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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 #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 #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 #181: Use Appropriate, Vivid Details

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 9, 2012

Vision is most people’s dominant sense. We take in more information by seeing than we do by hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. That’s why there are so many aphorisms about sight: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” “Seeing is believing,” “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Keep this in mind as you prepare for the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL exam. For the rater, hearing and reading your words is not enough. He or she needs to SEE the images that your words create in his or her own mind. When you create a visual image with your words, you are using language in a more sophisticated way, which can have a positive effect on your score.

Here’s an example to clarify the different between an answer that paints a picture and one that does not. One friend tells you that she had “a big meal,” but a second friend tells you that he had a “huge medium rare steak, with a big baked potato and a side of green beans with tons of butter on them.” Which dinner do you see in your head? A generic “big meal,” or steak and vegetables?

Of course you see the second friend’s dinner.

This example might make you think that you just need to pack your answer full of details to get a good score. This is partly true; detailed answers are stronger than general ones. However, not all details have the same effect, and if you string a lot of details together, the list itself might become the answer’s main focus. That will not create the CORRECT image in the rater’s head. For example, a long list of food on your plate might make the rater see only a shopping list in his or her mind, instead of seeing you at dinner with your friends, enjoying a rich dessert while music plays in the background.

You need the art of using appropriate details that will work to your benefit. Like too much food piled on a flimsy paper plate, too many details piled onto a weak narrative will cause your whole answer to fall on the floor. Once that happens, you can’t put it back together.

We at Strictly English can teach you how to have the RIGHT amount of APPROPRIATE details to score over a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL. Contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #175: Enter Our Editing Contest!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 26, 2012

Win 2 FREE HOURS of tutoring! Correct all 7 mistakes in this blog article (they could be spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors), and you will be entered in a drawing for 2 FREE HOURS of TOEFL Tutoring! The winner will be announced in our blog post next week, on November 2nd.

To enter the contest, please email us your corrections highlighted in RED at info@strictlyenglishusa.com before 11:59 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 31st. Then write a comment on this blog article that says “I think I corrected all the mistakes!” Be sure to do *both* steps for your entry to count. Good luck!

 

HERE IS THE DOCUMENT TO BE EDITED

Misspellings and grammar errors are often the trickiest part of the Writing Section to correct. Perhaps you’re used to working with programs like Microsoft Word which identify speling errors with red squiggly lines under misspelled words, and green squiggly lines under ungrammatical phrases. Perhaps your software even autocorrects typos, so you never even realize you’ve made them. Perhaps you’re working on the basics of English grammar, so you’re not thinking about whether or not to use the Oxford comma (that’s the comma that comes before the “and” in a list of items; such as the one after “green” in this example: red, green, and blue). Whatever your particular circumstances, students often has “blind spots” that make it hard for them to recognize and fix grammar errors.

What can you do?

Use your software to help learn what kinds of mistakes you make most often. Rather than simply letting hte software correct mistakes, turn off autocorrect. Write down every word identified by red squiggles and every phrase identified by green ones, and fix them yourself in the document. Use sites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab to learn about the particular grammar mistakes you keep making and practicing correcting them. You could even ask a native speaker of English to take a paragraph from the newspaper, purposely change it to include mistakes, and give it to you as a quiz. The more you practice spotting these sorts of mistakes in other people’s writing, the easier it will be to identify them in your own writing.

Numerous spelling and grammar errors can make a significant difference to your TEOFL score. Its worth taking the time to improve this skill.

TOEFL Tip #174: Understand The Logic Behind The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 19, 2012

Last week, we discussed a strategy for the Reading section of the TOEFL which advises test-takers to read as little of the passage as possible. This week, we want to highlight an implicit point about that strategy.

Understanding the logic of the TOEFL is essential for doing well on the exam.

It’s important to realize that the TOEFL is not a test of your academic knowledge, per se. Of course, you need to know the rules and conventions of formal English in order to understand the Reading and Listening passages, and to communicate effectively in the Writing and Speaking sections. Similarly, the Reading section has questions asking about the meaning of a specific word from the passage. If you’ve never encountered that word before, you may have trouble figuring out its meaning from context.

In the big picture, however, the TOEFL does not test what you already know about academic topics as diverse as chemistry and prehistoric art. There would be no effective way to study for such a test, because it’s simply not possible to know something about every potential topic that might appear in a TOEFL passage.

Keep in mind, then, that the TOEFL assesses how well you comprehend and communicate in English. If you happen to know something about the topic of the passage, that will certainly assist you in choosing the correct answers. However, even if you know nothing about the topic, the passage itself contains everything you need to answer the questions.

This is where understanding the logic of the TOEFL becomes central. When you understand what each section of the test measures, you can answer more effectively. For example, the Writing and Speaking sections are not only about whether you can answer a question with sentences that are grammatically correct. They also gauge your ability to express and develop unique ideas and persuade your audience. To do this, you need to know how many points you need to support your main idea, how much detail to include, and how to structure your answer.

Once you’re familiar with the logic behind the TOEFL exam – HOW to take the test – you can focus on WHAT the answers are.

TOEFL Tip #172: More Information About Subject/Verb Agreement Errors

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 6, 2012

Some time ago, Strictly English had a post highlighting the fact that numerous errors in subject-verb agreement in the Writing section of the TOEFL could substantially lower your score. Our researchers have recently discovered that subject-verb agreement errors affect not only your Writing score, but also your Speaking score.

In both the Writing and Speaking sections, our researchers’ answers were nearly grammatically perfect. For this study, their only “problem” area was in subject-verb agreement. As a result, their scores in both sections dropped. Their Writing scores went down by as much as 4 points, and their Speaking scores were 2 or so points lower.

What accounts for the same error costing different points on the Writing and Speaking sections?

We attribute this to the ability to proof-read your answers in the Writing section before submitting them. If you use your response time well, you can leave a few minutes at the end to review what you’ve written and correct any mistakes. Since you technically CAN fix your errors, it seems as if ETS penalizes you more for any mistakes which remain in the answer.

On the other hand, you can’t go back and correct mistakes in your Speaking section answers. Even if you do correct one or two errors right after you say them, it’s just not feasible to expect that you can correct all of them and still give a good answer. ETS knows this, and seems to deduct fewer points because speaking on the fly (scroll to the bottom of the page) is harder than writing and revising.

Since subject-verb agreement errors are easy to recognize (click here for a review), make sure that you practice eliminating them from both your written and spoken English.

TOEFL Tip#166: Strictly English’s YouTube Channel

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 24, 2012

Did you know that Strictly English has its own YouTube channel ? We do! Check out our videos on a variety of topics:

We have a number of videos which showcase a particular skill or tip for taking the TOEFL exam. Whether you want to improve your Reading, Speaking, or Writing (part 1, part 2) score, we have helpful advice.

Of course, we have information about our programs, such as the Study Hall, and a Frequently Asked Questions video made at xtranormal.com.

But don’t take just our word about how effective our programs are. Listen to what our clients say about our services.

Several students have contacted Strictly English after getting the TOEFL score they needed, and have shared their experiences in videos. We recently discussed one client’s success on the TOEFL, which she needed in order to get her nursing license. Other students have needed a particular TOEFL score for dentistry or pharmacy. As these students say, working with Strictly English made the crucial difference in their TOEFL scores.

Come back often and see what’s new on Strictly English’s YouTube channel!

TOEFL Tip #161: K.I.S.S.ing Occam’s Razor

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 13, 2012

The title of today’s post is a play on words that combines the modern expression “Keep It Short and Simple” (K.I.S.S) with the same idea in its much older form, Occam’s Razor.

The “K.I.S.S. Principle” comes from the field of engineering. It reminds designers that elaborate systems are not inherently better than simple ones. In fact, simple systems are often easier for a wide variety of people to understand. An example of the K.I.S.S. Principle is a car engine that can be fixed with a wrench and a screwdriver, instead of needing to be hooked up to a computerized diagnostic system.

Similarly, the idea behind Occam’s Razor is that the best explanation of events is the one that makes the fewest assumptions while still accounting for all of the facts. The razor slices away unnecessary details, so that what remains is both essential and accurate. If you make lunch in the morning but arrive at work without it, Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s far more likely that you left your lunch at home, rather than thinking that someone snuck into the back seat of your car and stole your lunch while you were stopped at a red light.

The reasons why we’re talking about these two idioms is because simplicity is key for the TOEFL exam. In addition, so is avoiding redundancy, which is why we’re highlighting this ONE idea with TWO different phrases!

This idea of “using simple thought processes” is the best way to think throughout the test. In fact, the clearest answers on the Writing and Speaking sections follow these principles. Clearly expressing a few details is better than creating complicated arguments that require more and more sentences.

Now, we’ll follow our own advice, and Keep (this post) Short and Simple!

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