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TOEFL Tip #193: Talk For 30 Minutes Before The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 2, 2013

Imagine running a marathon without warming-up first. You walk up to the starting line, and simply begin running. Your muscles are stiff, your breathing is uneven, and you take several miles to find a comfortable pace.

If you approached a marathon this way, would you win? Of course not. Your body needs to prepare for the longer effort of a marathon by doing smaller stretches first. By warming up before the marathon, your body is ready for peak performance.

Just like stretching your legs before running a marathon, you need to warm up your brain before taking the TOEFL exam.

To do this, speak – in English – for 30 minutes before taking the TOEFL.

Ideally, you should talk about a wide range of academic topics with a native English speaker. This way, you are warming up your voice for the Speaking section, practicing your English grammar for the Writing and Speaking sections, and thinking about the kinds of topics that are likely to be on all sections of the TOEFL exam. A native speaker is more likely to use standard academic English, and may be able to give you some last-minute feedback.

Even if you can’t arrange to have a conversation like this before the exam, you can still use this technique. Bring a textbook from one of your classes or a newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, and read sections of it out loud. Talk about something in the news with your family members. Anything you can do to focus your mind on speaking in English before the exam is going to help you be at your best when the TOEFL begins.

TOEFL Tip #192: Sleep Learning Has Limited Applications …. For Now

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 22, 2013

In last week’s post, we discussed how sleep plays an important role in memory. When you are asleep, your brain consolidates everything you learned during the day and prepares your memory for the next day’s information. Rather than avoiding sleep and trying to cram overnight before taking the TOEFL, you should plan your schedule to get a full night’s sleep.

If your brain strengthens memories while you sleep, can you learn while you are asleep, too?

According to a 2012 article in Nature Neuroscience, yes, you can.

To test whether people can learn something entirely new while asleep, researchers first exposed sleeping test subjects to pleasant or unpleasant odors, and recorded how deeply they inhaled (deeply for pleasant odors, shallowly for unpleasant ones). Then, they paired the odors with sounds. Again, the test subjects inhaled deeply when exposed to the pleasant odor, and shallowly for the unpleasant smells. After waking up, the test subjects inhaled in the same way when they heard the sounds, even though the corresponding odor was not present. This demonstrates that the test subjects learned the connection between the pleasant/unpleasant odors and the sounds while asleep, and that the brain retained the information.

But don’t rush to replace typical studying methods with playing recordings while you sleep! As this article from National Public Radio points out, there is still a long way to go before scientists fully understand how the brain acquires information while asleep. The brain can be conditioned to associate smells and sounds, but whether it can learn language-based concepts is unproven right now.

Learning while asleep might be an option for future students, but for now, it’s just a dream.

TOEFL Tip #191: Sleep Is Crucial For Memory

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 15, 2013

For many students, the following scenario is all too familiar – it’s the day before a big test, and you feel like you’re not ready. You know that you should get a good night’s sleep, but you’re tempted to stay up very late, or even pull an all-nighter, to cram as much as possible. What should you do?

For the best chances of remembering what you’ve learned, study during the day and early evening, and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

According to a recent study by Robert Stickgold and Matthew P. Walker published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, sleep has several functions regarding memory. In an interview about the study, Dr. Stickgold says the brain not only sorts new information into categories during sleep, but it also begins to let go of unneeded information. According to Stickgold, “you have to clean out your “Inbox” before you take in more information, and sleep seems [sic] (def) to be really good at that. Somehow, it’s filing, it’s reorganizing, and I think what we’re most impressed with is that it’s doing it in a really smart way.”

Stickgold points out that your brain needs about 1 hour asleep for every 2 hours that you’re awake and taking in new information. What type of activity you are doing doesn’t matter. You could be studying or watching TV. This is why a full night of sleep is so important. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain cannot process what it’s learned and is not prepared to take in new information. Furthermore, for the brain to do this works in relation to memory, it has to be fully asleep, not resting lightly.

Because sleep helps the brain to detect patterns and rules, sleep is especially important for the TOEFL test-taker who is struggling to remember the rules of English grammar.

Make getting a good night’s sleep part of your TOEFL preparation!

TOEFL Tip #189: Take Advantage Of TOEFL’s New 21 Day Waiting Period

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 2, 2013

 

ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day waiting period between TOEFL exams has been in effect for a month, and everyone is getting used to this adjusted timetable. We have seen some test-takers schedule their TOEFL exam well before application deadlines so they can retake it if necessary. Others are only scheduling their TOEFL exam when they’re confident that they’ll get the score they need. Both of these are good strategies.

 

But what if you’re not sure whether you’ve earned the score that you need? What if you’re just a few points lower than the score required for your application?

 

Use the 21 day waiting period to your advantage! Take a course or two with Strictly English to target your specific trouble areas.

 

You can find out your iBT scores approximately 10 days after your exam (for ETS’s list of estimated dates for viewing your iBT scores online, click here). That leaves nearly 2 weeks for improving your skills before your next exam. Or, if you know that you didn’t perform well on one section of the test, contact us right away to schedule some tutoring sessions during the full 3 week period.

 

Strictly English has a variety of courses to suit your needs. Do you need to fine-tune your skills in one particular area, such as one Speaking task, or one type of Listening question? We can help you improve in as little as 2 hours. Do you need a better set of strategies for a task on the TOEFL, such as the Integrated essay? Work with us for 4 hours. Do you need to boost your overall performance for an entire section of the TOEFL? That’s just 8 hours. Although everyone’s pace of learning varies, we have found that many students improve substantially within these time frames.

 

As you can see, the 21 day wait period provides enough time to tweak your skills between exams. Instead of chafing against this restriction, view instead as an opportunity to focus intensely on improving your TOEFL performance. By looking at this in a positive light, you will be more likely to produce the change that you want to see. Contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #188: Poor Grammar Can Limit Your Job Opportunities

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 25, 2013

At Strictly English, we sometimes hear students talk about having to learn the rules of English grammar “for the TOEFL.” These students seem to see mastery of English grammar as a stepping stone to the TOEFL exam, rather than as a skill that they will continue to use throughout their careers.

Kyle Wiens has a simple answer to the question of whether good grammar REALLY matters in the “real world” beyond college, “Yes, it does.”

In fact, good grammar is so important to Wiens that his companies, iFixit and Dozuki, require all job applicants to take a grammar test, even for jobs that are not primarily about writing. Those who don’t do well on the exam are not hired, even if they are otherwise excellent candidates. The grammar test helps his companies maintain a high standard of professionalism.

In July 2012, Wiens explained his views about the link between good grammar and good job performance in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review. For Wiens, “Good grammar makes good business sense.” Wiens’ experience shows that people who make the effort to use correct grammar are also careful about other aspects of their job performance. Similarly, Wiens says, “Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important.” Wiens also insists that his companies are not alone in valuing good grammar, “I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés.”

How is this related to preparing for the TOEFL? Think of mastering English grammar as a long-term investment in your future career, not as something you need to do “just” for the TOEFL exam.

TOEFL Tip #187: Answers To Your Questions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 18, 2013

We love getting comments on the Strictly English blog! We want to hear how your experience compares with a situation described in a post, or suggestions for future posts. Did you find a particular post especially helpful? Let us know!

Lately, readers have also asked a number of questions in the comment section. Because these are questions that we think a lot of people might have, we wanted to answer them in a post, rather than just respond directly to the original question.

Question #1: Scheduled exams and the new 21 day policy

ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day wait between exams is causing some anxiety. One reader said that he has two TOEFL exams scheduled within 21 days of each other in January. He scheduled the exams in 2012, but is worried that he won’t be allowed to take the second exam because of the new policy. He asked whether these two test dates are a problem, and what he can do about it.

The new policy started as of January 1, 2013, regarding scheduling exams after that date. As far as we know, this does not affect close-together exams that were scheduled in 2012, but which now violate the new policy. If you are in this position and want to make sure that you can still take the second-scheduled exam, contact ETS and ask for clarification.

Question #2: How to answer the Speaking section questions

Another question asked what format to use when answering the prompts for the Speaking section. The reader wanted to know if Speaking Section answers were more like a response to a teacher’s question in a classroom, or more like a spoken essay with a thesis, support, and a conclusion.

The answer is – some of both (depending on what your classroom is like, of course!). There are 6 Speaking tasks. Some of them ask for your opinion on a topic, and those answers should have a main idea that answers the question, and supporting details for that main idea. Other sections will require you to read and/or listen to a passage, and answer a question based on information from the passage. That might be more like a classroom answer, where you are repeating key points from the passage rather than giving your own opinion. There are lots of resources for practicing the speaking section and getting a better feel for how to answer the prompts. For a quick example, see this page.

Question #3: Retaking the TOEFL to get the score you need

A reader has the total score that he or she needs, but the score in one section does not meet the minimum required by the program to which he or she is applying. The question is, does the reader need to retake the TOEFL to boost his or her score in the section that is too low, knowing that he or she would miss the application deadline by taking the exam again?

We don’t know – this depends on the policy at each school or program to which you are applying. We have found that policies vary quite a lot, so it is not wise to assume anything about a program’s requirements. Call the program, ask to speak to an admissions counselor (or other staff person who knows the school’s policies well), and explain your situation. Do this as soon as possible in order to have the greatest number of options for addressing your issue.

Got a question? Leave it in the comments!

TOEFL Tip #185: Successful New Year’s Resolutions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 4, 2013

The beginning of January is a season of transition and assessment. After relaxing over the holidays, we look ahead to the new year with refreshed determination to achieve our goals. And yet, all too often, we slip back into old habits, despite our best intentions to change.

If you are preparing to take the TOEFL exam in 2013, how can you use New Year’s resolutions to help you reach the score you need?

First, decide if you need to explore or exploit. That is, do you need to develop new study habits, or learn new test-taking strategies? This is a resolution to explore – you will be absorbing new material, using new ways of thinking, and reinventing your TOEFL-prep process. On the other hand, do you need to make adjustments to techniques that already work pretty well for you? Then you will be exploiting the process that you already have, fine-tuning it to meet your needs more effectively.

Most likely, you will need a combination of exploring and exploiting. Think carefully about how you learn and how you study for tests. If you need to explore new areas, you need to be willing to try lots of things, discard those that don’t work for you, and move on. If you need to exploit your current resources, make small adjustments and track their effectiveness. Knowing which type of resolution you’re working on can help target your approach.

Overall, you will be more successful with any New Year’s resolution if you break large goals into smaller sub-goals, and if you are specific about what you want to do. To take a simplified example, if your current score is 80 and you need a score of 100, instead of making one resolution – to get a 100 – establish sub-goals. Maybe your goal will be to take the test twice, and raise your overall score by 10 points each time. Maybe your goal will be to take the test four times, and focus on raising your score on one section at a time. Maybe you will take the TOEFL before a new study program and again afterwards in order to measure how well that new system is working for you. By breaking your major goal into smaller pieces, you can build motivation and momentum toward the overall goal.

Think about HOW you want to reach your goal, rather than focusing only on the end result you want to achieve. Leave us a comment, and tell us how you are going to reach your TOEFL goal in 2013!

TOEFL Tip #183: Mac Users Get Closer To New TOEFL CDs From Cambridge (And Barrons?)

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 21, 2012

When Apple launched its Lion operating system in July 2011, Mac users were instantly crippled in their TOEFL study. This is because the CDs that came with two of the best study guides for TOEFL no longer worked in this new operating system. Unfortunately, this problem persists with Apple’s newest operating system, Mountain Lion.

If you put your Cambridge CD or your Barrons CD into an Apple computer, it just wouldn’t work.

So Strictly English called up Cambridge and Barrons to ask them when they would release CDs that would work for Mac users. We got an update from Cambridge, but have not heard from Barrons.

Cambridge says it will have a Mac-friendly CD by early 2013. Of course, we’re very glad to hear this, but we have to admit that this is a bit slow. Lion came out a year and a half ago, which means that all new Mac owners have not been able to use the Cambridge CD for all of that time.

Publishers of educational material need to remember that Apple computers are far more popular in educational institutions than PCs are. Perhaps this is too much of a generalization, but the basic trend is that PCs are found in businesses and Macs are found in schools.

Therefore, educational companies can’t afford to put their Mac users on the back burner for so long, especially since Apple products continue to take a larger share of the computer market.

THANK YOU, CAMBRIDGE for getting a CD ready for release. But please BE QUICKER next time so all of us Mac users can enjoy your fantastic products without interruption.

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.

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