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TOEFL Tip #170: Take The Real TOEFL When You’re Ready, Not Before

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 21, 2012

Last week, we highlighted that ETS will only report the TOEFL scores you designate, no matter how many times you take the test. However, that does NOT mean that you should take the TOEFL exam over and over until you reach the score that you want!

We know of many students who have taken the TOEFL 10 times, or more! Think of how expensive that is. Taking the TOEFL exam in the United States costs $180 per test. If you take the exam once a month for a year, that’s over $2,100. Costs are even higher if you’re taking the TOEFL outside of the U.S.

Taking the TOEFL over and over as a method of study will not work. If all you’re doing to prepare for the exam is taking it time and again, your score will not go up because you’re not learning new strategies about HOW to take the exam. And the real TOEFL is a very expensive way to measure your progress when studying with other materials.

Instead, resources like TESTDEN.com and ETS’s practice tests can help you gauge when you’re ready to take the TOEFL exam, at a much more affordable cost. Again, we must emphasize that you should not use these tests as your study material. Instead, use them as checkpoints in your journey to the TOEFL exam. Take them once a week, AT MOST. An even better strategy is to take a practice test only when you would have scheduled a real TOEFL exam, such as when you’ve finished a set of classes with Strictly English (sign up for classes now!)

When the score on your practice test is at least 7% HIGHER than the score you need – AND you can do this on 2 consecutive practice tests – it’s time to sign up for a real TOEFL.

For the practice tests to be effective, it’s CRUCIAL that you take the WHOLE test in ONE sitting. Treat it exactly like a real exam. If you chop up the practice test into smaller time segments, then you’re not learning how you’ll really do on test day. You need the stamina – the energy and focus – to sit through the sections of the TOEFL, taking breaks only during the official times. If you don’t practice under the same conditions, your practice test score won’t reflect your genuine level of readiness.

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 #142: Using The Strictly English Blog For Self-Study

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 10, 2012

We cover a lot of different topics here on the Strictly English blog, from study and test-taking tips, to changes in the exams, to reports and testimonials from our students. With well over one hundred entries, that’s a lot of material to help with your self-study.

While you certainly can scroll through each of the entries to find the ones that you need, that would be an inefficient use of your time.

Instead, use the blog’s CATEGORIES and SEARCH BOX to hone (see tr.v., definition 2) your search.

For example, are you working on improving your TOEFL Speaking score? In the right column of the blog, you’ll see the list of Categories for all of our posts. Click on Speaking, and you’ll bring up all of our articles that mention the Speaking section. You can work through each section of the TOEFL this way, and also read about other topics related to the TOEFL Exam.

If you don’t see a category for the topic you want to read about, type it in the search box. Be sure to type in variation on your search term, to bring up all of the possible matches. Maybe you’d like to read about time management on the TOEFL. Typing “time management” in the search box has only one result. Entering “clock” brings 2 articles — the same result for the time management search, plus an additional entry. On the other hand, “running out of time” brings three articles that are entirely different from either of these other two examples.

If you’ve tried the categories and search box and you still can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a comment. Perhaps we can do a future blog post about your topic!

TOEFL Tip #127: Not all TOEFL Books Are Created Equal

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 25, 2011

When an individual is picking which TOEFL book is best for his/her self-study or when a teacher is picking which TOEFL book is best for his/her group class, the first thing to remember is that there are basically three types of TOEFL books.

1. exercise books

2. sample test books

3. language skills books

And each of these books is also targeted to a particular English level. At the bottom of Strictly English’s Exercises Page you’ll find a score chart that indicates the level each book targets. So in this blog article we’ll focus on the three above mentioned differences.

Ideally, if you had the time and the budget, you’d work with all three types of books since they each have a valuable purpose to serve.

All three types give an overview of the test and the types of questions you will be asked to answer and tasks you will be asked to perform. And basically, you’ll learn the same thing from any of these books with regard to this basic introductory information.

The Exercise Books (The Longman & the Delta) give you,  . . . well . . . , a lot of exercises, or at least more than the other two types of books do. We at Strictly English think these books are indispensable. The more you rehearse the mechanical steps to answering a question type, the more accurate (and over time, the faster) you’ll become. I call this category “Exercise Books”, but to be fair, they do have sample tests as well. In fact, Longman has a large amount of both exercises and tests. Yet, I put it in the exercises category because although it has many “Mini-Tests” on its CD, it only has two full tests.

The books that I’ve categorized as “Sample Test Books” (Cambridge & Barrons) are often woefully deficient in exercises. Now they might reply, “HEY! we have lots of, say, paraphrase questions in our book. They are just not grouped together in a section called PARAPHRASE. Instead they are scattered throughout our sample tests.” I cannot argue against this point, but I don’t think of it as an “exercise” unless it’s in a drill-able format, which (as I stated above) is crucial to acclimating to the mechanical steps needed to answer a question correctly. This is not to say Sample Test Books are useless. They are great! You just want to begin using them AFTER you’ve done an exercise book. Once you’ve mastered the strategies/skills for answering each question type, THEN you can begin to integrate them into each other in a test-like format.

Finally, there are the Language Skills Books. This approach to English learning is fantastic. Arguably it cannot be beat. If Strictly English were a English Language school, we would definitely buy these books and use them in our general English classes. But language learning and TOEFL study are not the same. To learn a language, you need so much more facility than you do to pass the TOEFL. Case in point, I would argue that you can get through 99% of the TOEFL test without really understanding nor using models (the one exception being Task 5 of the Speaking where you have to give advice). So Language Skills Books are a time-sink and are too wide-reaching for TOEFL preparation.

These categories are not rigidly segregated. As I’ve already said, Longman has some full practice tests in them. Also, Cambridge is a Language Skills Book AND a Sample Test Book. Therefore, Strictly English uses only the Sample Tests from the book and ignores the Language Skills part of it.

So if you can’t buy all of them or you don’t have the time to study them all, how do you decide which ones to use? We suggest getting one Exercise Book and one Sample Test Book. For example, Longman & Cambridge or Delta & Barrons. Start there and see how you do. If you have more time, then move onto the pair you didn’t buy at first.

WARNING ONE: Please note that many of these books are out of date. Even the ETS’s 2011 Official Guide to the TOEFL inaccurately portrays the Integrated Essay and the Reading’s Chart Questions (of which not one of our students has reported seeing on a real test). This is because some of the books have not been revised recently. For example, when the Reading Section changes on Nov 1, all the books will be describing that section incorrectly. Also, Task 1 of the Speaking changed from requesting a Description to requesting Advice, which none of the books have had a chance to update either. Only a company like Strictly English, which does its own research, can keep you abreast of these changes as they happen.

WARNING TWO: Even very bright students do not often achieve the score they want through self-study alone. This is because these books are purposefully designed as teachers’ aides. They work best when you’re guided through them in a group class or with a private tutor.

Good luck!

(PS: please comment below about YOUR favorite TOEFL Book and why you like it!—-THANKS!)

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