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3 Steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay

26 Aug

The essay component, otherwise known as the Independent Writing component of the TOEFL test is a major contributor to your overall score and is often cited by my students as a difficult part to improve on.  Of the 50 minutes for the Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT test, 30 minutes are giving for writing a 4-5 paragraph, 300-350 word essay.  You write your essay in response to a given writing topic. 

Three steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay:

Focus on the first step and then move on to the second, and finally the third.  In other words, the steps are sequential and one should be mastered before focusing on the next. 

Step 1 – Concentrate on Content and Form.  Is the structure of your essay correct?  Is there a clear introduction, thesis statement and conclusion? Do your ‘body’ paragraphs each have one clear point and supporting details?  Is your essay accurately answering the question given and reflecting the writing sample provided (ie: is it logical)? Have you given examples where necessary?  Are your topic statements clear and is your writing concise?  Do your paragraphs flow from one to the other? Here’s an Essay Sequence Planner and Flow Chart to consider.

Step 2 – Focus on Accuracy.   Clean up the grammar, spelling and punctuation that all work to polish an essay and make it more pleasing for the evaluator to read.  Have you used a variety of sentence structures? Consider peer-editing with another student or friend.  Often editing another person’s work helps you learn more about your own areas of weakness.

Step 3 – Work on your Speed.  Now you want to try to get your polished essay done as quickly as you can.  If you spend 30 minutes, four times a week, that’s 4 essays a week you’d be writing.  Of course, while speed is the final step in polishing your essay-writing skills if you lack clean form, content and accuracy, then your essay is not going to score well.

If you’re looking for free online sample questions and essays, here’s a few places to start:

Happy TOEFL essay writing everyone!

Learn to use Word EMPHASIS for English Fluency

14 Sep

I can’t emphasis enough how the proper use of  ’emphasis’ helps the ESL learner to sound more fluent when speaking English.  Learning how to use emphasis properly is helpful not only in preparing for English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS or the TOEIC Speaking Test, but is equally important for academic and business situations.

Emphasis is the word in a sentence which is spoken with emphasis, in other words usually at a higher pitch and/or accompanied by a pause in speech.  There are a variety of reasons why emphasis is used.  Look at this list below for some reasons.

WHEN IS EMPHASIS USED?

  • the speaker wants to call to attention what is most important.  This is common when expressing opinions.
  • the speaker wants to imply or infer something without saying it directly.
  • the speaker is being accusatory.
  • the speaker is disagreeing with something said.
  • the speaker is being argumentative or sarcastic (emphasis is used liberally in arguing) ^^
  • the speaker has used inversion – in other words, changed the order of a sentence by adding a prepositional phrase at the beginning (example: SUDDENLY, the cat jumped up and scratched his face.)
  • the speaker wants to affirm or deny some action.  (example:  John DIDN’T go to school yesterday.)

LEARNING TO UNDERSTAND EMPHASIS

This is no easy task.  Becoming fluent in English is all about practice, exposure and time.  My husband is Korean and although is English is great, he still has difficulty with emphasis.  In fact, our conversation today inspired this blog post.  He said that when I speak Korean I add in English-style emphasis, when instead, I should learn to use proper Korean emphasis in all cases.  I suppose I had thought emphasis to be a more universal language tool… I was wrong.  There’s my ‘English-centric’ point of view creeping in again! 🙂

Since I’ve found that giving good examples is often the easiest way to “explain” something to my students, take a look below.  This is excerpted from a printable worksheet I created earlier which is in a matching activity for students. You can download it here: Jennifer Teacher – Using Emphasis

Take a look at the following examples, where the bolded words are emphasized.  Say them aloud and notice how the meaning, intention, inference or implication of the sentence changes.

a)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else said it.

b)  did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

c)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

d)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  You stole something else.

e)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else stole it.

f)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You did something else with the bandanna, not steal it.

g)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole someone elses’ bandanna.

h)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole one of a different colour.

i)    I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   I “implied/wrote/suggested” you stole it, not “said.”

TEST YOUR UNDERSTANDING!

Do these examples help you to understand the proper use of emphasis?   If so, try explaining the meanings of the following three sentences (leave a comment with your answers):

Q1)  Did you happen to get me a coffee, too?

Q2) What time are we supposed to meet on Saturday?

Q3) Why are you studying English?

MORE RESOURCES

If you feel you need some more help, try these external resources.  There aren’t many available on this unique subject, but here are a couple I’d recommend:

About.com: Learning to use Emphasis in English

Prof. Argenis A. Zapata: Ways of Expressing Emphasis in English

What to expect on the TOEFL iBT Speaking test – sample questions, too!

22 Jul

The infamous speaking section of the TOEFL iBT (the internet based TOEFL test), has many ESL hopefuls nervous.  That’s fair because the pace of the questions and the content can be difficult for even some native English speakers.  Of the overall TOEFL iBT test, about 25% is speaking, accounting for approximately 20 minutes of test-taking time.   It focuses on academic English and to get a great score you need to answer questions in a clear, concise way demonstrating an understanding of the material.

 

Breakdown of the 6 Speaking Questions/Tasks:

To ace the speaking part of the TOEFL iBT you need to know what to expect.  There are 6 speaking questions which you answer by speaking into a headset.  Let me break them down for you:

The first 2 questions are called Independent Tasks and are on topics familiar to the test-taker.   You have 15 seconds to prepare an answer and 45 seconds to speak.

A sample Independent Task question is: “Some universities require first year students to live in dormitories on campus.  Other’s allow students to live off campus.  Which policy to you think is better for first year students and why? Include details and examples in your answer.”

The last 4 questions are called Integrated Tasks and involve using more than one skill – reading, writing and speaking for example.  In some cases you can read the question first, then listen to it, prepare your answer and then speak.  Other times you’ll listen first, prepare and then answer.  After listening and reading the test-taker is given a short time to prepare a response, about 30seconds, and then must proceed with answering as requested.  Usually the response time is 60 seconds.

A sample Integrated Task question is “For thousands of years humans have been able to domesticate, or tame, many large mammals that live in the wild together in herds.  Once tamed, these mammals are used for agricultural work and transportation.  Yet some herd mammals are not easily domesticated.  A good indicator of a mammal’s suitability for domestication is how protective the animal is of it’s territory.  Non-territorial mammals are more easily domesticated than territorial mammals because they can live close together with animals from other herds.  A second indicator is that animals have a hierarchical social structure, in which herd members follow a leader, are easy to domesticate , since a human can function as a ‘leader.’ ”  <THEN YOU WOULD LISTEN TO A SHORT 1-2 minute LECTURE BEFORE GETTING A QUESTION…> “The professor describes the behavior of horses and antelopes in herds.  Explain how their behaviour is related to their suitability for domestication.”

 

Now, if you’re thinking that seems difficult – you’re not alone.  The TOEFL test can be one of the most important tests of your life, your score determining whether or not you can be accepted into the overseas school  or company of your choice.  Never fear!  Jennifer Teacher is here!  If you’re ready to start preparing seriously for your test, contact me.

Should you Take the IELTS or the TOEFL?

14 Jul

The two most popular standardized tests accepted by universities and companies around the world are IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  They assess a test-takers’ understanding and command of the English language.  Global English proficiency tests are important for those wanting to study, work or live in an English-speaking country with more opportunities available to them with positive test scores. In fact, most top institutions demand scores for either the IELTS or TOEFL upon applying.

What do they test? Both the IELTS and the TOEFL tests have reading, writing and listening sections.   How they differ mainly is in the fourth structures; speaking.  For the IELTS, a face-to-face interview is required, but for the TOEFL six questions are answered into a microphone and sent to an examiner for marking.

How are they scored? Scoring of the tests differs also.  TOEFL uses a numerical SAT-type grade, totaling your scores from all the areas, while IELTS uses what they call bands from 0 to 9 with half points in-between.   Here is a handy Scoring Chart for the major English Proficiency tests internationally.

What testing styles are offered? In terms of convenience, the TOEFL is offered mainly in an internet-based tests, but there are computer-based and even paper-based tests.  The IELTS is offered mainly as a paper-based test, but a computer-based test is available (CB IELTS).   However, both styles require the face-to-face speaking test.  For the IELTS, you choose between an Academic module (for educational institutes) or a General Training module (for non-academic training, work experience and immigration).

Who administers these tests?  An American non-profit, ETS (Educational Training Services), administers the TOEFL worldwide, while the IELTS is administered jointly by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia.

And the popular question: Which is easier?  That, my friendly test-taker depends on your knowledge and strengths.  It is best to first determine why you need to take an English proficiency test and then determine which test you need.  Check which test is required by your chosen institution.

If you’ve taken either test, please share your experiences and comments below! ^^

How to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT

8 Jul

If you haven’t come across it in your scramble to prepare for taking your TOEFL test, you need to check out the helpful tips guide that ETS (Educational Training Systems), the maker of the TOEFL test, has prepared.  It’s called:  How to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT, and is a great clarifying resource to have on hand.

This guide covers the four sections of the TOEFL test: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.  They suggest ways to prepare for each section, cover the question formats you’ll encounter on the test, and tell you how the test is to be delivered and scored.

When preparing for the test, my students’ top concerns are typically:  how can they form clear speaking responses in the amount of time given; and  how quickly they’ll need to write their answers in the writing section?   If given enough time they could prepare great answers, spoken or written, but part of the TOEFL iBT test’s success in assessing English fluency is that answers must be given in a specific period of time.  Therefore students need to practice all of their English skills, and as suggested in the guide, ‘practice more on your weakest skills’ first.

In addition, this guide covers test preparation guidelines and frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) by test takers.

If you want more information and links on TOEFL Test Prep – Subscribe to this blog!

Thanks!  ^^

What to Look for in a TOEFL Study Guide Book

5 Jul

There are many reputable (and some less reputable) study guide books available in multiple languages, aimed at helping students better prepare for their TOEFL test.   With so many books to choose from, you want to find the one or two that will really help you achieve TOEFL success.

When you’re choosing a study guide book one of the first things you’ll want to do is be sure to consider the type of TOEFL test you need to prepare for.  Not many places still offer the written test, so you’re more likely to write a computer-based test (CBT) or an internet-based test (iBT).   Also, look for a current edition.

ETS (Educational Testing Service) is the company that manages and creates the TOEFL tests, and so naturally their study guides are really popular.

Look for guide books that have CD’s to help with listening comprehension and audio exercises.  Sample tests should also be included, preferrably with answer keys.   I find the student planners included in some books help my students reach their study objectives in an organized manner.

The essay-writing section of the book should be clear and with many examples and opportunities to write your own.  Practice drills of all aspects of the TOEFL test are key to success.

If the study guide your considering doesn’t meet the above recommendations, keep looking!  And remember, this is a challenging test and there is no “magic book” that will magically prepare you for your TOEFL  test.  You’ll need to study hard, work with an ESL Teacher or Tutor who specializes in TOEFL test prep and find opportunities to practice the language.

TOEFL Success Helps Koreans Study Abroad

1 Jul

In the competitive Korean job market of today, being fluent in English is a big advantage to those looking to land good jobs.  Most students who want to get ahead of the competition will study abroad, travelling to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the UK.  They want to perfect their English and become experts in their field of study at the same time.

For Koreans to study abroad in the top 100 Universities and Colleges in the US, they need to take the TOEFL test.   There are over 8,000 educational institutions worldwide that accept your TOEFL test score as a basis of entrance.  You can see a list of all the schools that accept TOEFL. In short, if you want to study abroad, travel the world and improve your chances of landing a career job in Korea, TOEFL success is a very important step in the right direction.

Some of my students have taken the TOEFL test and gone on to study in the US and Canada.  I help students succeed at TOEFL.  If you’d like to prepare to take the TOEFL test, please contact me.

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