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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


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 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.


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.


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.


On January 5 and 6, 2008 we were busy at our 2-day course MBA Boot Camp – Communication and Culture held in conjuction with Columbia University’s Chazen Institute International Orientation. Manhattan Review instructors John Beer and Susan Civale taught a diverse group of non-native English speaking Columbia MBA students. The course covered an array of what we call Smart Business Talk topics, such as:

· Accent Reduction · Grammar Specifics · Effective Writing · Cultural Etiquette· Useful Common Idioms· Sports-Related Expressions· Presentational Skills

Coffee and breakfast were provided in the mornings, which jump-started full days of learning and interaction. The classroom was a good size, tiered, and half-circle shaped, which facilitated interaction between instructor and students. Each student received personalized instruction especially on the accent reduction sections. They enjoyed the interaction and enthusiasm from our instructors.

Students were intrigued by the lessons covering sports-related expressions. They learned about phrases such as “the ball’s in one’s court” and when to appropriately use them. They also learned origins of idioms and common uses. For example, Winston Churchill coined the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” in his first speech as prime minister.

One of the favorite components of the seminar was when students could work together on group presentations. During this section, students were put into small groups and given a topic that needed to be applied to their various cultures. For example, one group had to present on common practices, regulations, and codes in high schools from their own cultures. Students were eager to learn about each other’s cultural practices and norms.

Students found the individual presentation section to be the most challenging yet rewarding experience. Unlike the group presentations, this section involved no preparation time. Each student was given a topic and then had to address the audience with a short presentation. Prior to the students’ performances, they reviewed presentational skills about both verbal and non-verbal communication. Impromptu presentations, although challenging, are common in both B-school classes and the work place. These kinds of presentation skills are essential for the field.

We work hard to ensure that students who seek to attend B-school can achieve their goals whether they wish to pursue their degree in their native country or travel aboard. This is why we offer TOEFL, Career Training, and Advanced English courses in addition to GMAT courses. We take pride in the positive feedback received from students and in our relationships with various highly regarded B-schools.

Let’s face it — writing about yourself is difficult.

Just like a marketing manager launching a product or an attorney preparing a case, you, as your own representative, need to build a coherent, compelling and unique profile which is substantiated by real-life examples and supported by your actual experiences.

Here is some of our advice on what you should do to avoid common mistakes:

1.) Do not make repeated broad statements about how qualified a candidate you are. Remember your inner qualities should shine through your past successes and/or the way you have dealt with challenges in your life. Take a hard look at your own resume and think through both professional and personal anecdotes you may have to add more color to your essays.

2.) Do not describe your experience without accentuating your strengths that could be of main interest to the school you are applying for. Your essays are to focus on your key strengths which make you stand out from the crowd applying to the very same school. If you are particularly good at dealing with people, demonstrate those soft skills through describing the situations in which you have successfully resolved conflicts and/or promoted cooperation. The level of a person’s analytical skills is usually self-evident in a person’s resume and GMAT scores. However, maybe you also pride yourself on your thoroughness and great judgment. Then build a case that a combination of your analytical skills, thoroughness and great judgment has made you a consistent out-performer. Examples of your maturity level, adaptability, intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness to constructive criticism and a strong sense of self-improvement should be emphasized throughout your write-up.

3.) Do not use direct quotes from famous people or school literature. Schools are interested in getting to know you as a person and your perspectives on leadership, teamwork, innovation and global issues, not what others think. So unless there is a direct relationship between the quotes and the points you would like to make in your essays, avoid using them. However, if the quote serves a good introduction or transition in your write-up and makes your essays more interesting, then keep it in.

4.) Do not make simple mistakes in grammar, formatting, and the cutting and pasting of school/program names. Proof read them at least 3 times over a period. Alert yourself of the consequences of those mindless mistakes – a waste of your application fee and all the preparation effort, a bad image, and a rejection.

Posted on November 1, 2007 by Manhattan Review

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