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

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 #191: Sleep Is Crucial For Memory

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 15, 2013

For many students, the following scenario is all too familiar – it’s the day before a big test, and you feel like you’re not ready. You know that you should get a good night’s sleep, but you’re tempted to stay up very late, or even pull an all-nighter, to cram as much as possible. What should you do?

For the best chances of remembering what you’ve learned, study during the day and early evening, and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

According to a recent study by Robert Stickgold and Matthew P. Walker published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, sleep has several functions regarding memory. In an interview about the study, Dr. Stickgold says the brain not only sorts new information into categories during sleep, but it also begins to let go of unneeded information. According to Stickgold, “you have to clean out your “Inbox” before you take in more information, and sleep seems [sic] (def) to be really good at that. Somehow, it’s filing, it’s reorganizing, and I think what we’re most impressed with is that it’s doing it in a really smart way.”

Stickgold points out that your brain needs about 1 hour asleep for every 2 hours that you’re awake and taking in new information. What type of activity you are doing doesn’t matter. You could be studying or watching TV. This is why a full night of sleep is so important. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain cannot process what it’s learned and is not prepared to take in new information. Furthermore, for the brain to do this works in relation to memory, it has to be fully asleep, not resting lightly.

Because sleep helps the brain to detect patterns and rules, sleep is especially important for the TOEFL test-taker who is struggling to remember the rules of English grammar.

Make getting a good night’s sleep part of your TOEFL preparation!

TOEFL Tip #178: Tips For Better Performance On TOEFL Speaking Section

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 16, 2012

For many students, the Speaking section of the TOEFL is the hardest. Not only do you have to show mastery of spoken English, but you also need to perform well. If you’re not used to speaking in front of an audience, or if you’re generally shy or soft-spoken, the performance aspect of your oral answers can affect your score significantly.

Why does this happen?

Inexperienced public speakers aren’t used to calibrating their voice and speed. They may mumble, speak too quickly or in a monotone, or insert filler phrases like “um” when uncertain of what to say next. Without the feedback of an audience, such speakers don’t realize that the WAY they’re speaking is creating a negative impression about WHAT they’re saying.

How can you avoid these pitfalls?

Create opportunities for public speaking, if you can. Volunteer to lead a group presentation, or teach a group of friends how to do something that you know well. Read a newspaper item out loud to your family. If you can’t practice in front of an audience, you should still practice speaking out loud to an empty room. The goal is to get used to projecting your voice, speaking clearly, and pacing yourself.

Here are some additional tips for good public speaking:

Breathe. Students often try to say as much as possible in their answers. This causes their words to blur together, and makes the rater’s job harder. Slow down by taking a breath at the end of each sentence. This will also give you a moment to organize your thoughts.

Sit up in your chair. Or even better, stand. Projecting your voice is difficult if you’re slouched into a chair. Whether sitting or standing, have your back straight and your head up. Breathe slowly and deeply.

Avoid caffeine and dairy products. Caffeine dehydrates. Since nervousness alone can cause dry mouth, you don’t want to make the situation worse by drinking caffeinated beverages before the TOEFL exam. Similarly, dairy products create the sensation of needing to clear your throat. Drink water instead.

Warm up your voice. Try a few tongue twisters or other brief speaking exercises to warm up your voice. This will help you to enunciate clearly.

Even though you can’t practice answers for the content of the Speaking section, you can practice your performance skills. By improving the performance aspect of your answer on the Speaking section, you might raise your score by two or more points!

TOEFL Tip #171: TOEFL Accommodations For Test Takers With Special Needs

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 28, 2012

In its commitment to provide access to the TOEFL exam for those with disabilities and health-related needs, ETS offers a variety of technical accommodations and specialized services. This post will highlight a few important aspects of ETS’s accommodations for those who need them, but be sure to read the ETS webpage as well as the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Related Needs.

If you need special accommodation to take the TOEFL, you MUST contact ETS Disability Services before you can register to take the exam. There are several forms to fill out, along with supporting documentation; once these are processed, you will receive an authorization letter with instructions for registering, plus an authorization/voucher number. You will need these in order to register for the exam.

Be aware of the amount of time necessary to secure accommodations. ETS says that the process takes up to 6 weeks once the complete package of forms and documentation has been submitted. If anything is missing from your initial submission, processing your request for accommodation will take up to an additional 6 weeks, once the missing items have been supplied. In addition, all materials must be mailed to ETS; accommodation requests cannot be submitted online. Be sure to start the accommodation request process early so you can schedule your exam in time for your applications.

A wide range of accommodations are available for test takers whose disabilities directly affect how they take the test, such as blindness or low vision; deafness or hardness of hearing; speech disabilities; and ADD or learning disabilities. Options include technological accommodations, such as using a special keyboard or mouse; assistance from a specialist, such as a sign language interpreter for the spoken directions of the exam; and adaptive accommodations such as extended test time. Test takers with needs other than those addressed by the options listed by ETS can describe their needs on the registration form.

Those test takers whose health-related needs require only minor accommodations – such as special lighting, an adjustable chair, or extra rest breaks – also need to fill out the forms; however, be aware that not all medical aids require an accommodation request. Devices that help you to move (crutches, wheelchair) or communicate (hearing aid, voice amplifier) do not require a request for accommodation. Likewise, insulin pumps do not require accommodation, unless the noise is likely to disturb other test takers. In that case, request accommodation so that you can take the exam in a separate room.

If you have a disability or health-related need, help is available. Investigate your options, and request accommodations early.

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 #160: An Interview About Strictly English’s Study Hall Program

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 6, 2012

Strictly English has introduced a new Study Hall program that combines the focus of private lessons with the affordability of group tutoring. Our tutor works 1-on-1 with you, and responds to another student while you are typing your answers. Each Study Hall is one hour long, and we have a number of days and times available. See the Study Hall page for more information, or click here to sign up.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with three recent students in Strictly English’s Study Hall:

Strictly English: What were you expecting for the Study Hall?
VN: I thought one of the students would write some, like we did, and everybody can see and make corrections. The teacher would see each correction, and evaluate if it is right or not. So the teaching method would be like correcting somebody’s mistakes and learning the grammar from these mistakes. However, this was better because the previous is more passive learning. It is a more “active” process.

Strictly English: What did you like most about the Study Hall?
MC: I liked that I can see how much time I spent to write my sentence, and that there was time to evaluate my work before sending to the tutor.

DH: Also, the time for thinking is approximately the same as for the TOEFL test, which is very good for training. This was very effective and really good way to practice.

VN: All my mistakes and their corrections are fixed in the Skype notes, and I could review them.

Strictly English: In which areas of English did you receive help during the Study Hall?
DH: I learned couple of essential points about TOEFL writing, such as, how to use punctuation, how to use transitions, and how to organize sentences.

MC: I learned how to create short sentences. It also helped me with my repetition of word problem.

Strictly English: Did you learn any tips for taking the TOEFL exam?
MC: I have learned about “slowing down,” and not being nervous when I write.

VN: The brainstorm and idea of the question were very good because they can cover the speaking and writing parts on the real TOEFL.

Strictly English: What would you say to someone who is thinking about signing up for the Study Hall?
DH: I liked it. I felt comfortable when my mistakes were corrected. I am very satisfied with my Study Hall experience and find it very helpful for any ESL or TOEFL student.

VN: It supported my skills, and I really like they taught me how to figure out my mistakes by myself. I believe that it is very good and progressive method of studying English.

MC: In my opinion, it is very helpful and at the same time you don’t feel any tension, really enjoying your lesson. If I keep taking this Strictly English Study Hall, I think I can be a better writer!

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 #150: Security And Standardized Testing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 6, 2012

The issue of cheating on standardized tests has been in the news several times in the past few weeks. Substantial cheating has been found in circumstances as diverse as the TOEFL exam in Vietnam and the ACT and SAT in the United States .

While these are just two examples, they are part of a growing trend to enhance security measures to ensure that the person whose name is on the test registration is indeed the person who takes the test. Strictly English has heard of several developments designed to ensure the integrity of the TOEFL exam.

Some new measures limit where students can take the exam. One Boarding School admissions councilor found that one of her seniors used the opportunity of attending a TOEFL cram-school in China over winter break to hire a proxy to take the TOEFL exam for him. This is causing more and more institutions to demand that the test be taken State-side.

Another example comes from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), whose website now states, “You must take the TOEFL iBT at an Educational Testing Service (ETS) test center located within one of the NABP member and associate member jurisdictions including the 50 United States, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Australia, eight Canadian provinces, and New Zealand. The FPGEC will no longer accept TOEFL iBT score reports from international ETS test site locations. Check with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for dates and locations.”

Strictly English has seen an additional approach taken by many of the boarding schools that now rely on us for their TOEFL preparation classes. Because such institutions know their students personally, some administrators have begun requiring that their students take the test on a day arranged by the school. The school also provides transportation to and from the test center to ensure that no proxy steps in.

Because the issue of cheating links directly to the integrity of all standardized test scores, it’s understandable that all of the involved institutions want to have as many safeguards as possible. It gets tricky, though, for two reasons. One, as shown above, there are proxy test takers in the U.S.A. also, although they are harder to come by. Two, not every institution can request a State-side test. It’s easy for boarding schools and the NABP to require this since their students / members are already in the U.S. Although Strictly English has had two international students who took our online tutoring course from their home country and then flew over to America specifically to take the exam, this is not a feasible option for most TOEFL test takers. Since the majority of people who take the TOEFL already live overseas – for example, most international applicants to U.S. colleges and graduate programs – it is not possible to request all of these people to schedule their tests in America.

However, if you are an institution that already has most of your test takers residing in the U.S.A., it probably is best to require them to take the TOEFL with as much of your oversight as possible. Additionally, ETS needs to inspect rigorously the test centers and the companies that run those centers.

In light of the increasing focus on preventing cheating, make sure that you have the most up-to-date information about registration and day-of-exam requirements.

UPDATE: Since we first posted this item, we’ve received a press release from Eileen Tyson, Executive Director, Global Client Relations, ETS on the topic of security on the TOEFL exam. Her email reads in part, “I am writing today to share news of a recent event where ETS’s test security measures played a vital role in identifying and stopping individuals who attempted to take the TOEFL and GRE tests dishonestly. On February 25, three individuals in Hong Kong who were attempting to take the TOEFL test on behalf of others were arrested. ETS’s Office of Testing Integrity identified these individuals and their planned impersonation in advance and alerted test center personnel and local law enforcement.

On the day of the test, the individuals were arrested during a break in testing. They subsequently admitted their scheme to authorities, which involved attempts to test for others on both the TOEFL and GRE tests. These individuals have since been sentenced, and the culmination of this case has led to consequences for both the impersonators and those for whom they were testing. ETS is taking steps to alert institutions of TOEFL and GRE scores canceled in association with this case. Those institutions affected will be receiving notification from ETS this week.”

Ms. Tyson’s message directs readers interested in more information to ETS’s webpage on TOEFL security.

TOEFL Tip#146: Your TOEFL Speaking Persona

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 9, 2012

Last week , we talked about the value in warming up before beginning the Speaking section of the TOEFL. In that post, we focused on how warming up your voice can result in a smoother delivery of your answers. Today, we’ll focus on your persona for the Speaking section.

In general, a persona is a role that a person adopts, such as the characters portrayed by an actor. To convey the roles they are playing, actors might change the pitch of their voices, or the speed of their speech, or change their accents. The persona is a temporary role, used at a specific time.

Think of a persona as the version of yourself that you want to show in public. In your daily life, you might have experienced something similar to an actor playing a role. If you are unwell but don’t want to discuss the details with anyone in your workplace, you might try to sound upbeat in order not to draw attention to your health. Perhaps you have to attend an event even though you are not interested in it. While you are there, you will probably engage in conversation with others, rather than sulk in a corner.

So, what is a TOEFL Speaking persona?

Someone who is confident and knowledgeable, who can easily demonstrate mastery of English. If you believe that you can do well on the Speaking section, that attitude will come through in how you speak. The opposite is also true: if you dread the Speaking section and just want to get through it as quickly as possible, that sense of fear, or even defeat, will be heard in your recorded answers.

As you prepare for the TOEFL exam, practice your confident TOEFL persona as well. How can you project a confident persona if you’re not actually confident? Fake it til you make it .

TOEFL Tip #145: Describe The City You Live In

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 2, 2012

Warming up is a good way to maximize your chances for a strong score on the TOEFL Speaking section. Very often, people need to speak for a minute or two to clear their throats, adjust their breathing, and feel confident speaking into a microphone. For too many students, Speaking Task 1 functions as a warm-up, which might not receive as good a score as possible if the voice is hard to hear, etc.

So how can you warm up before the Speaking section?

On test day, you have a chance to test the microphone for the computer you’re taking the TOEFL on. This allows the system to automatically adjust the microphone’s input volume. To do so, you are given a “familiar topic” prompt to answer. It is always the same for every test: “Describe the city you live in.”

The test has you respond to this prompt twice. The first time is at the beginning of the entire exam, and then again at the start of the Speaking section. We at Strictly English think this is a great opportunity to warm up your voice and your TOEFL speaking persona (which will be the subject of next week’s blog post).

Sadly, though, many test centers tell their test takers to merely repeat the phrase, “Describe the city you live in” over and over. They ask the test takers to do this because they think of this exercise only as a microphone check. The proctors just care about verifying whether the microphone is working or not. And when some test takers try to respond to the prompt with a real answer, they take too long formulating their sentences so the computer, therefore, has no input with which to verify if the microphone is working correctly or not. So, by chanting “describe the city you live in” 10 times, the microphone is guaranteed to pick up your voice, even if you’re not saying anything that helps your performance.

But Strictly English really wants to encourage you to NOT chant “describe the city you live in” over and over. Instead, you must tell the proctor, politely, “I really need this time to practice my Speaking, so I can’t afford to repeatedly chant the prompt. I have to use this time to get comfortable speaking real English into the computer.” In fact, if TOEFL lets you replay your recording, we think it’s a great idea to listen to it carefully. This will help you determine if you’re remembering to do everything you’ve studied to do. If you think you sound bad, re-record and try again. Only after you feel comfortable giving your response to the microphone check prompt should you then go on to the actual Speaking section of the test.

« Older Posts