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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 #165: Answer As FEW Reading Questions As Necessary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 18, 2012

So many people worry about not having enough time to answer all of the Reading questions on the TOEFL exam. Indeed: time is tight. At best, you only have about 1.5 minutes for each question, and that’s possible only if you go directly to the questions without reading any of the passages beforehand.

Of course, if you need a score of 110 for Harvard Business School, then yes: you have to try to answer *each* question in less than 1.5 minutes. But most TOEFL test takers only need a 20-25 on the exam, and therefore can go more slowly on each question. This will, in turn, increase their accuracy.

Let’s take a pharmacist, for example, who is required by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to score a 21 on the Reading section. In this situation, 21 points out of 30 is 70% accuracy. And 70% of 39 questions (which is about how many Reading questions there are on average) is only 27.3 questions. To be safe, let’s round that up to 29 questions. If you only need 29 correct questions, then you need answer only 9.6 questions correctly per passage. Let’s round up again and say a pharmacist needs only 10 correct questions per passage. This has increased the time per question to 2 minutes each. Granted, 30 seconds is not long in the real world, but on the TOEFL exam, 30 seconds is a huge increase in time.

Now, for the bad news: it is true that if a pharmacist answers only 10 questions, he or she could still get one or two wrong and fall short of the needed TOEFL score of 21. True.

But this blog article wants to use this statistical analysis for a more important point:

RELAX!!!!!

The bottom line is this: if you remove the pressure of being a “perfect answering machine” from test day, then you will not be as anxious. You can take pleasure in ignoring 1 or 2 questions per passage that just look too hard. Or you could just ignore, for example, all of the insertion questions if you know that you never get them right in your practice exams. Or, if you have one passage that you know a lot about from your personal life (say, a pharmacist gets a passage about biology), then you can try to answer ALL of the questions correctly for that passage, but then neglect 4-6 of the questions in the passage that you know very little about, like Native American Art.

The psychological boost to your ego that results from your taking control of the test will definitely translate into more relaxed confidence while answering questions. Let’s face it, most questions are answered incorrectly because of nerves and time pressure. Remove those two negative elements, and you have a much better chance of meeting your goal!

TOEFL Tip #164: Guest Post — Merit Scholarships For International Students

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 14, 2012

Today’s post is from Megan Dorsey, the founder of College Prep, LLC, and an expert in the college admissions process.

International students face additional financial challenges when applying to American universities. Before the U.S. consul will grant a visa, students must document their ability to pay tuition, room, board, and fees. While many American students are counting on money from grants, loans, scholarship, and work, international students find many financial alternatives closed.

International students are not eligible for some types of financial aid including federally subsidized student loans, grants, and some scholarships. While the opportunities are limited, there are chances to qualify for merit scholarships, awards based on talent and ability rather than need.

I recommend my international clients take two approaches to finding merit aid:

1. Research individual scholarship programs and apply for as many scholarships as you qualify.
2. Seek specific colleges and universities offering scholarships for international students and add some potential scholarship schools to your list.

By applying both strategies, you can maximize your chances of receiving merit aid.

Individual Scholarships
There are a number of independent programs offering scholarships to international students. Corporations sponsor some of these scholarships to support students from a particular region or to encourage study in a specific field. There is no single source for finding this type of sholarship, but you may try using the search features provided by organizations such as IEFA and InternationalStudent.com.

Before you spend hours working on an application, check with the program directly to make sure they are still offering awards. In the past, some groups have discontinued scholarships due to lack of funds.

Additionally, take care to avoid fraudulent businesses that guarantee to help you find scholarships – for a fee. You should never have to pay to apply or accept scholarships and no organization can guarantee results.

School-based Scholarships
Often the best sources of scholarships for international students are the colleges and universities themselves. First, school-based scholarships can cover a large portion of annual tuition and are often renewable each year providing students meet the set academic standards (often a set GPA and number of hours completed.) Second, aid from your college or university is automatically added to the calculations of your financial status, making it one less thing you need to provide as documentation. Finally, competition for school-based merit aid can be less competitive than that for large, independent scholarships, which draw applicants from around the world.

Some international students initially become discouraged when they see how many scholarships for which they cannot apply. Understand you will not be considered for National Merit, ROTC, and a variety of other programs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t scholarships specifically for international students.

Many colleges and universities offer a limited number of scholarships for highly qualified or talented international applicants. In some cases you will need to demonstrate your talent in athletics, music, or art, but most often your academic abilities will be evaluated based on the information you submitted for admission.

Schools Offering Scholarships for International Students
Not every school offers money for international applicants, but many do. Here is a preliminary list to show you the range of school-based scholarships available. This is by no means a complete list. It is meant to illustrate the variety of schools offering merit scholarships.

Boston University
California State Long Beach
Davidson
Elon
Emory
Grinnell
Iowa State
Johnson & Wales
Rice
Ripon
St. Edwards
Syracuse
University of Chicago
University of Houston
University of Richmond
University of Vermont
Vanderbilt

Start with the schools you’ve already considered and see what scholarships are offered. Often you can find information on the admissions websites under the “international applicants” page.

Private Schools Versus State Universities
In many ways international applicants will find private colleges and universities offer more scholarship opportunities. But this doesn’t mean you should overlook state universities if you are currently living in the U.S. If you meet requirements for in-state tuition where you live, a state-university could be your least expensive option.

I live in Texas where it is possible for some non-citizens to qualify as in-state residents. Residency is significant in admissions because the state legislature limits the number of non-residents to 11% of the student body, so international and out-of-state applicants are competing for a restricted number of spaces.

Beyond the issue of competitive admission, you should learn more about your residency status because it will affect your tuition. Most international students are charged the out-of-state tuition rate, which can be double or triple what residents are asked to pay. You may find some schools will offer in-state tuition to non-citizens based on the domicile requirements of that state. In Texas, undocumented students can qualify as residents; the University of Vermont distinguishes between resident and non-resident international applicants. If you can qualify for in-state tuition where you live, it is effectively the same as earning a tuition scholarship from that school.

Level of Competition
Because international applicants have fewer options for financial assistance, competition for available scholarships is fierce. Don’t let this deter you, but do set realistic expectations. If it is a reach for you to simply gain admission to Rice or Vanderbilt, you are unlikely to meet scholarship consideration. However, you may be more competitive at a school such as St. Edward’s or University of Rochester. To improve your odds of earning scholarships, look for schools where your qualifications are above average and you will stand out as a top applicant.

Merit scholarships for international students may be limited, but they are available. Take time to research your options, improve your credentials (TOEFL, SAT, etc.), and apply for a variety of scholarships.

It is more competitive than ever to gain college admission and earn scholarships. Get help from a former high school counselor and independent college advisor who knows the system. Megan Dorsey is a nationally recognized expert in test preparation and college admissions who has helped thousands of students earn the test scores and scholarships they need and get into the schools of their dreams. To receive free college planning and test prep resources visit CollegePrepResults.com

TOEFL Tip #163: It’s (Not) About Time

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 27, 2012

By far, people’s worst anxiety about taking the TOEFL iBT comes from the timers ETS uses on the Speaking section of the exam. This is probably because the time allocations are so short – 45 seconds for Tasks 1 & 2; 60 seconds for Tasks 3-6 – that test takers cannot give themselves the luxury of “losing themselves in the question.” “Forgetting” about the timer is almost impossible in the Speaking section of the test because the clock is staring the speaker right in the face the whole time he/she is talking.

But we have good news: You can, and indeed should, FORGET THE TIMER!!!!

Strictly English knows this sounds crazy. We know that every TOEFL exam study guide and every other language school has convinced TOEFL test takers that they have to speak for the full 45 or 60 seconds, and they have to display mastery of all the content they read and hear (in Tasks 3-6).

However, our research, and that of other Speaking Specialists, has proven that this is not true. In fact, page 165 of ETS’s Official Guide to the TOEFL states that “Good responses generally use all or most of the time allotted” and that “it is important to note that raters do not expect your response to be perfect.” (Bold added for emphasis.) This means that you do not have to reproduce every detail from the short text and/or the lecture/conversation you were given. Nor do you have to finish that perfect content at the exact moment the timer reaches 0:00.

If this is true, then why does the TOEFL exam use a timer?

The timer is really for ETS. It is not for you. Since the TOEFL exam is a standardized test, it has to make sure that all responses from all test-takers are equivalent. TOEFL can’t simply have a STOP RECORDING button that the test taker can push when he/she is finished talking. If it did, then all students would have differently timed “samples” of their speaking. Therefore, the raters must have the same length of audio recording (notice that this is different from the same amount of speaking) from each test taker.

Let’s run the numbers for a moment: From the original text of ETS’s Speaking Rubric on page 166 of the Official Guide to the TOEFL, we can identify the following points that raters use to grade your speaking:

1. clear speech
2. fluidity
3. good pronunciation
4. natural pacing
5. natural intonation
6. effective grammar
7. effective vocabulary
8. full answers
9. coherent presentation
10. using all or most of the response time
11. relationship between ideas
12. progression from idea to idea

Notice that TIMING is only 1/12 (or 8.3% )of the grade.

Granted, you DO have to FILL MOST OF THE TIME with your response. However, this can be achieved, and SHOULD be achieved, by talking slowly and calmly. Doing so will allow you to focus on the other 11 items above, which compose the other 91.7% of your grade. Sadly, our new students come to us having reversed this priority. They make time the most important factor, which causes them to rush, rush, rush. This hurried response is then chock full of bad pronunciation, unnatural pacing and intonation, egregious grammar errors, and incoherencies. No wonder they score so low.

So now that we’ve explained WHY it’s important to forget the timer, you have to learn HOW to forget the timer. It’s not easy to do! But our tutors can teach you very quickly the strategies necessary to turn your back on the timer and face a higher Speaking score!

TOEFL Tip #162: Speaking Section Testimonial

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 20, 2012

One of our recent students was thrilled to earn a 26 on the Speaking Section of the TOEFL exam. Before coming to us, she had taken the TOEFL six times over the course of approximately 2 ½ years. Every previous score for the Speaking Section was a 24. Scoring a 26 is essential for her nursing license, but she had not been able to reach that mark on her own. She was frustrated and increasingly anxious about taking the test.

After four hours of instruction at Strictly English, she got the score she needed the next time she took the exam!

Our student took eight classes, each lasting 30 minutes. We focused on two areas: practice tests with immediate feedback so she could identify where she was making mistakes, and strategies to reduce her anxiety. With our templates to give structure to her answers, she was much more confident! Click here to listen to our full interview.

An important lesson to draw from this student’s experience is the value in trying a new approach. Doing the same thing over and over will not somehow produce different results. In fact, the opposite may happen. Our student reports feeling a kind of depression as her score remained the same with each new test.

So, if you’ve taken the TOEFL multiple times but still haven’t reached the score you’re aiming for, talk with us. We’ll develop a study plan that targets your particular needs!

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!

TOEFL Tip #160: An Interview About Strictly English’s Study Hall Program

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on July 6, 2012

Strictly English has introduced a new Study Hall program that combines the focus of private lessons with the affordability of group tutoring. Our tutor works 1-on-1 with you, and responds to another student while you are typing your answers. Each Study Hall is one hour long, and we have a number of days and times available. See the Study Hall page for more information, or click here to sign up.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with three recent students in Strictly English’s Study Hall:

Strictly English: What were you expecting for the Study Hall?
VN: I thought one of the students would write some, like we did, and everybody can see and make corrections. The teacher would see each correction, and evaluate if it is right or not. So the teaching method would be like correcting somebody’s mistakes and learning the grammar from these mistakes. However, this was better because the previous is more passive learning. It is a more “active” process.

Strictly English: What did you like most about the Study Hall?
MC: I liked that I can see how much time I spent to write my sentence, and that there was time to evaluate my work before sending to the tutor.

DH: Also, the time for thinking is approximately the same as for the TOEFL test, which is very good for training. This was very effective and really good way to practice.

VN: All my mistakes and their corrections are fixed in the Skype notes, and I could review them.

Strictly English: In which areas of English did you receive help during the Study Hall?
DH: I learned couple of essential points about TOEFL writing, such as, how to use punctuation, how to use transitions, and how to organize sentences.

MC: I learned how to create short sentences. It also helped me with my repetition of word problem.

Strictly English: Did you learn any tips for taking the TOEFL exam?
MC: I have learned about “slowing down,” and not being nervous when I write.

VN: The brainstorm and idea of the question were very good because they can cover the speaking and writing parts on the real TOEFL.

Strictly English: What would you say to someone who is thinking about signing up for the Study Hall?
DH: I liked it. I felt comfortable when my mistakes were corrected. I am very satisfied with my Study Hall experience and find it very helpful for any ESL or TOEFL student.

VN: It supported my skills, and I really like they taught me how to figure out my mistakes by myself. I believe that it is very good and progressive method of studying English.

MC: In my opinion, it is very helpful and at the same time you don’t feel any tension, really enjoying your lesson. If I keep taking this Strictly English Study Hall, I think I can be a better writer!

TOEFL Tip #159: “Okay” Is Often Not Okay

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 29, 2012

In casual conversation, people often reply in the affirmative with the word “Okay”. This can be a useful word to indicate that you agree with what is being said, but be careful. A big part of the meaning comes from the way “okay” is said, rather than from the word itself.

For example, when a wife says, “I’m going to work now,” her husband might say “ooo-kayyyy” in a sing-song voice. In this context, his response means something like, “I’ve heard that you’re saying good bye, and I’m wishing you a good day.”

Change the way “okay” is said, however, and the word is far less affirming.

Consider this situation: A father says to his young son, “Clean up your room,” and the child says, “okay,” but 30 minutes later, the room is still a mess! The father thinks the “okay” means, “I’ll do that right now,” but what did the child mean? Here are a few possibilities:

1. “I heard you, but I don’t want to do it right now. I’ll do it later”
2. “I heard you say something, but I wasn’t really listening. I’m a kid and you’re always telling me to do something, so I just tune you out most of the time.”
3. “I heard you, but I have no intention of doing what you’ve asked. I only said ‘okay’ so that you’d leave me alone while I play with my computer.”

As we can see from this example of the parent and child, it’s not always clear what “okay” means. When the word is said with little or no emotion, it can be unintentionally insulting, as in #3 above and sometimes #2.

At best, an emotionless “okay” means, “I heard you and am waiting for more information.” This is not rude (like #3), but it might suggest that you do not comprehend what was said to you. It’s like saying “go on” or “continue,” to keep the conversation going. These expressions do not always indicate that you understand what is being discussed.

So, be sure you’re saying “okay” with excitement and interest in your voice when you communicate. Better yet, say a phrase like “I get it” or “that makes sense” or “I understand.” These phrases are harder to say emotionlessly, so you’ll convey what you actually feel.

Okay?

TOEFL Tip #158: Why “Smart” High School Students Have A Hard Time With TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 17, 2012

We at Strictly English have been repeatedly surprised that very bright high school students struggle with taking the TOEFL exam.

Although these students come from a wide range of high schools, we have noticed a common pattern in their educational experiences: high school students are typically rewarded for contributing to class, regardless of the accuracy or the critical acumen of what they say. There are many pedagogical reasons for this, including countering student apathy, keeping bright students engaged in classroom discussion, and acknowledging when students overcome their reluctance to speak up.

Of course, not every high school classroom follows this pattern, and many do emphasize the quality of students’ participation instead of its quantity. However, this too-frequent high school-based view of participation translates into TOEFL classes where students begin to say or write the first response that comes to them, instead of thinking carefully about how relevant or accurate their statements are.

BUT, unlike high school, college classes, and therefore TOEFL, will not reward you just for speaking. College classes and the TOEFL exam look for relevant and meaningful contributions that respond intelligently to the topic / discussion.

An egregious example of what happens when high school students are encouraged to think that speaking up in class is the same as being smart occurs when our students come close to word association in their answers. If the prompt is about chemistry, for example, talking about the link between two people in a romantic relationship is quite different from a discussion of an experiment in a lab. This is obvious, but if students just riff on the word “chemistry,” they could go in an entirely different direction than the one intended in the prompt.

But the TOEFL exam will not reward you for just being able to make any random connection between two ideas. It will only reward you if you can articulate – via paraphrasing – the author’s / lecture’s connection between two ideas. In other words: the skills that you have been rewarded for throughout 4 years in high school – stating your opinion about the subject under discussion – will not serve you well in college or on the TOEFL. Instead, you have to think very carefully about the information you’ve been given, and you have to stay true to its message. The harshest way to say this is: the TOEFL exam doesn’t care what you think about the test’s content; it only cares about how well you can understand its content and re-present it.

Participation should be rewarded early in a student’s intellectual growth, but to excel on the TOEFL and in college, that participation must be both accurate and relevant.

TOEFL Tip #157: Don’t Overuse Coordinating Conjunctions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 2, 2012

Although last week we encouraged you to use coordinating conjunctions as part of compound sentences at the intermediate level of English, you also have to guard against using them so often that you produce what are called “run-on” sentences.

As defined by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, run-on sentences, also called fused sentences, are compound sentences that are not punctuated correctly. Perhaps they have a comma where a semicolon is needed, or perhaps there is no punctuation at all. Some examples include:

My cat is sick, I took him to the vet. (Comma instead of semi-colon)

My friend is the manager of a grocery store she is always looking for new ways to attract customers. (No punctuation)

In addition, this site is helpful for reviewing coordinating conjunctions and how to punctuate compound sentences.

Besides the problem of run-ons, overusing coordinating conjunctions will cause you to miss logical connections between argumentative elements of your sentence. This is because coordinating conjunctions have a very limited range of logic words. For example, while “but” suggests logical opposition, and “so” indicates logical outcomes, the word “and” does not introduce a logical *reason,* *cause,* or *result* between the first and second clauses. If you only use coordinating conjunctions, you will be limited when explaining a logical situation. This, in turn, will produce redundant writing.

So you want to have a mix of complex sentences and simple sentences. This will not only avoid run-ons, but it will also provide variety.

Instead of writing: I walked in the rain, so I got sick. You can write: I walked in the rain. This is why I got sick.

Both of these structures are fine and will score high if you write them with perfect intermediate grammar, but since most people speak in run-ons, it’s more natural to write with coordinating conjunctions. If you do that yourself, then it might be easier to write that way and then go back and edit your writing, breaking up the run-ons into smaller sentences and replacing the coordinating conjunctions with short phrases that indicate logical connections such as, “For this reason” or “This is how.”

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