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

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!


TOEFL Tip #133: Strictly English’s $8,000.00 University Scholarship

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 16, 2011

Strictly English is proud to announce that it will match one of ETS’s five US$8,000.00 scholarships, to be given to any Japanese student who wins ETS’s 2012 award and who studied TOEFL(R) with Strictly English anytime between December 17, 2011 and March 13, 2012.

This could amount to $16,000.00 that you’d be able to apply toward your educational expenses!

That’s a lot of money to win for the small price of some TOEFL tutoring! ^_^

Restrictions apply (For example):
1. You must meet all of ETS’s eligibility requirements. To learn more about ETS’s scholarships, read more here.

2. You must enroll in all 4 of Strictly English’s Complete Strategies Programs (one for each section of the test).

3. You much provide documented proof of having received ETS’s scholarship.

4. This is not a cash prize. The money you win will be given directly to your educational institution on your behalf and will not exceed the cost of tuition for that institution.

5. You must be enrolled with Strictly English before January 10, 2012.

Please Note: Strictly English’s scholarship award is in no way endorsed by ETS or TOEFL. Strictly English is a wholly separate entity from TOEFL and ETS.

For more information, please contact Strictly English.


TOEFL Tip #131: Registering As A Group for TOEFL iBT

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 18, 2011

Students who study together for the TOEFL iBT often want to take the exam at the same time. The camaraderie and support of arriving together can help calm nerves and keep students focused.

While ETS does not offer group registration directly, their Fees and Services webpage has full directions on how to register groups for the TOEFL iBT through a service called Prometric. To submit your Group Reservation Request, you will need to provide your institution’s name, address, and GSP number (if available), your own contact information, and the location, test date/s, and number of seats you are requesting. In addition, each student will need to create his or her own TOEFL iBT online profile.

ETS recommends submitting a request at least 30 days before the preferred test date, and payment must be received at least 20 days before the test date to hold the seats reserved for your group.

If your group wants to take the TOEFL during this busy time of the year, be sure to submit your Group Reservation Request soon!

TOEFL Tip #126: Getting To Performance Speed

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 21, 2011

 Time is of the essence. There’s no time like the present. Time flies when you’re having fun. We have a lot of sayings about the importance of time, and how quickly it passes.

As students prepare for the TOEFL, they’re often concerned about working within a time limit, and they worry about running out of time before they finish a section. As a result, many students think that they have to practice at the same speed that they will ultimately perform at, so they can get used to working quickly.

 This is a mistake.

 There is practice speed and there is performance speed; they are NOT the same. Do not worry about performance speed; focus instead on practice speed. As you work in practice speed mode, you will naturally perform more quickly, and your speed will increase until it reaches the levels you need in order to do well on the TOEFL.

 Our goal at Strictly English is to make your performance speed equal your practice speed.


 Because practice speed is the speed at which you can do everything correctly. Going fast doesn’t help your TOEFL score if you’re making a lot of mistakes. The key is to be fast AND accurate. You cannot begin at performance speed. By focusing on doing everything correctly at practice speed, you’ll work quickly without mistakes as you naturally increase – over time – to performance speed. 

 Don’t worry. “Over time” does not mean two years. This is what everyone fears, and what leads them to try to jump to the end of the process.  “Over time” really means . . . . about two weeks of steady, dedicated practice. Remember: it doesn’t take a 5 year old two years to learn how to ride a bike. A child may WANT to ride it perfectly on day one, but it will usually take until  . . . . day ten. That might seem like a long time, but 10 days is much shorter than 2 years!


TOEFL Tip #125: It Takes Two To Make A TOEFL Go Right

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 14, 2011

For several months, Strictly English has been hearing reports from our new clients who have taken the TOEFL 6 or more times that their scores are going down with each test, and they are feeling more nervous about the exam every time they take it. Some of these students are developing test-taking anxiety that they did not have when they took the TOEFL the first few times. Our work with them focuses not only on TOEFL strategies, but also on overcoming these new anxious responses.

 In Strictly English’s experience, students who book two tests really close together – within a day or two – often do much better than students who space their exams weeks or even months apart.

Perhaps this is because taking two tests in such a short time frame keeps students focused on taking the exam. At the first exam, students report being relaxed, because they know they have another exam very soon, in case the first one doesn’t go as well as they hope. Then, when they’re taking the second exam, they’re relaxed because they feel that they did okay on the first one. Because they take the second test before getting the scores for the first, the depression and nervousness that can follow from a low set of test scores doesn’t affect their performance on the second TOEFL. Perhaps this trick of taking two tests very close together can help avoid this dropping-score problem.

 Of course, this is an expensive gamble, but we’ve seen it work in the past. If you’re planning to take the TOEFL more than once, consider whether taking them within a few days of each other will boost your performance.

TOEFL Tip #120: Test Taking Anxiety?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 23, 2011

Test taking anxiety?

This is a guest post from Renee Hoekstra, Psy.D.

There are several reasons that people get anxious about test-taking, and here are a few things that you can do about it.

First of all, figure out what it is that makes you anxious. There are many reasons why people are anxious in testing situations, and the reasons vary. Some people have a hard time speaking openly and in public. Some people get really self-conscious about their accents and are afraid of saying the wrong thing when learning a new language. Some people are highly self-conscious and are afraid of being made fun of. The idea of taking a test in a different language can be intimidating.

Other people may get anxious in test taking conditions. People who have a history of poor academic performance may get anxious in any situation in which they are graded. Some people grew up in environments that were demanding or critical when they did not perform well. Competitive environments often foster the belief that a person’s worth is based on success. Anxiety can get in the way of a person’s ability concentrate, to organize information coherently, and to pay attention to something long enough to come up with the correct answer. Sometimes just being in a testing situation or classroom is enough to get people anxious.

Other people are afraid of the consequences of failure. If the consequences are very meaningful and limit options for the future, this makes sense. However, if one becomes overly focused on the consequences of failure this can “kidnap” attention that is needed to concentrate on the exam itself.

Here are a few ideas for handling test-taking anxiety:

1) Find out what you are afraid of: What is the “worst case” scenario? Share your “worst case scenario” with a trusted peer. Sometimes saying things out loud and talking openly about fear can help it to diminish. If thinking about your “worst case scenario” is enough to spike your anxiety, you may want to re-visit your scenario over and over again until your fear goes down. If you don’t know of anyone who can work with you on your “worst case scenario,” you may want to find a psychotherapist trained in exposure therapy (such as myself) to help you. The intended result of this exercise is to be able to imagine feared situations with less anxiety. When you can bring to mind the feared situations without your brain shutting down, you will have more control of your anxiety.

2) Develop a plan to cope with the worst case scenario. Figure out a Plan B. If there is a realistic chance that you will fail, accepting and tolerating the moment- your current life situation- will enable you to handle the situation better. This does not mean you have to accept failure or approve of your expectations of yourself. It does not mean that you have to give up, and it does not mean that other alternatives won’t make themselves available to you. It just means that you’ve got to get through a tough situation the best way that you can. A refusal to acknowledge and accept reality on the terms of reality can actually make your life worse. Remember that many successful people have failed. Tolerating the consequences of potential failure does not mean that your life is over. It just means you have to look for alternative paths.

3) Do everything you can to practice being in situations that make your anxiety go up. Usually, people avoid situations that make them anxious. This increases the belief that what they are avoiding is actually fearful. This increases anxiety. When forced to confront such feared situations, people are faced with flat out panic. Don’t let this be you. If being in a classroom makes you anxious, find a classroom and sit there until your anxiety goes down. If your anxiety doesn’t go down, then plan on a specific period of time- with a beginning and an end- to sit there. If going to a testing center makes you anxious, go sit in a testing center. If the click of a keyboard makes you anxious, record keyboard-clicking noises and listen to them over and over again. If the exam center allows you to take a practice test, by all means- take the practice test.

4) Know what is ahead of you. Don’t go into an exam “blind” because you were so busy avoiding taking the exam! Know all the components of the exam and know how long the exam will take. Know how many breaks you have. Know where the exam center is and anticipate problems with traffic or public transportation. Go to the exam center on a day before your exam and time how long it takes you. Talk to people who have taken the exam to get their impressions. Take practice exams and get feedback. Most anxiety can be decreased by being fully aware of- and planning for -anything that can go wrong on exam day. Get adequate sleep, take snacks to the test- taking center, eat well, don’t change your diet or make any big plans right before the exam. Stick to your schedule and your routine to the best of your ability. And be willing to accept that things don’t always go according to plan.

TOEFL Tip #119: Know Your Signs Of Nervousness

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 16, 2011

Two weeks ago, we talked about converting nervousness you might feel at the TOEFL exam into excitement. If you think of the test as a series of fun challenges, you are more likely to perform well.

But how can you tell if you’re feeling nervous?

We usually associate nervousness with certain responses in body. Tensing your muscles, shrugging your shoulders, tapping your fingers or bouncing your foot very quickly, crinkling your forehead, and playing with your hair are all signs of anxiety. While you might not realize that you’re nervous, if you notice that you’re doing one or more of these physical behaviors, you very likely are.

So how can you calm down?

If you’re sitting at the test station and you’re in the middle of a section, take a few seconds to breathe in deeply, and exhale slowly. Do this several times, as often as necessary. Also try stretching your legs out as far as possible. Force yourself to lower your shoulders, and roll them back. If the TOEFL exam hasn’t started yet, or you’re on the short break, take the opportunity to walk around a little bit. Do some toe-touches, deep knee bends, or any other stretches that you can comfortably perform. Likewise, if you practice yoga, select one or two positions that you can easily do in the lobby. Whatever you choose to do, the main idea is the same – to ease your muscle tension and lower your heart rate, which will allow you to concentrate on the exam.

As you prepare for the TOEFL, take note of your particular signs of nervousness, and practice relaxing in whichever way works best for you.

TOEFL Tip #117: Converting Nervousness Into Excitement

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 2, 2011

You feel restless, you are full of anticipation, you are obsessing about the future. You might even feel your heart beating faster. Are you nervous (generally seen as a negative feeling) or might you possibly be excited!

The answer is … either one. How we feel is highly influenced by the circumstances in which we experience something. If you’re feeling the bodily sensations described above, and your birthday party is later in the afternoon, you call it “excitement.” If, however, you feel this way right before a test, you call it “nerves.” You’re actually feeling the same set of physical responses, but the CONTEXT leads to a different interpretation of what those sensations MEAN.

One of Strictly English’s tutors shared the following story about how context changes the meaning of how she feels.

“When I first started teaching, I got nervous at the start of every semester. I asked myself questions like, ‘Would the students work well together?’ and ‘Would they like me?’ By the time class started, I had butterflies in my stomach. One semester, I decided to think about my students as friends who didn’t quite know me yet. Introducing myself to them and getting them interested in the class became a game, a challenge for my creativity, rather than something to be afraid of. Since then, I still have the butterflies, but I think of them the same why I think of the feelings I get before going on a date with a man I’m really excited to get to know. Once I traded my nervousness for excitement, I became a much more effective teacher.”

So let’s PURPOSEFULLY turn the tables on TOEFL test day. As you begin to feel yourself getting nervous, say to yourself, “THIS IS EXCITING! I’m going to have FUN!” Turn TOEFL into a game and not a test. We don’t start to cry and shake when we have a bad round of Angry Birds. Of course not! We just try again. And we have FUN trying again! So, for example, if your Speaking Task 1 seems like it wasn’t very good, just laugh at your own mistakes, and then start Task 2 with the same excitement that you would have if you were trying another round of Angry Birds.

Such a simple shift in perception can make the difference between a 24 and a 26 on the Speaking!

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 #88: Translation Program Pitfalls

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 25, 2011

We’ve recently heard about students using translation programs to help them study for the TOEFL. Using translation programs is what an EFL speaker would do; it is not what someone who’s trying to become an ESL speaker would do. Two weeks ago, we discussed the differences between English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). We pointed out that the more of your native language you hear, speak, and read every day, the less success you will have on the TOEFL. To excel on the TOEFL, you have to not only passively surround yourself with English in as many formats as possible (news, entertainment, casual conversation, internet reading, and so on), but you also have to actively communicate complicated ideas in English every day. (Sorry, but ordering coffee doesn’t count!).

Perhaps you’re already using a lot of English in your everyday life, but consider whether you are using software such as Google Translate to switch material into your native language in order to understand a difficult passage in a news article, for example. This is not helpful overall for learning English, and it can be even worse if you’re studying to take the TOEFL exam, for two reasons.

First, translation software can be good if you want to check the meaning of a particular word or phrase, or if you already have a sense of what it means, but if you do not have a general idea of the meaning already, you might get a completely wrong translation and never know it. Translation software is often wrong–for example, it will leave out important words, and change the meaning of the passage–and unless you’re fluent in both languages, you’ll never know. Therefore, only use translation programs to fine tune a meaning you already mostly understand.

Second–and this is the bigger problem–if you are in the habit of using translation software when you come across a hard passage of English, you’re not going to have the skills to handle the difficult materials on the TOEFL exam. Figuring out words from context, recognizing metaphorical language, remembering the different forms of each part of speech (especially verbs!) are all skills that take a lot of practice to master, even for students whose first language is English. If instead of practicing these skills you’ve been letting a translation program do all the work, then you won’t suddenly be able to use these skills on test day.

So minimize your use of translation software. Otherwise, you might save time now, but you’ll very likely lose TOEFL points later.

« Older Posts | Newer Posts »