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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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Rejection letters are common. Top business schools are competitive and as increasing numbers of applications roll in, increasing numbers of rejection letters also flow out. But if you are among those who are rejected, the opportunity to reapply remains.

It is not uncommon that following rejection from a top business school many candidates consider reapplying. Reapplication is not for everyone, nor does every school particularly encourage it, but if you have been rejected, especially on your first application, you should consider it. This consideration involves self-evaluation, contacting the school’s admission committee, inquiring into their general philosophy on reapplication and/or their particular recommendations or evaluation of your application. Reapplication should make you more knowledgeable about your experience in relation to your chosen school’s expectations and concretely improve your application.

Our Recommendations

Initial rejection may also give you the opportunity to reevaluate why and where you would like to be and what fits best for you. Once you have reached your decision to reapply, the following guidelines will assist you in improving your success rate:

· Make your application stronger. Whether this means improving your GMAT score, your international experience, professional experience, essays, recommendations or other application component, it is of little use to apply simply with the same previous application.

· Cater to the particular school. Find out what the particular admissions committee looks for out of reapplications and follow their recommendations. This should save you both time and money.

· Seek out an evaluation of your first application. You must gain a better understanding of what was missing in your application in order to improve your chances for admission. Some schools offer advice in the form of a letter and other schools by an in-person meeting. USC’s Marshall School offers deny counseling every September. The school emphasizes the need to look at their class profile in order to better understand what they are looking for in order to improve your chances.

· Pay attention to each school’s reapplication procedure. Know what each school wants when reapplying. For example, Kellogg requires an additional essay with the same application. They specifically want to know how you feel you have qualitatively improved your candidacy, and will refer to your first application (kept for two years) when judging the merits of your reapplication. Marshall, which does not discourage reapplication, requires a shorter updated version of the application, but is still looking for the same fit for incoming students.

· Reapplication should not be a makeover. Avoid completely changing your argument for admission. Rather, you should present yourself in light of the new knowledge and experience you have gained as a concrete reason for reconsideration. Also, by now you should have a good idea of what particular aspects of your application needed improvement and can make your case from that.

You are more likely to be successful in your attempt at getting into school if you follow a few simple rules in the process. Through honesty, self-knowledge of goals, desires, and abilities, a readiness for the school itself, and a realistic understanding of those reading your application you will be more likely to succeed in gaining acceptance to the school of your desire.

1: Honesty

In your application you will be asked intimate questions about personal motivation and what draws you in a particular direction. Try to answer these with as much truthfulness as possible. Admissions officers can often detect falsehood, so show your genuine reasons and motivations without disguise. Being yourself makes all the difference.

2: Matching Yourself

Admissions officers don’t just look at whether or not you have a great academic and professional background, your recommendations, and your interviews. They are also keen on finding candidates that would fit in well with their school. So look into not only ranking and GMAT medians, but also what kinds of students attend a particular program, what their backgrounds and goals are and how those match up with yours. Finding a school with likeminded people will contribute to both the success of your application and your future career path.

3: Determining Goals and Motivations

Defining your goals and motivations needs to happen well before you step onto campus for classes. You need to know where you want your MBA to take you. The process of figuring out your own goals and motivations will enable you to create focused, thoughtful, and clear applications that will make sense to admissions officers. Admissions consultants are often helpful in assisting candidates in the process of self-evaluation. Meeting with people who are further along in career paths that interest you may also prove helpful in determining your own path.

4: Don’t apply before you’re prepared to

It is better that you submit a clear, concise, well-thought out application rather than submitting a rushed application in the early rounds. Sending in an application that shows you at your best (the best GMAT you can achieve, the best recommendations you can have, the best essay statements you can compose) is most likely to be successful one, regardless of the round in which it is submitted.

5: Realistic Understanding of the Admissions Officials

Many people think admissions staff are extremely scrutinizing and perfectionists; in other words, machines with little understanding of the possibility for human error or mistakes. In fact, admissions officers are more likely to pay attention to interesting applications from a human perspective. So do not hesitate to show your true self to the readers of your application.

Posted on March 3, 2009 by Manhattan Review

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Recommendations

Recommenders should be individuals able to comment on your preparedness for business school, your past experiences, and your personal and professional attributes. A recommender need not be a big name at your company or elsewhere, but most importantly someone who knows you well.

Sometimes this aspect of the process is frustrating. Your recommender is pressed for time, forgets they promised you a recommendation. But you can make it easier on yourself and your recommender by making sure you:

· Provide them with a copy of your resume, even essay draft.

· Meet with them (whether by phone or in person).

· Give them a clear understanding of deadlines.

On the recommendations themselves, if you feel appropriate doing so request that your recommender address how they know you, your accomplishments, you vs. others in similar roles, your strengths, and your weaknesses. As a rule, the more specific a recommendation is, the better the recommendation is.

Resume

Your resume is also an important selling point to the admissions committee. It should be flawless and in a style the admissions committees find suitable. Some schools, for example, insist that the resume be one-page, so you should adapt, cut, and edit to their expectations. Some guiding principles to follow include the following.

· Do not include high school experiences in your business school resume.

· List your work experiences first, before your education.

· Do not state your objectives.

OTHER TIPS ON KEY APPLICATION COMPONENTS

GMAT

Do the best you can and give yourself adequate time to prepare. Take a review class or seek out private tutoring to ensure that your score is as good as it can be.

Undergraduate GPA

It can not be changed. For some it will be a strength, for others a weakness. Consider explaining in an optional essay, for example, a low GPA, but do not make excuses. Professional or academic successes post-college do say a great deal already.

Extracurricular Activities

Do not simply list these activities. Make sure that you also explain them and their importance to you as well as your particular accomplishments. If you do not have at least 4 extracurricular activities, consider explaining why: Were you working? Were you fulfilling other personal or professional roles? What in the future would you like to do outside the professional sphere? How will you ensure that you are able to do so?

Posted on November 17, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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October has arrived. If you are considering applying for an MBA program in the fall of 2009, now is a good time to begin the process. It’s certainly not too late. You’ll still be likely to be ready to apply in rounds 1 or 2, which offer a pretty good chance of acceptance.

Order of Attack

1. GMAT PREPARATION

Preparation can last anywhere from 1-6 months, but 2 months usually is an adequate prep period. Though study can be done individually, taking a course or seeking out private tutoring provides disciplined structure and guidance for your study.

2. GMAT

Take the GMAT as soon as you feel ready. If you take it by end of October, you should have the needed time to retake the GMAT (including an additional 1 month prep) if your score is not what you desired.

3. RESEARCH SCHOOLS

During preparation, look into different MBA programs. Look at them from as many angles as possible, including ranking, conversations with current students and alumni, correspondence with admissions officers and visits to campuses. Ultimately, select a range of schools you’d like to apply to. The most important criteria to use in determining where to apply is: What places are best suited to your personality, professional and academic history and goals? There are a variety of recommendations as to how many schools to apply to. Some say as few as 3, others as many as 8 or 10. Ultimately, you want to have some options, so lean toward more rather than less, and be sure to include safety schools. You may consider seeking advise from an admissions consultant to determine where it might be best to apply.

4. RECOMMENDATIONS

Ask for recommendations as early as possible, giving each recommender ample time to complete the forms on time.

5. APPROACH APPLICATIONS

The entire process and especially the application involve a great deal of self-evaluation. In this stage it will be most important that you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and determine how you will express these in your applications. This will also be important in your interview. It is generally recommended that the application show your true self. There is no need to conceal mistakes; the incorporation of constructive explanations for faults, mistakes, or minuses will allow the admissions committee to develop a clear perception of who you really are. Admissions officers especially dislike fakeness and falsehood in applications.

Essays too require evaluation and most importantly they require time, time not only to write, but time to think as well. It is recommended that you spend between 50 and 100 hours on your essays, depending on the number of schools you apply to. Admissions advisors recommend that you devote your energy in particular to making sure each application explains why you want to attend particular programs.

6. INTERVIEW (Should occur as early as possible)

Interviews require preparation. Reviewing your application and practicing interviewing skills with a friend or co-worker is useful. Also, some individuals try to interview as early as possible at a local school and use this interview to test their skills, as well as to inform themselves of answers or approaches that seem to work, and those that do not. And, as your parents or friends have said to you time and again, be yourself and relax.

Posted on October 16, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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