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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!

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.

TOEFL Tip #181: Use Appropriate, Vivid Details

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 9, 2012

Vision is most people’s dominant sense. We take in more information by seeing than we do by hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. That’s why there are so many aphorisms about sight: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” “Seeing is believing,” “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Keep this in mind as you prepare for the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL exam. For the rater, hearing and reading your words is not enough. He or she needs to SEE the images that your words create in his or her own mind. When you create a visual image with your words, you are using language in a more sophisticated way, which can have a positive effect on your score.

Here’s an example to clarify the different between an answer that paints a picture and one that does not. One friend tells you that she had “a big meal,” but a second friend tells you that he had a “huge medium rare steak, with a big baked potato and a side of green beans with tons of butter on them.” Which dinner do you see in your head? A generic “big meal,” or steak and vegetables?

Of course you see the second friend’s dinner.

This example might make you think that you just need to pack your answer full of details to get a good score. This is partly true; detailed answers are stronger than general ones. However, not all details have the same effect, and if you string a lot of details together, the list itself might become the answer’s main focus. That will not create the CORRECT image in the rater’s head. For example, a long list of food on your plate might make the rater see only a shopping list in his or her mind, instead of seeing you at dinner with your friends, enjoying a rich dessert while music plays in the background.

You need the art of using appropriate details that will work to your benefit. Like too much food piled on a flimsy paper plate, too many details piled onto a weak narrative will cause your whole answer to fall on the floor. Once that happens, you can’t put it back together.

We at Strictly English can teach you how to have the RIGHT amount of APPROPRIATE details to score over a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL. Contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #180: Consider Taking An Extra Year To Prepare

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 30, 2012

A “gap year” is a break between phases in a person’s life, particularly a break from education. High school students are increasingly taking a gap year before starting college to better prepare themselves for college-level expectations and workloads. Mark Greenstein of has a recent newsletter article addressing the ways in which students with widely varying levels of college readiness can benefit from taking what he calls a “planned gap year.” A planned gap year is an intentional break before college, with specific goals for how to use the time away from school.

A yearlong break between high school and college can also benefit students preparing to take the TOEFL exam. You might need more time to study for the TOEFL without the competing demands of your high school classes. Maybe you started the college application process late, and now you don’t have much time to make sure you get the TOEFL score you need for admission to your first choice schools. Perhaps you have not been exposed to much English in your daily life, and you’re nervous about suddenly switching to an all-English college campus. Whatever the reason, a gap year can help you be more prepared for the TOEFL exam, and for college.

What should you do if you take a break between high school and college?

Immerse yourself in as much English as possible, every day. Read newspaper and magazine articles in English. Change your internet browser settings to English. Choose English-language entertainment – movies, television and radio programs, music. The more English that is around you on a daily basis, the more vocabulary, syntax, and inflection you will learn.

While you are absorbing English from these sources, you also need to be producing English. Seek out friends – perhaps online – with whom you can practice communicating in English. If you are able to do so, take a job where you will be required to use English frequently. Similarly, join a club or a group that is related to one of your interests and whose members speak English. Because you would be familiar with the club’s main activity, you can focus on improving your English. The more you communicate in English, the better your skills will be.

Taking a year before college to focus on improving your English can significantly improve your TOEFL scores and your college applications. Consider taking a year so you can take concrete steps to develop your skills.

TOEFL Tip #179: Cyber Monday Weekend Sale – 55% Off

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 23, 2012

Strictly English is running a weekend sale for Cyber Monday!

From now through 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday, November 26th, you will receive 55% off of our REGULAR prices for 1:1 Private Tutoring. Save 100s of dollars!

Contact us today to find out which package is right for you!

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 #177: Studying In A Group Is Helpful

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 9, 2012

While group study has long been a staple (see adj, meaning 2) tool of education, this practice has increased sharply for the so-called digital native generation. Many students today expect to collaborate on projects and share information in a variety of formats. Once the bastion of silent study, even libraries are increasingly restructuring their facilities to accommodate students working in groups. Clearly, group study is a significant element in education today.

In light of this, consider studying for the TOEFL with others who are also learning English.

Group study benefits students in a variety of ways. Being accountable to the groups helps everyone to stay focused and get their work done. Preparing for the study session meeting becomes a mini-deadline that adds some structure to your own schedule. Group members not only share their knowledge, but also can work together to figure out missing information. In addition, explaining something to another person reinforces that information for yourself, making it easier to remember. Finally, the emotional support of a group helps students feel less isolated and eases their frustration.

While these are the benefits of group work for any subject, studying for the TOEFL in a group has the additional benefit of providing more opportunities to practice speaking English. The more you practice, the better your English will be.

Although group study can have some drawbacks, such as chatting about non-TOEFL topics and some group members being unprepared for the study session, these are issues that can be resolved by the group members as they occur. Compared with the benefits of group study, these challenges are relatively minor.

If you’re studying for the TOEFL on your own, consider joining a study group. If you’re already part of a study group, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave us a comment below!

TOEFL Tips #176: Flor Wins 2 Free Hours Of TOEFL Tutoring!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 2, 2012

 Strictly English is excited to announce that Flor has won our contest! Last week’s entry was filled with errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Readers who emailed us the corrected errors were entered in the contest; the prize is 2 free hours of tutoring with Strictly English. Congratulations, Flor!

Here is the post again, with the errors highlighted and a brief explanation of the problem.

Misspellings and grammar errors are often the trickiest part of the Writing Section to correct. Perhaps you’re used to working with programs like Microsoft Word which identify speling [misspelled word] errors with red squiggly lines under misspelled words, and green squiggly lines under ungrammatical phrases. Perhaps your software even autocorrects typos, so you never even realize you’ve made them. Perhaps you’re working on the basics of English grammar, so you’re not thinking about whether or not to use the Oxford comma (that’s the comma that comes before the “and” in a list of items; [use a comma before a phrase, not a semicolon] such as the one after “green” in this example: red, green, and blue). Whatever your particular circumstances, students often has [subject-verb agreement – should be “have”] “blind spots” that make it hard for them to recognize and fix grammar errors.

What can you do?

Use your software to help learn what kinds of mistakes you make most often. Rather than simply letting hte [misspelled word] software correct mistakes, turn off autocorrect. Write down every word identified by red squiggles and every phrase identified by green ones, and fix them yourself in the document. Use sites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab to learn about the particular grammar mistakes you keep making and practicing [parallel structure – should be “to practice”] correcting them. You could even ask a native speaker of English to take a paragraph from the newspaper, purposely change it to include mistakes, and give it to you as a quiz. The more you practice spotting these sorts of mistakes in other people’s writing, the easier it will be to identify them in your own writing.


Numerous spelling and grammar errors can make a significant difference to your TEOFL [misspelled word] score. Its [contraction for “it is” – missing apostrophe] worth taking the time to improve this skill.


How many did you get right?

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!

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