Friday, December 31

Development = High Writing Scores

How can you increase your independent essay score? Simple. Development. Development. Development. Most independent essays score low because there is not enough specific information (details). Essays that score 4 and above have lots of supporting details, especially in the body paragraphs. Essays that score 4 or less have fewer details. Remember: Details (examples) support and develop your opinion. This is true of integrated essays as well. Those integrated essays that score above 4 have lots of details from the reading and the lecture. Those that score less than 4 are missing important details. Remember: Fewer details = a lack of language use = a lower score.

Why is development so important when writing a TOEFL essay? Because, as mentioned, development is directly related to language use. The more you develop a body paragraph, the more you demonstrate language use proficiency. Let's put it to the test. Look at this photo, then read the two passages that follow.

This is a photo of a woman in a dress and short hair. She has a necklace and is not smiling. She looks young. She is ready for a club or something. 

Now read this passage.

In this black-and-white photograph, a poised young woman, probably a flapper, stares defiantly off screen with probing eyes. Around her slender neck hangs a string of exquisite pearls. She clutches them against her breast, pulling them down as if she herself were on a chain. Her deep black eyes, set against ivory skin, radiate confidence, a desire to tempt and be tempted. Where is she going in that sexy, shoulderless dress, that none-too subtle invitation? What is she thinking under that toss of naughty curls? We'll never know. One thing is for certain: the devil is in the details.

Which of these two passages would score higher? It's obvious, right? Development. Development. Development.

Want to learn development strategies for speaking and writing? It's all in the book.

© Bruce Stirling 2010-2011  

Thursday, December 30


That is a popular question on the web. What does the Pro think? The Pro thinks one is an American company (ETS TOEFL) and the other is a British company (IELTS Cambridge). Yes, some of the questions are different, but other than that, these two tests serve the exact same purpose: they both test English-language proficiency at the academic level. The only difference is American schools prefer TOEFL and British schools prefer IELTS. Why? Simple. Each company is protecting its market by telling schools their test is best for their market. The logic goes something like this: IELTS is British and Oxford University is British, so Oxford should use IELTS, right, Oxford? The same logic applies to TOEFL in America.

Believe me, if you got a high IELTS score, Harvard would accept it. The same with a high TOEFL score and Oxford. Why? Because they know what we know: The TOEFL v. IELTS issue is a non issue, academically. It's just two companies protecting their respective markets.

But, you ask, what about British v. American English? That too is a non issue. The difference between these two dialects is negligible; moreover, the subtle distinctions between British and American English don't even enter the equation as far as testing is concerned. Instead, it's all about argument development. Why? Because the British educational system is built on Greek rhetoric, so is the American educational system.  

REMEMBER: Before you take either test, contact the school or agency to which you are applying. See which test they prefer, and play the game.

REMEMBER: If you are planning to apply to an American school, the question you really should be asking is: Should I take the TOEFL iBT or the TOEFL PBT?

The Pro

Argument Mapping - A New TOEFL Strategy

My TOEFL text - Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT - represents a new approach to preparing for the TOEFL iBT. Why is my text different? Because it has one core strategy. That strategy I call argument mapping. Argument mapping means you use one map - an argument map - to develop and deliver responses for all six speaking tasks and both writing tasks. Why is my argument map so effective? Because it has been classroom-developed and test-proven for over five years - and because it is based on the theory that test-takers acquire speaking and writing strategies faster and more proficiently through visualization. Let me explain.

You know what a map is, right? A map is a bunch of lines and arrows pointing you in the right direction so you will not get lost. In other words, a map is a visual solution to a problem. My argument map does the same thing: it solves an argument problem by pointing you in the right direction when developing and delivering spoken and written responses. By following my argument map, you will not get lost. You are in control from start to finish. Best of all, you will know exactly what to say and write when practicing and on test day. This eliminates guessing while developing confidence. This, in turn, will result in maximum scoring. Why maximum scoring? Because my map has been designed to give the speaking and writing raters what they are trained to look for: six coherent spoken arguments and two coherent written arguments. How do you play the TOEFL speaking and writing game and win? By giving the raters what they are trained to look for.

As I mentioned, argument mapping is based on the theory that test-takers acquire TOEFL strategies faster and more proficiently through visualization. Why is visualization more effective than using text to teach strategies, the method all the other TOEFL texts use? Let's use an example. You're visiting a big city and you're looking for the train station. You stop a stranger and ask for directions.

"Excuse me," you say. "Can you tell me how to get to the train station?"

"Sure," all those other TOEFL texts say. "It's easy. Piece of cake. Go straight for ten blocks. Then turn left at the first red. Then walk for three more blocks and turn right at the bank. You will then see a big blue sign. No green. Right, green. Next to that is an old church. Keep going for three more blocks and turn left, then right, then left. The train station will be straight ahead. Okay?"

Okay? Hel-lo! Right? Left? Church? What? Help! Now look at the Pro's method.

"Excuse me," you say. "Can you tell me how to get to the train station?"

"Sure," the Pro says. "Let me draw you a map."

Which solution is best? The map, obviously. Why? Because it provides a visual solution to your problem. Best of all, there is no guessing. You go from A to Z with no trouble at all. That is what argument mapping does. That is why my text Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEF iBT represents a new approach to teaching essential TOEFL speaking and writing strategies.

Want to learn more about argument mapping? It's all in the book.


- Visualize -

© Bruce Stirling 2010-11

Active and Passive English Vocabularies

You have two English vocabularies. I call them your active vocabulary and your passive vocabulary. Your active vocabulary consists of words you use every day. Because you use your active vocabulary every day, you make fewer mistakes when speaking and when writing. An example of your active vocabulary would be something like this:

"Yo, dude. What's up?"
"Nothing. How about you?"
"Not much. Just reading this blog."
"Learning anything?"
"Definitely. I love Spanish."

As you can see, your active vocabulary is based on informal conversation. Idioms are also part of your active vocabulary ("dude"). However, you know more English idioms than you actually use. All those idioms you know, but don't often use, are part of your passive vocabulary. Because you don't use these idioms every day, there is a good chance you will make a mistake when using them, especially on the TOEFL test. I know. I see this all the time. On the TOEFL iBT, incorrect idiom usage demonstrates a lack of proficient language use. What should you do? Don't try and impress the speaking and writing raters with a lot of idioms. Use an idiom(s) only if you are 100% sure you are using it correctly. Correctly means the right context.

Look at the paragraph below. Can you identify any idiom problems?

A new airport in my hometown will create new jobs for young people. In my hometown, when young people graduate from high school and college, out of the blue they leave and go to the big cities. In the cities, there are more jobs and a better future. However, if we had a new airport, the young people would go crazy because there would be new jobs. There would be jobs like construction and catering, as well other jobs connected to the airline business like hotels and restaurants. This would be good because more new jobs means the young people will have a reason to stay and develop the economy of my hometown.

The problem is the idiom "out of the blue." Out of the blue means suddenly. However, "out of the blue" also means unexpectedly. This suggests surprise. Is it surprising that students leave for the big cities after graduating? No. All students do it. It is expected therefore it is not a surprise (not out of the blue).

As you can see, the idiom out of the blue is in the wrong context. The result is a loss of coherence. Notice also how an idiom in the wrong place changes the tone of another wise excellent body paragraph. A native speaker (a writing or speaking rater) will notice this idiom problem immediately. A rater will also notice "go crazy." In this context, "go crazy" means you are so happy you lose control. Once again, wrong idiom, wrong context. Combined, these language use errors will impact scoring.

Remember: Fewer idiom errors = greater coherence = higher speaking and writing scores = a higher final TOEFL iBT score.

Want to know more language use strategies? Check out my TOEFL text Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT and 500 Words, Phrases, and Idioms for the TOEFL iBT plus Typing Strategies.


- Mr. and Mrs. iBT -

Wednesday, December 29

Speaking and Writing - Read the Reviews!

My first TOEFL text, Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT, continues to be the top-selling speaking and writing TOEFL text on Amazon. Why is it so popular? Because it gives test-takers what they need: speaking and writing scoring strategies developed and tested in real TOEFL classrooms and test-proven for five years on the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL Teaching Tip #1

If you are an ESL instructor, you know that teaching TOEFL is a challenge. Why? Because nothing in your ESL training has prepared you to teach 800+ pages (the length of a TOEFL text) of rhetoric to twenty students who probably know more about TOEFL than you do. So what should you do? Learn basic rhetoric (or relearn it), whatever the case may be (see rhetorical strategies and opinions).

Remember: The TOEFL iBT is all arguments. Arguments are built on rhetorical foundations, a part of which is grammar and vocab (language use). Those arguments are then scored, so knowing scoring strategies is critical.

Remember: TOEFL students want to know how to get high scores. They do not want to become writers or poets or public speakers. Your job is to teach them those scoring strategies. And it all starts with basic rhetoric.

My TOEFL text Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT was designed for ESL instructors. If you are an ESL instructor, and TOEFL is giving you nightmares, I suggest you take a look at my text. It will give you a crash course in basic rhetoric specific to TOEFL. Also, my book provides easy-to-understand writing and speaking rubrics (scoring guides). My custom-designed rubrics are the fastest and easiest way to understand ETS's scoring system specific to writing and speaking.

The Pro

 "I prefer a quill to a computer because..."

Conclusion Strategies

A fast and effective way to increase your independent essay score (and your independent speaking scores!) is to add a conclusion strategy. Look at the following conclusion strategies. Each is designed to maximize scoring.

a. Suggestion

For this strategy, start with a transition, restate your opinion, then end with a suggestion.

In sumI assert that television is a bad influence on our childrenInstead of watching so much television, parents should make their kids read a book, or make them go outside and play.

b. Suggestion + Prediction

For this strategy, start with a transition, restate your opinion, then end with a suggestion and a prediction. Note how the prediction contains the auxiliary verb “will” to describe a future action.

In the endI posit that it is better to save the money that you makeThe best thing you can do is put your money in the bank. In a few years, that money will help you buy a new car or help you go to university. 

c. Warning + Prediction 
For this strategy, start with a transition, restate your opinion, then end with a warning that contains a prediction of future events.

It goes without saying that television is a bad influence on our childrenIt is creating a lot of fat and lazy kids who will develop serious health problems when they are adults.

Remember: The raters will look for a conclusion strategy. A conclusion strategy demonstrates development, topical unity, and language use = a higher independent essay score and a higher independent speaking score = a higher TOEFL iBT score.

Want to learn more conclusion strategies? It's all in the book.

Got a TOEFL question? Ask the Pro!

- TOEFL Raters Are Hard to Impress -


© Bruce Stirling 2010-2011

Low Reading Scores - Why?

I have a theory why undergraduate test-takers score low (see score) on the reading section: these test-takers rarely, if ever, read long passages in English or in their own native languages. This conclusion is not based on any evidence. It's simply anecdotal, a conjecture based on the typical undergrad test-taker's reading diet. What does it consist of? Emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, most of which are, arguably, less than one hundred words. When a test-taker gets an email, does he/she read it through, from beginning to end? No. Test-takers (myself included) simply glance at the first line or two of an email, then move on. The same with tweets and other digital messages. In short, digital messages are turning undergrad test-takers (and everyone else) into readers who prefer quick-read, short passages. Think fast-food reading. How does this cause-and-effect relationship translate into lower reading scores not only for undergrads but for all test-takers? Let's work it through by way of analogy.

The reading section is long and hard, just like a marathon race. To train for a marathon, a runner must run long distances every day, ten miles, twenty miles. By analogy, because the reading section is like a marathon, test-takers should prepare by reading long English passages every day (ten pages, twenty pages). However, in my experience as a TOEFL author and instructor, this is not happening. Test-takers aren't reading long English passages (novels, magazines, journals). Instead, they are reading short, digital messages as quickly as possible. Therefore, by analogy, the test-taker is much like a sprinter. Question: If you are a sprinter, and you entered a marathon, would you win? Would you even finish? I think the conclusion obvious.

How do many test-takers prepare for the reading section? Instead of reading long passages, they memorize word lists. Why word lists? Because word lists are fast and easy, just like digital messages, just like Big Macs. Think about it: word lists take no concentrated brain power; word lists do not demand a lot of time; word lists convince the test-taker he/she is learning a lot (quantity over quality), when in fact they aren't. Don't get me wrong. Word lists are an essential TOEFL strategy when used properly. When used properly, word lists should support the passage the test-taker is reading. This, in turn, will create context. That said, to derive greater strategic benefit from word lists, test-takers should make word lists from material they read. That way the test-taker is contextualizing. Contextualizing is how advanced language learners acquire new vocabulary. Contextualizing is what the TOEFL reading section tests. If you (the test-taker) are reading only digital messages, you are not exercising the skill of contextualizing. The result? A low reading section score.

That, then, is my theory: the digital influence on TOEFL test-takers and reading section scores. What should test-takers do? Simple. Contextualize. How? Read long passages in English and make word lists.

Got a TOEFL question? Ask the Pro!

...and high reading section scores!

© Bruce Stirling 2010-11

Monday, December 27

TOEFL is not pass or fail

The Pro hears these test-taker questions all the time: "What happens if I fail the TOEFL test?" and "How much do I need to pass the TOEFL test?"

First of all, you can't pass or fail the TOEFL test. This is, without a doubt, the biggest misconception about TOEFL. I repeat: TOEFL is not pass or fail. TOEFL is simply a form measurement. TOEFL (as designed by ETS - Educational Testing Services) measures English language proficiency on a scale from          0-120, 120 being the most proficient. Each of the four test sections (reading, listening, speaking, writing) is scored from 0-30. The four test sections are then added up for a total score out of 120.

                        30/30 (reading)
                        30/30 (listening)
                        30/30 (speaking)
                   +   30/30  (writing)    

                        120/120 = final TOEFL iBT score

Why 120? Why not 100? I have no idea. ETS has always had a funny way with numbers. Remember: ETS is not a college or a university or a U.S. government institution. It is a private, profit-making company based in Princeton, New Jersey USA. Because ETS is a business, a lot of their test-related information - like "How exactly do you score that again?" - is proprietary. Proprietary means it is a business secret so go away.

It bears repeating: TOEFL is not pass-fail. TOEFL simply measures English language proficiency across four disciplines: reading, listening, speaking, writing.

The Pro

 - TOEFL Measures Your ABCs -

© Bruce Stirling 2010

Sunday, December 26

TOEFL Tip #8

"Introductory" TOEFL texts are a good way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT. Yes? No.

WARNING! Introductory TOEFL texts are not real TOEFL texts. Why not? Because the material in these texts is not TOEFL level. It is intermediate-level English. Yet test-takers buy introductory texts thinking they are the real deal when they are not.

Worse, introductory TOEFL texts create a false sense of confidence in the test-taker. The test-taker thinks, "Hey, this introductory TOEFL text is easy. It's all I need to get a high TOEFL iBT score." Wrong! I know many TOEFL students who took introduction-to-TOEFL courses that used introductory texts, then they took the TOEFL test and...That's right. Disaster. Waste of money. Waste of time.

Why do publishers publish such texts? Money. Also, they are preying on test-taker insecurities. As a TOEFL author, I have no intention of writing an introduction to TOEFL text. The last thing I want to do is fool my TOEFL students into believing that TOEFL is easy. 

WARNING! If you are serious about TOEFL, do not buy an introduction-to-TOEFL text, or any other TOEFL text with "introduction" on it. These texts are targetted at intermediate-level students.

The Pro

Pictures of ETS - Home of TOEFL and the GRE

This is where your money goes. Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

ETS is located on 350+ acres of parkland.

ETS on Wikipedia

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia's page on Educational Testing Services (ETS).

If you take the TOEFL iBT, you will take it at a test center run by Prometrics, Prometrics is a "wholly owned subsidiary" of ETS.

from Wikipedia


ETS has been criticized for being a “highly competitive business operation that is as much multinational monopoly as nonprofit institution”.[37] Due to its legal status as a non-profit organization, ETS is exempt from paying federal corporate income tax on many, but not all, of its operations. Furthermore, it does not need to report financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, though it does annually report detailed financial information to the IRS on Form 990, which is publicly available.[38]

In response to growing criticism of its monopolistic power, New York state passed the Educational Testing Act, a disclosure law which required ETS to make available certain test questions and graded answer sheets to students.[39]

Problems administering England's national tests in 2008 by ETS Europe were the subject of thousands of complaints recorded by the Times Educational Supplement.[40] Their operations were also described as a "shambles" in the UK Parliament, where a financial penalty was called for.[41] Complaints included papers not being marked properly, or not being marked at all[42] and papers being sent to the wrong schools or lost completely.[43] It has even been suggested that the quality of service is so poor that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly the Department for Education and Skills) might not be able to publish the 2008 league tables of school performance.[44] However, the contract was ended by "mutual consent".[45] The UK government asked Lord Sutherland to conduct an inquiry into the failure of the 2008 tests. The report included in its main findings:

• primary responsibility for this summer’s delivery failure rests with ETS Global BV, which won the public contract to deliver the tests;
• ETS’s capacity to deliver the contract proved to be insufficient. A lack of comprehensive planning and testing by ETS of its systems and processes was a key factor in the delivery failure;

In 1983, students of James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California, achieved unexpectedly high exam results on the ETS Advanced Placement Exam. ETS implied the that the students may have cheated to obtain such results based on common mistakes across different exams. The students were required to prove their abilities and innocence by taking a second exam.[46]

Americans for Educational Testing Reform (AETR) claims that ETS is violating its non-profit status through excessive profits, executive compensation, and governing board member pay (which the IRS specifically advises against[47]). AETR further claims that ETS is acting unethically by selling test preparation materials, directly lobbying legislators and government officials, and refusing to acknowledge test-taker rights. It also criticises ETS for forcing GRE test-takers to participate in research experiments during the actual exam.[48] 

Thank you Wikipedia.

The Pro

Friday, December 24

The Secret to TOEFL Success

If you want to study or work in an English-speaking country, like Canada or the U.S., you need to demonstrate English proficiency at the highest levels. Enter TOEFL. TOEFL measures English language proficiency at the academic level, a level many non native speakers find a challenge to master. In light of this, many test-takers ask, "Is TOEFL really a true measure of my ability?" Of course not. TOEFL measures only one ability: the ability to communicate in academic English across four disciplines: reading, listening, speaking, writing. TOEFL does not measure creativity. It does not measure initiative or resourcefulness or faithfulness or honesty or integrity or modesty or piety or industry or charity or chastity or humility or propriety. When you think about it, TOEFL measures only a very small part of who you really are. And that can be upsetting, for TOEFL is more than just a stress-filled test. TOEFL is a wall between you and your dreams. I know. I have seen the worry TOEFL causes. Out of this fear and frustration comes the one question I hear over and over: "What is the secret to getting a high TOEFL score?"

Unfortunately, there is no "secret" to getting a high TOEFL score. If someone tells you they have the secret to TOEFL success, don't believe them. If someone did have the secret to TOEFL success, believe me, every TOEFL text would be selling it (mine included). Trust me. There is no trick, no button you can push, no amount of new vocabulary you can memorize, no door you can walk through to find a perfect score. Why not? Because English, like all languages, is far too complex to be reduced to a simple game. However, what most test-takers don't realize is that the design of the TOEFL test itself is in fact a game. That's right: the TOEFL iBT is one big game, a very challenging game, but a game all the same. 

Like all games, TOEFL uses a scoring system to measure player performance. Like all games, the underlying structure of the TOEFL game can be identified and analyzed. Through that analysis, it can be proven that TOEFL, like all games, is surprisingly predictable. In other words, TOEFL repeats itself, just like baseball and soccer and tennis. Okay, so? So if TOEFL is at heart a predictable game, test-takers can learn the scoring strategies needed to beat the TOEFL game. What are the scoring strategies you can use to play the TOEFL game? They are available in my TOEFL text Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT. I will expand upon these same strategies in my complete TOEFL guide due out in early 2011, the title of which is Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT: A New Approach to TOEFL Success.

As a TOEFL author, professional writer and ESL professor, I have not found the secret to TOEFL success because there is no secret. However, as a writer, I have reengineered the TOEFL test with the tools of argument development. I've ripped apart TOEFL's engine and seats and dashboard and tires and trunk and transmission and drive train, and discovered what makes the TOEFL iBT tick. Want to know more? It's all in the book.


- Chez Pro -

© Bruce Stirling 2010-2011    

TOEFL Tip #7

When preparing for the TOEFL test, buying one text is enough. Right? Wrong.

If you are serious about getting a high TOEFL score, I suggest you buy at least two TOEFL texts. Why? Because you need to practice, practice, practice. Many American students who are preparing for the SAT, GRE, GMAT or LSAT buy three of four such texts.

Remember: You get once chance to get the TOEFL score you want, so be prepared. Do so by buying a second or third TOEFL text. Invest in yourself. Why not? Your future depends on it.

The Pro

Thursday, December 23

TOEFL Tip #6

Educational Testing Service (ETS), the designer and implementer of TOEFL world wide, is a public institution or school. Not true. ETS is a profit-making company.

Why is this good to know? Because ETS is more interested in profit than in education. That's OK. Just don't assume ETS is anything more than it is: a corporation with a bottomline.

The Pro predicts the cost to take the TOEFL iBT will go up in 2011 from the current $170.00 in the US to $185.00.

The Most Pirated Movies of 2010

see pirated movie stats

But I have my own writing style!

Great. Fantastic. There's only one problem: The TOEFL writing raters don't care about style. Sorry. They simply want to know if you can develop and deliver two written arguments (independent essay and integrated essay) under a time pressure. The raters measure your ability to write under a time pressure using rubrics (see rubrics). Style is not part of the ETS writing rubrics. Why not? Because evaluating style is a highly subjective process. For example, the famous American writer Earnest Hemingway (Old Man and The Sea) uses a very simple style. Some love it. Others hate it. Who is right? As you can see, judging style is a subjective process, one that enters into the realm of art, and what makes writing a piece of art blah, blah, blah.

Where does art/style fit into the TOEFL picture? It doesn't. Why not? Because the writing raters are trained to rate essays objectively. How? Using rubrics. By rating objectively using rubrics, the raters' ratings will be fair, unbiased, and accurate (that is the theory). If the raters rated style, they could give you any score depending on their likes and dislikes. That, in turn, would be a subjective rating and not fair. Think about it: If the raters rated subjectively, you could answer an independent essay prompt with a poem. Why not?

Also, if you have your own writing style, that's means you are a good writer - a very good writer. Why? Because style means you have mastered all levels of English grammar (spelling too!). As a writer with style, you're not worried about the future-perfect-passive progressive, or parallelism, or fragments, or run ons, or where to put the commas in a compound sentence, or the difference between stationery and stationary, or how to use a colon and a semi-colon. In short, you have mastered English grammar and punctuation so well you don't have to think about it when you compose. So why are you taking the TOEFL test? To impress the writing raters with your style? No. You're simply playing the TOEFL game. To play the TOEFL game, leave the style at home. Instead, give the raters what they are trained to rate: typical essays American high school and university students write. And remember: You only have 30 minutes to write the independent essay and 20 minutes to write the integrated essay. Not much time.

Want to know more? It's all in the book.

Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT

- A Question of Style -

© Bruce Stirling 2010-2011

Wednesday, December 22

The Future of Computer

Sixth Sense - A Must-See Video

Click here to watch the future of computing

Click here for more about Sixth Sense

Got a TOEFL question? Ask the Pro!

Microsoft - In the Beginning

                     Bill Gates

Apple Computers - A Brief History

From this...

To this...

TOEFL Tip #5

You can get a high TOEFL score if you study alone. True? No. Let me explain.

At the start of every new semester, one or two students will tell me they took the TOEFL test without taking a class and got low scores. So what happened? They decided to take the test again, but this time take a class first. Good idea.

To get the highest possible TOEFL iBT score, I highly recommend that you take a TOEFL class. Why? For myriad reasons.

1) You can learn strategies not always taught in TOEFL texts.

2) Studying for TOEFL can seem like climbing a mountain. Yet when you study in a group, you don't feel so alone. Plus it's more fun. This, in turn, will increase your confidence.

3) You can learn from example. For example, that girl from Germany speaks so well. Great. So copy what she is doing. And that guy from Peru writes such good essays. Great. So copy what he is doing. Like Picasso said, "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."

4) Finally, and this is key, if your instructor is a native speaker, you will understand how academic English is used in its proper context. If you study alone, often you will not understand the context of new words, especially idioms

5) It's cheaper.

The Pro.

Tuesday, December 21

The Pro's Speaking Strategies

How are the Pro's speaking strategies different from all those other TOEFL texts? I mean, a speaking strategy is a speaking strategy, right? Wrong. Let's work out the difference with an example.

You want to buy a car, a Porsche 911, Turbo S Cabriolet, but you also want to save the planet, so you look at the Green Car. Okay? Okay. So you're looking at the Green Car and you see a big red button beside the stereo. Hmmm? What is that big red button for, you wonder? You ask the salesman.

"Excuse me, sir, can you tell me what this big red button is for?"
"Sure," the salesman says. "It's a red button. Nice, huh? I love red. Very sexy."
"Okay," you patiently reply. "So what does it do?"
"Do? Like I said, it's red."
"But what does it do? Make the car go faster, do my laundry? What?"
"Don't worry about that," the salesman says. "It's red. Trust me. Just push it."
"Why? Don't ask why. Just push it. Trust me. It's red. And big. Now will that be cash or charge?"

This is how standardized TOEFL texts teach speaking (and writing) strategies: there is no connection between the strategy taught (red button) and why you should use that strategy (push the button). In other words, there is no cause-and-effect. It's all cause ("Just push the button!") Now look at the Pro's method.

"Excuse me, sir, can you tell me what this big red button does?"
"Sure," the Pro says. "This red button is a speed maximizer. Push it once? You go fast (score 3). Push it twice? You go really fast (score 4). Push it three times? You'll think you're in a Porsche (score 5)."

As you can see, the Pro is all about cause-and-effect: use this speaking strategy (cause), get this score (effect). Scoring. That is what TOEFL is all about.

Want to push more buttons? It's all in the book.

Got a TOEFL question? Ask the Pro!

"The red button is a speed maximizer."

© Bruce Stirling 2010-11.