Tag Archives: English Proficiency Testing

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!

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Challenge Yourself with English Vocabulary from Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’

9 Sep

As part of my recent “Literacy Project” – I’m encouraging my advanced ESL students, to join me in reading all the books on Modern Library’s 100 Best Books List.   This extra-curricular reading project was inspired when, after browsing the list and realizing I had only read a mere 17, I felt quite embarrassed with myself!   So, I’m catching up.

Number 18 was Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina.  And although it’s a long read it remains interesting and engaging throughout.  I feel some of the context must have been lost through translation.  How I would love to read (and understand) it in Russian! 🙂

This seems a very academic book, with clear themes threaded from start to finish, and strong characters.  The themes of spirituality, meanings of life and death, and how one creates and responds to adversity, were enjoyed.  But, I also love highlighting great vocabulary words with my Kobo eReader Touch!  Here are some words I loved and wanted to challenge you to see if you know the definitions:

Do you know the words pecuniary, laconic, loquacity and coterie?  If so, you may be a word master!  If not, play a matching game, download flashcards, or enjoy a crossword with my 25 Challenging Words from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on WORD DYNAMO.  

Or, if you’d prefer, you can download a copy of my free 25 Vocab – Anna Karenina on these words

And, because I’m curious…. How many books have you read from the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels?   The Board’s List or the Reader’s List?  Please share your answers and comments below.

 

Is the TOEIC test really an indicator of functional English?

23 Aug

The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) measures the ability test-takers to use English in everyday workplace activities.  There are over three million TOEIC test-takers in over sixty countries worldwide each year, with Japan and South Korea making up most of these.

The TOEIC tests, (there are now three: Speaking; Writing; Reading and Listening), despite addressing the four main components of English study, remain inefficient in indicating functional English proficiency.

A brief intro to the three TOEIC tests

The TOEIC®Reading and Listening test is the original test, and was highly criticized for not effectively assessing English fluency as it was missing ever so important speaking and writing components.  ETS, the company who provides the both  the TOEFL and TOEIC exams, addressed this and came out with TOEIC® Speaking and Writing tests  in 2007.  Therefore, there are now three tests that complete the TOEIC repetoire.  Still, it leaves me wanting more.

Why I feel TOEIC isn’t a sufficient indicator of functional English:

  • Not all institutions require all three tests, and it is often the Listening and Reading test only that is taken and scored for.   Because of my belief being that language is a whole entity, and can not readily be divided and subdivided beyond an academic lens, this test just isn’t a good indicator of functional English, or English proficiency.
  • In addition, the vocabulary and strong grammatical emphasis in the TOEIC Reading and Listening test make it impractical for everyday English situations that would be encountered in most workplaces abroad.
  • Finally, TOEIC does not integrate the English skills it tests for.  In opposition, the TOEFL test is an integrative, reflexive test that brings together reading, writing, listening, and speaking, in a variety of questioning formats.   The TOEIC is a multiple choice test that doesn’t allow for as much integration.

 

MORE TOEIC RESOURCES:

Here’s the TOEIC Korea site in 한국어.

Here’s a Wiki Article on the TOEIC.

Here’s a sample test for the TOEIC Speaking and Writing Tests.

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.

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!  ^^

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