TOEFL strategies

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.

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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TOEFL Grammar Series: How Mastering Pronouns Will Help You On Every Section of the TOEFL [Video Post]

 
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How Mastering Pronouns Will Help On Every Section of the TOEFL

Grammar is a topic which is often overlooked on the TOEFL.  Because the TOEFL does not have an explicit grammar section, students tend to see it as a lower priority.  While there is no section that tests grammar exclusively as is the case on other standardized tests, most students will readily admit that it is still necessary to know the rules and to use good grammar when producing open-ended responses on exam day.  But is being knowledgeable about grammar topics helpful for the receptive skills, like the Listening and Reading Sections?  In a word: yes.  

One set of grammar rules that comes into play in a big way on all four sections of the exam is pronoun rules. Learn the most important pronoun rules, then find out how to apply them to the test.

Pronoun Guide: An Overview Of Six Types of Pronouns


When most students think of pronouns, personal pronouns immediately spring to mind.  This makes sense because they are the ones students recall through muscle memory developed when learning how to conjugate verbs.  However, personal pronouns are only a small subsection of pronouns.  In fact, not all pronouns truly fit the description of being a word that stands in place of a noun, the general definition that most grammar books boil it down to.  Pronouns can be divided into a number of categories, the biggest of which are indefinite and definite pronouns.  Within the category of definite pronouns, you will find even smaller subcategories, such as personal, possessive, reflexive, reciprocal, relative and demonstrative.

Unlike indefinite pronouns which do not point to something specific, definite pronouns go by this name because they reference something clearly called an antecedent.  Because indefinite pronouns are not linking back to something mentioned earlier, they are less likely to be on the TOEFL.  However, the rules for indefinite pronoun agreement can get a little tricky, which is why they commonly show up on the SAT as even native speakers struggle with them.  Because indefinite pronouns are not as heavily tested on the TOEFL, we will focus our attention on the types of definite pronouns.

Personal pronouns are the ones that typically stand in for a person or a group of people.

 They include I, you, he/she/it, we and they.  These pronouns need to agree with their antecedent in number, gender, and case.

In other words, you need to know how many people the noun being replaced represents and, depending on the situation, if those people are male or female. Case refers to how the word is used in the context of the sentence.  Is it the subject or object?  (This is why it is grammatically correct to write My friend and I traveled to Spain last summer but not My friend and me traveled to Spain last summer.  When deciding if you need I or me, you need to determine what case is being used in that sentence.)

Possessive pronouns indicate belonging.

 If you want to show that an object belongs to someone, instead of using 's, you can use the appropriate possessive pronoun.  The most complicated rule here for possessive pronouns is to remember that the word itself is noting belonging, so there is no need to add the apostrophe s.  Many students try to add the apostrophe to words that already end in s, like her's, but that is incorrect.  The one that confuses most people, even native speakers, is its/it's.  Remember, its is possessive already (it's is for the contraction it is).

Reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns


Both reflexive and intensive pronouns usually end in -self or -selves.  Reflexive is when the subject is also receiving the action: Don't feel bad for him.  He did it to himself. Intensive pronouns, also called emphatic pronouns, are used to stress who performed the action: I made it myself!

Relative


Relative pronouns are a unique group because they do not replace an antecedent.  Instead, they connect the noun to a word or phrase that modifies or gives additional information.  These words include who/whom/whose and which/that.  In order to determine which relative pronoun to use, you must consider both the case (subject, object, possessive), the necessity of the following information (known to grammar lovers everywhere as restrictive and non-restrictive clauses), and whether or not the initial noun being modified is person or a place/thing/idea.  


Demonstrative


Demonstrative pronouns help create cohesion.  They frequently point back to an antecedent in the previous sentence, which students do not always anticipate when working with them.  Demonstrative pronouns explain which one(or), pointing to a specific thing(s).  They are used frequently in conversation, but they can also be used in writing to create flow between sentences.  Demonstrative pronouns must agree in number (singular/plural) and distance.  Use this/these to show that something is close by whereas use that/those to make something seem further away or to the feeling of distance.

More of an audial/visual learner?  Watch the video I've created on this topic

 

Pronouns For Each Section of the TOEFL


Now that you know the most common pronoun rules that show up on the exam, you will want to know where each of these topics will most likely appear. This will give you a leg up, making it faster for you to draw upon this information.

Writing section


Whether you are writing for the TOEFL or for your university level class, using pronouns effectively is important for clear, concise communication.  Pronouns can create cohesion in your essay, making neat transitions between sentences and ideas through the use of demonstrative pronouns that begin sentences and alternating between relative clauses and adjectives to vary sentence structure.

Furthermore, using pronouns reduce unnecessary redundancies in your writing.  You do not need to mention the name of the same person over and over again.  Instead, after the first usage, replace the antecedent with the pronoun. 

Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing by knowing the pronoun rules.  Have you been that person debating whether or not you need to put an apostrophe in yours, theirs, or hers?  Now that you know the rules for pronouns, you won't be tricked by these silly grammar errors that constantly find their way into student produced essays.

Ready to put what you've learned about pronouns into practice in your own essay writing?  Grab 30 days of TOEFL independent essay prompts in a convenient 2-page download.

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Speaking section


One major pronoun problem that is particular to speaking is the use of personal pronouns.  Too often students will make mistakes with personal pronouns in spoken English when they would never have made that mistake in written English.  By understanding the importance of both gender and case when it comes to selecting the correct personal pronoun, you can cut down on errors made.  If you find you have accidentally switched over from he to she, use I mean to correct your mistake.  Do you hear native speakers use the wrong form of I/me all the time in informal speaking situations?  While that likely happens regularly in everyday life, do not replicate this when speaking your response on test day.  

Additionally, now that you know the purpose of intensive pronouns, you can incorporate them into your own responses.  English is a stress-timed language.  If you use an intensive pronoun, make sure that your speech pattern indicates that emphasis as well.

Listening section


On the listening section, the quality of your notes almost always has a direct correlation with the score you receive.  Based on your knowledge regarding pronouns, you will better be able to understand the strategy the professor is using for making a group more specific (like using relative pronouns in order to make something more specific, which may show up as a detail question), the use of demonstrative pronouns to connect one sentence to the next, or points of particular interest through the use of intensive pronouns to highlight something that is remarkable or surprising.

Reading section


The Reading section most directly tests your pronoun knowledge.  Referents questions make up one of the most common types of TOEFL reading question.  At some point for each passage that you've read, a definite pronoun will be undermined.  The question will then ask you what that pronoun refers back to.  In other words, you will be asked to identify the antecedent of a word in the passage.  Armed with the knowledge of pronoun rules, you will be able to make the correct selection each time.  

Though possible, it is unlikely that EST will ask you about a personal pronoun.  However, you may be asked what a possessive, relative, or demonstrative pronoun is pointing to.

Be sure to follow the rules listed above so that the answer you select makes sense with all of the rules for that type of pronoun.  For example, the relative pronoun who is used specifically for people, so I don't want to select an answer choice that features an inanimate object.

Pronoun referents questions are one of the best types of questions to focus on for the Reading section because once you think you've found the correct answer, you can check it.  When you think you've located the proper antecedent, put that word back in that sentence where the pronoun stood.

Remember, Pronoun Referent questions are just one type of commonly asked Reading question.  Get your free Reading Questions Tracker here to keep tabs on all types of questions as well as your progress.

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Key Takeaways


The TOEFL infuses grammar concepts throughout the exam.  By understanding how pronouns can be used to eliminate redundancy, to create cohesion, to modify nouns, to imply case or gender, to add emphasis, or to indicate literal or figurative relationships, you will be able to score points on questions that directly test pronoun knowledge, such as referents questions on the Reading section, as well as those that indirectly do so, like using pronouns to create flow in your own writing.

Mind Matters Series: Is Overconfidence Preventing You From Reaching Your Goal Score?

 
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Is Overconfidence Standing in the Way of Your TOEFL Goal Score?

Not All Score Problems Are Language Issues


Confidence is critical for success.  Whether you are trying to get a job, to make a good impression on your future in-laws, or to get a perfect score on the TOEFL speaking section, being self-assured (or at least projecting that you are) is key.  Is it possible to have too much confidence?  In a word, yes.  In fact, being overconfident could be the very problem holding you back from achieving your goal score.  

While many would agree with the statement that a language test is not an indication of one's intelligence, too often we assume that language is the only factor in determining what score one receives.  Sometimes the score you get on the TOEFL has nothing to do with your language ability but is more of a reflection of one's attitude and preparation.  

While lacking confidence comes with many of its own problems, being overconfident can undermine your study habits and ultimately your score.

5 Common Mistakes That Overconfident Students Make (And How To Fix Them)


The #1 most common mistake that overconfident students make is that they simply do not study for the exam.  

Not preparing for the exam is a recipe for disaster.  Students who are extremely confident in their language abilities might think that they will be able to take the test without any problems because their language skills are so good.  Doing this puts you at a huge disadvantage, and remember, even native speakers might not get a perfect score if they went in not familiar with the exam.  For some people, they might see it as a point of pride that they are able to take the exam without having studied for it, but you do not get any extra points and no one in the admissions office will know that you took the exam cold.  As a result, there is no benefit to not getting ready for the exam.

The solution: acknowledge that studying for the exam is not a sign of weakness or a sign that your language skills are insufficient.  Think of it as leveling the playing field considering that most students preparing for months before they ever take the exam.  If they are putting their best foot forward, you should as well.  Even if you do not need to prepare for the same length of time as those who do not measure up in terms of language skill, you absolute should need to familiarize yourself, at minimum, with the structure and scoring of the exam. 


While not quite as bad as problem #1, problem #2 is very similar: not preparing for the exam properly.  

Students who are overconfident tend to focus on the wrong things, and they inadvertently squander their time as a result.  Although these students are studying for the exam, they are using their time and focus to learn about the wrong things.  For example, if you are reading a particularly difficult passage, going back to review, record, and memorize the unknown vocabulary words is a good idea.  However, students that fall into this category frequently try to dedicate every single new vocabulary word to memory, dismissing a key consideration: the likelihood of that particular vocabulary word to occur again.  Students are not concentrating on anything specific or being systematic when it comes to their test prep, resulting in a lot of time spent on test prep without a lot of progress.

This can lead to problem #3: burnout.  

Students who are overconfident might be incredibly motivated students.  In fact, the underlying reason behind their confidence is probably due to the success they have had in academic settings in the past.  For extremely motivated students, it may be difficult to draw boundaries or realistic expectations.  This can result in burnout, where you have spent so much time studying you become absolutely exhausted.

The solution here is to stick to a study plan.  (Bonus points if you stay with an approved study plan).  If you know that you are the kind of person that sets unrealistic expectations, like memorizing 100 new vocabulary words each day,  have a teacher, tutor, or a friend who is also preparing for the exam look over your study plan.  Stick to your schedule.  Do not let yourself go over the allotted time to spend on preparation.  When you are out of time, you are done.  That means that you need to start using your resources, in this case time, more wisely, preventing you from focusing on the wrong areas and eliminating or at least minimizing the risk of burnout.

Common problem #4: Attempting to utilize every vocabulary term at one's disposal to the detrimant of clarity of concepts (In other words, over using fancy vocabulary).  

This one is probably the most shocking of the problems on the list for most overconfident students.  They have worked hard to learn many new terms, and they want to make sure that they show them off in their essays.  While it is admirable to use a range of vocabulary and you want to showcase your extensive knowledge, frequently overconfident students fail to make progress on the writing section of the test in particular because no one knows what their essay is about.  When students become consumed with using challenging vocabulary words, they often do so at the expense of their essay.  Forcing yourself to use every single vocabulary word you know often results in awkward or imprecise phrasing.  Reading these essays takes serious effort on the reader's behalf, ultimately lowering your score.

The solution: use good synonyms when appropriate.  It is perfectly okay to show off that vocab.  You can and should! But try to limit yourself to two serious vocabulary words per sentence, maximum.  If you stack the vocabulary words, any errors become compounded and leave the reader lost.

The last frequently occurring mistake that overconfident students make is refusing to play the test's game.  

Even after taking the time to learn the structure and scoring systems, to make and stick to a study plan and focus on the areas linked to score, sometimes, students refuse to follow the advice from teachers or tutors regarding how to make the most of their time on the test.  I always advise that when you find something that works for you, keep doing it over and over again.  For example, if you've got a topic sentence that works really well to start the second paragraph of your essay, use that same sentence structure each time because you'll know the grammar and vocabulary will be correct and the transition will be strong, all resulting in a high writing score.  However, after giving this suggestion to a student, sometimes overconfident students in the very next essay would come up with an entirely new topic sentence for the second body paragraph.  This sentence may not have been as strong, but at the very least, it would have cut into valuable composing and editing time.  Teachers and tutors know what test scorers are looking for and the strategies to help you make the most of every second on the test.  By ignoring ways to take advantage of the test, you might actually be leaving points on the table.

The solution here is a complete mindset shift.  Listening to the advice of your teacher or tutor does not mean that he or she is necessarily smarter than you are or that you are dumb.  They are not suggestions that you are incapable of writing a great essay; instead, they are trying to help you make the most of your study and test taking time by making the structure and patterns of the test work for you instead of you always working for the test.

Takeaways


The good news is that your language skills, which take a long time to cultivate, are well-developed, and changing your attitude will be a much quicker fix.  By determining if your goal score obstacle is a mindset issue, specifically, that your overconfidence is the root cause of why you aren't making progress, you can easily implement the solutions.  Being confident is great, but being overconfident can lead great English speakers to see less than impressive scores.  Stay humble and get to the score you deserve.

Now that you know the potential problems (and how to fix them), put what you've learned into practice by concentrating first on the independent essay question with 30 free essay prompts.

Take Note: How To Note-Take for TOEFL and University Success

 
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How To Note-Take for TOEFL and University Success

Getting prepared for university classes shares a lot in common with getting ready for the TOEFL; this should come as no surprise given that the TOEFL was built to mimic university situations that non-native speakers will encounter in college classes and is used to, therefore, gauge student readiness. While some sections certainly do this better than others (for example, the independent essay questions are probably not on par with the type of essay you will need to write for college level classes while the reading passages seem just like those that may come out of a college level textbook), effective note taking on lectures is an essential skill to master for TOEFL and university success.

Why Note-Taking Matters

Note-taking is a component of several sections of the TOEFL. It is not limited to the Listening section only; the integrated questions for the writing and speaking sections require you to take good notes as well. Without these, you will not be able to provide enough detail to craft a fully developed response.

When you do make it to the university of your dreams, classes (especially those taken by freshman undergraduates) tend to follow a lecture format.  This means that the professor is typically standing in the front of the room delivering information without a lot of input from students and often (though not always) without putting notes on the board or projecting slides. Because first-year university students are typically required to take a certain number of core classes, these classes can be quite large, so you need to be an excellent note-taker in order to know what questions you want to ask your TA or during office hours and what to study when the midterm or final approaches.

Qualities of Strong Notes

The best notes, whether you are listening to a TOEFL lecture or one in your college or graduate school, are efficient.  To be a skillful note-taker, you must work quickly, identify important pieces of information, and stay organized.  All three of these essential characteristics work hand in hand.

Working quickly combines using smart symbols and abbreviations with finding only the most important items to record, tasks that non-native speakers frequently neglect to do in test-taking situations.  Do not try to write down everything the professor says. First, it is impossible, even for native speakers, to keep up with the speaker word for word. Additionally, if you are only copying verbatim what is being said, you aren't actually processing what he/she has stated.  Instead, only write down the key words (who/what/when/where/why/how) eliminating all the extras (articles, prepositions, most adjectives and adverbs).  Can you summarize the main point of the sentence?  Write it in your words, not necessarily the words the professor used.  Furthermore, you don't need to write out the entire word.  Is this lecture about a person?  Use abbreviations for names, places, etc. especially those that occur more than once.  Use symbols for common words like increase/decrease, similar to/differs from, and causes.  Drawing an arrow is much faster than writing down a series of letters (plus you remove the need to think about spelling when you are working under these time constraints).

Good notes need to be organized or it will be impossible to find the information when a question prompts you to recall specific information.  Remember, unlike the Reading section, the Listening section will only give you a certain amount of time per question.  In other words, while the Reading questions are self-paced, the Listening questions are not.  While this does have pros and cons, it means that you need to be able to call upon information in your notes quickly.  This necessitates good organization. Just like reading passages tend to follow a specific format, listening passages are usually organized in a similar fashion.  The professor will begin with a short introduction which will give you an idea about what the main idea of the lecture will be and this will help you guess the structure the lecture will take.  Additionally, you want to learn to anticipate the types of questions that you will be asked.  Only take notes on these pieces of information in order to avoid clouding your notes with distractions.

Where To Note-Take Before and After Test Day

Obviously, when you are taking practice tests or doing TOEFL practice problems, you should be taking notes in order to polish this skill.  But are you taking advantage of all the other opportunities you have to make good note taking a habit?

Do you take notes when listening to TOEFL prep strategies, like videos you find on YouTube?  Note taking more often will clearly improve your abilities, but it will also better help you retain information that you will need come exam day.  Because you are putting into practice the qualities of good note taking above, you are actually internalizing the information by note taking instead of passively listening and hoping to absorb some of it.

Don't limit your listening sessions solely to those dedicated to advice for language learning or TOEFL prep.  Use high-quality lectures to hone your note taking skills, and be sure to get a good balance of language learning/test prep and lectures across disciplines.  Using lectures from Ted.com and Ted Ed as well as quizzes created on ESLvideo will give you a nearly endless supply of material to work with.

Get used to taking your note organization one step further.  Instead of just organizing the information on the piece of paper itself, make sure that if you encounter valuable information for the long term, you store it in such a way that you can find it again.  Use my free Trello Boards while you are prepping for the test, and then move over the relevant vocabulary and academic skill advice to a university resources folder so you can keep it for reference well after test day.

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