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TOEFL

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Posted on January 17, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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ETS, the maker of the TOEFL exam, has generously released some highly coveted tips for those of you looking to take the TOEFL sometime soon.

Listen to English-language videos and music. When you rent a DVD or VHS from your local video store, challenge yourself by turning off the English subtitles or captions.  Try your best to understand each person speak by watching his or her mouth move; sometimes, you might want to close your eyes and attempt to decipher whatever you can.  It never hurts to challenge yourself.

Listen to a book on tape in English. There are many books on tape of various subjects nowadays.  In fact, you can rent books on tape from your local library for free.  This is a great way to practice your listening abilities by listening to a topic of your interest.  Also, podcasts are a great way (and often times free) to test your listening skills.  Podcasts are available online and can easily be transferred from your computer to your mp3 player or i-pod.

Listen to English-language recordings that come with transcripts. ETS recommends you listen to each recording three times.  The first time, take notes about the main ideas you hear.  Then, the second time, read the transcript and listen for the ideas you might have written down the first time.  Then, on the third, listen specifically for any words or phrases you don’t know and look them up.  Transcripts are often available online of popular recordings or even come with the recording itself.

It should be noted that ETS also recommends you attend educational lectures in English whenever possible.  Now, this might not be easy to do, but many colleges or universities might allow you to sit in on a class, if you can arrange it well in advance.  Also, if you have a friend enrolled in an English-speaking class you might be able to tag along and listen to the professor, should there be a lecture given that day.  Regardless, when you do go, it might be a good idea to bring a tape recorder with you so you can play the recording over and over again later on for further practice.

Remember: when you listen to lectures, pay close attention to facts, details, opinions and overall structure.  Challenge yourself, even – if science lectures are difficult for you, try your best to attend a lecture in a science class.

Want more TOEFL test tips from ETS?  Go to www.ets.org.

Posted on August 24, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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ETS has thankfully released some very valuable tips for the writing section on the TOEFL exam.  It seems to be that most of the tips are for the integrated writing section, so for these purposes we will save independent writing suggestions for another time.

In terms of writing practice for the integrated writing section, ETS recommends you practice combining information you have read or watched into a written summary.  This is comparable to the TOEFL in that for the integrated writing section, you are asked to write a 150-225-word essay, combining information from both a reading and a listening passage.  How do you go about practicing?  Here are the following tips from the makers of the TOEFL:

-                   Read an article in the news and then listen to an article online or on TV on the same topic. Perhaps you are able to find an article written about the recent summit concerning global warming.  Take that article, make any necessary notes in relation to all its important information and then listen to a radio or TV show on the same topic.  Listen carefully to the similarities and differences in how both articles were presented.  Were there different supporting details?  Was there a different opinion reflected in the articles?  Listen carefully with an ear for comparison and contrasting.

-                   Watch a speech on TV or listen to it online. A lot of times, important speeches, particularly political, are often aired again and again on TV.  Try your best to only listen to the speech once and take notes on all the important points.  Then, write a summary of what you heard, listing all of the major points.  (Feel free to then check yourself by listening to the speech one more time with your notes in front of you.) A lot of times, famous political speeches are available as podcasts, so check online to see what might be available.  While there aren’t “political” speeches, per say, on the TOEFL, there are certainly lectures that deal with socio-political issues, so the vocabulary and syntax is bound to come in handy.

-            Read a newspaper article on a controversial topic. Make any necessary notes about the topic and the newspaper article as you see fit.  Then, interview your friends and ask them about this controversial topic.  More than likely, you will see a difference of opinion throughout your various interviews.  Make note of these in your notes and later on, sit down at your computer and type up a summary of all the different views accumulated.  Make sure to note who said what, making it clear when there is either a similarity or a difference of opinion.

Want more TOEFL test tips from ETS?  Go to www.ets.org.

Posted on August 17, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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While advice from TOEFL instructors and tutors can certainly be highly valued, there’s no looking past suggestions from the makers of the TOEFL itself – ETS.

ETS has released several various articles with suggestions on how to prepare for the TOEFL.  This article, in particular, will highlight some of ETS’ suggestions in how to prepare for the reading section of the TOEFL test.

OUTLINING

ETS encourages a particular eye for outline reading passages, as the actual process of outlining can save you time on the TOEFL when getting through dense and complex reading articles.  Keep in mind you have 20 minutes for each reading section on the TOEFL, which includes reading a one-page academic passage in addition to answering 12-14 corresponding questions.

Practice outlining, in particular, by reading academic texts or newspaper articles and writing one sentence for each paragraph, summarizing the paragraph’s main idea.  Also, look for the ways in which main ideas in one paragraph might relate to the main ideas in the other paragraphs; drawing connections between paragraphs while outlining is no doubt useful.  Also, you might find during your outlining process that some paragraphs actually address the same concept; take note of them while also paying close attention to the transitional words between all the sentences.

In general, writing one short summary of an entire passage, be it an academic article or an article from a well-established newspaper, can really help your outlining abilities.

CONNECTING WORDS

While connecting words are often encouraged in your writing for the TOEFL, when you train your eye to pay attention to them in reading it can bring you one step closer to having a greater understanding of a reading passage.

Connecting words can often be placed into categories.  ETS does a wonderful job of this on its website.  Here are several categories and their corresponding connecting words:

  • Connecting words that show RESULTS: as a result, so, therefore
  • Connecting words that show COMPARISONS: in contrast, on the other hand
  • Connecting words that show STEPS: first, second, next finally

Want more TOEFL test tips from ETS?  Go to www.ets.org.

Posted on August 10, 2010 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!

While the Listening section on the TOEFL doesn’t have as many question types as the reading section, it’s still important to know the types you might encounter.  As with the reading section, when you are able to identify a listening question type, it very well might help you move through the section faster.  Keep in mind: the listening section on the TOEFL exam has 34 questions total with 6 main question types.

* Topic/Main Idea: When identifying the topic or main idea of a lecture of conversation, questions along the lines of: What is the subject of the conversation/lecture?  What is the topic of the discussion/academic talk? Keep in mind these are general questions needing general answers.

* Details: These questions are asking for particular pieces of information, as stated by the speakers.  Note-taking is essential for these types of questions, as well as a good memory!

* Attitude/Purpose: These questions types are not always easy to answer, as they are not details found specifically in the lecture or conversation.  The purpose of a lecture or conversation is its primary function, whereas the attitude of a speaker is his/her feelings, thoughts and emotions.  Remember – tone of voice is key to finding the attitude of a speaker.

* Inferences/Predictions: Similar to the reading section, the listening has quite a few inference questions, which require you to come to a conclusion about a statement not directly stated.  Inference questions require a sharp eye for interpretation, often involving the words “infer” or “imply.”  Prediction questions aren’t quite as common as inference questions, but they require you to determine what will more than likely happen in the future, based on what a speaker says or doesn’t say.

* Categorizing: Also like the reading, the listening has several categorizing question, which often come at the end of a series of questions.  These types of questions often take longer to determine and requires a test-taker to filter through his/her notes.  Pay close attention to any categories, types or divisions when taking notes on the TOEFL listening section.

* SUMMARIZING: When you encounter a summarizing question, you are asked to put a series of actions in order.  This occurs through the “drag and drop” process on the computer, so it enables you to see the sentences in order right in front of your very eyes.

Above all – the most important skill you can do on the TOEFL listening section is to take notes.  In the meantime, familiarize yourself with these listening questions so you can answer them with ease on test day.

Posted on July 13, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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When writing either your independent or integrated TOEFL essay, keep in mind there are certain words that will make your writing come across as more academic and intelligent.  Coherence is essential for getting a high score on the writing section. Often times there are specific words you can try to incorporate in your essay that will make your essay easier to read.

Perhaps the most difficult thing on the integrated essay is connecting ideas. After all, you are connecting ideas from both a reading passage and an academic lecture.  As we know, sometimes the information from both sources is contradictory and sometimes similar.  Several hints and corresponding words for your integrated essay would be:

1)    Always tell the reader where your information is coming from. For instance, is the information you are comparing or contrasting from the reading or listening?  It’s important the grader knows that you know which is which.  When presenting information from either, keep in mind you should add some variety to your citations.

“According to the lecture…”

“The reading states…”

“According to the speaker/lecturer….”

“The reading made the point that….”

Remember to alternate how you quote your sources. Otherwise your essays can get repetitive and come across as not very sophisticated.

2)    When showing examples, keep in mind variety is also key. After all, examples are the bulk of your information. So when presenting them in your essay, don’t forget to “mix it up.”  Here are some ways you can do so, with many more options out there.

“For instance…”

“As an example…”

“In addition…”

“Also…”

Using variety in your integrated essay with how you cite your sources and give your examples will make for more interesting reading and can only help you attain the highest TOEFL score possible.