to be more organized this year. Your application deadlines are already on your calendar, you’ve registered to take the TOEFL weeks before the deadline, and you are already studying. Congratulations! You are well on your way to reaching your TOEFL goal!

But sometimes, even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Maybe you are sick on the day you take the TOEFL, and your score is lower than you need it to be. Maybe you need tutoring for the exam (sign up with Strictly English!), but those classes will not be finished before your scheduled TOEFL date. Maybe you have only recently decided to apply to a program, and their deadline is only a few weeks away.

What can you do?

Take the PTE Academic, instead!

Many institutions accept both PTE Academic and TOEFL test reports. Be sure to double check if the institutions you’re applying to are among those that accept both scores!

With their fast turn-around time, you will know very quickly if you have reached the score you need. While PTE Academic’s website says that the turn-around on test results is typically 5 business days, our contact at the company reports that scores were ready in 2 days, on average, in 2012. As soon as students get a set of test results, they can take the PTE Academic exam again.

As you look ahead to your application deadlines, remember that PTE Academic’s substantially shorter turn-around time can make a big difference.

URGENT NOTICE: TOEFL to Limit How Many Tests You Can Take!!!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 16, 2012

On Friday, December 14, 2012, ETS announced a new policy regarding retaking the TOEFL exam. Here is the announcement in full:

Beginning in January 2013, there will be a change in the Repeat Policy for the TOEFL iBT® test. Test takers can still take the test as many times as they wish, but only once within a 21-day period. If a test taker has an existing test appointment, he or she cannot register for another test date that is within 21 days of the existing appointment.

This policy change will have serious, immediate repercussions for students with upcoming deadlines. Many students register to take the TOEFL 3or 4 times in the two months preceding an application deadline. That won’t be possible starting in January 2013. First, you have to wait 10 days to get your scores to decide if you want to take the exam again. If you do want to retake it, you have to choose a date that is 21 days after your most recent exam. These two factors significantly cut down a student’s opportunities to take the exam just before a deadline. For example, if your deadline is January 13, 2013, you have to take your last TOEFL by January 3rd, and you cannot have taken a previous test any closer to that January 3rd date than December 13th.

Even for those test-takers without deadlines in the next few weeks, this new policy is going to drastically change how almost every TOEFL student approaches studying and preparing for the exam. You will NO longer be able to CRAM in multiple exams and hoping for the best. Students are going to have to plan much further ahead, and pay very close attention to schedules and deadlines.

Another issue is that many professionals, like pharmacists, are being given a deadline for when their licensing application expires. This year, we had a lot of students at Strictly English who knew in FEBRUARY that they had to pass TOEFL before December 15th. Many of these professionals planned on taking the exam every week until they passed. However, this new policy will dramatically reduce their chances to take the TOEFL. If, for example, they found out on February 1st that they had until December 31st to pass the exam, that’s 48 weeks – 48 chances to pass under the previous policy. With the new policy, they will only be able to take the exam 16 times – cutting their chances in thirds.

Perhaps the most important complication regarding the new policy is the subtle difference between 21 days and 3 weeks. What if you take a test on a SATURDAY, and “three weeks” later you want to take a test again, but that weekend only has a FRIDAY date available. This is only 20 days later, and you would have to sign up for the following week, instead. This is effectively 27 days before you can take the next test, a significant delay if your deadline is coming up soon.

Strictly English believes that this is a terrible decision by ETS. It will reduce their income significantly and give PTE Academic a huge advantage in the English proficiency testing market. By making it possible to register for an exam 48 hours before taking it, PTE Academic offers nearly on-demand testing, and results are typically ready within 5 working days. For students applying to institutions which accept both the TOEFL and PTE Academic, the flexibility of PTE Academic may be more appealing.

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

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 #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!

PTE Tip #1: New Partnership With Pearson Test Of English, Academic

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 3, 2011

Strictly English proudly announces its partnership with the Pearson Test of English, Academic (or PTE Academic). For over seven years, we have been developing proven techniques for doing well on the TOEFL. Now, we’re applying our expertise to help students excel on PTE Academic.

PTE Academic tests your English ability in real-life situations. The test has three main sections, and twenty different types of tasks. Some tasks test multiple skills at the same time, for example, reading and speaking. PTE Academic also has an introduction section, so you can tell the institutions receiving your scores a little bit about yourself. The introduction is not assessed by Pearson.

This is the order of the sections, and the general time limits for each. Test is always three hours in total, although the exact timing of each section varies.

Introduction: untimed, unassessed
Speaking & Writing: 77 – 93 minutes
Reading: 32 – 44 minutes
Break (10 minutes, optional)
Listening: 45 – 57 minutes

Some of the benefits of PTE Academic include:

• The test is only three hours.
• You get your scores online, usually within 5 business days after taking the test.
• You can send your scores to institutions electronically.
• You can choose where to send your scores after you’ve seen them.
• You can register for the exam 48 hours before you take it.

While there is much to commend about PTE Academic, be sure to consider these factors as well:

• The institution you’re applying to might not accept PTE Academic scores – yet!
• PTE Academic tests your general English ability, but some say that the TOEFL is still a better measure of your readiness to do college-level work in English. If the institution you’re applying to requires a high TOEFL score (100 or higher), you might need to focus on the college-specific types of tasks that the TOEFL tests.

As always, students need to learn about all of their options, and make their own decision about which test will best serve their needs. If the Pearson Test of English, Academic is right for you, Strictly English can help you prepare for the exam!

TOEFL Tip #76: What Is IELTS?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 18, 2010

We at Strictly English have been curious about other English proficiency tests that compete with the TOEFL (in particular the IELTS and the PTE), so we’ve done some research ourselves, and we’ve also asked professional tutors who specialize in these other tests to write about them. What follows below comes from Alanna Carysforth, founder of lead tutor at Best IELTS. If you have any questions about IELTS, please visit her website!

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination is primarily designed to assess the ability of candidates to study at a higher education level in the English language.

The examination lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes and consists of 4 tests in the following skills; listening (approx 30 minutes), reading (1 hour), writing (1 hour) and speaking (approx 15 minutes).

The IELTS test is available in two different formats; Academic or General Training.  Academic IELTS is usually used to determine the suitability of a candidate to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level.  General Training IELTS is used for candidates wishing to continue their studies to diploma level or complete their secondary education in an English-speaking country and also for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The listening and speaking tests are the same for both formats but the reading and writing tests are different.  The reading and writing tests for General Training IELTS are less demanding than for Academic IELTS.

There is no pass or fail grade in IELTS; the institution to which you are applying informs you of the IELTS Band Score they require.

You are given a grade between 0 and 9 for each of the four skills tests and this is then averaged out for an overall band score.


Listening          6

Reading            5

Writing            5.5

Speaking          6

Total                   22.5

So the overall band score would be 5.5       (5.63 rounded down)

In my experience, universities often require an overall score of 6.5, and often specify a particular band score in certain skills.

Here are the IELTS band score descriptors; it is worth noting, however, that the IELTS test is pitched at intermediate level.

Band 9: Expert user: has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.

Band 8: Very good user: has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.

Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.

Band 6: Competent user: has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

Band 5: Modest user: has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.

Band 4: Limited user: basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

Band 3: Extremely limited user: conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.

Band 2: Intermittent user: no real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

Band 1: Non-user: essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.

Band 0: Did not attempt the test: No assessable information provided.

How is the IELTS test marked?

The IELTS Listening and Reading Tests are marked absolutely objectively.  The IELTS Writing Tests and IELTS Speaking Tests are marked by a certified examiner.

I have had a number of people ask me my opinion on the objectivity of the writing and speaking scoring.  What I do know is that the examiners have to follow strict criteria when assigning their grades and I understand that examiners are also monitored from time to time (the speaking test is recorded).

The assessment criteria that examiners use are strictly confidential and do not leave the test centre.  There are, however, public versions of these descriptors:

IELTS Speaking Test Band Descriptors

(There are two IELTS Writing Tasks to complete)

IELTS Writing Test Task 1 Band Descriptors

IELTS Writing Test Task 2 Band Descriptors

The public versions of these descriptors give some idea of the criteria involved in different band scores.