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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 #190: Improving Gets Harder As You Go

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 10, 2013

Have you ever noticed a pattern when learning to do something new? At first, you make a lot of progress. After a while, however, you need to work harder and harder and you get only a little bit better. This is common when losing weight, for example. The first 10 pounds might come off quickly and with only a few changes to your diet and lifestyle, but the next 10 take longer and require more of your effort.

TOEFL study can be the same way. Maybe the score for your first diagnostic test was an 80. You study for 10 hours, working on your most frequent grammar mistakes, practicing answers to speaking prompts, and your score goes up to 95. But that’s lower than the score you need, so you study for another 10 hours. This time, you practice writing organized essays, correct even more grammar errors, learn a lot of new vocabulary, and listen to news broadcasts in English. Your score does go up, but only from 95 to 104. To get from 104 to 109 will take more than 10 additional hours of study.

The following chart shows the relationship between the time and effort you put into a task, and the quality of your results.


We know it can be frustrating to have a score that’s just a little bit lower than what you need.

To get to your goal, you need to make a number of small changes that will add up to the result that you want. Study your performance for patterns, and look for places you can adjust your strategies. Knowing that the last phase of your TOEFL studying might take the longest can help you focus your efforts, and schedule exams when you are truly ready.

TOEFL Tip #184: The Year In Review

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 28, 2012

For our last post of 2012, we’re taking a look back at a year’s worth of news items, study tips, and section strategies. Take a look at a post you may have missed when it was originally published, or review an especially pertinent item. As always, we appreciate hearing from you. Leave a comment telling us which posts were most helpful, and what topics you would like to see covered.

Our most dramatic news item was also one of our most recent posts – starting in January 2013, test-takers must wait 21 days between scheduled TOEFL exams. We also alerted readers to changes in security policies to prevent TOEFL test-takers from using a fraudulent identity, as well as differences between how GMAT and TOEFL test scores are reported. We highlighted ETS’s policies for test-takers with special needs and for rescheduling an exam, and discussed two programs – TOEFL Junior and TOEFL Journey.

Most of our posts discussed the specific sections of the TOEFL exam, with many topics applying to multiple sections. The important skill of paraphrasing applies to all 4 sections. Reading and Listening both indicate the greater value of broad-based knowledge instead of perfect fluency in English. We also advised test-takers to answer as few Reading questions as necessary, to know the various types of Reading questions, and to go straight to the questions instead of reading the Reading passage first.

Strategies for the Writing and Speaking sections have a significant degree of overlap, reflecting the two areas in which many of our students need the most assistance. For both sections, we emphasized how tricky it can be to get the details right, as well as the importance of keeping the details simple and vivid. The test-taker’s grammar is a significant element in the Writing and Speaking sections, so we focused on the level of grammar necessary for a high score, effective intermediate English, including subject-verb agreement and appropriate use of coordinating conjunctions. An additional Writing section strategy advised test-takers to avoid redundancy.

By far, we addressed issues concerning the Speaking section most often this year. In addition to the strategies mentioned above which also apply to the Writing section, we had a lot of Speaking-specific advice. We discussed two cultural elements that can unexpectedly affect the Speaking score – Americans’ greater tendency to share personal details, and the speed at which a test-taker’s native language is typically spoken. Because the Speaking section has a unique performance aspect that the other sections do not have, we suggested that test-takers develop a speaking persona and warm up their voices, as well as sharing other performance tips. We also noted the various implications of the casual “OK.” To further improve Speaking performance, we advised test-takers to practice in their native language and to ignore the clock.

Beyond these strategies for particular sections, we discussed several general techniques for studying: eliminating distractions, immersing oneself in English, being enthusiastic about the TOEFL, improving comprehension, and understanding the logic of how the TOEFL exam is structured. We looked at the value of group study, and how to use the Strictly English blog for self-study. We advised students against taking multiple exams to prepare, and suggested that some students can benefit from taking a gap year to prepare for the TOEFL. On a broader level, we examined why students who are considered “smart” in high school sometimes perform poorly on the TOEFL.

For the day of the exam, we gave test-takers an effective way to manage their notepaper.

In addition to two guest posts addressing different aspects of merit scholarships for international students (here and here), we had several posts about Strictly English itself. We launched our YouTube channel this year, as well as our Study Hall service. As always, we appreciate hearing about our students’ success, as in this testimonial. We had a contest to locate typos in a post, and the winner received 2 free hours of tutoring. Congratulations, Flor! We also ran a Cyber Monday sale. Finally, we asked Cambridge about when they will update their instructional CDs to run on Macs using the Lion operating system — look for these in early 2013!

Thank you for a terrific 2012! See you next year!

TOEFL Tip #167: Guest Post — 4 Important Tips For International Students Looking To Get Merit Aid

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 3, 2012

Today’s post is another installment in our series on scholarships for international students, featuring advice from International College Counselors.

Some of the ideas here reflect a central core of advice that echoes the same points in our previous post on financial aid for international students, particularly regarding the need to do your research to find colleges that offer scholarships for international students, and to assess your own talents accurately.

In addition, International College Counselors makes a key point that merit aid is not limited to your academic achievement. Their view on your ability to negotiate if you have multiple admissions letters is also a valuable insight.

Read on for more details:

Merit Aid is non-need-based aid. Colleges offer this financial help to students based on academic or athletic achievements, special talents such as music, or other characteristics, rather than financial need. In other words, merit aid is not awarded based on the student’s economic situation.

Almost every traditional four-year college, public or private, offers some form of merit aid. However, not all aid is equally distributed between domestic and international students.

If you are an international student looking for merit aid, here are tips that can improve your chances of receiving merit aid.

1. Do research and find the schools that offer merit aid to international students. While not all schools offer aid to international students, there are a number that do. Some include: University of Miami, University of Richmond, Washington and Lee University, Oberlin College and St. Lawrence University.

2. Choose colleges where you’d be at the top. If your grades and tests scores put you in the top 25 percent of the student body, there is a very good chance a school will try to woo you with merit aid.

3. Take stock of your abilities. Merit aid can also be attainable for athletic achievements and special talents. If you are skilled in sports, music, etc., merit aid and scholarships designed to attract these abilities are worth looking into.

4. Negotiate. If you have received admission letters from two or more schools of equivalent standards, don’t be afraid to ‘bargain.’ Some schools may be willing to match a merit grant offered by another school.

In 2012, the college advisors at International College Counselors helped more than 200 students from around the world to find, apply to and gain acceptance into the college of their dreams. The expert college advisors at International College Counselors are dedicated to helping students and their parents with the often daunting and complex college application process. For more information on International College Counselors or to contact an expert college counselor, please call 954 414-9986 or visit

TOEFL Tip #156: The Grammar You Need For A High TOEFL Writing Score

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 25, 2012

Following up on a recent post, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty about “intermediate English.”

Anyone studying for the TOEFL exam understands that many aspects of English play a significant role in your TOEFL Writing score: grammar, spelling, vocabulary, idiom use, sentence structure, argument, logic, transitions, relevant details, clear thesis, paragraph breaks, punctuation, etc. But if we wanted to look at just the role that grammar plays in your score, you might be surprised by the following information.

Initially, you might think that TOEFL aligns its scores (0-30) according to the level of English. For example:

0-3= Low Beginner
4-7 = Beginner
8-11 =High Beginner
12-15 = Low Intermediate
16-19 = Intermediate
19-22 = High Intermediate
23-26 = Advanced
27-30 Fluent

But this might not be true. For example, you don’t need to be fluent if you want a 27 on the Writing section. In fact, all you need is intermediate grammatical structures with very few errors.

Good to know, right?

But even with this information, there is still a lot to think about regarding grammar: verb tense, article use, sentence structure, word order, etc. We can’t cover all of these in this one blog entry, so let’s just look at one thing on this list: sentence structure.

Basically, the more common sentence structure for intermediate grammar is the “compound” sentence. Here is a brief explanation of sentence structure:

One way to categorize sentences in English is as follows:

  • Simple
  • Compound
  • Complex

SIMPLE SENTENCES have one clause. For example: I went to the store.

COMPOUND SENTENCES have two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (e.g., “and”, ‘but”, “or”). For example: Fred ate dinner, and Zhen watched TV.

PLEASE NOTE: the word “and” does not always indicate a compound sentence. For example, look at this sentence: Yuki and Alejandro both ate cake and cookies. It has the word AND in it twice, but these ANDs are not connecting two clauses; the first AND is only connecting two subjects (Yuki and Alejandro), and the second AND is only connecting two direct objects (cake and cookies). Therefore, this sentence is actually a SIMPLE sentence with a “compound subject” and a “compound direct object”.

COMPLEX SENTENCES have two or more clauses, one of which is dependent. For example: If the storm comes, we’ll close the windows. Here, “If the storm comes” is the dependent clause. If you need to learn more about dependent clauses, then please click here.

So, if you can write compound sentences with few or no spelling or punctuation errors, then you can get a 27 on the test!

Remember, though, just because the writing is intermediate, doesn’t mean that intermediate students will have an easy time scoring a 27. This is because intermediate students are still learning compound structures and make a lot of mistakes with them. So, the best candidate to try this technique is an advanced student who can write masterful compound sentences that are free from error and use engaging and precise vocabulary.

TOEFL Tip #91: Use A Holistic Approach: An Example

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 18, 2011

In last week’s post, we talked about using a holistic approach for answering questions in the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL. Keeping in mind that the questions work together, and using information from one question to answer another, can help you make sure your answers are correct, and can save you time.

Today, we wanted to work through a specific example of how a holistic approach would work. This example comes from the Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test (second edition, 2007), the Reading Diagnostic Pre-Test, pages 3-7.

The reading passage is about aggressive behavior in people, and theories about what causes it. Here is the entire first paragraph; the words in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS are words we want to emphasize for this post. They are not in bold or capital letters in the original passage.

Aggressive behavior is any behavior that is INTENDED to cause injury, pain, suffering, damage, or destruction. While aggressive behavior is often thought of as purely physical, verbal attacks such as screaming and shouting or belittling and humiliating comments AIMED AT causing harm and suffering can also be a type of aggression. What is key to the definition of aggression is that whenever harm is inflicted, be it physical or verbal, it is INTENTIONAL.

The first thing to notice when you are reading this paragraph is that it says three times that aggression is something that is done on purpose (“intended,” “aimed at,” “intentional”). Whenever you see an idea repeated several times in a short paragraph, that’s a tip that the idea is important.

Here is the first question and its answer choices:

1. Which of the following is NOT defined as aggressive behavior?
a. Inflicting pain accidentally
b. Making insulting remarks
c. Destroying property
d. Trying unsuccessfully to injure someone

Right away, you know that the answer is “a,” because the passage emphasized that aggression is intentional. While you should always double check the rest of the answer choices, you can be confident that “a” is the right answer for this question. The answers for b, c, and d ARE acts which someone does on purpose.

This is where using a holistic approach can help you on the TOEFL. As you move on to the next questions, remember this answer. You know that any answer that suggests that aggression is an accident or is unintentional is a wrong answer.

Here is question 5 and its answer choices:

5. According to paragraph 3, displacement is
a. internally directed aggression
b. a modeled type of aggression
c. aggression that is unintentional
d. aggression that is directed outward

Because you remember from question 1 that aggression always intentional, you can immediately see that answer “c” is WRONG, and you can eliminate it. Can you eliminate any other answers? Look at the key word in each choice. The key word of answer “a” is “internally,” the key word of “b” is “modeled,” and the key word of “d” is “outward.” Maybe you don’t remember these words from the passage. You can return to the reading and focus on finding the definition of displacement that uses one of these three key words. Every time you can quickly eliminate one or more choices because you remember a similar answer from earlier in the section, you have saved time, and have reduced your chances of making a mistake.

The more you practice taking a holistic approach to the Reading and Listening sections, the easier it will be to link related answers together.

TOEFL Tip #84: Elocution: focusing on HOW you speak

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 28, 2011

This post will be the first in a series examining the subtle but important differences among terms used to describe speaking. Understanding these terms will make you more aware of how you speak, and will help you understand and correct some common speech problems. Look for new installments about once per month.

We’ll start by taking a look at “elocution.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “elocution” as a “way or manner of speaking,” with a focus on the speaker’s “delivery, pronunciation, tones, and gestures; manner or style of oral delivery.” As you can see, elocution is about the performance of what you’re saying, not the content of what you’re saying. With good elocution, reading the phone book sounds interesting. With bad elocution, a speaker can’t hold the audience’s attention, no matter how exciting the topic is. Let’s focus on each part of this performance.

Delivery is mostly about your speaking speed. Do you speak quickly? Slowly? Do you speak at about the same speed for the entire answer? Do you slow down or speed up at any point in the answer? Do you stumble over common words? Do you stutter? Do you use a lot of filler words, such as “um” or “like”? You goal is a consistent, medium speed that is not interrupted by filler words.

We’ll discuss pronunciation in depth in a future post, but for now, a key point about pronunciation is that there is a correct way – or sometimes, more than one correct way – to pronounce a word. To do well on the TOEFL, you must pronounce words correctly. For example, the word “epitome” is pronounced “ee-PIT-oh-me,” with emphasis on the second syllable. Saying “EP-ih-tohm,” is wrong.

We’ll also discuss tone in a future post. But for now, keep in mind that you want to convey interest with your tone of voice as well as with the words you’re speaking. Avoid speaking in a monotone, or sounding bored by using the same 5 words over and over!

Obviously, your gestures won’t be recorded as part of the TOEFL, but you should still pay attention to how and when you move your hands when you speak. For example, if you usually point your finger to emphasize something you’re saying, then you should also do that when giving your TOEFL answer. You will sound more natural, and you will be more likely to vary your tone as well.

TOEFL Tip #82: Even Native Speakers Don’t Score 120 On The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 10, 2011

Strictly English has recently researched how a native speaker of English would perform on the TOEFL iBT. Many of our clients assume that native speakers will score perfect 120s on the test, but this turned out not to be true.

Because TOEFL is designed for high school seniors, we wanted our English-speaker to be 17 or 18 years old. Our most important characteristic for the native English speaker was that he had excellent high-school grades and that he had no knowledge about the TOEFL exam nor of Strictly English’s strategies. In fact, he did not even know how many sections there were on the exam.

Our native speaker scored a 105. Like so many of our clients, his worst sections were Writing (25) and Speaking (26). Granted, a 26 is a fantastic Speaking score for an international test-taker, but it’s pretty low for a native speaker. Clearly this indicates that scores of 27 and above are not just about being able to speak English. Instead, you have to speak English with a professional clarity and purpose that even the most intelligent high-school students are years away from mastering.

Our native speaker’s highest score was a 28 on the Reading, which he admitted tired him out a lot and had a significant effect on his performance as the exam went on.

After the exam, all he said was, “A little knowledge of the exam prior to would have been extremely helpful,” which suggests that even a native-born speaker could have benefited from guidance on the TOEFL.

For an American student who had previously scored in the 95th percentile for the SATs to come into the TOEFL and only get a 105 on the iBT should send a message to all those internationals who are aiming to get a similar score or higher. If a straight-A native speaker only scored a 105 without coaching, you should be prepared to need some tutoring yourself if you’re trying to get a 100 of higher.

TOEFL Tip #54: Japanese Links To Henry Louis Gates Jr. Articles

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 2, 2009


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