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TOEFL Tip #71: Thank You Note From Current Student

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 23, 2010

We’re very happy to have received this wonderful Thank You note today from one of our current Students. We’ve attached a picture of the original note, but if you can’t read the handwriting it says:

“Thank you very much for your patience and all your knowledge that you share with me. You have exceptional talent to explain and to make difficult things into easy English.”

TOEFL Tip #70: The Limits Of Memorized Answers

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 25, 2010

Many of our clients want to have a list of memorized answers for the Speaking and Writing sections of the iBT. They believe that if they memorize 100 answers that are general enough, then those 100 answers will apply to any question they get on the test.

Although Strictly English does believe that you can have some “go-to” topics before you walk into the exam, it is not realistic to assume that your standardized answers will easily fit for any question you get.

For example, one standard topic that can work for many questions is “BODY”.  So let’s imagine that a student has memorized the idea of talking about BODY. That is GOOD. It will probably help them come up with an answer. But let’s take this a step further and say that they have memorized one very specific positive body answer and one very specific negative body answer. The positive body answer is, “It keeps me fit” and the negative body answer is “It might hurt me”. So let’s look at five possible questions on either Task 2 or on the Independent Essay and see how many of them we can use these standard answers of STAY FIT and HURT MYSELF for.

QUESTION: Should children be required to take gym class in high school?

POS: I believe that children should be required to take gym class in high school because it helps them stay fit.

NEG: I believe that children should not be required to take gym class in high school because they could hurt themselves.

We were lucky here, because GYM CLASS is already about BODY, so our general catch-all answers work. But we’ll still have to explain specifically HOW children might hurt themselves. And that hurt must be SPECIFIC for each prompt’s situation. At this level of detail a standard answer is no longer possible. For example, let’s imagine our more detailed standard answer is “IT WILL HURT YOUR BACK.”  Will it work in every question? Let’s see:

QUESTION: “Do you agree with the statement that owning your own home is better than renting an apartment?”

ANSWER: I do not agree that owning my own home is better than renting an apartment because home ownership hurts my back.

At first glance, this sounds silly. Millions of people own homes and 99% of them do not have a bad back. And if they DO have a bad back, it is not BECAUSE of home ownership. Now, BAD BACK can still be used to answer this question, but we have to introduce that concept in a way that is unique to the question.

REVISED ANSWER: I do not agree that owning my own home is better than renting an apartment because home ownership requires more physical labor, which might hurt my back.

This is better, but now we have to explain WHAT KIND OF PHYSICAL LABOR hurts the back. Gardening? Shoveling snow? Raking Leaves? Mowing the Lawn?  Again, at this level of detail, whatever answer we come up with, won’t work for another answer. Sure shoveling snow can hurt your back, but we can’t use that for an answer to a prompt like:

QUESTION: “Is it better to wear glasses or contact lenses?”

I think it is better to wear glasses because I will not hurt my back while shoveling snow.

I hope you can see that this answer is TERRIBLE. And we seriously get students who try to answer with these kinds of memorized answers. Now please note that BODY is still a good topic, and even HURT is still a good idea. For example,

I prefer glasses because contacts can infect my eyes.

Now the good thing is that HURT is still our answer, but the bad thing is that we still had to come up with a hurt that was SPECIFIC to contact lenses (an infection).

Please remember that the directions for both the Speaking and the Writing on the iBT say to give “reasons and examples” to support your opinion. These reasons and examples must be specific and relevant to the prompt.

Of course, you can say, “well, I’ll just memorize 10 different kinds of hurt”, but I hope you can see that what we’ve shown here will just happen again.  If you memorized 10 kinds of hurt, then you’ll get a prompt that needs an 11th type of hurt. If you memorize 100 types of bodily injury, then you will get a prompt that requires a 101st type of bodily injury.

Trust us when we say: It is not possible to memorize enough answers.

And on a broader picture. Is this really how you want to be preparing for your college career? I hope you understand that you cannot memorize your way through the American university system.  Sure, you need to memorize many facts in, say, an organic chemistry class. But most of your classes will evaluate you on your ability to think critically and your ability to synthesize new ideas from existing information. Therefore, you might as well begin learning how to do this NOW.

So, in conclusion: Yes, Strictly English encourages you to memorize some GENERAL TOPICS, but we do NOT encourage you to memorize specific details. Instead, you need to learn lateral thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to synthesize information. These skills are really only taught in university. It’s what differentiates university from high school. Therefore, you really need to be working with Strictly English tutors, all of whom have their Ph.D.s and work at a university.

TOEFL Tip #69: Video Testimonial: Score 104. Speaking 27

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 15, 2010

He did it, so can you!  Sign up today!

TOEFL Tip #68: Directions On How To Submit A TOEFL Essay For FREE Correction On Strictly English’s Website

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on

TOEFL Tip #67: How Long Does It REALLY Take To “Pass” The TOEFL?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 14, 2010

So they say it takes between 2500 – 5000 hours to get a good score on the TOEFL. And that’s from your very first English lesson.

This must be wrong.

Let’s say you studied English in school every day from 1st grade until you graduated. With homework, that’s about 2 hours a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year, for 12 years. that’s about 4800 hours of English study. But most students around the world can only score in the 60-70 range at this point in their lives. So what’s wrong with these numbers?

Maybe it has something to do with the frequency of study. 5000 hour spread out over 12 years isn’t enough consistent exposure to the language. But let’s take an extreme example in the opposite direction. If you lived in America for a year and studied 13 hours a day, that would get you to the 5000 hours they say you need. Yet, this doesn’t work either! I don’t know any student in my 17 years of teaching ESL who went from Dead beginner to a TOEFL score of 100 in 12 months.

What’s the real story then?

As usual, it’s not QUANTITY, but QUALITY.  You need to be studying the right materials and in the right way. Otherwise, you’ll just be spinning your wheels or, even worse, learning the English INCORRECTLY!

That’s why Strictly English organizes your study efficiently and customizes your study to fit your unique needs.

TOEFL Tip #66: Strictly English On FaceBook!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on

Strictly English has now launched a FaceBook page called TOEFL 101.  There are a lot of great discussions on it.  Post questions about iBT Reading, Listening, Writing, Speaking, and we’ll answer those questions within 12 hours!  See you there!

TOEFL Tip #65: Find Books That Match Your TOEFL Reading Level

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 11, 2010

ETS has partnered with Metametrics, which created “The Lexile Framwork for Reading.”  This framework will help you find books that are at the same reading level as your TOEFL score.  That way, you can read books that are at the next level up from your level, which will help you increase your score.  To learn more go here:

and put your TOEFL score into the pop-up menu on the left of the page!

TOEFL Tip #64: Video On TOEFL 20-Minute Essay (Integrated Essay)

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 7, 2009

Here is Strictly English’s first instructional video. It covers the TOEFL 20-Minute essay, or what is technically named “The Integrated Skills Essay”.  This video tells you things about the 20-Minute essay that other schools and books are not telling you about the essay’s format!

Want to learn how to write a more powerful TOEFL essay, begin by watching this video!

TOEFL Tip #63: Bad Suggestion From “ETS TOEFL Tips”

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 26, 2009

Sorry to say, but ETS’s TOEFL Tip is not very good this week.   It suggests that listening to movies and TV will improve your listening.  I agree, but only to a point.  I have many students who go to the movies all the time, and they still do not score high on the TOEFL.  There are many reasons for this:

1. The content of movies are not even close to the content of TOEFL lectures.  Therefore, movies and TV might improve your ability to understand general English, but it will not give you the specific vocabulary and content that you’ll need for TOEFL.

2. If you process information more through your eyes than through your ears, you can easily understand a movie by focusing more on the images than by focusing on the words.  Now this is good, because most everyone uses their eyes to understand the world around them, but this won’t help you with TOEFL.  TOEFL offers no visual prompts or visual clues. You only have your ears.

So if you really want to use movies to improve your listening, then go to the theater with a blindfold on!  Okay, that was a joke.  But here are a few ideas that might improve this ETS Tip:

1. Go to movies with very little action.  Action movies do not have as much talking, so they do not help you improve your listening.

2. Watch documentaries, like Disney’s EARTH. These movies have content that is more akin to TOEFL content.

3. Watch TV channels like PBS , the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel. Again, they have content that is similar to TOEFL content.

TOEFL Tip #62: Using Your TOEFL Skills Beyond TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 23, 2009

M. K. Thompson has a very compelling article titled The Many Shortcomings of Standardized Tests in the Korean Herald today.  In it, she argues that the information you learn when studying for any standardized test is only good for the test itself.  Most students do not apply the knowledge they learn for the test to other academic situations.  As a university tester for more than 15 years, I completely agree with Ms. Thompson.

This is why Strictly English has designed a TOEFL program that can be directly applied to university life.  Our methods and strategies will be helpful when writing university essays and when giving oral presentations in your university classes.

Case in point: during the Spring 2009 semester, Strictly English received a phone call from an ex-student who has already completed her TOEFL study and was now at college taking a history class.  She called requesting help with her midterm essay. Although Strictly English does not regularly offer academic tutoring, I did take the time to meet with this ex-student to show her how all of Strictly English’s strategies for the 30-Minute essay could be applied to her college midterm paper.

Not only did she get an A- on that paper, but that grade was significantly higher than the other essays she had written without the Strictly English method!

So remember: a good TOEFL tutor will give you skills that go far beyond the test!

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