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TOEFL Tip #204: Using Double Translation As A Study Tool

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 17, 2013

We’ve written before about the pitfalls of using translation software as your main study tool for the TOEFL exam. If you are depending on the translation program to help you figure out difficult passages in English, you will not be practicing the skills you need for the exam. When we first wrote this piece, we noted that translation software can be inaccurate, and if you don’t already have a sense of the English meaning for the words you want translated, you won’t know whether the translation is accurate. We’re happy to note that translation programs have gotten much better since that original post, although we stand by our advice against using them instead of practicing reading and comprehending in English.

However, translation software IS useful for checking your own translations, as part of building your skills in reading longer passages in English. Using the software can help to identify areas where your translation is not accurate.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to use this technique:

1. Read an English article from
2. Translate the article into your language. Do this yourself; do not use translation software for this step.
3. Leave your translation alone for one week. Do not look at it during this week. This will help you to forget the original article, so when you do the next step, you are actively translating, rather than remembering.
4. Translate the version of the article that you wrote in your language back into English. Again, do this part yourself.
5. Compare your translation back into English with the original on

6. This is where the translation software comes is. Compare your double translation with one from Google Translate by doing the following:

A. Use to translate the English article in your language
B. Copy and paste Google’s translation back into Google Translate and have it translate your language’s version of the article back into English.
C. Compare Google’s translation with yours and also with the original.
D. Do you notice any weird English? Using a dictionary and other resources, figure out if the problem is with your translation, or with the version from Google Translate.

Practicing double translation in this way will not only strengthen your skills, but this method will also boost your confidence as your translations get better.

TOEFL Tip #203: More Ways to Immerse Yourself In English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 11, 2013

One of the most effective things you can do to prepare for the TOEFL exam is to immerse yourself in English. As we’ve noted before (here, here, and here), seeing and hearing English as part of your daily life will improve your skill in the language. The more you have internalized the rhythms and vocabulary of English, the more you can focus on the specific content of the TOEFL rather than worrying about the basics.

Here are some more ways to increase the amount of English you encounter every day, especially if you are living in a country where most people speak a language other than English:

1. Change the language setting to English on all of your technology devices (laptop, smart phone, tablet). Use English for all of your applications, as well. That way, you’ll learn English computer words like SAVE, DELETE, TRASH, RESTART, DESKTOP, etc.

2. Chose English when using an ATM. Typically, most people don’t really read the ATM screen because we all use them so often that we just know what to push. So now that you know what buttons to use, slow down and read the screen. Then you’ll learn the words like WITHDRAWAL, or SAVINGS ACCOUNT, or ENTER or PRESS.

3. Ask for an English-language menu when you go to a restaurant. If you live in a big city that has a lot of tourism, they probably have an English menu. Use it to learn words like BROILED, or SNOW PEAS.

4. Turn off the subtitles in your language on your TV so you only hear English.

5. Find an English-only radio station, or download podcasts of English-language podcasts from National Public Radio.

What are your suggestions for incorporating more English into every day? Share them in the comments section!

TOEFL Tip #202: Speak (Just A Little Bit) More Slowly

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 5, 2013

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Think before you speak.” For most situations, this is great advice. Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, pause and consider whether you should say it, and whether there’s a different, better way to say the same thing. Only when your thought is complete do you say what’s on your mind. Slowing down to think helps you to follow another maxim, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

But slowing down is hard to do on the TOEFL exam. Not only does the clock remind you that time is passing while you think, but the rater could think your silence is due to trouble with English rather than a strategy for the Speaking Section. Without nonverbal cues such as facial expressions to clarify why you are being silent for a few moments, the rater could interpret your silence to mean the opposite of what’s really happening, which could affect your score.

And yet, slowing down is really important for the Speaking Section. Too many TOEFL-takers rush their answers, often because they are either nervous or are trying to fit in as much detail as possible, or both. The resulting answer is typically not as strong as it could be, and likely has a lot of stuttering and filler sounds like, “um.” A rushed answer often illustrates why “haste makes waste.”

If you can’t wait in silence until you think of your complete answer, and you shouldn’t rush to say as much as possible, what can you do on the Speaking Section, which requires you to think and talk simultaneously?

Try slowing down your speaking just a little bit. Don’t add significant pauses to your answer, and don’t speak so slowly that you sound as if you’re not sure of what you’re saying. The goal here is to have your brain working about a quarter-second faster than your mouth. This may not seem like enough time to make a difference, but it can. If you can slow your speaking by just a fraction of a second, you’ll be able to shape your thoughts into a more coherent answer, and you’ll know what to say next. Your slightly slower pacing will sound better to the rater, as well.

Remember: quality matters more than quantity.

TOEFL Tip #201: Use Google Alerts To Track TOEFL News

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 28, 2013

Keeping up with the latest information about the TOEFL exam is important. Whether the news is a policy change regarding administration of the TOEFL exam or an expanded use of TOEFL scores, anyone studying for the TOEFL exam should follow developments from ETS.

But how can you do that easily? With so many sources of information today, it’s hard to make sure you read everything regularly.

Rather than reading everything in the news to find one story, let Google scan the news for you, and deliver an alert to your email when there’s a relevant item. Setting up a Google Alert is a quick, easy process. Decide the search you want Google to perform – pick something simple like “TOEFL news.” When you enter your search into the “search query” box, you will see a preview of results. You might need to play around with variations on the search terms to get the precise results you want. Next, choose which types of sources you want scanned – news items, blogs, and so on. Select how many alerts you want to receive, and how often you want to receive them, and enter a Gmail address. That’s it!

Ready to get started? Go to the Google Alerts page.

TOEFL Tip #200: Use To Practice Paraphrasing

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 20, 2013

Accurately paraphrasing a passage in the TOEFL Reading section can help you with various types of questions, such as vocabulary, understanding the details of the passage, and inserting a sentence into the passage. Yet, for many students, paraphrasing is a challenging skill. You need to capture the essential information in the original material without repeating key vocabulary or sentence structure. In addition, you will usually use fewer words in a paraphrase than in the original passage.

But how can you practice paraphrasing and know that your work is accurate? Use a website like

We at Strictly English love, for its broad range of topics, and for its use of easily accessible English. In fact, we think it’s such a valuable resource that we’ve been giving our clients one month of free access to for over a year now.

Here’s one suggestion for using to practice paraphrasing. Read the entry on the novel Black Beauty, and then read the Wikipedia entry for the same novel. Notice that you can understand much more of the Wikipedia entry’s vocabulary because you’re already familiar with the ideas from the version. Words like “disabled,” “composed,” and “forthrightly” in the Wikipedia version are easier to figure out when you have the context of “lame,” “written,” and “outwardly” from the version. You can also start with the Wikipedia version, paraphrase it yourself, and then compare your paraphrase with the version to test your accuracy.

Try it for yourself! Find a topic from that is also in Wikipedia, and see how much of the harder English you can understand after you’ve read the easy version on

TOEFL Tip #198: TOEFL Exam Is Possibly On The Rise In Japan

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on April 8, 2013

Two recent proposals being considered in Japan suggest that the TOEFL exam may become a very important measure of English proficiency in that country.

One proposal is to use TOEFL exam scores as part of the criteria in the university admission process. A different test of English is currently used, but it has often been criticized for focusing too much on the rules of grammar and content that can be memorized. Although news of this proposal has not been confirmed by the majority political party, it is being widely reported in local newspapers.

The other proposal concerning the TOEFL exam would make TOEFL scores necessary for applying for government ministry positions, starting in 2015. A spokesperson for the National Personnel Authority has confirmed that his agency is seriously considering this proposal, to better prepare Japan’s bureaucrats for the increasingly international aspect of their work. The decision about whether to use the TOEFL exam, or another exam such as the Test of English for International Communication (also administered by ETS), is expected to be made by the end of the year.

Both of these proposals point to the importance of communicating well in English, beyond memorizing the language’s rules.

TOEFL Tip #197: New Feature on Strictly English’s Relaunched Website: Forums

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 29, 2013

We’re anticipating the beta launch of our new website next week. When it launches, everyone who is currently on both our Word of the Day and blog mailing lists will have an opportunity to purchase a membership at 50% off. Be sure to act quickly – the discount will be available for approximately one week!

One of the new features on the site will be Forums. These will be for members, by members – a chance for you to share your experiences studying for and taking the TOEFL exam, and to learn from others. Do you have a particular study technique that works for you? Tell others about it on the Forum. Are you wondering what it’s like to take the TOEFL for the first time? Read others’ stories of taking their TOEFL exams. Although Strictly English will lightly monitor the Forums to make sure that there’s no inappropriate content (like advertisements!), this space will be for those who are studying for the TOEFL to come together in a supportive community.

All levels of membership will be able to read the Forums. Basic Membership lets you post comments as well, and Premium Membership lets you create new topics for discussion. Deluxe Membership offers a 25% discount on Premium Membership access.

Check out the Forums, and share your perspective!

TOEFL Tip #196: Strictly English’s New Membership Plans

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 23, 2013

Strictly English’s new site is coming soon!

Early next week, we anticipate a beta launch for current recipients of both Word of the Day and the blog post emails. For the first week after the new site goes live, current recipients of both Word of the Day and the blog post emails will receive a 50% discount on membership. Approximately 10 days later, the new site will launch worldwide, at full price. Be sure to sign up as soon as the new site launches!

Here’s a screenshot of a chart comparing membership levels:




The Free Membership offers a variety of materials, including free self-study exercises, access to a limited number of sample TOEFL essays, and a free practice essay which we’ll grade for you. Study Halls with a live tutor cost only $20 per class.

Basic Membership ($10/month), Premium Membership ($20/month), and Deluxe Membership ($30/2 months) each offer increasing levels of access to more materials.

Deluxe Membership lets you read over 2,500 sample essays and search the essay database, and grades 4 of your essays (2 integrated essays and 2 independent essays) every week. With a Deluxe Membership, you’ll also receive a 20% discount on the regular price for Study Hall classes, as well as Premium Membership access to TOEFL Word of the Day, TOEFL Self-Study Exercises, and TOEFL Forums for 25% off.

Check out the different options and sign up for the membership package that works best for your needs!

TOEFL Tips #195: New Site Launching On or Before March 31st!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 17, 2013

In the next two weeks, Strictly English will launch its revamped website. Today’s post will give you a general preview of the changes, and in the coming weeks, we’ll drill down on the details of our new services and features.

 The first thing you’ll notice is that the Strictly English homepage has been reorganized. Whereas it used to look like this:


now you’ll see this when you first come to our page:


The new page showcases our four core services. Of course, we continue to offer our successful one-on-one Online Private Tutoring program. In addition, after a successful pilot program, we are now making group study a central feature of Strictly English’s offerings, with two new group study options: Study Halls worldwide online and Group Classes in the Boston area.

 With the launch of the new website, Strictly English will now be offering 4 levels of membership. Free membership is available to everyone, Basic Membership is $10/month, Premium Membership is $20/month, and Deluxe Membership is $30/2 months. In our next post, we’ll take a look at the details of each membership level, but for now, please note that everyone on our promotions list will get the chance to buy memberships for 50% off, during the first week of launch.

 In addition, the Strictly English blog has been renamed TOEFL Tips on the new website. Be sure to look for us in the dark blue bar across the top of the new homepage!


TOEFL Tip #194: Humor And Grammar

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 8, 2013

If you’re online, you’ve seen memes – images, videos, and jokes which people email to friends, like and share on Facebook, pin on Pinterest, and so on. Almost anything can become a meme – song lyrics, quotes from movies or famous people, funny things that pets do, unusual events in the news …

And English grammar.

There are many memes about grammar, perhaps because many people, including native English speakers, think the language can be confusing. That confusion leads to humorous or sarcastic explanations of the rules.

Here’s a meme we’ve seen lately:



Use memes like this to bolster your study of grammar. Because memes specifically call attention to the underlying rules of grammar, they can point you to common trouble areas in the language. Memes are supposed to be funny, but they’re not if you don’t understand the grammar rule at the center of the joke. So, whenever you see a joke about English grammar, look up the rule. Site like the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) are a terrific resource. Then go back to the meme and see if you “get” the joke.

Soon, you’ll be the one sharing the latest grammar-themed meme.

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