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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 #147: Paraphrasing Is The Most Important Skill For The iBT

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 16, 2012

The TOEFL exam draws on a diverse skill set for each section, but there is one skill you will use for all four sections – paraphrasing.

The Reading section not only has a type of question directly asking you to paraphrase, but in the end, ALL answers are paraphrases of the relevant part of the Reading Passage. The Listening section works in the same way.

The Speaking section requires two different sorts of paraphrasing. In Tasks 3, 4, 5, 6, you must avoid repeating exactly what you read and heard. But T1 and 2 are a bit different because you’re now trying to avoid repeating YOURSELF, instead of trying to avoid repeating what you read and heard. The same goes for the Writing section. In the integrated essay (INT), you have to avoid repeating the exact phrasing used in the Passage and the lecture. In the independent essay (IND), you again, have to avoid paraphrasing yourself.

So, how do you paraphrase?

To understand good paraphrasing, you have to know what NOT to do. Do NOT think that you’re just swapping vocabulary words. It’s a disaster to think that you can take a sentence like, “Jon works in the financial market” and replace “work” with “job,” “financial” with “money,” and “market” with “store” and end up with “Jon jobs in the money store.” First of all, although my “work” (noun) is the same as my “job” (noun), there is no VERB “to job” even though there is a verb “to work”. Also, although a “market” could be a “store” sometimes, here it is not. In this sentence, “market” refers to trading stocks and the like.

The problem gets even worse when some word swapping also requires changes in grammatical construction. For example, “although” and “despite” have the same purpose within logic – they both represent the opposition of ideas – but “although” takes a clause while “despite” takes a noun phrase. “Although it was raining” should become “Despite the rain.” If you just assume that the grammar stays the same, then you would paraphrase “Although it was raining” as “Despite it was raining.” Whoops! Wrong. Very wrong. Score of 14 wrong.

These are only a couple of the hundreds of ways paraphrasing can go wrong. Another pitfall is preserving word order when changing a sentence from passage to active. When the sentence’s agent and object switch places, you have to reformulate the sentence or else the wrong noun is receiving the verb’s action.

To paraphrase correctly, you really need to free yourself completely from the structure you see in the original that you’re paraphrasing. You’re ONLY trying to preserve the original meaning, WITHOUT adding any new information. This means that the paraphrase you create could have a completely different construction than the original. You need to stop thinking that you can only swap words in and out of a cemented structure. Once you begin building a new sentence from the ground up, you will have a higher chance of paraphrasing correctly.

Let’s look at an example from the paraphrasing exercise on Strictly English’s website:

1) One of the key elements to a healthy life is your diet. There are many different types of diets that people follow: some don’t eat meat, and are called vegetarians; some are lactose intolerant, which means that they can’t digest dairy products; and others are called vegans, or people who do not eat meat, fish, eggs, or milk products. No matter the diet, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Which is the correct paraphrase of the bold sentence above?

(a) Some people are constantly dieting because they have to follow certain rules about what they can or cannot eat.

(b) Certain dietary restrictions, such as not consuming meat, dairy, or any by-products of living animals, can vary over a wide range of people’s lifestyles.

(c) It is important for vegetarians, vegans, and those who are lactose intolerant to diet on a regular basis in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

(d) Eating meat, dairy, or any other by-product of an animal requires great effort to stay healthy.

Answer (a) is wrong because it adds something new – the idea of “constantly” dieting. Similarly, (c) is wrong because it changes “diet” from a noun in the original – meaning the food that a person eats – to a verb in the paraphrase – meaning to eat in a certain way for a set period of time (and, by implication, to eat in a different way after that period of time). Finally, (d) is wrong because it also introduces something new – the “great effort” to stay healthy. The original sentence says nothing about the ease or difficulty of eating according to certain food restrictions.

Answer (b) is correct. It notes that there are “certain” restrictions – the original gave 3 examples of dietary restrictions, but says there are many others. The second sentence also completely rephrases the 3 examples – most clearly changing the list of foods vegans won’t eat into “by-products of living animals.” Equally important, this example does not add any additional information that is not in the original, as the other three answers do.

As you can see from this example, successful paraphrasing depends on holding on to the main IDEA of a sentence or passage, and letting go of the WAY that idea was expressed.

Good paraphrasing takes a lot of practice, but keep in mind that it’s a skill for the entire TOEFL, so it’s worth the time to get it right.

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 #144: Speaking Really Well Vs. Knowing A Lot

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 24, 2012

People who are fluent in several languages are called “polyglots.” Those who have studied a wide range of subjects are called “polymaths.” (Note the prefix these two words share: “poly-,” meaning “many”).

Because the TOEFL tests someone’s ability to understand and communicate in English, it’s easy to assume that people who have achieved complete fluency in English will score far better than those who have less mastery of the language, even if they have a broader knowledge base. To be sure, a polyglot may be able to answer the vocabulary questions on the Reading section more easily, simply because he or she recognizes the words.

However, in Strictly English’s experience across 10,000 tutoring hours, we have consistently seen that a high degree of fluency in many languages is not as helpful as knowing something about many academic subject areas. Remember, the Reading passages and some of the Listening tasks cover a very wide range of academic topics, from paleontology to business letter writing. Therefore, the Polymath’s ability to answer questions comfortably within many subject areas will be of great help, both because he/she is familiar with the content, and because that familiarity will boost his/her overall confidence.

For example, consider a polyglot who only knows about fishing. That person will only be able to talk about fishing, even if he or she can do so in 10 languages. Since the TOEFL only tests English, the ability to talk about fishing in the other 9 languages isn’t very useful for the exam. Even if the topic of fishing happens to come up on a particular TOEFL exam, it’s only going to be on the exam once, which means that the polyglot who only knows about fishing will probably have a hard time on the rest of the exam.

On the other hand, if you have a body of knowledge of 10 academic topics, and a working knowledge of English (plus your native language, of course), you will probably do better on the TOEFL because most academic topics have cognates that cross what would otherwise be linguistic barriers. Having a general knowledge of a topic is probably enough for TOEFL because the test is geared toward high school seniors. You don’t need to be an expert in the topic; you just need to be familiar with its main ideas. Your general knowledge can help to fill in the blanks created by gaps in your English.

Take the extreme example of a person who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but has, at best, intermediate English skills. That person would probably score higher on a Reading passage about chemistry, if he or she can pick out key words and use them to extrapolate the meaning of the rest of the passage, than the Polyglot who speaks advanced English beautifully but who has had no exposure to the concepts of chemistry.

An important note of caution – it is the golden rule of TOEFL preparation that you should answer the questions from the knowledge in the PASSAGE and not from your own professional or personal knowledge. We are NOT saying that your general knowledge should REPLACE or SUPERSEDE the knowledge in the passage. We are saying that you can USE your knowledge to better understand what the passage is saying.

So, our advice: nurture your inner Polymath! Read widely on academic topics in both English AND your own language so that you build up a base of knowledge to draw upon when you take the TOEFL exam.

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 #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.

GOOD LUCK!

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