Monday, January 31

Speaking and Writing - Kindle Bestseller

As 1/31/11, Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT tops the bestseller list.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank

Why #2 in the ESL category? Because SW is a great essay text. If you only want to learn how to write essays, or speak with more confidence, this is the text to get.
Remember: I use a graphics-based pedagogy. Why graphics? Because I believe in learning through visualization. My theory is: If you can picture the struture of an argument, you can write it and verbally deliver it.

The Pro

Sunday, January 30

Another Common Body Paragraph Problem

Read the following prompt, then look at the opinion and the first body paragraph from a sample independent essay. What is the problem with the body paragraph?

What are the advantages of exercising? Give examples and reasons, etc...

Personally, I think there are many advantages to exercising.

First, every morning before work I go to the gym. At the gym I work out for two hours with my trainer Tom who makes me work really hard because I really need cardio for my heart so I use the treadmill for twenty minutes then I use the step machine for twenty minutes after which I use the rowing machine, which kills me because by then my arms and shoulders are so tired I just want to die but Tom tells me to go lift some weights so I do some weights for another twenty minutes and by the time I am finished, I am so tired I just want to die and go home and sleep all day but I can't because I must go to work.


The Pro

© Bruce Stirling 2011

Saturday, January 29

The Buffalo

While researching the topic of the American buffalo for my new TOEFL text, I came across this photo. It was taken in 1870, back when white hunters were killing buffalo for meat and leaving everything else behind. If you have seen the movie Dances With Wolves, this picture - a mountain of buffalo skulls - is a coda to that movie.

The Pro

Idiom for the Egyptian Revolution

As you know, idioms come from context, context being cultural situations or moments. The following idiom perfectly describes what Mubarak is doing right now in Egypt. He fired his government and appointed the same corrupt people. By hiring the same corrupt people, Mubarak's actions have no purpose thus are useless. That is the meaning of this popular idiom. Broadcasters in America, on CNN for example, are all using this idiom.

            President Mubarak is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

The Pro

TOEFL Tip #18

When applying to a U.S. college, you must complete an application package. Your TOEFL score will be part of that package. You must also submit credits from previous schools, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, etc., and a personal essay. Many of my students ask me for advice before writing this essay. They say, "Professor Stirling, help! I want to go to M.I.T. How do I structure my personal essay? What should I say? What should I do?"

I say, "Write a TOEFL independent essay." Why? Because a personal essay is really just another name for the TOEFL independent essay. If you can write a TOEFL independent essay, you can write a personal essay for a college application package. Simple, right? Right.

There is a plethora of books and web sites on how to write a personal essay for a college application. Many of these books and links say your personal essay should be original. Original means your voice sets you apart from the other candidates. This is good advice for native English speakers, but if your first language is not English, don't try and be original. Why not? First, the school simply wants to know if you, the foreign student, can write a personal, American-style essay in English. Second, the school wants to know if you have a clear purpose for wanting to attend. That's all. You do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Remember: When writing your personal essay, use the KISS rule: Keep it simple stupid.

Want to learn how to write an independent essay you can also use for a personal essay for your college application package?

The Pro

Friday, January 28

TOEFL Tip #17

For the reading section, you will read either 3 passages or 5 passages. Why the difference? If you get 3 passages, all 3 will be scored. You will get one hour to complete the 3 passages. However, if you get 5 passages, only three will be scored. The other two will not be scored. They will be used for other TOEFL tests. Also, you will not know which of the 5 passages will be scored.

Is this fair, completing two extra reading passages and not getting scored - and getting really tired reading 5 passages for an hour and a half? No. The Pro thinks ETS should stop experimenting on test-takers. Test-takers are not paying ETS $170.00 so they can be used as laboratory mice by ETS. Should you complain? Yes. Loud and often.

The Pro

Thursday, January 27

Qualities of a good neighbor essay

Prompt: What are the qualities of a good neighborhood? Use examples and reasons to develop and support your argument.

This is, without a doubt, the most popular TOEFL prompt of all time. Does ETS use this prompt on the official TOEFL test? I doubt it. Everyone who has ever taken a TOEFL course has practiced writing this essay. ETS knows this, so I'm sure ETS doesn't use it for official testing purpose. If they did, everyone would get a 5.

That said, take a look at the Pro's version. Note how I use compare-and-contrast, illustration, and cause-and-effect while definition and classification are inferred. Note the idioms as well.

Question: Does this essay have an opinion? See the answer.

What are the qualities of a good neighbor? From my experience, a good neighbor is a lot of things, but most of all considerate. What do I mean? Let me explain.

Mr. Greenleaf, my neighbor to the north, is very considerate. Before he does anything, he always considers what his neighbors will think, unlike Mr. Blackhart across the street. For example, Mr. Greenleaf always cuts his grass and takes in his garbage cans after the garbage truck comes. Mr. Blackhart, however, never cuts his grass. His front yard look like a jungle, and his garbage cans always roll around on the street days after the truck has gone. People have to drive around them, and you never know what wild animal is lurking in his grass. Worse, his big black dog Killer runs around doing his business everywhere while Mr. Greenleaf's toy poodle Peaches is always on a chain and does his business in all the right places. Which neighbor do you think is more considerate? You do the math.

The Sambas, my neighbors to the south, are also very considerate. They are from Brazil. Like most Brazilians, they love to kick up their heels. And do they party! Every Saturday they have a big shindig that always ends at midnight so as not to disturb the neighborhood, unlike Mr. Bush. His parties are so noisy, my sister five miles away can hear them. Not only that but the police always come at four a.m. and arrest everyone. Which neighbor do you think is more considerate? That's a no brainer.

As I've illustrated, good neighbors are considerate. Who would you like next to you, the Sambas and Mr. Greenleaf, or Mr. Bush and Mr. Blackhart? Think about that the next time you take out the garbage, cut your grass, and have a party.


ETS says an independent essay "should be around 300 - but you can write more." This essay is exactly 303 words.

The Pro

Good neighbors drive great cars.

© Bruce Stirling 2011

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

Tuesday, January 25

How's Your Typing? Take the test

One strategy TOEFL texts do not teach is typing. Typing? Boring, I know. But experience tells me that many test-takers are not proficient typists, especially when typing English. Poor typing means you waste time thinking about which key to hit and less time developing ideas for your essays. Also, I bet you practice typing essays on a laptop, right? Right. On test day, however, you will not use a laptop. You will use a standard keyboard like the one below.

Standard keyboards are not touch sensitive like laptops. Standard keys are bigger and spaced more. That means it takes more effort to type.

I suggest you buy a standard keyboard. You can get one for $10.00 on the web. Make sure it is USB compatible so you can plug it into your laptop.

Remember: Proficient typing = greater coherence = higher essay scores = a higher writing section score = a higher final TOEFL iBT score.

So how fast can you type? Take the test. 

DirectionsYou have one minute to type the 60-word passage below. Include all punctuation and capital letters.

Topical unity means you focus on one topic from start to finish. If you suddenly introduce a new and unrelated topic, you are changing topics. For example, you are writing about pizza when you suddenly change to TOEFL. This obvious change in topic direction is called a topic digression. This will result in a lack of topical unity and coherence.

When you are finished, add up your mistakes. If you made one mistake, you can type 59 words per minute (60 – 1 = 59 wpm), two mistakes, 58 wpm, etc. Note: A letter not capitalized is a mistake. A comma in the wrong place is a mistake. A missing comma is a mistake.

WARNING: If you type less than 40 wpm, you need typing practice.

For practice typing, check out my TOEFL text via the link below. It has everything you need to know to become a fast and accurate typer.

The Pro

© Bruce Stirling 2010-2011   

Sample Essay - Fake TOEFL Score

Do you agree or disagree? Using a fake TOEFL score is a good idea. Use examples and reasons to support your argument.

Is using a fake TOEFL score a good idea? As far as I'm concerned, using a fake TOEFL score is not a good idea. Actually, it's a really stupid idea. Why? Let me explain so if you do try to fake your way into the US of A, you will know what to expect.

For starters, since 9/11, security in America has changed dramatically. Foreign students on student visas, in particular, are under a microscope. They don't know it, but they are. Why? Because many of the 9/11 bombers entered the US on student (F-1) visas. In short, you can thank 9/11 for increasing your chances of being caught scamming the TOEFL test and entering the US on an F-1 visa. Not convinced? Think of it this way: your F-1 visa is a red flag flying in the face of the CIA, the FBI, local police, and school administrators. And a red flag is really easy to see, especially when security is looking for it.

Second, you don't won't to mess with the American legal system. Yes, the police in America are pretty much invisible. That's good. It's a free society. But, if you get into trouble, like using a fake TOEFL score and lying about your F-1 status, the American legal system will fall on you like a ton of bricks. Believe me, you don't won't to mess with the American legal system. It's not what you see on TV. If the authorities smell the faintest odor of deceit rising off you, they will hold you - in jail - until they find a way to nail you. How will they nail you? They will follow the paper trail you left behind starting with your F-1 visa. So you see, you might be able to fake a TOEFL score, but you can't beat the immigration system. Since 9/11, that door has been slammed shut.

And really, honestly, when you're sitting in your first year law class, and the professor asks you to summarize the holding in Miranda v. The United States, and you blush and say, "Yes, I do!" because your 105/120 TOEFL score is a lie, how are you going to feel? And when you get caught, and your name is all over the internet for being a criminal, how are you and your family going to feel? And when you get out of jail and are deported, and you watch TV and see Manhattan and L.A., and all those other great American places, and you think "Gee, I'd love to go back for a vacation," and you realize you can never go back because you are on the US Immigration's "undesirable list" - a computer list of criminals shared by legal authorities all over the world - what will you say to your spouse and kids?

Food for thought.

The Pro

TOEFL Pro in India

TOEFL Pro in China

My best-selling TOEFL text Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT will be translated into Chinese and published in Chinese by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing, China. FLTRP is the biggest ESL publisher in China. Publication date: 2011.

FLTRP's English web page   FLTRP's Chinese web page

Click here to Buy Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT


- Mom loves TOEFL too! -

Sunday, January 23

Sample Question #4

The following is a sample question from the reading section of my new TOEFL text - Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT, A Complete Guide to TOEFL Success - available in March.

Look at the four squares [n]. They indicate where the following sentence could be added to the paragraph below. Click on the square to insert the sentence into the passage.

The Iranian calendar today is based on Khayyám's calculations.

Omar Khayyám, born in Persia in 1048 AD, was polymath, a man whose genius ranged from astronomy to philosophy to poetry. Recognized as one of the greatest medieval mathematicians, Khayyám authored the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra. n In it, he provides a geometric method for solving cubic equations. n Khayyám's contributions to algebra eventually found it way to Europe, as did the work of many other influential Persian mathematicians. n In astronomy, Khayyám measured a solar year and concluded that it was 365.2421 days. n Yet despite his scientific achievements, Omar Khayyám is most famous for his poetry, in particular his book of poems The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The Rubáiyát consists of about one thousand quatrains, a quatrain being a poem consisting of four lines or rubaais.

“I sent my soul through the invisible,
some letter of that afterlife to spell;
and by and by my soul returned to me,
and answered, "I myself am Heav'n and Hell"

- Omar Khayyám -

© Bruce Stirling 2011

The Most Common English Words

click on the link

Saturday, January 22

Rhetorical Strategies for the TOEFL iBT

A carpenter uses a hammer to build a house. A painter uses a brush to paint a portrait. Speakers and writers use rhetorical strategies to develop, support and analyze fact-based and opinion-based arguments. What is the TOEFL iBT? It's all arguments. Why all arguments? Because argument development and analysis is the foundation of the English-speaking educational system. That means to get a high TOEFL iBT score you must know basic argument development. Start to learn about argument development by learning these basic eight rhetorical strategies. You will use these eight rhetorical strategies for all four sections of the TOEFL iBT.

1. NARRATION: (Chronology)        

She got up at seven. After that she had breakfast, then caught the nine o’clock train downtown.

2. DESCRIPTION: (Person or Place)

His room was tiny, his faded green plant dying, his desk cluttered with empty cups and late assignments.
3. ILLUSTRATION: (Giving Examples)

Google is just one of many search engines.
4. COMPARE/CONTRAST: (Similarities/Differences)

Mary tried the apple pie and decided the cherry pie was sweeter.
5. CAUSE/EFFECT: (Action + Result)

Bill studied hard and passed the exam.

6. CLASSIFICATION: (Dividing into groups)
There are three kinds of wine: red, white, and rose.

7. DEFINITION: (Dictionary Style)
A good student does his homework.

8. PROCESS: (Putting Steps in Order)
Writing consists of three steps: prewriting, writing, and revising.

Remember: To get high TOEFL score, you must know these eight rhetorical strategies. Rhetorical strategies are tools speakers and writers use to support and develop fact-based and opinion-based arguments. What is the TOEFL iBT? All fact-based and opinion-based arguments.

The Pro


and effect...

© Bruce Stirling 2011

TOEFL Pay Sites - Buyer Beware

Google TOEFL and you'll get a lot of TOEFL info. The free stuff is great. But what about pay sites? How do you know which TOEFL pay sites are good, which are pulling stuff from standardized TOEFL texts, and which are set up to rip you off? 

Here's how. Do a test. Before you sign up for a TOEFL pay site, ask a scoring question, for example: "Dear TOEFL Station. Before I sign up, I have a question. What scoring strategy can I use to increase my integrated essay score from 4.0 to 5.0?" Or, "What scoring strategy can I apply to increase a 3.5 speaking task three score to a 4.5?" 

Remember: TOEFL is all about scoring. That means the answer you get back should be scoring based. If not, buyer beware. Go for it. Ask away. Why not? It's your money - and your future.

 This car costs $4.4 million dollars.
Do you agree or disagree?

Friday, January 21

Support Our Iranian Friends

How to Score the TOEFL iBT

How does ETS (Educational Testing Service) calculate your TOEFL iBT score? It's really easy. There are four sections on the TOEFL iBT: reading, listening, speaking, writing. Each section is worth 30 total points for a total score of 120.

Let's say Angela took the TOEFL iBT. These are her section scores.

Reading            25/30
Listening          25/30
Speaking          30/30
Writing            25/30  +

Final Score      105 / 120

As you can see, Angela did very well.

The Pro

Speaking and Writing Kindle a bestseller!

as of 1/21/11

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #18,421 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

The Pro