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toefl preparation

If in-person or online TOEFL tutoring through Manhattan Review is not a possibility for you, study guides for this exam are critical.  Many students often are confused as to what medium to pursue in regards to a TOEFL study guide: textbook, audio CDs, Internet practice program or computer-based practice tests and quizzes.

It’s highly recommended that you get some practice with this exam on a computer, since most of you will be taking the iBt version, which is solely computer-based.  After all, reading an academic article on a monitor is a very different experience from reading on regular paper.  Often times, it’s easier to get lost in our reading when we read on the computer, in addition we tend to slower.  Even if you are just reading encyclopedia articles online, it will be useful practice for you in the long run.

In regards to TOEFL study books, here are some options for you with comprehensive breakdowns to help you find your way in the bookstore!


Manhattan Review’s Integrated Study Guide: Turbocharge Your TOEFL

By Joern Meissner & Tracy C. Yun

This study book, published through Manhattan Review, not only breaks down TOEFL question types and the test itself, but also focuses on common American idioms, useful vocabulary, grammar review, accent reduction, in addition to special sections on the use of articles and prepositions.


Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test

By Deborah Phillips

This book is a unique two-for-one deal, as the 2nd edition (preferred) comes with a CD-Rom, so you are able to get your practice both on the page and on the screen.  This book is broken down in our test sections (reading, listening, speaking & writing), first with a broad overview with general suggestions, and then complete breakdowns and subsequent exercises with skills.  Also included are two complete, full-length TOEFL tests, in addition to three appendixes: Cohesion, Sentence Structure and Error Correction.  In the very back of the book, in addition to a very clear answer key, is a final section about diagnosis, assessment, and scoring.  Please note, the audio CD for this textbook is sold separately, so keep that in mind when purchasing this book.


Delta’s Key to the Next Generation TOEFL Test: Six Practice Tests for the iBt

By Nancy Gallagher

While this is a practice test-only book, Delta publishes some great material about the TOEFL that is used all over the world.  In particular, many students claim the Delta TOEFL exercises are somewhat harder than the actual TOEFL exam, so in many ways it sets the bar high prior to test day.  (Please note, Delta publishes an “Advanced Skills” book, as well, for advanced students.)  CDs for the listening, speaking and writing sections must be purchased separately, but are well worth it, as the lectures make great additions to your mp3 or i-pods to buff up your listening skills.

What’s the ultimate advice when it comes to practicing for the TOEFL at home?  Practicing every day is certainly important, but keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out.  Students can sometimes grow overwhelmed very quickly with the academic listening and reading material this tests contains, so too much of this work all at once can have an adverse affect.  Also, focus on a skill-by-skill basis, devoting so many hours a day to reading, writing, speaking or listening.  (However, feel free to add some variety by warming up your study session with independent speaking questions or outlining independent essays.)

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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As with all tips for the TOEFL writing section, it’s important to keep in mind that while minor errors are acceptable, the frequency of minor errors, particularly combined with larger grammatical problems will undoubtedly detract from your overall score.

In particular, ESL students generally have problems with count and noncount nouns, primarily because such nouns vary from one language to the next.  A primary way of getting this grammar down is memorizing most common noncount nouns.  Here is a quick 101 on count and noncount nouns to refresh your memory for test day

COUNT NOUNS:

Basically count nouns are nouns you can count, meaning they can be singular or plural.  “A” or “an” can often come before count nouns.  Count nouns can be multiplied by simply adding an “s.”

NONCOUNT NOUNS:

Noncount nouns are things you can’t count separately, meaning we usually do not use “a” or “an” before them.  These nouns also have no plural form and the words “some” or “the” often precede them.  Here are some common noncount nouns:

·       advice, air, accounting, behavior, coffee, heat, salt, copper, civics, calcium, clothing, film, equipment, bread, helium, singing, peace, pollution, violence, gasoline, water, responsibility, time

Sometimes, to make a noncount non-countable we use a phrase that gives them a countable form.  Here are some examples of such phrases:

·       a piece of meat

·       a game of tennis

·       a cup of water

·       a clap of thunder

Keep in mind: When we use “some” before a noncount noun, it often is referring to nouns that don’t have specific boundaries.  (Example: I drank some orange juice.)  Also, the word “people” often confuses ESL learners.  Typically, “people” is plural and does not have s singular form.  (Example: North American people value education.)  However, sometimes the word “people” can mean a specific group of human beings, meaning it can have both a plural and singular form.

Example:

The Chinese are a people of Asia.

Various peoples have settled in Vancouver.

Remember: Knowing the proper usage of noncount nouns is not only valuable on the writing section, but also the speaking section, too.  Keep a list handy of the most common noncount nouns by category so you won’t forget them.

Transitional words are crucial for a high score on the TOEFL writing section because raters are looking for smooth transitions from idea to idea and from paragraph to paragraph.  Not only do transitional words help papers read more smoothly, they also provide organization and understandability, not to mention improve the connections and transitions between thoughts on the speaking section!

Think of transitional words as divided into categories.  Here are several categories that will help you with both the integrated writing and independent writing.

Addition: also, again, as well as, besides, furthermore, in addition, moreover

Consequence: accordingly, as a result, consequently, for this purpose, hence, otherwise, so then, this, thereupon

Generalizing: as a rule, as usual, for the most part, generally, ordinarily, usually

Exemplifying: chiefly, especially, for instance, in particular, markedly, namely, specifically, such as

Illustration: for example, for instance, for one thing, as an illustration, in this case

Emphasis: above all, particularly, singularly

Similarity: comparatively, coupled with, identically, likewise, together with

Exception: aside from, barring, besides, excluding, outside of, save

Restatement: in essence, namely, that is to say, in short, to put it differently

Contrast: conversely, instead, on the other hand, on the contrary, rather, yet

Sequence: at first, to begin with, in the first place, for the time being, the next step, later on, in turn, with this in mind

Summarizing: after all, all in all, all things considered, by and large, in any case, in brief, in conclusion

In regards to grammar with transition words, if the transition begins the sentence then a comma must follow it.  If the transition word comes in the middle of a sentence, it’s proceeded by a comma or a semi colon and followed by a comma. When written at the end of a sentence, a transition word is preceded by just a comma.

Examples:

Therefore, I decided not to join the hockey team.

The tryouts took longer than anticipated; therefore, I decided not to join the hockey team.

I couldn’t come near to respecting him, however.

Transition words can also come in handy for the speaking section and can add coherence to your ideas.  Memorize several that stick out at you by their category and keep them in mind when it comes down to test day.

Remember: Transition words become ineffective when used repetitively: Use a variety of them when speaking and writing in order to effectively transition one idea to the next.

 

Similar to count and noncount nouns, definite and indefinite articles can be a trouble spot for ESL learners.  Rules vary from one language to another in regards to the usage of the definite versus indefinite, so some earnest practice with its rules in English would be of great advantage for the TOEFL exam.

In general, when speakers and writers do not have a specific person, place, or thing in mind, the corresponding nouns are known as non-specific and are often preceded with the indefinite article: “a” or “an” in the singular.  Often times, too, a noun is definite when a speaker mentions it the first time and then definite (“the”) from there on out.

Examples:

What a fascinating story you just told!

Yes, the story was very exciting.

In regards to definite articles, we often use “the” when the speaker, listener, or writer knows the specific person, place or thing that’s being discussed.  “The” is used both for noncount nouns and singular and plural nouns that fall under the “definite” category.

Examples:

The chowder we had at noon was fantastic.

The artwork is 100% authentic to the African region.

Definite articles are also used to describe something special, or unique.  Examples of unique nouns would be: the moon, the sun, the Empire State Building, the Big Dipper, etc…

Definite articles have further usages as seen in the following ways:

  • public places: the library, the movies
  • specific names of geographical places: the Great Lakes, the Nile River, the Amazon
  • countries: the U.S., the United Kingdom

Overall, the definite and indefinite articles take some time to get used to in the English language.  My advice would be to memorize well-known definite articles first (countries, places, etc…) and to pay close attention to how indefinite articles and definite articles are used in conversation in both TV and film.

Remember: If you are not a native English speaker, keep in mind that these rules are probably different than in your native language.  Keep these rules close to you so that come test day you are using a, an, some and the correctly on both the speaking and writing section.

 

Posted on September 26, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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The adjective clause is an important aspect of grammar to keep in mind on the TOEFL writing portion.  Unlike the adverbial clause, which is mostly used on the integrated essay for compare/contrast, the adjective clause can be found in both the integrated and independent writing sections.  What do adjective clauses do and when is it important to use them?  (Please note: Adjective clauses can also be referred to as adjectival or relative clauses.)

An adjective clause will contain the following:

·       a subject and a verb

·       a relative pronoun: who, whom, whose, that or which OR

·       a relative adverb: when, where or why

·       also, the adjective clause will ultimately function as an adjective

Adjective clauses are divided into two main categories: identifying and nonidentifying.

Identifying Adjective Clauses give information that is essential to the overall meaning of the sentence.

For example: Men who are willing to work will undoubtedly find a job.

In this sentence, the adjective clause is who are willing to work.  In other words, if we extracted who are willing to work from the sentence it would alter its meaning entirely, making it identifying.

Nonidentifying Adjective Clauses give nonessential information – they serve the purpose of adding extra bits of information that aren’t crucial to the overall meaning of the sentence.

For example: The movie lasted about three and a half hours, which at times felt somewhat longer, so I made sure to have plenty of soda and popcorn.

The adjective clause which at times felt somewhat longer isn’t exactly necessary in terms of the overall meaning of the sentence.  The main ideas expressed in the sentence are in the beginning and the end, making the middle somewhat additional and nonidentifying.  (Also, with nonidentifying adjective clauses “that” is not used.)

Overall, adjective clauses will pepper your writing and allow your ideas to come across smoother and clearer.  Just make sure when you use them to acknowledge whether you are using identifying or nonidentfying so you have mastery of your own TOEFL writing.

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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We all know the TOEFL writing section can create some widespread anxiety and trigger various questions: Will my writing be good enough?  What exactly are the raters looking for?  How much will grammar and punctuation count for my total score?

In general, grammar and punctuation are important on both the integrated and independent essays. However, minor errors are certainly forgivable, and if you only have a few they won’t be counted towards your total score.  Likewise, a significant knowledge of grammar is crucial for obtaining a high score.  This post will focus on adverbial clauses, which if used correctly might just help your score higher than you think.

Adverbial clauses are basically used to combine two ideas into one sentence.  They ultimately provide variety for the sentence and better transitions, particularly between paragraphs.  Here are some following adverbials, which will be very useful in a compare/contrast essay, which as you know, is the basis for the TOEFL integrated writing.

Contrast Advervials:

·       though/although/even though

Examples:

Though the test was tomorrow, the children failed to study.

Although the weather was cloudy, we continued to enjoy the outdoors.

Janice went to the theatre even though she heard the performances were lousy.

·       while

Example:

While the food wasn’t up to par, the dancing and live music were enormously entertaining.

·       despite the fact that

Example:

We thought the jazz band did a wonderful job despite the fact that the venue was too small.

Comparison Adverbials:

·       in the same way that

Example:

In the same way that Communism effected the global order, so has Capitalism on the modern family.

·       just as

Example: Just as 50 million Americans don’t have health care, 20 million Asians don’t have access to hospitals.

In general, adverbial clauses can help you immensely on the TOEFL writing section and will leave the mark of an advanced writer if used correctly.  Remember – adverbial clauses can come in the beginning or in the middle of a sentence.

Posted on September 13, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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Next to studying all four TOEFL test prep skills (reading, listening, speaking & writing), there are other aspects of the test and what to expect on test day you should keep in mind.  While the following suggestions may be somewhat alternative for test-takers, keep in mind these elements are not to be ignored when taking in mind your TOEFL test prep.

1)   IMPROVE TYPING SKILLS: While this may be a surprising suggestion, your typing capabilities are not to be overlooked.  Most people take the TOEFL iBT which is solely Internet-based; your typing skills are insurmountably important for achieving a high score on the writing section, in particular.  Did you know the TOEFL independent essay should be a minimum of 300 words?  Were you aware the integrated essay has a minimum of 150?  Many students might feel frustrated they are not able to get their ideas on the computer screen as fast as they’d like and it can ultimately end up hurting their score.  Practice typing for so many hours as week, particularly if you have the luxury of studying for the TOEFL 2-3 months.  Practicing typing might prove to be a welcomed break from studying the four skills!

2)   WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHING: When it comes to test day, make sure you are dressed comfortably.  After all, no one performs his best when wearing constricting clothing.  While the TOEFL certainly tests your speaking ability, keep in mind it does not test your appearance, so wear whatever you like so long as you are comfortable sitting down for the duration of the 4-hour exam.  It might be a good idea to layer, as you never know if a room will be too hot or too cold.

3)   EAT BEFORE THE TEST: Most TOEFL exams are given in the morning or by 12 PM.  Make sure you eat something filling so you won’t be distracted during the test thinking about what you’re going to eat afterwards.  It might be a good idea to bring a very light snack for your ten minute break in between the listening and speaking sections.  Many brain researchers say fruit is the number one food that will get your mind working – so an apple a day will not only keep a doctor away, but it might help your TOEFL score, too!

4)   REWARD YOURSELF: After the test, make sure you do something nice for yourself.  After all, you have just prepared for a very difficult exam and deserve to enjoy yourself afterwards.  Treat yourself to a night out or dinner with friends – your hard work will certainly pay off!

Posted on August 3, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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Fretting over the TOEFL speaking section?  No need to worry – here are five practical tips to help keep you grounded:

1) Remember – it doesn’t have to be immaculately perfect. Each speaking question is graded on a scale of 0 – 4, with a 4 being the highest possible score.  Even with the highest possible score, it is still acceptable to have minor pronunciation errors.  In other words, the TOEFL graders are well aware you are speaking into a microphone in a room full of others, who are also doing the same and they take into account both your situation during the test and the stressful impact of the time.  Aim for the best you can possibly do but remember – a few minor mistakes won’t rule out a score of a 4. 

2)    Don’t take risks. The TOEFL speaking section is not the time or the place to experiment with new vocabulary words and/or complex pronunciations that might confuse the grader.  Try to expand your horizons with moderate-level adjectives but, as a whole, play it safe with your choice of vocabulary and particularly your choice of topics on independent questions.

3)    Don’t go over the time allotted. Keep in mind that for all independent speaking questions you have 45 seconds to respond, and for all integrated speaking questions you have 60 seconds to respond.  It’s important to give concise responses that do not exceed the allotted speaking time.  If you get 7 or 10 seconds until the end of your response time and you aren’t finished, it’s best to complete the thought and/or sentence you’re currently responding to or go to a conclusion right away.

4) Take notes. Some students do not take notes on the speaking section of the TOEFL and this is a major mistake.  Taking notes is crucial not only for the factual information you need for the integrated speaking but also to serve as a “guide” for your response.  With the stress of having to speak into a microphone with a room full of other people doing the same, it’s easy to get lost in your response or stop speaking altogether.  Take notes not only to help you deliver a complete response, but also provide you with keywords from the lecture and conversation to impress the graders.

5) Make the grader’s life easier. Last but not least, you should always keep in mind your job is to make the grader’s life easier.  Graders have to listen to many responses within the time span of one hour and if they have to replay part or all of your response because they happen to question what you were saying, it can only count against you.  Speak clearly, concisely and comfortably in order to make their job of giving you a high score easier than they anticipated.

All in all, the best way to improve your speaking is to practice, practice, practice!  Hopefully these hints will help you as you tackle what some students say is the most challenging part of the TOEFL examination.

Posted on July 27, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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Many students are often very perplexed as how to finish the TOEFL reading portion of the test on time.  On a TOEFL reading exam, you can expect anywhere from 3-5 reading sections.  Each reading section is broken down, as follows:

  • 1 page-long reading article on an academic topic (history, science, the arts, philosophy)
  • 13-14 corresponding questions
  • 20 minutes to read the passage and answer all questions

Reading on the TOEFL exam is not necessarily “normal reading.” In other words, students don’t have time to read the reading section in-depth, so a very essential skill is necessary: skimming.  Skimming is basically reading quickly for a general understanding of the passage, taking note of main ideas and overall organization.  How does one go about doing this?  Well, when you are skimming, keep the following in mind:

  • Read only the first two or three sentences of the first paragraph and the first and last sentences of each paragraph after that. Move quickly across the words as you read them – do not be tempted to read the passage word for word.
  • Take note of key words. As you skim each TOEFL reading article, you will probably notice words that are repeated or words that are synonymous with the main idea of the passage as a whole.  Taking note of key words, which are words that define the topic and supporting points of the passage, is crucial on the TOEFL.  More than likely, questions that follow will ask specifically about key words and if you have an idea of where they are in the passage, you will be able to answer the questions faster.
  • Don’t be afraid to take notes. Overall, taking brief notes on a reading passage can be very helpful because it will give you an idea of where to find specific bits of information in each passage.  Sometimes, it might even be useful to give each paragraph a word or phrase that best summarizes its main idea.  Keep in mind that all note-taking will have to be on a separate piece of paper because the TOEFL iBt is now given on a computer.

When you finish skimming each passage, which generally takes about 1-2 minutes, you should have an outline of the passage in your mind.  This outline will serve as a guide when answering the bulk of the TOEFL reading questions and hopefully, a tool to get you to finish each 20-minute reading section on time!

The TOEFL reading section is broken down into 10 different reading question types.  Many TOEFL test-takers find it easier to complete a reading section on time if they are aware of the reading questions they will encounter, and then be able to identify them.  Here is a quick rundown of each question type you will encounter:

  • FACTS/DETAILS: Fact/Detail questions want to know specific information found in the passage.  The easiest thing about this question type?  It’s always possible to find the answer, since it’s found directly in the passage!
  • NEGATIVE FACTS/DETAILS: These questions sometimes confuse students because they often ask for the wrong answer, not the right answer.  These questions are easily identified because they contain the words “NOT” or “EXCEPT.”
  • REFERENT: Another word for “referent” is “pronoun.”  These questions require a sharp eye and a solid knowledge of singular/plural, masculine/plural pronouns.
  • VOCABULARY: Vocabulary questions ask for definitions of specific words that are closest in meaning out of all four possible answers.
  • INFERENCE: Inference questions can be difficult because they are asking you to infer or imply something about the passage, meaning it’s not stated outright, like in a fact/detail question.
  • PURPOSE: This question type asks the reason, or purpose behind a reading passage or portion of a reading passage.  Often times, the word “purpose” is actually found in this type of question.
  • PARAPHRASE: Paraphrasing means saying the same thing in similar words.  On the TOEFL, paraphrase questions will ask you to choose a sentence that is most like a specific highlighted sentence within the passage.
  • COHERENCE: Another phrase for coherence questions is “sentence insertion.”  For these questions, you are required to take a sentence in bold and replace it within the most appropriate place within the passage.  Coherence questions require an eye for where a sentence is specifically placed within a sentence.
  • SUMMARIZING: Summarizing questions ask you to form a summary based off of six possible sentences.  You are often asked to choose three out of six that most closely resemble a topic sentence given to you – all of which are related to the reading passage.
  • CATEGORIZING INFORMATION: When approaching categorizing information questions, you are asked to place specific bits of information into categories related to the passage.  Often, categorizing questions are found at the end of a 20-minute reading section.

Overall, recognizing TOEFL question types can expedite your process when working through a reading section.  Along with each question type comes specific strategies – all of which a very knowledgeable TOEFL preparation instructor at Manhattan Review can assist you with!