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TOEFL Tip #51: College In The US | Does Brand-Name Matter?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 15, 2009

Strictly English asked Adam Goldberg, M.Ed. (CEO and Educational Consultant of The Goldberg Center for Educational Planning) if the name of the school you attend really matters.  Here’s what he said:

If you are considering an American college education as a non-US citizen, don’t limit yourself by applying to only the “big name” institutions.

A good example of this bias came to our educational consulting office this morning from China:

“My son wants to go to USA for the high school and the college from Beijing, China. We are hoping for entry to the top 20 universities in USA. To get this done easily we decide to spend the high school in USA. He had taken a tours to visit 10 famous university and likes MIT, Princeton, and Yale very much.”

This is actually a very typical inquiry. Whether they come from China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, England, Australia, Panama, Argentina, or any other country for that matter, prospective students and their families come with “brand name biases.” Most have either only heard of the most prominent colleges (like those listed in the inquiry above), or have decided in their own minds that it is only worth pursuing an American college education if it’s at one of these “famous” institutions.

While I do not intend to crush dreams, suppress ambitions, or change others’ plans, I feel it is necessary to present the reality so that these prospective students and their families can make more informed decisions.

Here are some facts to consider:

• There are many tier three colleges in the US with a quality of education, as well as of prestige as those on the lists of the top 10, 20, or even 50 US universities.
Application volume is still high relative to prior generations, especially due to the movement of applications online. As a result, acceptance rates are considerably lower. Colleges mentioned in the above inquiry generally end up accepting no more than 7-15% of all applicants … and those applicants are collectively credentialed well above the norm to begin with.
• The currency imbalance has caused many international students to study in the US for much less money. Therefore international demand is up as well.
• You gain no advantage by applying to the same colleges to which your country-mates apply.
• Attending a top or “famous” private school in the US does not guarantee admission at the aforementioned colleges.

So, now that you have some of the basics and perhaps a slightly new perspective on American colleges, what can you do to more successfully navigate the admissions process?

1. Open up your scope of college options! Beware of lists such as the Shanghai Jiao Tong Rankings in Asia – they are not focused on individual student needs and don’t necessarily give you a truly accurate picture from afar. Besides, in my opinion, it doesn’t do you much good if everyone is operating off the same list in your geography. You will need to do more research, perhaps enlisting some help to do so, but it is well worth the time and effort in the end. As a hiring manager, there are many brands beyond the “famous” ones on a resume that stand to impress me.
2. At the same time, I certainly won’t fully minimize the importance of name brands since they do matter in some domains… you just have to consider which domains are most relevant. If a student is planning on ultimately taking a job in the US, brand name will mean something very different from a scenario where a student is likely returning to his/her home country for work. Carefully consider and discuss the longer-term outlook.
3. Differentiate yourself as a student. US colleges are not looking for generalists these days. They want specialists… those students who have demonstrated a commitment to thoroughly studying one academic topic. Again, extending the scope beyond institutions to which peers are applying immediately creates differentiation as well.
4. Most importantly, consider the fit of a college (and a private school if you decide to get an earlier start in the US system) before anything. Would you rather be a miserable student at Harvard or thrive at a slightly lesser known (but still top quality) institution? Most studies show that the latter student is more successful in the end. Socialization, acquiring work skills and ethics, and gaining confidence and self-advocacy skills, along with building productive relationships, are considered integral assets in the college experience here in the US.

The bottom line is that brand names do matter in the US college realm … but only to a certain extent. My experience tells me that prospective international students can achieve much greater success in both the admissions process and post-matriculation by merely opening up their minds a bit more.

For additional insights into both college and private school admissions, feel welcome to visit our educational consulting blog. For information on educational consulting services offered through companies, visit EnCompass Education.

TOEFL Tip #50: Kind Words From A Friend Of Strictly English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 10, 2009

I would like to thank you for the tips on the speaking section, and also for leting me know that the integrated writing had changed. I did not have a lot of time for studying these changes, but I did have some time to search the ETS website for some examples of level 5 essays.

Again, thanks a lot for helping me achieve this score.

TOEFL Tip #49: Strictly English Will Launch TOEFL Videos July 15th!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 8, 2009

Strictly English has been working on a series of HOW TO videos about the TOEFL test. For example:
How to sign up at ETS.
How to register for the TOEFL.
How to View your TOEFL results online.

We will also be making videos that will help you improve your TOEFL English!

TOEFL Tip #48: Good Advice from Recent TOEFL Test Taker

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 3, 2009

Here is what one Test Taker wrote on his blog about his TOEFL experience:

“I took TOEFL exam 10 days ago. I felt that practise is very important on every single part of the test. For example, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. When I was doing sample test I feel that the time is very sufficient for me, because I always finished my test ahead of time. But the real exam was different. I hardly could not finish my tests on reading and listening. The reason is that I did not want to do wrong on the real test. I was more seriouser and spent more longer time on real test than sample test. I did not get my score yet, but I hope I will get a higher score.

What I am going to is please start your preperation earlier. Please do more practice on sample test, every part of the test. Then you will be more confident x, and you will be able to control your time more efficiently when you take the real test.”

TOEFL Tip #47: Good Words For Strictly English!

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 29, 2009

Here’s what one friend of Strictly English had to say about the advice we gave him:

“I’m writing you this to inform you that I have received my TOEFL score today. I got 97!

I’m really happy now and what I want to say is thank you, thank you very much for helping me during the time I prepared for my test. Your guidance made me feel more confident and believe in myself and therefore I did very well in my test. I really appreciate what you have done for me. I hope your hard work will continue to be great help for other students like me in the future. Keep up your work! We, the students, need more people like you!
Hope we can keep in touch in the future!”

TOEFL Tip #46: Want to Learn More From Strictly English?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 25, 2009

Strictly English also has helpful TOEFL information on Twitter. Follow us on Twitter to learn even more about the TOEFL! Just click on the Blue Bird on this webpage and you’ll be taken to Twitter directly!

You can also be aware of what the admissions offices are saying by following them on Twitter. But be careful! If they follow you back, they will be able to read your Tweets, and if those Tweets are not professional or if they are too personal, then it could hurt your image at the school. It’s always best to keep TWO Twitter accounts: one professional and the other for fun!

Twitter also helps improve your Writing. YOu can only send 140 “characters” (letters) so you have to keep your sentences short. It’s a great way to practice clear direct communication!

TOEFL Tip #45: How TOEFL Scores Are Broken Down

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on

The entire TOEFL has a perfect score of 120, and although 30 points are alloted to each of the 4 sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing), these sections are not scored initially from 0-30. The Rater uses a different scoring system, called the “raw score”. No one but ETS Raters know how this raw score is exactly computed nor how it is then converted to the 0-30 score you receive.

For both the Reading and the Listening sections of the test, you only receive the final score, ranged between 0-30. Meanwhile, you receive sub-scores for both the Speaking and the Writing along with the 0-30 score.

The Speaking section is broken down into three subsections:

1. Speaking about familiar Topics (which indicates how well you did on Tasks One and Two)
2. Speaking about Campus Situations (which indicates how well you did on Tasks Three and Five)
3. Speaking about Academic Course Content (which indicates how well you did on Tasks Three and Five)

These three sections are rated as being “weak” “limited” “fair” or “good”. To receive a 26 on the speaking (which Canadian Nurses and North American Pharmacists need for their licensure), you need to score a “good” in all three subsections of the Speaking.

The Writing section is broken down into two subsections:

1. Writing Based on Reading and Listening (commonly called the 20-minute essay)
2. Independent Essay (commonly called the 30-minute essay)

These two sections are rated as being “limited” “fair” or “good”.


by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 24, 2009

I’m rather surprised that the only iPhone applications for sale are vocabulary builders. With so many sections of the test: (Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing) and with each of these sections testing a different language or reasoning skill (pronoun identification, paraphrasing, copy editing, spelling, logic, as well as the ability to infer and summarize), it shocks me that no one has taken the initiative to make applications that help improve these other skills.  TOEFL is, after all, a multiple choice test.  You would think that an iPhone app based on picking multiple choice answers wouldn’t be that hard to design.  And it isn’t.  The problem is, as usual, time and money.  Creating the content for just one application could take a team of 10 English teachers working 10 hours a day for 10 months.  Add to this the cost of developing the application itself, and you have a big hurdle to jump.

But Strictly English is not afraid to take on this challenge!  We are currently in negotiations with iPhone application developers to design a series of applications that will help strengthen your TOEFL skills.

Until Strictly English releases these applications, though, TOEFL Students will only have the small array of vocabulary applications currently on the market, which haven’t been well-received so far. Early reports indicate that the vocabulary builders are not selling very well, primarily because students would prefer to learn new English words in relation to the student’s original language.  For example, what spanish speaker person wants read “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune,” in order to understand the English word “Anxiety” when he/she could just know that “anxiety” = “ansiedad”.  Hence, these TOEFL vocabulary building apps have it wrong from the start.

But let’s look a little closer at some of these applications anyway:

1. Kaplan TOEFL Vocabulary (by TestPrepWiz): At the time of this writing, the application is not running on the new 3.0 upgrade. I’ve contacted the developer and they are working to fix this problem. In general, though, this program is nothing more than a digital set of flashcards. And with only 350 words, it doesn’t cover much vocabulary. It does have a test mode, which is probably its best function.

Kaplan Vocabulary

Kaplan Vocabulary

2. TOEFL – GMAT Vocabulary Builder (by and Unigate): This application is not helpful for TOEFL vocabulary study mainly because there is just one long list of words.  The user cannot know which vocabulary words are TOEFL words and which words are GMAT words.  Now it is true that all TOEFL words are also GMAT words, but it is NOT true that all GMAT words are also TOEFL words.  GMAT vocabulary is much harder than TOEFL vocabulary.  Using this application would be much better if you could chose a list of TOEFL vocabulary words ONLY, and not study the GMAT words.  It’s games are cute, but it’s hard to know what to do, and the “help” page doesn’t explain how to play.  Look at this screen shot of the game “Bubble”.  Since the balloons rise from the bottom of the screen, your eye focuses on the word EXPANSION, but this is not the word you’re trying to match.  Instead, you have to look at the top of the page to find the definition you’re trying to match.  It is written in small print and does not catch your eye.

3. TOEFL Vocabulary (AudioLearn): By far, this is the least dynamic of the three programs. As you can see form the screenshot, it is a solid stream of text, which just blurs together. In addition, all the text is read aloud in a monotonous stream. Click here download and to listen.

TOEFL Tip #43: Improve Your Subject-Verb Agreement When Speaking

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 22, 2009

Many people—-even the most advanced non-native English speakers—-drop the “S” at the ends of words. And, in all honesty, it is very hard to train yourself to stop doing it. So, here is one trick that will help you a lot: read documents that have every “S” highlighted.  This highlighting will draw your attention to each “S” as you read the document aloud. Repeating this every day for one month should completely eliminate the dropped “S”.  Here is an example:

Highlighted "S"s

Now you can either take the time to highlight the “S”s yourself or you can have your computer do it.  I use my computer, and here’s how:

1. Import any text into a word processor of your choice. I usually take my articles  from

2. Initiate a FIND AND REPLACE.

3. In the FIND box, put in “s” [space] (if you don’t put a SPACE after the “S”, then you’ll highlight “S”s in the middle of words, which you don’t want.)

4. In the REPLACE box, put in “s” [space]

5. With your cursor still in the REPLCE box, Select HIGHLIGHT in the FORMAT pop-up menu. (The FORMAT pop-up menu might be hard to find depending on the word processor you use.)


7. Repeat steps 2-7 but this time, put “s.” [space] into both the FIND and REPLCE boxes (notice the PERIOD after the “s”)

8. Repeat steps 2-7 but this time, put “s,” [space] into both the FIND and REPLCE boxes (notice the COMMA after the “s”)

TOEFL Tip #42: The Dangers Of Self-Study

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 21, 2009

Practicing language production (in other words, Writing and Speaking) on your own can lead to big setbacks because you have a high likelihood of reinforcing bad English instead of reinforcing correct English. Read more here.

For example, if you write a 300 word essay, and in it you made the same grammar error 10-15 times, then you just memorized the incorrect English. This commonly happens with Subject-Verb agreement errors. Students make them so often that they memorize the incorrect grammar.

What you need is a professional ESL instructor sitting with you as your write who can correct your errors as soon as they happen! This maximizes your learning potential and minimizes your study time!

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