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TOEFL Tip #200: Use BeeOasis.com To Practice Paraphrasing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 20, 2013

Accurately paraphrasing a passage in the TOEFL Reading section can help you with various types of questions, such as vocabulary, understanding the details of the passage, and inserting a sentence into the passage. Yet, for many students, paraphrasing is a challenging skill. You need to capture the essential information in the original material without repeating key vocabulary or sentence structure. In addition, you will usually use fewer words in a paraphrase than in the original passage.

But how can you practice paraphrasing and know that your work is accurate? Use a website like BeeOasis.com.

We at Strictly English love BeeOasis.com, for its broad range of topics, and for its use of easily accessible English. In fact, we think it’s such a valuable resource that we’ve been giving our clients one month of free access to BeeOasis.com for over a year now.

Here’s one suggestion for using BeeOasis.com to practice paraphrasing. Read the entry on the novel Black Beauty, and then read the Wikipedia entry for the same novel. Notice that you can understand much more of the Wikipedia entry’s vocabulary because you’re already familiar with the ideas from the BeeOasis.com version. Words like “disabled,” “composed,” and “forthrightly” in the Wikipedia version are easier to figure out when you have the context of “lame,” “written,” and “outwardly” from the BeeOasis.com version. You can also start with the Wikipedia version, paraphrase it yourself, and then compare your paraphrase with the BeeOasis.com version to test your accuracy.

Try it for yourself! Find a topic from BeeOasis.com that is also in Wikipedia, and see how much of the harder English you can understand after you’ve read the easy version on BeeOasis.com.

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 #182: Know The Types of Reading Questions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 18, 2012

Time is of the essence on the TOEFL exam. You have a specific amount of time to finish each section, and you cannot get any extensions. You need to use your time effectively in order to have the best chance at a high score.

One way to use your time well on the Reading section is to be able to identify the different types of questions quickly. For example, if a question asks about a fact stated in the passage, you will use a different strategy to find that answer than you would use to answer a question about something inferred by the passage. Similarly, you can generally identify a vocabulary word’s meaning by reading the sentence in which the target word appears, but you may need to read the entire paragraph to answer a reference question correctly.

Being able to identify each type of question on the Reading passage quickly has three benefits.

First, the more quickly you can identify the category for each question in the Reading section, the less time you will waste re-reading too much of the passage to answer each question. By using your time efficiently, you will have a few extra minutes to answer a question that you find particularly challenging.

Second, once you have identified each type of question, you can answer all of the questions in a particular category, then move to the next category, and so on. This keeps your brain focused on one type of task until it is finished, rather than switching among multiple tasks repeatedly. The more you can focus on one thing at a time, the better you will perform.

Third, being confident about each type of Reading question will boost your overall confidence on the TOEFL exam. Since Reading is the first section, this confidence will carry over to the other sections.

So, as you prepare for the Reading section of the TOEFL, practice categorizing the questions, too!

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 #173: Don’t Read The Reading Passage

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 12, 2012

It’s a common experience on tests like the TOEFL: students spend so much time making sure they understand a reading passage that they run out of time to answer all of the questions. Maybe they end up guessing some answers, or maybe they pick the decoy answer – the choice that refers to something in the passage, but which doesn’t answer the question correctly. This can lead to lower scores on the Reading section, and higher student anxiety about the rest of the test.

Strictly English has a solution that creates more time for answering the questions, increases student confidence, and leads to better Reading scores.

Don’t read the passage before answering the questions.

We know this is counterintuitive. Answering the questions without reading the passage first seems really risky. However, this technique works because of the way that the questions are structured.

The questions generally follow the order of the reading passage. The first few questions refer to the beginning of the passage, the next few questions refer to the middle of the passage, and so on. In addition, some of the questions will refer to a specific line or paragraph in the passage. Other questions will refer to the meaning of a particular word in the passage. You can use this to your advantage to only read the part of the passage necessary to answer the question. As you work through the questions, you will generally end up reading the entire passage anyway. Often, one of the last questions asks about the overall theme of the passage. You will probably have a good idea of the theme from answering the previous questions; if you don’t know the theme, you’ll be able to read the passage quickly because you already know what most of it is about. You can even answer the summary question, in which you’re given a lead-in sentence and you need to choose the 3 answers that work with it to summarize the reading passage, without reading the passage at all.

If you don’t need to spend 5-7 minutes reading the passage, you can spend that extra time answering the questions. Because you won’t feel rushed, you’ll have more confidence in your answers, and that confidence will follow into the other sections of the exam.

Want to learn more about this technique and practice using it? Contact us!

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 #165: Answer As FEW Reading Questions As Necessary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 18, 2012

So many people worry about not having enough time to answer all of the Reading questions on the TOEFL exam. Indeed: time is tight. At best, you only have about 1.5 minutes for each question, and that’s possible only if you go directly to the questions without reading any of the passages beforehand.

Of course, if you need a score of 110 for Harvard Business School, then yes: you have to try to answer *each* question in less than 1.5 minutes. But most TOEFL test takers only need a 20-25 on the exam, and therefore can go more slowly on each question. This will, in turn, increase their accuracy.

Let’s take a pharmacist, for example, who is required by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to score a 21 on the Reading section. In this situation, 21 points out of 30 is 70% accuracy. And 70% of 39 questions (which is about how many Reading questions there are on average) is only 27.3 questions. To be safe, let’s round that up to 29 questions. If you only need 29 correct questions, then you need answer only 9.6 questions correctly per passage. Let’s round up again and say a pharmacist needs only 10 correct questions per passage. This has increased the time per question to 2 minutes each. Granted, 30 seconds is not long in the real world, but on the TOEFL exam, 30 seconds is a huge increase in time.

Now, for the bad news: it is true that if a pharmacist answers only 10 questions, he or she could still get one or two wrong and fall short of the needed TOEFL score of 21. True.

But this blog article wants to use this statistical analysis for a more important point:

RELAX!!!!!

The bottom line is this: if you remove the pressure of being a “perfect answering machine” from test day, then you will not be as anxious. You can take pleasure in ignoring 1 or 2 questions per passage that just look too hard. Or you could just ignore, for example, all of the insertion questions if you know that you never get them right in your practice exams. Or, if you have one passage that you know a lot about from your personal life (say, a pharmacist gets a passage about biology), then you can try to answer ALL of the questions correctly for that passage, but then neglect 4-6 of the questions in the passage that you know very little about, like Native American Art.

The psychological boost to your ego that results from your taking control of the test will definitely translate into more relaxed confidence while answering questions. Let’s face it, most questions are answered incorrectly because of nerves and time pressure. Remove those two negative elements, and you have a much better chance of meeting your goal!

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!

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