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Many TOEFL classes do not teach “the counter argument” (otherwise known as the “opposing argument”) for students tackling the independent speaking and writing section.  What is it?  How is it used?  If incorporated into responses effectively, the counter argument for independent speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL exam will strengthen your argument and help raise your score insurmountably.  Let’s look at this example of an independent speaking response with a brief counter argument:

Independent Speaking Sample Question: Some people prefer one long vacation once a year while others prefer short vacations spread throughout.  Which do you prefer and why?  Include details and examples to support your explanation.

Sample Response: “I prefer shorter vacations spread throughout the year more than one long vacation because shorter vacations are more rejuvenating.  During the year, I am able to take four to five short trips to smaller towns and beaches in the surrounding area of where I live and I feel so much more refreshed when returning to work after one of these short vacations.  Also, with short vacations I am able to sometimes go by myself or take friends, so there is always a sense of variety with each trip. Some people might think one long vacation a year is better because it gives you more time away from your life and allows you to really be on vacation, but I think one long vacation can be tiring and at times quite boring. Over all, I prefer shorter vacation over longer vacations because for the above reasons.”

The sentence in bold is the counter argument in this sample response.  Basically, is an argument stating the opposing view of your own and countering it with your own argument.  This strengthens your overall opinion by acknowledging an opposing view.

Is the counter argument always necessary?  No.  You can get a great score on your TOEFL writing and speaking sections without it if you have a strong opinion and supporting details.  However, if you are able to incorporate the counter argument into your response it will garner you more credibility as an English speaker, and give your response extra weight.  (Extra good weight!)

Tip: If you’re worried about time on the speaking section, combine your counter argument with your conclusion, making them both in the same sentence. You can even bypass a conclusion and end your response with a counter argument, so long as you’re clear to argue back around it, ultimately favoring your own opinion.

Posted on November 3, 2009 by Manhattan Review

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Not getting your ideal score on your listening section and looking for concrete ways to improve it?  The listening section on the TOEFL exam can be overwhelming for many students with its complicated lectures and at times lengthy conversations.  Here are 5 proven tips to up your score – guaranteed!

(1)  Keep it simple. Remember: you don’t have to write everything down.  The TOEFL listening section does not want or expect you to write down every single detail – such a feat would be impossible, even for a native speaker.  When taking notes for conversations, differentiating by columns what the male speaker says versus the female is quite useful, as there will more than likely be questions regarding opinions and statements from each speaker. With lectures, make sure to write down key words and not get bogged down with too many details.  You don’t want to lose track of the lecture or conversation because you’re so concerned with specifics.

(2)  Organize your notes. It’s always a smart idea to number or letter your notes by section, particularly if the speaker gives examples. Be aware that when any sort of process is described in a lecture or conversation there will be questions later on in the test regarding what order the process comes in.  Organizing your notes as you hear them will save you time later and be invaluable when answering “rhetorical function” questions, which are very common on the listening section.

(3)  Listen to academic audio recordings. If you can, go to your library or search online for academic lectures; specifically, history, science, philosophy or the arts.  The lectures presented on the TOEFL exam are lectures that would be typically heard by freshmen or sophomore students at a university.  Challenge yourself by seeking these types of audio recordings out so you can be familiar with the structure and language.  If you can’t find academic recordings, then try listening to the news online, which is usually spoken in Standard American Dialect and uses advanced vocabulary words, all of which are applicable to the TOEFL.

(4)  Watch TV. Yes – believe it or not, you’re being given advice to watch TV to study for the listening section on the TOEFL.  Not just any type of TV program, either: sitcoms and hour-long dramas.  Why? These are useful to the conversations presented to you in the TOEFL listening section because they are spoken in dialogue and deal, ultimately, with problems and solutions.  When watching a sitcom or hour-long drama, take notes and make sure to identify the problem and the solution.Research any idioms or slang you might hear – this will also come in handy, as many rhetorical function questions deal directly with idiomatic expressions.

(5)  Listen to less music and more spoken words. Download news articles from the BBC or Business English from I-Tunes and try to listen to them instead of music for thirty minutes a day.  Pick topics that interest you – there are a wide variety of podcasts to choose from.  This will sharpen your listening skills and expand your vocabulary, not to mention make you more well-informed.

Remember, listening skills can be improved just as your reading, speaking and writing skills.  And keep in mind – the TOEFL does not expect you to have a preconceived knowledge of any of the material based in the lectures or conversations, so don’t feel overwhelmed when you are given a lecture on cellular division in plants or the geographical history of a particular nomadic tribe.

Posted on November 2, 2009 by Manhattan Review

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A Truly International Student Body (North Americans Included!)

The more liberal approach that European business schools are taking with their curricula is not going unnoticed by the global applicant pool of aspiring managers and entrepreneurs. Many top-ranked European MBA programs have student bodies in which the nation hosting the institution contributes only a small minority of the student population.

For example, HEC in Paris is 82% international, with only 30% originating from all of Western Europe. David Bach, dean of the MBA program at IE reports that the profile of the MBA class matriculating in 2008 was 90% international. Significantly, IE, along with HEC, RSM at Erasmus University, and others are also seeing an increase in the number of North American applicants. This fact is significant since North America is home to some of the world’s most elite and prestigious business schools, which tend to give preference to qualified domestic applicants.

Of course, some level of diversity can be found in most competitive MBA programs, in North America and elsewhere; the difference is more philosophical in nature. For example, at HEC an American MBA candidate may find himself instructed to work in a team with citizens from China, Germany and Saudi Arabia to develop his abilities to work practically with a variety of peoples. As Valerie Gauthier, Associate Dean of HEC, said in an interview in earlier 2008, “The emphasis is not only on the leadership program, but human development.”

Global Collaboration Initiative

European business schools continue to diversify not only in terms of those they attract to their campuses, or the substantial and growing number of students who take part in exchange programs, but also in the ways they integrate with other educational concerns globally.

For instance, in a conference bringing the deans of 11 top business schools in London in July 2007, educational leaders discussed points of common interest, including joint loans and scholarships for students. They also discussed the merits and organization of their respective exchange programs.

The collaborative emphasis also exists between successful European schools and the developing world. IESE in Barcelona, which recently opened up a new office in New York City, has also opened three schools in Africa in Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya with the hope of bringing about the same sort of transformational change to countries in Africa that it helped entrepreneurs bring to Mexico, Brazil and China 20 years ago. Jordi Canals, dean of the program, has said that he wants the school to use its resources to work within the regional educational systems in Africa to train faculty and administration to become self-sufficient and take a commanding role in their own business education.

McCombs at the University of Texas in Austin, the American headquarters for Dell as well as the live music capital of the world, is a business school that is adapting to a global business environment and seeking to be even more competitive in b-school rankings.

Some interesting facts on McCombs:

· Though things are big in Texas, McCombs tries to maintain a feeling of intimacy. Despite the fact that the University of Texas at Austin has well over 50,000 students, the McCombs MBA Program maintains a class size of just 260.

· McCombs is making more of an effort to increase its rank through the recruitment of international students, especially Latin Americans and Europeans.

· The University is also home to a great law school and an excellent public policy school (The LBJ School), and MBA Students can attend classes at these schools while enrolled.

· McCombs has become increasingly a school for those interested working in consulting, marketing and finance sectors.

· McCombs does not insist on work experience. But most accepted students, all but 2%, have at least some experience.

Posted on June 3, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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GMAT test takers in the Middle East make up approximately 2.7 % of GMAT test takers worldwide. This region manifests interesting trends in MBA education.

  1. Excepting Israel, business schools in the Middle East are receiving increased percentages of applications from students living in the region, which is in line with the worldwide trend of more applicants seeking acceptance from schools located in the region in which the students live.
  2. The percentage of students in the Middle East that chooses to apply to the United States for graduate management education is lower than in other world regions. Instead, Middle Eastern students tend to seek acceptance in countries like the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Does this say anything larger about the state of openness within and outside the region? Or does it rather suggest that the Middle East, like the rest of the world, is simply moving toward more regionally-based education? At the moment, we cannot be certain. Future statistics may shed more light on these questions.

Posted on May 21, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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Though the United States remains the overall region most preferred by outsiders for business school study, one interesting trend has developed among applicants outside of the US – More and more of them are attending institutions within their region.

In 2007 the United States accounted for approximately 65% of GMAT test takers by residence. Only 1-2% of those test takers applied for schools outside of the US despite some small increases in application numbers. In other words, business schools outside of the US have not yet proven successful at attracting this large US-based applicant pool.

Globally business schools seem to be successfully attracting applicants from their own region. Europeans are attending European business schools. Asians are attending Asian business schools. As stated above, Americans are attending American business schools. Canadians are attending Canadian business schools, and the list goes on. In Europe, the United Kingdom, France and Spain have become increasingly attractive options for Europeans—leading some to stay in their region rather than apply, for example, to the United States.

The overall trend may be due, especially for Asian schools, to

  1. the increased difficulty to attain student visas to countries such as the United States,
  2. the cost, a leading consideration for MBA applicants,
  3. the desire to stay closer to home,
  4. more relevance between program content and local business environment and networks, and
  5. the likely factor that institutions in all regions of the world are gaining prestige and international recognition as well as increasing in numbers.

One notable exception to this trend is Latin America, where applicants continue to prefer non-regionally located business schools for study.

Posted on May 19, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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Different trends are underway among international applicants, who make up a large portion of applicant pools and student bodies.

Overall, two out of every three applicants to PhD programs in Business are international students. The impressive breadth and diversity of the applicant pool increases the difficulty of acceptance into these highly competitive programs. In 2007, the average acceptance rate to doctoral business programs was 13%, making these programs the most difficult business management program to get into.

However, the PhD programs are the only exception from all the graduate management programs in terms of application volumes in 2007 – they have not experienced the same strong growth as witnessed by all other programs. In short, the percentage of PhD applicants among all business management program applicants is decreasing. This can be evidenced by the marked increase in applications to part-time MBA, EMBA and flexibleMBA programs which are particularly attractive to foreign nationals.

Posted on April 22, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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