Sunday, November 18

Another happy test taker using my book

5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful and sure strategies to develop your writing and speaking skills.November 17, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I have been reviewing for TOEFL exam. I already used the ETS review book, which is also very useful in getting general tips and ideas on specific parts of the test, but I am using this one to develop my speaking and writing skills. The materials presented in this book are very specific and strategical in teaching students on how to coherently and proficiently demonstrate constructive tasks in the TOEFL test. Argument mapping, which was presented in this book, is very helpful for these tasks. This book will teach you two major things that relate specifically to writing and speaking parts of TOEFL: how to present your argument with automaticity, coherence and efficiency; and how to analyze and rate your essay or speech which should demonstrate OPDUL=C, a guide which will assist you to significantly raise your speaking and writing scores as you learn how to think and analyze like an ETS rater. What is "OPDUL=C"? That, you will find out, as you study this highly recommended book for TOEFL (writing and speaking) review.

Thursday, November 15

A Common Speaking Problem

When you teach TOEFL for a long time, like I have, you begin to see patterns, things repeating from one TOEFL class to the next, semester to semester, year to year. As a TOEFL instructor and author, my job is to identify repeating problems and offer strategies aimed at resolving those problems for maximum scoring.

A repeating problem specific to the speaking tasks is a lack of topic development. Lack of topic development is, without a doubt, the number one reason why test-takers get low speaking scores. Organizing ideas is not a problem; managing the clock is not a problem; controlling nerves (after practicing) is not a problem. The problem is, like I said, a lack of topic development. This is true for all six speaking tasks.

Why is a lack of topic development the most common speaking problem I've seen (and continue to see) in the TOEFL classroom? Good question. Let's focus on  speaking tasks one and two.
                                       
Speaking tasks one and two are independent tasks. For these opinion-based tasks, you must talk about yourself. Easy, right? Right. Yet problems persist. Instead of talking about themselves, my students talk in generalities. This is exemplified by the use of the plural "they," such as:

People like to exercise. They like to run. They like to do yoga. Because of this, they are healthy and they are happy.

Great. Fantastic. But who are "they"? Your parents, your friends? As you can see, this example lacks specific details. Why? Because the test-taker is not speaking subjectively thus not answering the prompt as best they could. Remember: For speaking tasks one and two, speak subjectively. Talk about yourself. Talk about your high school, your dog, your cat, your uncle Chuck working in Siberia. Why? Because you are using your active vocabulary (see active v. passive vocabs), for example:

Hi, my name is Lilliana. I’m an architect from Buenos Aries, Argentina. Last year, I graduated from university. Now, I’m working for an architect in Barcelona, Spain. I have been so busy. We just finished a penthouse with a roof-top pool. Next, we will work on redesigning a park to make it eco-friendly. I love my job. It’s like a dream come true. Next year, I will return to Argentina and start my own business.

Notice how Lilliana is speaking about herself using the first-person singular (I am…I graduated…I have been…I will return…). Because Lilliana is speaking subjectively, she is confident about what she is saying. She is confident because when she talks about herself, she makes fewer language use mistakes even when using idioms (“It’s like a dream come true!”). Also, note the details. Details = topic development = a higher score = Harvard!

Remember: The difference between a high speaking score and a low score is details, or a lack thereof.
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"What are the qualities of a good neighbor?"


© Bruce Stirling 2010-11

Saturday, October 6

Compare and Contrast - TOEFL Independent Essay


Below is an example of a TOEFL independent essay. A TOEFL independent essay is an opinion-based essay. For this task, you have 30-minutes to state your opinion, then support it with examples.
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Prompt: What will your friend like and not like about the place you call home? Use reasons and examples to develop your argument.

What will my friend like and not like when visiting the place I call home, New Delhi, India? Personally speaking, I contend that my friend will like the food however he will not be crazy about the summer temperatures    or the crowds.

My friend will like the delicious food in New Delhi. When I am hungry, I    go to Sheshraj’s, the best restaurant in New Delhi. The prices are very reasonable and you get a lot of food. The lamb curry is excellent as is the aloo gobi. For a good meal, my friend can spend maybe one American dollar. Eating at Sheshraj’s will definitely give my friend a real New Delhi experience that is both affordable and delicious.
                                      
However, my friend will not like summer in New Delhi. The temperature can reach 120F plus the humidity is high as well. This makes New Delhi uncomfortable in the summer. Unlike America, air conditioning is not found everywhere in New Delhi. This is most evident on the trains and buses. With the high temperatures and the high humidity, this can make traveling difficult. Because of these factors, my friend may want to avoid visiting New Delhi in the summer.

As mentioned, New Delhi is crowded. My friend might not like this  because he comes from a small town in Connecticut, so he does not feel the pressure of big city life. Also, he does not see any poverty because Connecticut is wealthy unlike parts of New Delhi which are extremely poor. This might be a big shock for my friend since he is not used to such cultural extremes.

As illustrated, there are many reasons why my friend will like and won’t like New Delhi. However, this should not stop him from visiting. I guarantee he will have a wonderful time.

Words: 300

Score: 5/5

Remember: A TOEFL independent essay should be approximately 300 words.

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Want to learn how to write a high-scoring TOEFL independent essay just like this one? It's all in my book: Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide.




Sunday, September 23

Preference Essay - TOEFL example


Below is an example of a TOEFL independent essay. A TOEFL independent essay is an opinion-based essay. For this task, you have 30-minutes to state your opinion, then support it with examples.

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Prompt: Do you prefer a laptop computer or a desktop computer? Use reasons and examples to support your argument.
                               
Today, people have a big choice between laptop computers and desktop computers. So which do I prefer? Personally, I prefer a laptop because a laptop is great for taking notes in class, portable and affordable.
        
A laptop is great for taking notes in class. For example, I’m a university student and I need a laptop for my classes. If I didn’t have a laptop, I’d have to take notes by hand, and that would be really slow. Also, my handwriting is really bad, but with my laptop I can quickly take notes. This saves me a lot of time. I couldn’t take notes with a desktop. It is too big and not made for carrying. As you can see, a laptop is definitely best for taking notes in class.

Also, a laptop is portable. For example, I can take my laptop anywhere to study. This is good because sometimes my roommate plays really loud music. This drives me nuts. When he plays his music, I can’t do any homework, so I go the library or Starbucks. There I can do my homework and connect to the internet with Wi-Fi. Because my laptop is portable, I can do these things. Best of all, I don’t have to listen to my roommate’s music.

In addition, a laptop is affordable. For example, a few years ago laptops, like my Sony Vaio, were very expensive but now you can get a really fast laptop with lots of memory for cheaper than a desktop. This is good because I can save money. With this money, I can buy other school things like books.

In the final analysis, I definitely prefer a laptop because it is great for taking notes in class, portable and affordable. What more do I need?

Words: 294           Score: 5/5


Remember: A TOEFL independent essay should be approximately 300 words.

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Do you want to learn how to write a high-scoring TOEFL independent essay just like this one? It's all in my book: Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide.




Wednesday, September 19


Hi, my name is Bruce Stirling -

Many ask me how my TOEFL book, Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT, is different from the competition. Simple. Competing texts teach dozens of different strategies. My book teaches you one. That's right. One strategy. With it, you can answer all TOEFL tasks. As a result, you spend less time learning strategies and more time practicing. More practice means a higher score. What do test-takers want? A high TOEFL score. Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT delivers using test-level tasks proven successful on the TOEFL iBT for over five years.

Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide. It will change your life.


Agree-Disagree Essay - TOEFL example


Below is an example of a TOEFL independent essay. A TOEFL independent essay is an opinion-based essay. For this task, you state your opinion, then support it with examples.
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Prompt: We needs zoos. Do you agree or disagree? Use reasons and examples to support your argument.

Do we or don’t we need zoos? Personally, I agree with the statement. I think that we need zoos. We need zoos because they are educational, they are fun for families and they protect endangered animals.

Zoos are educational. For example, when I was 12, my teacher took us to the zoo in Berlin. I had never seen wild animals before. I had just read about them in books and seen them on the TV. But seeing them in real life was amazing, especially the lions. On TV, they looked so small, but seeing them alive they were really big. By going to the zoo, I definitely saw things in a whole new light.

Zoos are also fun for families. For example, I have a family and we always go to the zoo every summer. My wife makes a picnic and we spend all day there. My kids love taking pictures and learning all about the animals, especially the gorillas. Being outside is good for my children. Best of all, they can leave the internet and the TV at home.

Finally, zoos protect endangered animals. For example, I saw two pandas  in the Washington DC zoo last year and they had a baby. If there were no zoos, the pandas would disappear because we are taking their land away. However, in a zoo the pandas are safe. It is not perfect, but without zoos there might not be any pandas left.

For those reasons, I believe that we need zoos because they are educational, they are fun for families and they protect endangered animals. If you want to have fun and learn something new, you should go to a zoo.

Words: 280          Score: 5/5

Remember: A TOEFL independent essay should be approximately 300 words.

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Click here for an agree-disagree essay.

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Do you want to learn how to write a high-scoring TOEFL independent essay just like this one? It's all in my book: Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide.





Saturday, September 15

Why you should buy Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide


Many ask how me how my TOEFL book, Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT, is different from the competition. Simple. Competing texts teach dozens of different strategies. My book teaches you one. That's right. One strategy. With it, you can answer all TOEFL tasks. As a result, you spend less time learning strategies and more time practicing. More practice means a higher score. What do test-takers want? A high TOEFL score. Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT delivers using test-level tasks proven successful on the TOEFL iBT for over five years.

Scoring Strategies for the TOEFL iBT A Complete Guide. It will change your life.


Thursday, September 13

TOEFL Phone Apps

My TOEFL books will be available as phone apps in the fall of 2012.

BenchPrep is the publisher. Check out their site below. 

BenchPrep: App developer and publisher

Saturday, September 8

Thursday, August 23

Essay with 15 mistakes

Below is the essay with the 15 mistakes corrected - everyone missed interest/internet in paragraph two, line 4.

Internet Piracy - With Mistakes Corrected

It happens every second of every day all over the world. One click and that new song—the one you didn't pay for—is on your iPod. You may think it’s legal. After all, downloading music is fast and easy, right? Think again. It goes without saying that downloading music off the web without paying for it is a cime. (4)

I know. I know. Some will argue that “It’s my democratic right to download music without paying for it." Nonsense. The internet might have started out with the intention of being a democracy but believe me, those days are long gone. The internet these days is about two things: information and money. Big money. One of the biggest money makers on the web is music, and music is protected by law. If you download U2’s latest album, let’s say, and you don’t pay for it, then you are breaking the copyright law that says U2 owns that music. It is their property and you just stole it. If you want to listen to U2, you’ve got to buy it, no ifs, ands or buts. (5)

Also, the artist has a legal right to get paid for his or her work no matter how or where it is downloaded. How would you like it if somebody were stealing your music? This is exactly what Napster was doing. Napster was the first peer-to-peer music sharing site. Musicians, however, took Napster to court for not paying royalties, money owed each time a song was downloaded via Napster. Napster argued that it was just helping friends share music. The courts disagreed. Napster paid a big fine and is now a pay site. (2)

Moreover, illegally downloading music off the web is not a privacy issue. If you break the law by illegally downloading music, you are a criminal. I’m sorry, but you can't have it both ways. You can’t break the law and hide behind the privacy issue. The law is clear. Criminals have no right to privacy. Period. (2)

It bears repeating that downloading music without paying for it is a crime no matter what anyone says about “the freedom of cyberspace. Just because downloading music is fast and easy doesn’t mean you have the right to steal it. (2)





Friday, July 27

What is an idiom?


Below is a sample from the book I am writing - Business Idioms in America

Okay, so what is an idiom?
                                
An idiom is a comparison. Let me explain. Look at the following examples.

                        1. Jack is as hungry as a wolf.       
                        2. Jack eats like a wolf.

                        3. Hey, wolfman! How are you? Long time, no see!
                        4. Jack's an animal. The guy's crazy.

In examples 1 and 2, I am comparing Jack to a wolf. A wolf is a wild animal and when hungry, watch out! When I say, "Jack is as hungry as a wolf," I am speaking (writing) figuratively. Is my friend Jack a real (literal) wolf? No. Instead, I am figuratively (idiomatically) comparing him to a wolf to create a picture in your mind. As you can see, an idiom is a comparison that paints a figurative (descriptive) picture using words.                                                                                                         
In examples 3 and 4, I am still idiomatically comparing Jack to an animal. However, I am not using the comparatives "like" or "as." This kind of idiomatic comparison (not using like or as) is called an indirect comparison or a metaphor (met-ah-for). A metaphor is an implied (suggested) comparison. Notice how in examples 1 and 2, I do use "like" and "as." This kind of idiomatic comparison is called a direct comparison or a simile (sim-ah-lee).

Remember: An idiom is either a metaphor or a simile.

รจ How do you know if what you are reading, saying or hearing is an idiom or not? Look for the comparison. If there is a comparison (a simile or a metaphor), then it is an idiom. If there is no comparison (no simile or metaphor), it is not an idiom. If it sounds like an idiom, but there is no comparison, it is probably a common expression, a prepositional phrase, a phrasal verb, or slang.

And that, in a nutshell, is the skinny on idioms. It's time to get the show on the road.

Bruce Stirling



Monday, July 23

Wednesday, July 18

My book reviewed by a Happy test-taker!

July 17, 2012

Helped me get a high score! 
Amazon Verified Purchase
This review is for:
i love this book! it helped me score 28/30 for both writing and speaking. it will give you tips on how to answer better. i used the OPDUL=C especially on the speaking section. and it made me answer the questions easier and faster since i have a guide on how i should answer it. i made sure i have an intro, at least 2 examples with details and a conclusion. it's also very helpful when you're trying to map out the conversation and/or lectures. i also liked how they showed samples on how you can improve the paragraphs on the writing section. i find it hard to write about the part where there's a lecture and a reading combined, and the techniques the book gave plus sample paragraphs helped me get thru it! i wasn't able to use most of the techniques, but i made sure i used the OPDUL=C and i am so satisfied with my scores! 




Tuesday, July 10

Rhetorical Strategies You Must Know for TOEFL

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

Cause...


and effect...



© Bruce Stirling 2011

Saturday, June 30

Opinions - What you need to know!


If you are preparing for the TOEFL test, you know that your independent essay needs a thesis. A thesis is a fancy word for opinion. Your opinion is the starting point of your argument (essay).

Okay, so you write an independent essay and you think you've got a opinion. Great. But how do you know if your opinion is really an opinion or not without guessing? In other words, how can you give the TOEFL writing raters what they are trained to look for? By following these rules when writing an opinion.

1) an opinion is arguable
2) an opinion is supportable
3) an opinion is never a question
4) an opinion has a topic and a controlling idea
5) an opinion is not a sentence fragment
6) an opinion focuses on one topic
7) an opinion does not announce what you will talk about. 

Look at some examples.

1) Brazil: A great soccer team.

Not an opinion. It is a sentence fragment. It is missing the verb "is".

2) Manhattan is a big city.

Not an opinion. This is a fact thus not arguable.

3) Taking the bus is cheap and I can do my homework on it.

Not an opinion. There are two topics: the bus and homework. This demonstrates a lack of topical unity and a lack of coherence.

4) Personally, I believe that the TOEFL iBT is harder than IELTS.

Opinion. It is arguable, supportable, not a question, has a topic (TOEFL iBT) and a controlling idea (harder than IELTS), is not a sentence fragment, focuses on one topic, and does not announce what the writer will argue. 

Remember: The writing raters will look at your opinion first. Make sure your opinion is coherent (an opinion) by testing it against the checklist.

Want to learn more basic and advanced opinion strategies? It's all in Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT.




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Saturday, June 23

Taking notes - help!

Taking notes is a challenge for many TOEFL takers. Why? Because there is so much information, especially in the listening section, and in the lecture half of the integrated essay, and for speaking tasks 5 and 6.

"Is that fair?" my TOEFL students ask.

Yes. Remember: It's all part of the TOEFL game. TOEFL fills your plate with spaghetti and rice and beans and salad and gyros and empanadas and kebobs and couscous and Big Macs and feijoada and sushi and falafels and baba ghanouj (I love it!) and aloo gobi and tempeh and borscht, then says, "Eat!" What happens? You start eating and soon realize, "This is too much, too fast. Stop!"

Unfortunately, you cannot stop. You must continue to listen and take notes even as the food keeps piling up on your plate. In other words, TOEFL is forcing you take notes as quickly as possible. Why? Because TOEFL is testing your automaticity specific to note taking. What is automaticity? Automaticity means your ability to think automatically without stopping to translate or think. That's right. No thinking. For example, I say, "Yo, Pete. What did you have for breakfast?"

Pete: "Red Bull and Cheerios."

Great. Very fast. Very natural. Very automatic.

Then I say, "Hey, Joe. S'up? What did you have for dinner last night?"

Joe: "Ah...Ah...Stuff. You know...Ah...What was the question?"

As you can see, Joe had to think. And think. And think. Did he demonstrate automaticity? Nope.

It's the same with note taking. The faster you take notes (greater automaticity), the more information you will have, the more you will answer questions correctly. The result? Good notes = higher scores.

So is there a strategy for note taking? Yes. The key to taking good notes is anticipating where important information is located in the lecture, discussion, etc. How can you anticipate important information in a lecture, etc.? By understanding basic argument development. As you know, the TOEFL iBT is all arguments. By understanding argument structure, you will be able to anticipate and identify information (both general and specific) that will be tested. If you do not understand argument structure, you will end up trying to write everything down, word-for-word. This will result in notes you can't read, a tired hand, and the need to scream. I know. I see this all the time.

Want to know more note-taking strategies? It's all in the book.


The Pro

The Best TOEFL Books












Thursday, June 7

TOEFL Test-Taker Satisfaction Survey


What could ETS do to improve your overall satisfaction with the entire process surrounding the (TOEFL) test?

Read my response below.

ETS should provide a detailed analysis of each test-section score.

As it stands, the summary analysis of each test-section score on the official TOEFL iBT score sheet is vague to the point of meaningless, even for a native speaker like myself. Test-takers do not want holistic generalities explaining each test-section score; they want the nuts-and-bolts as to why they scored high or low. This is particularly true of low-scoring test-takers. A low-scoring test-taker wants to know where and why he/she lost points. In short, he/she wants an analytical breakdown of each test-section score not a holistic one. I hear this complaint all the time. 

For the cost of the test ($175.00, which is sure to go up), each test-taker should get an analytical breakdown of each test-section score. In short, the test-taker is a paying customer who should get a full accounting of the product (test score) he/she purchased. This is especially true for speaking and writing scores; for example, ETS should explain in detail why I got a 29/30 writing score; more specifically, ETS should tell me where and why I lost one point. Since ETS uses a holistic rating system when scoring constructive tasks, the loss of one writing point reflects not a holistic scoring system but an analytical one. In short, I am left with more questions than answers. The solution is to call ETS and waste time and energy trying to hunt down the rater and the reason why I lost a point. I am a paying customer. I have a right to know. A detailed score report would, however, explain this apparent incongruity in ETS's rating system specific to my writing score and, more importantly, satisfy this customer's right to know.

Further, each speaking and writing rater's score should be accounted for on the test-taker's official score sheet, and averaged out accordingly for a final section score. In other words, ETS needs to lay it all on the table. If there is a discrepancy among rater scores concerning a speaking/writing score, the test-taker, as a paying customer, has a right to a full accounting of the scoring process. This process is not happening.

Test-takers are buying an expensive product: a TOEFL iBT test score. ETS, as the product provider, is obligated to provide any and all information concerning its product to its paying customers. That means providing an official score sheet that gives a complete score breakdown of each test section score as described above. By doing so, ETS will improve customer satisfaction tenfold.


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