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
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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.

"What are the qualities of a good neighbor?"

© Bruce Stirling 2010-11