Love Your Score: Valentine's Day Inspired TOEFL Prep

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Love Your Score:  Valentine's Day Inspired TOEFL Prep

Implementing new words regularly after you've learned them is one of the best ways to promote retention, so tying your language lessons and test prep back to upcoming holidays and seasons is a perfect recipe for making sure that you are finding phrases and idioms that you are ready to use. Furthermore, finding emotional and personal connections to the new terms will help you remember and recall them later.  Valentine's Day is both timely and emotional, so below is a roundup of practice that you'll love.

1| Your love language: phrasal verbs related to love


Daily spoken communication for native speakers is largely based on using Phrasal Verbs. Phrasals are considered more casual, making them useful for everyday speaking and listening, like interacting in English with those closest to you, as it will convey your message in the correct register.

In addition to learning Phrasal Verbs that the TOEFL loves asking about, check out this awesome infographic from Cork English that lists Phrasal Verbs related to love here.

2| What are the odds: Valentine's Day Math


Most students focus on the humanities when they practice TOEFL-style listening. Show mathematics some love with this Ted Talk from a mathematician.  Hannah Fry delivers her Talk with a sense of humor, asking us what are the odds, statistically, of finding that person you are compatible with.
 

3| The science behind attraction


When those in love have a physical connection, native speakers say they "have chemistry." Practice note-taking with a Ted Talk about pheromones, the scents and chemicals responsible for creating those feelings of desire. This talk even starts with a brief overview of the history of this word, so if you are a logophile, the beginning of the lecture is sure to catch your attention. (PS-logophile isn't really a common term, as explained in this post, but it is made up of up common Greek roots. Learn more words based on common roots here.)

4| The economic impact of Valentine's Day


Most people associate holiday spending with the Christmas season, but Valentine's Day also has a huge impact on the economy.  For a quick read with a focus on spending trends for February 14th, check out this passage from Mint. 

Ever considered how all those packages arrive after you've placed your order? For a no-frills listening passage, take notes on this Ted Talk on the  logistics behind how all those online orders get fulfilled.

5| History of Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day might be associated with flowers and love, but there is a darker side that seems to have been forgotten. Practice reading in English with a passage from NPR on the not so rosy history of Valentine's Day.

6|  Valentine's Day Idioms

While there are many idioms related to the body more generally, the heart, in particular, is frequently the source of figurative language and idiomatic expressions.  Grab the infographic to become familiar with the top phrases, or check out this post for all of the sayings using the word heart.

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7|  True love: vocabulary related to honesty

The best type of love is often referred to as true love.  Check out this video lesson that you will truly benefit from on vocabulary related to being honest.

 

 

Bonus topic | Fall in love with the independent essay

Get some Valentine's Day-inspired independent essay questions.  Download your 4 free prompts below!

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Which Valentine's inspired practice strikes your fancy?  Tell me which one caught your eye in the comments below.

How To Improve Your Notes for a Better TOEFL Listening Score

 
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How To Improve Your Notes for a Better TOEFL Listening Score

Why Listening Matters-- And Why It Is So Hard To Listen, Especially in a Foreign Language


There's a lot of advice out there on how to be a better listener, even for native speakers. While one can find articles for how to be an active or empathetic listener, which offer techniques and cultural expectations that can greatly enhance your daily interactions, these strategies are often not taught in formal classroom settings and do not always take into account the additional struggles faced by non-native speakers. According to BBC's Learning English, listening is the skill that occupies most of our time, making up 45% of communication for adults.  Yet, it continues to be a frequently overlooked skill. 

In his Ted Talk full of tips for making you a more attuned listener in any language, listening expert Julian Treasure bemoans the lack of formal listening instruction in schools.  In this way, foreign language students are at an advantage as this is a skill that is practiced while in the second language classroom.  However, how many people are actually given instruction on how to do it properly rather than just having an instructor read off the answers to the questions?  When the topics become more complex and the language more academic, like that on the TOEFL and in university classes, listening becomes nearly synonymous with note-taking. Below, learn 5 strategies for successful listening and proper note-taking   

When the topics become more complex and the language more academic, like that on the TOEFL and in university classes, listening becomes nearly synonymous with note-taking


5 Essential Strategies for Better TOEFL Listening and University Note-Taking


1| Set up your notes for the type of listening passage given


When listening to a conversation, divide your paper into 2 columns, one for each speaker. This will help you keep your notes organized, making it easier to find the answers to the questions when you are working under serious time constraints on test day.

When working with any listening that has more than one speaker, often the other person responds by voicing their agreement, approval or support; their confusing or lack of clarity; or their disapproval or disagreement.  Remember to pay attention to both content and tone.  As soon as someone replies with a strong positive or negative, use a quick symbol to record this.  I recommend using a check mark or a minus symbol before taking note on the other information in the reply.

 When it comes to lectures, there are three major types you could encounter the day of the test.   You can either here a lecture where only the professor speaks, a lecture with student interactions, or a seminar-style class.

 A seminar-style course is not very likely, but if the professor informs or reminds listeners that this is the structure, be prepared to hear multiple speakers and have the professor simply guide the students rather than give the majority of the information.  

Treat lectures with student interaction similarly to conversations, noting in particular how the professor responds, affirmatively or not, to student supplied answers.  Let questions from the professor or the students guide your note-taking.  These questions can act as subtopics, helping again to locate the information from your notes quickly when the time comes.

The most difficult type of lecture to take notes on are those that only have one speaker.  The professor will often introduce the main topic in the first few sentences.  Be sure to take notes on lists (as those easily convert to multiple choice questions), definitions,  and subcategories.

              Read more: 3 Qualities of Strong Notes for University and TOEFL Success

2| Don't attempt to take notes on everything someone says


On the TOEFL, you can and should take notes, but you only have the ability to note take on scrap paper.  Most people can type faster than they can handwrite notes, and, as a result, your strategy must adjust accordingly.

Strong listening really boils down to the ability to differentiate between what matters and what doesn't.  Consider, if the lecture were given in your native language, what would you identify as important.  The content of what is important does not change.

Even if you were able to write down every word when you are actually attending lectures in the university program you wish to attend, you would not want to do that.  First, you would not actually be processing what the professor says and you wouldn't want to review the dictation you had taken in order to prepare for your midterm or final.  Second, you would not be truly processing the information that is incoming.  Even if you could do that on the TOEFL, remember, right answers tend to use paraphrases rather than the same exact language from the lecture.

           Read more: 9 Podcasts To Listen to for TOEFL Prep

3| Anticipate the questions

No matter what section you are preparing for, you always want to make sure that you predicting the questions that will come up.  Thinking like the test-makers instead of the test-taker is one of the most important mental shifts one can make for more successful test taking.

Questions on the TOEFL listening fall into several common categories, and your notes should reflect each style of question. Detail questions, like those found on the Reading section, are quite common.  Look out for lists of 3 in order to prepare for detail and negative detail questions.  Those detail questions could also take the form of charts rather than simple multiple choice, especially if there are more or less than 3 items that fit a particular criterion the professor has outlined.   The Listening is more concerned with structure, function, and attitude than the Reading section, so be sure that your notes reflect this as well. While frequently a small snippet of the recording will be played again for those types of questions, by taking note on the attitude the first time, you can use the replay to confirm what you already know.

4| Keep in mind the natural stress patterns in English


Remember, English is a stressed timed language. This means that stress normally occurs at regular intervals rather than on each and every syllable in every word. This is why the subject, verb, and object--known as content words-- receive more stress and are as a result easier to catch than the other function words. The good news is, the content words tend to be the ones that questions will be asked about.

When the usual stress pattern is broken, note it. If the stress has been placed on a word that isn't expected, the entire meaning and tone of the sentence has likely shifted. 

5| Take the hint


Some phrases are the equivalent of the speaker telling you to take notes. This isn't just an artificial, contrived component of the exam. Instructors frequently will set expectations or encourage students to pay particularly close attention to a subject.   The professor might actually provide gentle reminders, make recommendations on how to prepare or what to review or to take note on.  These may become speaker's purpose, function, or even detail questions on the test.

Rhetorical techniques like repetition are another way that the instructor is trying to highlight a given point. If the instructor is saying the same word or phrase (or a synonym for it) again and again, this will almost certainly come up on the exam.  This is almost always how detail questions get developed.

Being familiar with casual phrases utilized in speech and their respective purposes will help you make the most of these clues.  Grab the 2 page TOEFL Listening Phrases At a Glance to printable to become familiar with more than 30+ phrases you'll want to know for TOEFL lectures and university level classes.

Key Takeaways


Having a set system for note-taking based on the types of questions you anticipate will come up will help make you better prepared for the TOEFL now and for midterms and finals down the road. Prioritize content, note tone when multiple speakers are involved, and look for common phrases that set expectations to improve your listening comprehension.

 

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What is the hardest thing about the TOEFL listening section in your opinion?  Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Want Language Learning and TOEFL Success in 2018? Don't Make These Resolutions (Make These Instead)

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How to perfect language resolutions and TOEFL goals

Although we all know that we can resolve to develop new habits at any time, as one year comes to a close and the next begins, people from all corners of the world are taking stock of last year and deciding how they want to make 2018 different.  Although many create New Year's resolutions, few stick to them. Though exact figures vary, Business Insider claims that 80% of resolutions fail by February, and according to Forbes, only 8% of people stick to their goal for the entire year.  When your resolutions are tied to your academic and professional goals, you can't afford to be another statistic.  Discover why resolutions fail and learn how to make SMART goals regarding your studies.

Why Most Goals Don't See the End of January

While many of the most common resolutions relate to health/fitness/wellness, for those who are crafting education-focused resolutions, there is significant overlap regarding what derails all resolutions regardless of their exact category.  

The single biggest reason why people fall off the wagon so quickly is that they get completely discouraged and entirely give up after the most minor slip up.  Instead of seeing the value in incremental progress, most resolution-makers see their resolutions as all-or-nothing propositions and they get frustrated by not seeing immediate results.  That means if you do indulge on New Year's Eve, it makes it difficult to kick off January 1st being true to your newly minted study schedule (or any other resolutions you came up with), and missing even one day significantly decreases the likelihood of continuing with that resolution.  When it comes to the TOEFL, this means that students who vow to write an independent essay every day are setting themselves up for a major disappointment when after the holidays they are so tired from celebrating that they can't bring themselves to turn on their computer come January 1st.  For those that overcome this barrier, you still may run into the problem of feeling disappointment when after a week of sticking to your goal of reading a TOEFL passage each day, your TOEFL score has not yet increased by 20 points.

 

Set the Foundation For Better Language Resolutions

While the technique of reflecting before coming up with resolutions is by no means revolutionary, it is a necessary part of the process, and one that too many people gloss over.   Have you made resolutions in the past?  Did you stick with them?   Consider what motivates you and reconnect with your why-- the main reason you are doing something.  Why are you taking the TOEFL? Why are you learning English?  After you have your answer, post it in a visible spot that you will refer to regularly.  This will at least help you stay a bit more motivated when you are tempted to spend some time on Facebook rather than compose a TOEFL practice essay.  After contemplating your big reason why, break it down into smaller components in order to create specific and actionable goals. 

While the SMART method of goal setting is not unique to education, it is an extremely valuable tool for reshaping goals to make them more likely to come to fruition.  SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable/Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-bound.  By decreasing the number of resolutions you make, creating a realistic timeline, and getting specific about what you want to learn and why, you can help create resolutions that you can stick to.  When it comes to the TOEFL, making sure that your goal is attainable means starting with a practice test.  How can you know what is attainable without knowing your starting place?  When it comes to being realistic, make sure each of your language learning goals relates back to something applicable to the TOEFL or university level interactions.  While learning for learning's sake is nice, it doesn't make for reasonable goal setting.

In Psychology Today's "5 Alternatives to Traditional New Year's Resolutions," psychotherapist Amy Morin advocates picking one new habit to focus on per month.  This is such great advice and can be easily applied to the TOEFL.  Because the test is such a big undertaking, focusing on learning just one section for an entire month (while completing regular practice tests) can help you see more immediate progress.  It will also allow you the time you need to focus on each of the styles of questions.  In the speaking section, for example, there 6 different styles of questions.  By focusing on just the speaking portion of the exam, you can allocate Mondays to look at Independent Speaking question 1 strategies, Tuesdays for Speaking question 2, through Saturdays for Speaking question 6 and then review and practice problems on Sundays.  By repeating this cycle 4 times, you can master concepts before moving on.

If you do lapse, don't give up.  In fact, go in knowing that this will happen and that it is okay.  Write down motivation to keep going each and every week in your calendar. Skipping one day's study session isn't the end of the world nor will it necessarily have an impact on your overall score.  

Were you overly ambitious with the plan you set forth?  If you realize that your schedule is untenable, revise it.  In business, entrepreneurs are taught to see everything like an experiment.  The same should be said of students.  Because students are not one size fits all, your study plan should not be either.  Factor in your time constraints, for example, right from the beginning, but know that you may need to make changes as you go.  Modifying your study schedule does not mean you failed.  Instead, it means you have a better understanding of yourself and your needs.

Read more: Why You Aren't Actually Studying for the TOEFL (Even Though You Think You Are)

5 Impossible Language Learning New Year's Resolutions (And How To Improve Them)

Flawed New Year's Resolution #1|  I want to improve my English


The most common resolution I hear from students is I want to improve my English.  Like the other resolutions on this list, this sentiment comes from a great place.  The motivation to increase your skills is admirable, but the problem is that this resolution is far too vague.  How will you know that you have achieved your goal?  The original way it is phrased makes it overly open-ended.  Instead, use the SMART system in order to rewrite the goal to what you need it to be.  Take inventory regarding the resources at your disposal.  What will you use to "improve" your English?  Will you use Quizlet to learn vocabulary words, listen to Ted Talks regularly, or follow me and other language teachers on Instagram?  Will you enroll in a class or get a tutor?  What do you have, how do you best learn, where are you starting from, and where do you need to get to?  Whether you are taking the TOEFL or not, defining the word improve is a must in order to come up with a plan of attack.

 

Flawed New Year's Resolution #2| I want to learn more vocabulary words


Though there is some debate over the exact figure, estimates put the number of words in the English language at around 1 million and counting.  That doesn't account for words with multiple meanings or the variation in meaning that one can get from combining different words into different phrases or different tones.  This means that without focus, the idea of learning new vocabulary words seems futile.  Do you want to learn slang to better fit in with those you work with or attend classes with?  Do you want to learn academic vocabulary that is more appropriate for writing papers?  Do you want to focus on phrasal verbs to have better daily social interactions?  Do you want to be familiar with a list of the most common words tested on the TOEFL, SAT, or GRE?  Knowing the category of words you want to learn about will help give you a direction and knowing how to use them will help you design practice that makes you implement the new term, helping with vocabulary retention.

 I highly recommend learning vocabulary words by groups and learning them at times of the year when they are most likely to be needed will help you find situations to apply those new words and phrases to.   Watch the video for 12 words and phrases related to resolutions, plans, and goals.

 

 

Flawed New Year's Resolution #3|  I want to learn 100 new vocabulary words a day

 While it isn't always at the beginning of the year, this is a goal I hear students set regularly.  As soon as I hear it, I know it is only a matter of time until this plan unravels.  Because it is more specific than the previous goal, students feel like they are setting a SMART goal; however, they are forgetting about the other words in the acronym (measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound).  For how long are you going to learn 100 new words a day? What is the purpose of the new words?  While it is measurable, the real problem centers on being attainable: it is extremely difficult to truly learn 100 new words a day.  Students with lofty goals like this often forget to build in time for review.  By the end of the week, if I gave them a quiz with 10 words selected at random from the 700 they attempted to learn, odds are, they will not be able to pass.  Come up with a more reasonable number of new vocabulary words (5 new words a day and then review them regularly and cumulatively).  Do not skip the review when devising your plan.

Flawed New Year's Resolution #4| I will study for the TOEFL


The good news about this goal is that it easily adapts to the SMART model.  Because the TOEFL is a language proficiency test, the exam itself provides measurable intel as to how you have done with this goal.  However, the Achilles heel to this particular resolution is that students often forget to make it time sensitive.  Because students realize that it is often a long process, they simply accept not picking a date to take the test.  Instead, they just say they will study, they will take the test, they will get into college.  Take a practice test and then pick a date.  This will help keep you on the right track.  Of course, once you've selected the end point, be sure to select your goal score and divide the exam into smaller parts to hit milestone goals and to create a focus for each individual study session you schedule.  

A common variation of this is I will study for 3 hours every day.  While the amount of time is specific, there isn't actually a set, desired outcome.  Although you can certainly see if you have sat down to study for that length of time, how do you know if you've made progress?  Every study session needs to have its own sub-goal. 

Flawed New Year's Resolution #5|  I will be fluent in English


Have you ever stopped to define what it means to be fluent to you?  The definition can be a little hazier than you might initially think.  Does this mean that you don't make mistakes when speaking in English?  Well, even native speakers make mistakes, so this doesn't seem to be relevant, realistic, or achievable.  Instead, focus on one specific skill you identify with being fluent, like clearer pronunciation, and then break this into a more specific and measurable skill.  For example, by the end of the month, I want to use reductions to sound more natural in casual conversation.

Key Takeaways

Avoid the make-it-and-break-it pattern that befalls so many by creating resolutions the right way.  Get rid of the vague, open-ended resolutions and create more specific, more measurable ones that you can see progress on to keep your motivation high.  

Still need some more direction?  Know exactly what you should write about every day for the next 30 days with this free printable.

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Did you set a New Year's resolution related to language learning or taking the TOEFL?  Did you stick with it?  Tell us about it in a comment below.

ESL/TOEFL Student Gift Guide: Practice Presents for Purposeful Test Prep

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Affiliate disclosure:  In the spirit of full transparency, the following post does contain affiliate links.  What this means is that if you purchase a product through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Don't worry; I only recommend products that I have used and loved.

7 Tested and Approved Gift Ideas for ESL Students

Around the holidays, gift giving guides are ubiquitous. For every interest, you can find a collection of top presents. Instead of searching simply by age and gender or hobby, consider getting the TOEFL test prep student a practical gift. At multiple price points ranging from ultra affordable to a complete splurge, gift givers and receivers alike will love these items. This carefully curated list with help language learners on test day and beyond.

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1| Planners

A new year means a fresh start. Get ready for the new year with a new planner. Planners come in all sorts of shapes and sizes--literally. Get one well suited for that person on your list by considering when and why it will be used. Is this going to sit on a desk? Is it designed to teach one new vocab word every single day? Go in with a purpose instead of being persuaded by pretty images alone.

One of the more versatile planners out there is the Panda Planner.  Not tied to a particular calendar month, this planner can be used whenever you are ready.  Get a planner that comes with bonuses like ebooks and mini courses designed to help you set better goals and beat procrastination.

 
 

If the TOEFL is in your future, why not get a planner specifically designed for test-takers.  Created to help maximize vocabulary at times when you need it and to pace practice for success, the 12 Month TOEFL Planner is the definitive planner for students who take their test prep seriously.  Pre-order now to get special pricing.

 
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2| Books

Books and students, a classic pairing.  But with so many to choose from, what books should you buy?  Students studying for the TOEFL should absolutely own The Official Guide to the TOEFL as it contains the most realistic test prep. And while there are other test prep books that can be purchased based on the specific needs of the person prepping for the exam (you can read about the criteria you should consider here), don't limit yourself to test prep books alone.

Language learning books can help provide valuable tips while the reader is still practicing English.  As a result, these books are working on multiple levels.

 

 
 

Similarly, books that are about social interactions tend to be another good choice.  While many are designed for native speakers of the language, they still provide excellent advice in terms of mindset struggles and psychological tricks in order to help you gain confidence when using English in the workplace or to make friends at school.

Productivity books are another excellent option.  Everyone wishes they had more time.  While many productivity books are geared towards the workplace and entrepreneurs, there are many valuable takeaways for students of all backgrounds.  Learn how to make the most of your study time when prepping for the TOEFL or even a final exam by implementing the tips found in books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or my personal favorite, The One Thing.  I can't say enough about this book.  It will help keep you focused on the right goals for moving you forward instead of getting caught up in the minutia.

 
 

 

3| School supplies

Spoil yourself or the student in your life with a plethora of school supplies so there is never a delay studying because a pen can't be located.  Having all the supplies you need on hand will help eliminate some of those excuses that pop up.  

In fact, sometimes the desire to use the new items will be the extra incentive someone needs to stop putting things off and start studying instead.  Affordable and easily tailored to match one's interests, school supplies are a great gift that students can take with them to their classes and dorm rooms after achieving their goal scores on the exam.

4| Headphones

A quality pair of headphones is a must.  Headphones give students more access to listening practice as you can listen in situations that normally would be off limits, like during a commute.  Headphones are particularly important for getting ready for tests like the TOEFL because the listening passages won't be coming through speakers on an instructor's desk like they might if enrolled in an in-person TOEFL prep course but instead will be coming directly through headphones on test day.

If you are looking to splurge on top-of-the-line headphones, Apple's AirPods might be exactly what you are looking for.  If you are addicted to listening to podcasts to improve your English, these are a great gift.  They are easily the best pair of headphones I've ever used.  Because you do not have to worry about being tied up with cords, you can listen to English wherever you go and during whatever task, whether that is doing yard work outside, washing the dishes, or going for a run.  This investment will be worthwhile long after exam day because you will be able to listen to audio books (for those in the public domain, you can use Librivox and for others consider Audible) which might come in handy when you have tons of reading assignments to juggle.

 

 
 

If you want a pair of headphones most similar to those used on the TOEFL (not to mention, more affordable), look into over-the-ear headphone varieties instead.  They will give a similar feel to the ones you'll encounter at the testing center (and for a fraction of the price of Beats.)

 
 

 

5|  Caffeination and hydration

Coffee shops and college students are another unstoppable duo.  Students are frequently caffeinating themselves to stay alert through long cramming sessions, and the research is there to back up the relationship between caffeine intake and memory.  In fact, more research is being conducted as to the long term effective of caffeine consumption and cognitive abilities as well.  Be eco-friendly when getting your coffee in style with this reusable travel mug.

 
 

 

While most people envision students sipping on coffee, more important for your mental and physical health is to simply stay hydrated.  Bring your reusable water bottle with you to those long library study sessions.  According to the research, staying properly hydrated can have quite the impact on mood and focus, so you will want to make sure that are drinking water while studying.  Learn from those who have gone before you.  Studies show those who drink water during exams score slightly higher on exams, and that students are more likely to bring water with them after their first year.

 

 
 

6| Tablet or laptop

The iBT in TOEFL iBT stands for internet-based test; it is, therefore, essential that you are prepping on a screen.  First, you want to make sure that you are comfortable typing your answers for the Writing section of the exam.  That means that if you use a tablet, make sure that you have a full-sized wireless keyboard.  I love the feel of typing on my Apple Wireless Keyboard.  In fact, I love using it with my iPad to type blog posts just like this one.

 
 

 

When deciding whether or not you need a tablet or laptop, consider what is needed before and after taking the TOEFL.  Do the study materials purchased require a CD drive in order for you to effectively take the practice tests?  Are you going to take online lessons and need to be able to split the screen between a website and your tutor's image?  What type of assignments will be given in your university program?  Will you need to compose papers or create multimedia projects?  Do the schools that you are considering issue laptops to all undergrad or graduate students? 

 
 

 

7| Premium subscriptions

The last category of gift is to upgrade from free to paid services of your favorite subscriptions.  

Get all the Power Ups in Trello so it is entirely customizable.  While I would definitely suggest implementing the Calendar Power Up if you are sticking with the free version, by upgrading to the next level, you can add in Card Aging, Card Snooze, Card Repeater, and Deadlines, for those who are motivated most by visual input.

Have a digital study partner that you community with over Slack?  Do you always watch the same tutorials video Google Hangouts?  Allow it to integrate with Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, or Google Hangouts so it becomes the central hub for everything you need to get done and keep organized.  

Though audiobooks have been around for decades, Audible's service is the gift that keeps on giving.  Audible has such a wide range of titles, it will be easy to find book after book that keeps your interest (and keeps you actively listening to English). Perfect for those who want to improve their English but are always on the go, consider a subscription to Audible so you can keep the enjoyable practice up even when traveling.

 
 

 

While Grammarly's free edition is remarkable, kick things up a notch with Grammarly's premium edition.  Get a ranking out of 100 on every piece you compose as well as insight into all the advanced issues.  Far cheaper than a tutor and on call whenever you need it, this is the single best gift you can get for the language learner or serious student in your life (even if that person is you!)

 


Key Takeaways

Whether you want to get something for the language learner on your list or this is a gift for yourself, you can't go wrong with gifts that cultivate strong study habits for this test and all the rest to come in the university program to come.

Want a free gift right now?  Get 30 days of TOEFL essay prompts right away-- and get ready for more free gifts in your future!

 

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From Podcasts to Points: 9 Podcasts to Listen to for TOEFL Prep

 
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9 Podcasts You Need to Listen To When Preparing for the TOEFL

In the United States, nearly 1/4 Americans listened to a podcast within the last month, according to a report from the Pew Research Foundation, a figure that is climbing year after year.  Podcasts are becoming a way of life for many individuals, but they also present a great opportunity for language learners.  Podcasts can be a great TOEFL prep tool because their format lends themselves to test prep and as the podcast listenership increases, so do the amount of quality shows being offered.

Why Podcasts


The most obvious reason why podcasts are a great fit for TOEFL prep is that the format is most similar to what you listen to on test day itself.  While watching television, documentaries, or Ted Talks can offer good practice, their visual nature might mean that you are not truly getting the true note-taking experience that you should need for something like the TOEFL.  With few visual clues on test day, you need to rely on what you can hear only.  Podcasts come in this format to begin with, but many will include show notes or transcripts that you can use to check against the notes you've actually taken.

Additionally, podcasts are fantastic because they allow you to multitask.  As an absolute podcast addict myself, I love spending time listening to podcasts while I"m doing other solitary activities.  Before getting into the car, going on a run, or cooking dinner, I love to have a podcast to make the most of my time.  It makes me feel more productive and helps me use my time efficiently.

Don't use podcasts exclusively for practicing note-taking.  If you decide to listen to podcasts while doing other tasks, you can increase the amount of time spent engaging with English.  This can help you internalize stress patterns, making speech sound more natural.

Additionally, for podcasts that come out regularly, simply subscribe so you get each new episode as soon as it goes live.  Instead of needing to find Listening Practice, the practice will come to you naturally, making you more likely to follow through.  This can help keep you on a regular schedule as episodes tend to broadcast the same time each week.  Get additional motivation to listen to the podcasts by using push notifications so you listen right away.

Don't feel like podcasts end with consumption.  Instead, many of the podcasts can leave you with new words to use, new strategies to implement, and new ideas to make small talk about.  This is particularly true if you are listening to a podcast that features current events. 

Some students make the mistake of only looking at podcasts that are designed for English language learners, but for advanced students like those preparing for the TOEFL, be sure to select a mix of those designed for non-native speakers and those that are produced by and for native speakers.

TOEFL Prep Podcast Round-Up: What Podcasts To Listen To


D2B English


Down 2 Business English is a business focused podcast that covers current events and trends.  Hosts Dez, Skip, and Samantha frequently make small talk before the strictly business portion of the conversation takes place, and this is also quite valuable for learning slang.  As they move into the business conversation, listen for definitions of terms.  The trio takes on interesting and relevant topics that make this podcast appealing even if you aren't interested in business.

Why this podcast is great for TOEFL prep: The business conversation casually mixes in business terms and concepts.  This will be helpful for growing your vocabulary in this discipline but also in regards to listening for definitions of new terms.  The conversations mirror the types of conversations that you might hear if a student goes to see a professor during office hours as one host will sometimes provide definitions or clarification and the other might ask about a term that they anticipate the audience will not know.

Business English Pod (Specifically the Business English News)

 
The Business English podcast is another great option for those who plan on joining the corporate world either before or after they take the TOEFL.  While some episodes offer advice for business interactions, like making small talk or placing phone calls with clients, the episodes labeled Business English News are particularly useful for students intending on studying any major.

Why this podcast is great for TOEFL prep: The Business English News episodes in particular parallel the integrated essay nicely.  Typically the episode will start with a summary of the current understanding or thought process on a topic and then the rest of the lecture will go into detail about the opposite, clearing up a misconception, or emerging information and trends on the topic.  Take a look at Episode 40 on Renewable Energy here.  Additionally, the length of the episodes is ideal for TOEFL prep.  Although the lectures on the integrated section won't be of nearly that length, the lectures in the Listening section are often about six minutes long.

6 Minute English


The BBC's 6 Minute English is a fantastic podcast designed for more advanced language learners.  One topic is discussed for the length of the episode, and the topics focus on trends in society.

Why this podcast is perfect for TOEFL prep: The information from 6 Minute English is great for small talk.  They cover topics from fads in health, technology, food and so much more.  The tone between the hosts is casual, but they incorporate facts and academic terms throughout, making it great for practicing TOEFL note-taking.  Use those facts you've written down to add to casual conversations next time one of these current events comes up during the course of everyday conversation.

BBC Radio's A History of the World in 100 Objects


While this podcast no longer produces regular episodes as all 100 objects have been featured, this specialized podcast presents an extremely academic and in-depth look at one object per episode.  This podcast sounds like a series one might find on the History Channel.

Why it is perfect for TOEFL prep: The TOEFL covers a number of different academic disciplines.  This podcast is great for getting additional exposure to anthropology.  The objects date back hundreds of years.  Given the variety of objects covered, interdisciplinary connections can be seen with art, economics, and much more.  The level of detail in each of these podcasts make it useful for TOEFL listening.

ESL Pod's English Cafe


Expand your vocabulary with ESL Pod's English Cafe.  This podcast covers cultural topics regarding famous Americans and significant locations, commonly confused words and phrases, and a ton of new vocabulary that you can find in the show notes for the episode.

Why it is great for TOEFL prep: These episodes feature a number of shorter segments.  The portion that features a tutorial on commonly confused words and phrases is an excellent tutorial that can help you avoid mistakes on the productive sections-- Speaking and Writing-- of the exam.

I Will Teach You a Language


This podcast, delivered in English, is on the topic of language learning.  Olly Richards, a renowned polyglot, shares his own insights on language learning and interviews other language learning experts.  This podcast goes live twice a week, so you have tons of new content to digest.  There are a ton of worthwhile episodes to listen to but stay focused by beginning with this list of his most popular episodes.

Why it is perfect for TOEFL prep: This podcast goes beyond simply listening to English; this podcast features actionable items related to the process of making your language learning experience more efficient and effective.  Covering topics from best practices for flash cards to finding more time for practice to overcome problems with fossilization and pronunciation, Olly provides many useful tips that can be applied to English learning and even test prep.

Luke's English / Luke's Phrasal Verb Podcast


Luke's English Podcast is great for those who are looking for British English pronunciations as well as entertainment.  With nearly 500 episodes regularly over an hour long, there is a nearly endless supply of listening material here.  Luke is incredibly honest and entertaining.  He expresses his views on a variety of real-world topics from friendship to fatherhood to television shows and everything in between.  (Bonus- for quick vocabulary tutorials, check out Luke's Phrasal Verb Podcast, too!)

Why this podcast is perfect for TOEFL prep: Because Luke regularly works humor into each episode, this podcast presents a great opportunity for increasing your listening stamina.  This is one of the most vigorous in terms of length, but Luke's engaging personality will make it easy to stay interested. 

NPR's Ted Radio Hour


To get a well-rounded dose of academic English, don't miss Ted Radio Hour.  This weekly podcast gives you the same type of quality information and insight you expect from a Ted Talk in a convenient podcast format.  Hear from experts in a variety of fields share a wealth of knowledge, providing tons of chances to expand your vocabulary in everything from psychology to computer science.

Why this podcast is perfect for TOEFL prep: Ted Talks are given by academics, so you are sure to encounter plenty of TOEFL level terms.  Additionally, because these experts are speaking to a generally educated audience, they will be sure to give plenty of background information and define industry jargon, which will make you comfortable with locating this type of information come test day.

NPR's Hidden Brain


Humans are fascinating, in no small part because of how our brains function.  This podcast is never dull, exploring the inner workings of the mind.  Psychology, anatomy, and physiology dissect the inner workings of the human brain in an attempt to discover why we do with what we do in terms of money, crime, exercise, nostalgia, and so much more.

Why this podcast is perfect for TOEFL prep:  Practice English while also getting a better understanding of how to find your inner motivation, to become a better decision maker, and to make more accurate predictions.  Episodes like Deep Work, detailing methods of immersing ourselves in meaningful work to make progress,  or Summer Melt, explaining the annual deterioration of what has been learned during the months we take off during the summer, might even change the way that you plan your prep time.

Key Takeaways


Podcasts are exceptional sources of free English practice material.  As an advanced language learner, don't limit yourself to podcasts designed for non-native speakers alone.  By combining a mix of ESL focused podcasts, general language learning podcasts, and podcasts intended for native speakers from a variety of disciplines, you can increase your listening time while gaining access to new vocabulary and tons of new ideas.

 

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If you love podcasts, you are probably a big fan of technology.  Don't use your phone and laptop for the Listening section alone.  Take all of your TOEFL prep into the 21st century by getting Trello for the TOEFL-- your organization system for all your TOEFL resources.

Showing & Accepting Thanks: Words You Will Be Thankful You Know on the TOEFL and Beyond

 
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Showing & Accepting Thanks: Words You'll Be Thankful You Know on the TOEFL

Words for being polite are always one of the first lessons taught in a foreign language class.  However, there are tons of additional ways to say thank you in English that you wouldn’t be taught on the first day of class.  Sound more like a native speaker by utilizing these other ways of saying thanks.  Your TOEFL score will thank you, too.  

On the TOEFL, understanding when people have offered or accepted thanks will help you better understand conversations on the listening section and make you well-prepared for the function questions (the ones that feature a short section of the recording and ask what the speaker’s purpose is).  Remember, the conversations featured are designed to mimic common university conversations, so if you can understand the function of these phrases on test day, you will be able to utilize them when you yourself are going to ask your professor a question or a favor.

 

How to select the right phrase of appreciation

Why are there so many different ways to show appreciation in English?  The way you have chosen to say thank you needs to be appropriate contextually.  You should select the right way of saying thanks (or accepting thanks) based on the method of delivery (written or verbal) and the magnitude of the gift, favor, or gesture.

Typically showing thanks in writing is considered more formal.  You also should consider the relationship between the person giving and expressing thanks.  Often phrases that are more casual are also more appropriate for peers, friends, and family whereas phrases for interacting with your instructor or boss tend to be more formal.

General phrases for expressing thanks

In regular everyday interactions, these phrases are acceptable for most situations.  Thanks is appropriate even for minor situations like holding a door or passing someone the items they’ve purchased.

Thanks!

Thank you

Thank you very much!

Thank you so much!

 

Casual phrases for saying thanks

For everyday interactions with those you are close with, consider something more casual and with more personality.  If a friend surprised you by bringing you a cup of coffee or they reminded you that you have homework due so yours won’t be late, these phrases will come in handy.

I owe you/I owe you one- In other words, you have done a favor for me, and I will repay the favor soon.

You are a lifesaver! - You have improved this situation or helped me avoid a problem

You are the best! - In other words, you compliment the other person for having done something wonderful for you

You really bailed me out-In other words, you have saved me from getting into trouble

Thanks for having my back- Thanks for showing me support

Thanks for giving me a hand- Thanks for helping me do something (You can also add with in order to specify what this person helped you with)

On the TOEFL these phrases would most likely come up in a conversation between two students. If one student has helped the other study for a midterm, for example, they might be a lifesaver.  If one helped the other find a building on campus, they might owe the other person for having taken the time to provide assistance.

Casual replies (how to say you’re welcome)

If someone uses one of the above phrases with you, reply with one of these casual ways to say you’re welcome.  These are great for conversational, informal situations.  Remember, your response should be chosen from the context and from the level of gratitude the person has already expressed.  If you hear someone use these phrases on the TOEFL, that means that they have agreed to a request made by the original speaker and thanked them.  

Many of these phrases stem from the idea that you are dismissing the thanks as unnecessary because the task was so expected or minor.  This does not come off as rude, but suggests that you are being overly kind or generous by having said thank you in the first place.  This does not mean that you were wrong to say thank you, though!

No problem

No worries

No big deal

Don’t mention it

Sure thing

Sure

Not at all

It’s no trouble

Of course

Happy to help

Happy to be of service

It’s nothing

Think nothing of it

Anytime

It’s the least I could do

It’s my pleasure

My pleasure

The pleasure is all mine

For TOEFL function questions especially, be careful not to take these phrases too literally.  If you look at some of them word for word, you may guess that the person is indicating not to talk or agree to something, but that is not the case when these phrases are used in reply to thanks.

More formal ways to say thanks

For professional interactions, like those in the workplace or between a student and professor, you should upgrade the degree or formality used.  Many of these phrases can be used in both written and spoken interactions.  While they all use thank you as a basis, they are made more advanced by being more specific to a particular situation.

Thank you for your consideration- Use this during the application process for an internship or job

Thank you for your time- While this can also be used upon leaving a job interview, this can also be used to thank a boss or a professor for spending their time listening to your question or proposal

Thank you for coming here today/Thank you for coming in/Thank you for being here- When an employer or professor has asked someone for a meeting, this phrase is often used to open discussion

Thank you for your support- Used to thank someone for helping, sometimes financially or in terms of time dedicated to a specific cause 

Thank you for bringing this to my attention-Used to thank someone for providing information

Thank you for having me-Thanks for inviting me over

Thank you for your understanding- Used to thank someone for his/her flexibility

Thank you in advance- After making a request, you may want to use this phrase.  It may seem a little forward, though, because you are making the assumption that your request will be granted

Other formal ways to say thanks

While not on either extreme end of the formality spectrum, these phrases indicate deep appreciation

I am so grateful for ______

I thank you from the bottom of my heart

This means so much to me

I couldn’t have done it without you

 

These phrases all share a common trait: they indicate that you are so overwhelmed with appreciation that you are at a loss for words

I cannot thank you enough- You can also use the contraction can’t, alternatively

I cannot put into words how grateful we are

I don’t know what to say

How can I ever thank you

For very formal situations, try these phrases

Allow me to express my sincere gratitude

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks

I would like to thank you for ______

Please accept my sincerest gratitude

When to thank people

In the United States, it is considered good etiquette to thank those who have given a gift, time, or financial assistance to a person or cause.  Writing a thank you note would be appropriate for any of those situations.  Best practices for a thank you note are that it is handwritten, typically in script, that it is specific, and that it is sincere.  If you are writing to thank someone for a wedding gift, for example, it is expected that you include specific mention of what the gift was and/or how you look forward to using it.  

If you ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation, I would strongly recommend that you write a short note expressing your thanks.  Thank them both for their engaging method of teaching in the classroom and for taking the time to write you a recommendation.

When submitting your resume/CV, be sure to thank the person receiving the application. In this situation, just a sentence is fine. Upon returning from a job interview,  be sure to write a full thank you note to those who conducted the interview.  Check out this great tutorial regarding when and what to say for that type of thank you note in this post by English With a Twist.

It isn’t just a cultural expectation.  More and more research like that cited here by Forbes indicates that regularly showing your appreciation to others helps in social situations in the workplace and with friend groups.

 

Don’t forget to thank yourself

Studies show that expressing gratitude to others has real, lasting, and positive effects.  Although giving thanks is a regular part of everyday interaction in the United States, often we overlook ourselves in terms of showing appreciation.  Gratitude journals have become all the rage.  Why not take advantage of this extra opportunity to practice English, especially considering that cultivating a grateful mindset has been linked to better sleep, self-esteem, and physical health.

Key Takeaways

Showing gratitude has been linked to building better relationships and living a healthier lifestyle.

In American culture, it is expected to thank others for everything from minor interactions, like passing a piece of paper to a colleague, to getting a gift, so having an arsenal of phrases for expressing thanks at your disposal will help select the best fit for any occasion.  Being able to draw upon the right ones in your everyday life means you will be fully prepared for any method of saying thanks that appears in the TOEFL function questions.

As my way of showing my gratitude to my blog readers, get 30 independent essay prompts to help get you TOEFL-ready!

 
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The Complete List of Election and Campaign Vocabulary for the TOEFL & ESL Classroom

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Advanced Election Vocabulary Made Easy for the TOEFL

History and politics frequently make appearances on all sections of the TOEFL.  While the election for the Presidency only occurs every 4 years in the United States, elections at the federal, state, and local levels take place on the first Tuesday of November each year.  Whether you want to brush up on these terms for test day or you simply want to be more versed on current events, these words are must-know.  (Keep reading all the way to bottom to make sure you anticipate exactly where you will find them on the test). 

Because there are so many terms, don't try to memorize them in a random or alphabetical list.  Give the terms some context by seeing them grouped with similar term


The Big List of Election Vocabulary By Category


Words related to the election process:  

Those interested in running for office (known as candidates) for public office will seek election for a term (set period of time-- in the US, a President serves for a 4 year term, with a two-term limit)  by delivering stump speeches (standard, rehearsed speeches delivered again and again to multiple audiences) in order to make voters aware of their platform (the formal set of principal goals that he/she stands for) with the hope of increasing voter turnout (the amount of people who come out to vote--voting is not legally required in the United States) and convincing swing voters to cast their ballots in their favor come Election Day 

Words related to the people involved:

An incumbent is a person who currently holds that office.  This is widely considered an advantage.  The candidate taking this person on is known as the challenger.  You may also see the word nominee-- the person who is selected to represent his/her party in an official capacity.  A campaign manager is an official advisor to the person running for public office.  The person who wins is often allowed to make appointments of those who have helped them during the campaign to positions of prominence within the administration.  At the presidential level, the highest positions are those within the president's cabinet--his/her official inner circle and closest advisors.  The members of the electoral college are those that make the official decision as to which candidate will be selected as president as the United States does not follow a strictly popular vote model.  The running mate is the candidate selected for the lesser of two closely associated political offices (usually used to talk about the Vice Presidential nominee).  A front-runner is a person that is most likely to win the election while a dark horse is a candidate (or competitor) that little is known about and does unexpectedly well

Words related to being partial/impartial:

Words like progressive or conservative or the official party names like Democrat or Republic are often used to indicate that someone has strong and public ties to one parties beliefs and affiliations.  The word bias means that someone favors one group over another unapologetically.  Politics in the United States is notoriously partisan.  Gerrymandering is the controversial practice of manipulating voting boundaries in order to help one side or the other.  

Words related to negative campaigning:

The highly partisan nature of American politics means that often candidates will resort to mudslinging (the use of unjust or unwarranted insults and accusations) and attack ads (an advertisement designed to wage a personal attack on the other candidate).  Propaganda is the material that is viewed as biased or misleading and is designed to promote a particular political point of view.  Spin is a type of propaganda designed to sway or persuade public opinion to see an issue, event, or public figure in a particular light

Words related to money:

While you might encounter phrases related to how the candidate plans to spend money if elected (like taxes, budget, and deficit), canvas and war chest are used to refer to how much money the candidate has raised (through fundraising efforts like canvassing) and how much the candidate has left (in the war chest).

Words related to the voting process and the outcome:

A straw poll is an unofficial ballot conducted to test public opinion.  Absentee voting is a ballot completed by mail in advance of the election because the voter cannot go to vote at his/her polling place in person the day of the election.  Electronic voting refers to voting using electronic means to cast votes (like a computerized machine).  Ballot just means a process of voting, typically in writing and in secret.  Journalists and politicians may conduct exit polls in order to try to determine who has won before the official ballot count has been tallied.  If the race is tight, a journalist may report that it is too close to call.   With a slim margin, one party may call for a recount to make sure that the tally is correct.  If the race is very one-sided, it will be referred to as a landslide.

Elections and Exams: How Elections Show Up on the TOEFL


Election vocabulary can show up on any of the 4 sections of the test.  As politicians have historically been important public figures, biographies of politicians are quite common on the reading section of the exam.  They are also similarly found in lectures delivered by professors n the Listening section.                   

Biographies are not the only types of texts that feature the vocabulary found prominently on Election Day.  While campaigns are frequently used to talk about political campaigns, a business class might have a discussion about a marketing campaign or a psychology class might feature a talk about why certain candidates are perceived to be likable (or unlikeable).  The aftermath of an election or the causes for a certain election outcome can also become passage topics.

Student government is very common at American universities, and as a result, you may even see these words in campus situations like Speaking Question 3.  In Speaking Question 3, you will read a passage that makes an announcement about something that is happening on campus and then you will hear a student voice his/her opinion on the subject.  The student council may be in charge of this message or the school might be launching a campaign to get student interest or involvement in a particular issue.

Perhaps the most common place to see these vocabulary words is on the writing section of the TOEFL.  Of course, you might see an independent essay question related to elections-- like what qualities should a leader of a nation have--but more likely, you will see integrated essay questions that feature topics related to elections.  Subjects here could include what types of voting should certain countries use (electronic, computerized mail in, etc.), what methods of campaigning should or shouldn't be legal, what caused a particular candidate to win/lose.

There are many excellent online resources to find passages to help you practice with election day vocabulary.  The New York Times Room for Debate section features passages that can easily be turned into integrated essay practice on topics ranging from how, if at all, Election Day should evolve to the future of the electoral college to social media and selfie culture's impact on voter turnout and casting ballots.  Take practice to the listening section with Ted Talks on the struggles that come with a country's first election  or think about the relationship between gender and public office with this lecture.

Key Takeaways


Campaign and election vocabulary is a likely candidate to make an appearance on the TOEFL.  Become familiar with these important terms ahead of time so your score can turn out the way you want it to.

Want to practice now?  Get the free election independent essay pack.

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When Being Polite or Friendly Backfires: Avoid These 5 Errors on The TOEFL and in University Life

 
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Will Being Polite or Friendly Cost You Points on the TOEFL?

When learning a new language, you need to know more than just the vocabulary and grammar structures.  Understanding cultural rules is just as important as knowing the language rules, and as a result, topics regarding everything from spacing to hygiene to body language are often touched upon in the language learning classroom.  It is good to know how to be polite in the language that you are studying, but is it possible that sometimes what we perceive as politeness is actually costing us points?

Like many other types of rules, the rules regarding politeness are situationally dependent.  In other words, the context of the situation may determine what is polite and what is not appropriate.  In fact, sometimes what you may perceive as considerate might be the very thing that is preventing you from making progress on the TOEFL or developing good relationships after test day.

1| TYPING IN ALL CAPS


On the TOEFL iBT, you must type your answer to the independent and integrated essay.  While you already know that being able to type quickly and accurately is important for being able to reach your goal score within the time limit, the way in which you type does matter.  You may have noticed that people tend to put things that are extremely important in all capitalized letters in order to draw the reader's attention to that word or phrase.  Perhaps you've gotten an email or text message that says you need to be in a specific location at 9 AM SHARP, for instance.  While it is true that native English speakers will sometimes use all caps in order to bring your attention to valuable information, you do not want to do this on test day.  Writing your entire essay in all caps will not suggest that your essay is important.  Instead, think of writing something in all caps as the equivalent of yelling as that is how most native speakers will read it.  If you've ever received an email from a colleague written in all caps, it will seem either like they are very mad at you or it will seem unprofessional.  On test day, it will be impossible for the grader to understand if you know the correct rules regarding capitalization if you capitalize everything. After you get into the university program you desire, if you send an email in all caps, it is likely to be received as pushy and offensive.  On both test day and in emails to your professors or fellow students after the TOEFL, make sure to avoid using all caps.

2| Using slang or text-speak (and emoticons/emojis)


When texting, many native speakers will use the letter u to mean you or other similar abbreviations for common words.  In a casual situation between friends, this would not seem unusual.  Even though an abbreviation like b/c or btw could be understood by a native speaker test grader or professor, it would seem incredibly inappropriate for that audience.  Always use formal language and a formal register when writing in these situations.

While you don't need to give a title for your independent or integrated essays on the TOEFL, you will need to write a subject line if you are sending an email to a professor.  Don't leave the subject line blank and don't use cutesy emoticons in the subject line, either.  While this would be okay if you are emailing someone who you are close with, emailing someone in a position of authority, especially if you select an emoji like the kissy face will seem very awkward and uncomfortable for the person receiving your email.

3| Thank you for reading my essay


If you are writing an email, it is considered polite to thank the other person.  In fact, many people use some variation of thank you as their closing (the part before they sign their name).  However, on the TOEFL itself, you absolutely do not want to finish your essay or your speaking response with the sentence "Thank you for reading my essay."  First, it is not the standard convention to do this in a formal essay in English.  Second, you might be hiding an excellent last sentence.  Because the scorers will be reading your essay quite quickly, they might overlook the strong closing sentence that you composed before this fake one that isn't actually contributing to your essay overall.


4| Being too blunt


Wasting another person's time-- whether this is the scorer of your essay or your current course instructor-- is inconsiderate.  In American culture, there are certain expectations regarding the set up of the ensuing conversation or essay, and skipping this could seem strange, pushy, or blunt.  For writing, your first sentence should be related to the topic but should not provide your entire answer to the question yet.  In speaking, it is even more important to correctly introduce the request that you are making.  Phrases like "do you have a minute" before making a request are considered standard whereas simply saying "I need X" seems impolite or even self-centered.  

On the TOEFL, you are likely to hear these types of phrases in the Listening section if a student is going to see a professor for clarification or to ask for a favor.  Look for modals and phrases like “Would you mind _____” or “Could I ask you a quick question.”

5| Saying it doesn't matter


Frequently students try to be extremely accommodating, trying to show respect to those who are in a position of power, whether this is the essay scorer or their instructor.  One way people try to show how agreeable they are is by letting the other person make a decision or by trying not to take any stand on an issue as a way of circumventing potential controversy.  For independent essay questions, the TOEFL frequently will ask you for your opinion on a topic. You absolutely want to take a clear position.  It will make for clearer writing and allow you to more completely develop your thoughts.  It is also easier to compose an essay where you aren't trying to split your time between all sides of an issue and will not cause you to potentially contradict yourself.  Some students, in an attempt to make sure that no one is offended, try to entirely avoid giving an answer that favors one side.  Non-native speakers might do this by using the phrase "I don't care."  Without context, however, this can come off as extremely rude.  It sounds like you are dismissing the topic as ridiculous, unimportant, or even stupid, inadvertently creating a situation that is probably more offensive than just having stated your actual opinion in the first place.  If in situations outside of the exam, you want to indicate that you are deferring to the other person to make the choice, use a phrase like it is up to you to sound just like a native speaker.  On the TOEFL listening, you might even hear two students use this phrase when deciding what club to join or a professor say it to a student in terms of what topic they should choose for a paper.

Key Takeaways

Stay polite and contextually appropriate by following these guidelines on the TOEFL and in university interactions.  Put into practice what you’ve learned by practicing with 30 free essay prompts today.

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Overcome the Top 5 TOEFL Fears

 
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Overcome the Top 5 TOEFL Fears Quickly and Easily

What you should and shouldn't be afraid of

Around Halloween, there is endless discussion of scary movies and costumes. While some people derive great pleasure from the manufactured fear of watching a horror film or dressing up like a zombie, few would say the same for the very real fears that surround test day. With a handful of tricks, turn the test into the closest thing to a treat, eliminating the most common TOEFL terrors.

1| Not having background knowledge on the topic


For many students the idea that the first reading passage will be on a topic that they've never heard about before and in a discipline that they know little to nothing about strikes fear into test-takers hearts.  While it is easy to see how a reading about a chemistry topic might be intimidating for a person who struggled in science classes in his/her native language, do not allow yourself to get intimidated.  The TOEFL passages are designed so that way anyone could answer the questions even if they did not come in with any prior knowledge.  That means that all the academic terms that are specific to that field will be defined for you, but most people get so panicked that they do not even attempt to find the gist of the passage.  

In order to combat this problem, read passages on a variety of topics before test day.  Follow all sections of the newspaper or sites like Newsela instead of only reading the topics that you naturally gravitate towards.  If you struggle with having enough self-discipline to seek out passages that you do naturally feel inclined to read, follow along with the passages I like to on Twitter to get a well-rounded selection.

2| Running out of time


For many students, the sound of a ticking clock counting down the minutes or seconds left on each section of the exam is enough to make their blood run cold.  If looking at the clock brings about feelings of apprehension, you need to rethink the way you consider the clock.  Being afraid of the clock almost always means you are ignoring the clock, usually resulting in looking at the remaining time so late that you can no longer change your strategy.

Time management is a learned skill.  For each section of the test, you need to be able to pace yourself, and you should follow a pacing guide so that way you can check at regular intervals to make sure that you are sticking to the time recommendations per question.  By checking the time left regularly, you can determine what you need to do moving forward.  This is particularly important on the reading section as the test does not prompt you to move to the next passage.  You need to take the responsibility for using the time allotted wisely, and that means not being afraid of the timer.  Don't do practice problems or full-length practice tests without a time limit.  Knowing your limits (and where you need to be at any given point) will give you confidence when checking the clock, not fear.

3| Not recognizing the vocabulary word being asked about


Students frequently spend tons of time memorizing new vocabulary words because they are so afraid of encountering a word they've never seen before on test day.  While learning new terms is good, it is nearly impossible to know every word that you see in the passage as there is a such a range of academic vocabulary and discipline specific terms you would need to know.  While you don't need to understand every word in a passage (after all, the passages are roughly 800 words and you are only asked 13 questions per passage), what happens when the word you don't know is in the question stem or the answer choices?

Most students freeze up when they are asked about a word they don't know (or are given a word they don't know as an answer choice).  If this happens, don't fret.  ETS has likely given you a clue in either the sentence before or after or enough information to allow you to make an educated guess.  Can you use part of the word-- like a prefix, for instance-- to make an inference about what the word means?  Do you know the word that they are asking about, but not one of the answer choices?  Just like on the SAT, if this happens, ask yourself, how close of a synonym are the other answer choices you do recognize?  If someone asked you what the word means and you would have selected one of the answers that you know, odds are that that is the right answer and the brand new word is simply a distraction.  Don't fall for the predictable trap like those in horror movies; be confident in the knowledge you have.

4|  Freezing up on the speaking


Perhaps the single scariest section for test-takers is the speaking section.  Having to speak in your non-native language might induce fear on a regular basis, and the idea that you are creating a recording with the sole purpose of having your speech be judged only raises the stakes.  Add in the additional stress of having only seconds of preparation time, and this fear seems valid.  While worrying about your accent or that you will make a grammar mistake can cause people to lack confidence about their speaking abilities, the number one phobia students have is not having anything to say at all when the recording time begins.

To cope with this feeling of alarm, make sure that you have a solid template to fall back on to get you started with each of the 6 types of speaking questions.
This way you will never feel like you have been caught off guard.  After getting the first sentence of two under your belt, you will feel the momentum on your side and be able to complete your speaking response.


5| Not having ideas for what to write about


You see the essay prompt-- and your mind goes blank.  You cannot come up with anything to say that seems relevant or important.  If this sounds like a recurring nightmare that you've had, then you might be suffering from common fear #5: having no clue what to write about.

One of the easiest ways to fight this fear is with solid preparation.  First, you can and should free write on some of the most common topics-- like education and technology-- that the TOEFL loves to ask independent questions about.  In fact, by exploring your ideas ahead of time, you will be able to prepare yourself for both the writing and the speaking sections as there is often a great deal of overlap.

Remember, too, that you do not need to give your honest opinion.  If you had a gut reaction as to what your answer is for the question but you cannot come up with any reasons, don't feel like you need to draw upon the rationale that actually supports your initial feeling.  Similarly, don't feel like you can't modify a story from your life in order to make it fit the position you are taking.  For example, if you don't have direct experience with the topic but you know that a personal example would offer the support and the authority you need to round out a particular paragraph, for standardized test writing, stretching the truth is perfectly fine (and no one needs to be the wiser).

Key Takeaways


Being afraid of the test only leads to poor test-taking come exam day.  Fight fear with sound strategies and practice before the test, making your test-taking fears rest in peace once and for all.

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Don't Be Afraid: 7 Ways To Use Halloween To Inspire Your ESL/TOEFL Classroom This Season

 
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How To Use Halloween To Inspire Your ESL/TOEFL Classroom

Treat Yourself To Fun TOEFL Practice

If you aren't changing your lesson plans to correspond with the time of year, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to increase student engagement.  While language teachers frequently utilize seasonal and holiday vocabulary, test prep teachers, too, can take advantage of student interest and capitalize on the calendar to take the relevance of test prep to a new level.  Don't limit practice to what is in the test prep book.  It is possible to keep the content academic while still harnessing the enthusiasm for the given season.  

Students of all ages are frequently intrigued by Halloween and who can blame them.  Dressing up in costumes and going trick or treating are not celebration staples in many places outside of the United States.  For students studying abroad in the United States, Halloween themed lessons provide important cultural context in addition to an opportunity for seeing how academic vocabulary is utilized outside of test prep practice books.  While you might want to forgo teaching a straight list of Halloween vocabulary like Jack-o-lantern, werewolf, and vampires, there are many options for drawing upon Halloween as the source of inspiration for practicing skills seen on all 4 sections of the TOEFL.

Here are my top 7 ideas for how to bring Halloween into the TOEFL prep classroom.

 

1| Incorporate academic vocabulary by diving into the history of Halloween

Passages that trace the origins of food and other cultural topics are commonplace on the exam.  The History channel offers in-depth examinations into the origins of holidays, and Halloween is no exception.  The History channel uses a high level of vocabulary, with their passage on Halloween's origins earning a 10-12th grade bandwith reading difficulty, sure to present a serious challenge for any language learner.  Make up questions to go along with the passage yourself or make the students take on the role of test-maker and create their own questions and answers to correspond with the passage.

 

2| Financial aspects of Halloween

Do you know how much money the average American consumer spends on Halloween?  While many associated spending money with Christmas, consumer trends surrounding Halloween make for a great way to incorporate another discipline in the mix with a reading passage like this one from The Atlantic.  Want to get students to practice taking notes on stats they hear instead of those they read?  Consider reading the passage aloud.  Give students an economics-focused passage to create the variety they need to be prepared for any subject come exam day.  

 

3| Speaking & listening practice: Halloween costume inspired games

Have a little bit of leftover time towards the end of class after having gone over a tough academic topic or dissecting a long practice test with the class?  Let students casually get to know one another and practice speaking/listening skills with a short game. 

Have all students in the class write down their answer to what costume they would most like to wear and why.  Each response should be very short.  Mix them up and have students try to match the answer to their classmates.

For another take using the same skills, play 20 questions.  Show students a picture of a Halloween costume (like Spider-Man, for example) and have the remaining students ask yes/no questions until they figure out what the costume is!

 

4| TOEFL writing prompts

Keep your TOEFL class more traditional by making students complete full-length independent essays.  All of the prompts can feature Halloween in particular. Have students peer review a classmate's essay on the same prompt. Here are some examples:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Holidays, like Halloween, are only important for children.
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? People spend too much money on holidays.
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? American Halloween traditions should be adopted by more countries across the globe.
  • Does your school let students and staff dress up for Halloween?  If not, have students write a persuasive piece reflecting their position on this question.

Download the set of questions in a convenient printable perfect for classroom use.  When students hand them in, consider hanging them up around the room to decorate and capture the Halloween spirit.

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5| Halloween movies ideas

Take a totally untraditional route in order to stave off burnout before it sets in. 

While endless worksheets and reading passages might get monotonous, most students have a nearly endless patience for watching TV shows or movies.  Get students to locate new vocabulary from a scary movie of their choosing. Take the opportunity to teach students some vocabulary that might appear in film classes that find their way into the exam and use scary movies as examples. Have students put together their own reading passage on elements of horror movies to familiarize themselves with common reading passage structures.

Note: You may want to give students a heads up regarding how scary (or not) any of the given Halloween movies might be.

6| Halloween-inspired lectures

Many of these talks are inspired by the creatures most closely associated with Halloween.  Halloween is more than just witches and mummies. Have students practice biology terms with lectures on bats and spiders. Put psychology in center stage with lectures about fear and serial killers.  Ted Talks are great practice for students as they combine intriguing topics with academic vocabulary and organization.  With 10 spooky lectures lined up, students will be able to get quality note-taking practice on a bunch of hair-raising topics.

7| Practice vocabulary and pronouns with candy

What can make memorizing vocabulary or practicing grammar more palatable?  Candy corn, Reese's Pieces, and Hershey's candy bars! Use candy as an incentive for correct answers on a grammar worksheet or take any reading passage (extra points if it focuses on candy) and ask students to locate antecedents placed throughout. 

Key Takeaways

Just because standardized tests don't always reward creativity doesn't mean you shouldn't incorporate some. Don't be scared to use Halloween to allow students to practice the skills needed for all 4 sections of the exam.

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