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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 #149: Immerse Yourself In English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 30, 2012

ETS has recently launched a new all-Japanese TOEFL website. While Strictly English can understand the value of a native-language version of the TOEFL site for those who are just beginning to research the TOEFL exam, we feel strongly that prospective TOEFL test-takers who are already preparing for the exam should read the ETS site – and as much other information as possible – in English.

As we noted in Tip #86, Strictly English has repeatedly seen that students who have very little exposure to English outside of a classroom or a tutoring session simply do not improve as much as those who are living a 100% English-language life.

It’s important to remember that living in an English-speaking country does not guarantee that you’re living a 100% English-language life. Many international students living in the U.S.A., for example, live with people from their own country, and only have friends in their language school who are from their own country. As a result, they are not really living their lives in English even though English is around them all of the time.

We understand that since Japanese TOEFL test takers have some of the lowest scores compared with all other nations, it might make sense that their English might not be good enough to understand the all-English TOEFL website. But the Japanese-only site puts them at even more of a disadvantage. It gives such students another opportunity to avoid confronting their real English abilities (or lack thereof). If you’re the world leader in English-proficiency testing, you know that the world looks to you to be the trusted authority on who is ready to enter an English-speaking university or who is ready to get a professional license that requires English. Enabling people to avoid English as long as possible seems counter-intuitive.

One story that highlights the damage caused by staying in your native language as much as possible happened during the last U.S. Presidential election. We had told a Japanese student to retire his Japanese Yahoo homepage for the English Yahoo homepage. He didn’t. One day, while listening to a lecture about the U.S. government, the student did not know what “senator” meant. Since that election cycle had “Senator Obama” and “Senator Clinton” and “Senator McCain” vying for the Presidency, the tutor was flabbergasted that this student did not know a word that had been in the headlines every day for the 6 months that the student had been in the county. When the tutor, who was absolutely sure the word “senator” would be all over Yahoo.com, asked the student to go to this news site, he was saddened to see that the student was still using Japanese Yahoo. When the tutor asked the student to go to English Yahoo, he pointed out how the word “Senator” was on the page at least 8 times. Had the student been using his computer *in English,* he would have known more TOEFL-relevant vocabulary.

We believe that ETS should be not be helping to slow down a test-taker’s acquisition of English. Having an all-English website helps visitors wake up to their real English abilities sooner. With so much riding on a student’s TOEFL scores, the sooner they have a realistic assessment of their English abilities, the sooner they can begin working harder to achieve their academic and professional goals.

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 #140: Your Native Language Can Affect Your Speaking Speed On The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 27, 2012

Students preparing for the TOEFL often have trouble with the time limit on the Speaking section. Some finish too quickly, and don’t know how to stretch out their answers to fill all of the available time. Others are still speaking when the time expires, having taken too long to give their answers. While one obvious factor in these examples is WHAT the student is saying, another issue is HOW QUICKLY the student is speaking.

And yet, it’s often difficult for a fast talker to slow down, or for a slow talker to speed up. An article in Time magazine last fall helps to explain why.

The article describes a fascinating study of the relationship between how much information each syllable of a language conveys, and the speed at which native speakers of that language talk. The study found that languages such as English and Mandarin which convey a lot of information in each syllable are typically spoken much more slowly than languages such as Japanese and Spanish which have less information in each syllable, and therefore are spoken very quickly.

Despite these differences in the speaking speeds of languages, the study also found that speakers of different languages convey about the same quantity of information per minute. That is why, for example, subtitles in another language added to a movie can more or less keep up with the original dialog.

How does this affect you on the TOEFL exam?

If your native language is typically spoken more quickly than English, you will need to practice speaking more slowly than feels comfortable to you. Speaking English at the same speed as Spanish overwhelms the listener with too much information. If the TOEFL rater cannot fully listen to everything you say, your score might be lower.

On the other hand, if your native language is spoken at a speed that is close to English’s typical speed, you know that you can give your TOEFL answers at about the same pace as you would speak in your native language. If you find that you are still finishing with too much time, you either are not using enough detail in your response, or you are speaking faster because of nervousness. Either way, practice will help you give an on-time TOEFL Speaking response.

TOEFL Tip #113: Content not as Important as Pronunciation & Grammar on TOEFL Speaking

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 5, 2011

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the results of Strictly English’s research on the TOEFL exam, conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Speaking section.

Because Strictly English fully respects ETS’s copyright protection, the examples below have been fabricated in order to illustrate the issues we’d like to discuss from our research. This material is not quoted from the TOEFL exam.

In the Speaking section, our research has identified a surprising, perhaps even shocking, result. The information we have gathered indicates that content plays a far less important role than we initially thought it did. Strictly English test-takers said that they only briefly addressed the prompt’s content before abandoning that topic and instead, rambled on about something else that was only tangentially connected.

For example, if Task One asked the test taker to describe your favorite season, our researcher responded as follows: “I love summer because that’s when I get to visit my mother in Florida. I love Florida because I like watching the tourists who come from all around the world to enjoy our warm ocean water and terrific beaches. I also enjoy freshly squeezed juice made from oranges that grow in my mother’s back yard. Finally, I like the excitement of DisneyWorld and Epcot Center.” Notice how most of her answer says nothing about summer, the speaker’s favorite season. In fact, these reasons to like Florida are not seasonal at all; they are available year-round in Florida. Our researcher–an American and native speaker of English–spoke in perfect English with no grammar mistakes and no pronunciation errors. She scored a 30. This indicates that talking about the prompt’s topic might not really be as important as everyone thinks.

Another researcher reported that he spoke with virtually no details for any of the tasks. In fact, he stated in his answer that he didn’t understand everything in the announcement. This test-taker also started his response by spending 20 seconds reading the prompt aloud, and then said, “hmmmmmm….. I didn’t understand the announcement very well, but I know it was talking about a school dorm. I’m not quite sure about the details, but I know that the woman is not happy.” This was his complete answer. Notice that he didn’t summarize any details from the announcement (for example, that the dorm was closing, or that it was closing early to have lead paint removed). He just referred to “dorm.” He also said nothing about the woman’s opinion, except that she is unhappy. This test-taker stretched out this paltry content for the full 60 seconds, and still received a 26. Again, he spoke with perfect English.

What is the lesson to take from this research? The scores for the Speaking section seem to be all about having perfect intermediate level English and no accent. Please note: we are not encouraging test takers to entirely ignore content and speak about topics completely unrelated to the exam questions. Instead, we are encouraging you to be less anxious about the content. Instead, you need to worry a lot more about speaking clearly with correct grammar.

GOOD LUCK!

TOEFL Tip #102: Another Happy Pharmacist Scores 29 on TOEFL Speaking

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 27, 2011

In late March, we had a pharmacist come to us who had taken the TOEFL at least 7 times and was unable to get the score of 26 on the Speaking and 24 on the Writing that he needed for his pharmacy license. With only 14 hours of tutoring over a 6-week period, he got a 29 on his Speaking and a 24 on his Writing: Here’s the email we received:


Hi Alex hi Jon
My results are out last night. I got 29 on Speaking. 24 on Writing. And this means I PASSSEEEEDDDDD YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
THIS ONE IS FOR U ALEX iiiiiiiiii i i ii i i i i i i i i i i i i yea yea yea yea yea yea. Sorry I was holding it in. hehhehe Thanks guy. You were awesome. Best teacher I every had. Thanks a million times

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