Fun Common Idioms on TOEFL Listening

 

Have you ever let the cat out of the bag? You have if you’ve ever told someone a secret. Just picture a closed bag holding a secret and a cat jumps out telling that secret.

One way to help you master common idioms on TOEFL is to visualize the idiom and link it to the meaning so it stays in your memory.

Idiomatic expressions are often heard in conversations on the listening section. Yet, if you don’t know what the idioms mean, you may be lost and answer incorrectly, leading to a lower score. To score higher, get to know common idioms that have surfaced on previous TOEFL.

Here are five common TOEFL idioms to practice their meanings.

Let the cat out of the bag                       to tell a secret

 

Once in a blue moon                     (something that happens) rarely

 

 

 

Be on the fence                              undecided; to have not formed an opinion yet

 

 

Raining cats and dogs                   Raining hard, a downpour

 

 

 

 Take a rain check                            Postpone a plan

 

 

Examples:

Let’s examine each of these five idioms in a sentence to grasp how each may be used in context.

  1. I’m in the library every night, so I only go to a party off campus once in a blue moon.
  2. The professor let the cat out of the bag about exactly what was coming up on the final exam.
  3. During the campaign, I was on the fence which student candidate served others better.
  4. It was raining cats and dogs, so I couldn’t walk around campus without an umbrella.
  5. I studied late, so I took a raincheck on going out to the mixer.

Now, it’s your turn. Read the following sentences, and select the correct idiom to insert in context.

  • He’d known he was taking a risk when he ___________________________.
  • During the storm, some of the plazas around campus became rivers of water since it was _____________________.
  • I’ll ___________________________ on that meetup since I plan to study until midnight.
  • The university put on a performance _______________________________.
  • After she’d listened to both sides of the argument at the campus debate, she was still_________________ .

Answers:

let the cat out of the bag, raining cats and dogs, take a rain check, once in a blue moon, on the fence

The next step in practice is to try out these idioms speaking to colleagues, so that you use them correctly before the exam.

Paraphrase Power on TOEFL Writing

 

A super common issue on the TOEFL integrated writing section is copying words from the text.

Why is this a bad idea?

The poor habit of copying—any kind of copying, such as a few groups of words or just one sentence will hurt your writing score. Sometimes, you may feel like it’s time-consuming or it poses a risk from potential incorrect wording to write your own words in a paraphrase. However, coming up with a paraphrase from the original source in which you may have improper wording is not going to hurt your score as much as copying.

3 Techniques to Rephrase

Let’s go in-depth how to restate the original source sentence with these techniques:        1) changing word order (moving words or phrases around in the sentence)                            2) modifying word forms (changing a noun to a verb or vice versa)                                              3) finding a synonym (adjusting a word/phrase to something similar)

Sample

Original sentence from text:

Humpback whales migrate long distances.

Techniques:

  1. Changing word order:

Choose one or two words to move to a different place in the sentence, and then make sure the sentence keeps the same meaning. Hint: you may need to add a verb.

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales go long distances to migrate.

Notice the three words moved in changing word order were these: migrate long distances.

In this case, moving the verb migrate and placing that idea at the end of the sentence as an infinitive to migrate necessitates adding a new verb go to be grammatically correct.

  1. Changing word form:

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales go long distances for migration.

In this case, moving the verb migrate and placing that concept at the end as a gerund (-ing form) following a preposition (for) in for migration (a prepositional phrase) necessitates adding a new verb, go.

In these techniques of changing the order of the words or modifying word form, the verb form of migrate was changed using the root base “migrat” converting first, into an infinitive (to + verb), and next, into a gerund (-ing) following a preposition in the phrase.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you’ll need to keep the same meaning as the original.

  1. Changing a word to a synonym or words to synonyms:

Paraphrase:

Humpback whales migrate a far distance.

  • The original word long was replaced with the synonym,
  • The original plural word “distances” was adjusted to singular form distance, dropping the plural -s at the end of the word.

With these two minor word changes, one to a similar word, and another to a plural/singular change, a quick proper rephrase has been created.

Now, you try to paraphrase from another phrase below. Use techniques #1, #2, or #3 above.

Original phrase:

In the case of the humpback whales, we may have found the answer: they may be navigating by the stars, much as early human sailors did.

Practice your paraphrasing.

 

 

OK, let’s do a comparison. We can analyze a paraphrased sample to compare to your practice written response.

Possible paraphrase:

We might have discovered a reason, for in the case of these whales, they used stars to navigate just like early sailors.

Which techniques were used to rephrase in the sentence above? Can you point out technique 1, 2, or 3?

 

Word order                       in the case of whales was moved from the beginning to the middle

Word (verb) form          navigating changed to navigate using the root “navigat” from                                                              an -ing verb ending to an infinitive with to + verb.

Word to synonym         found replaced by discovered; may altered to might

Yes, speed and accuracy are essential in paraphrasing! First, you don’t want to waste time thinking too much when writing since you’ll be in a time crunch. Second, you’ll need to have a similar meaning to the original source. That’s why practicing your rephrasing is valuable to improve your skill. With time using any of these techniques, you’ll be faster and more accurate. If you feel like you are rephrasing too slowly, one of the fastest ways to change the word form or synonym quickly is to look at the main verb or any verb form in the original and adjust the main verb or other verb forms. Let’s take a closer look at how this works quickly.

Original:

Humpback whales seem to be intelligent enough to use stars to navigate by.  

Try your hand at paraphrasing the above sentence by adjusting verbs or verb forms.

Your paraphrase practice:

 

Sample Paraphrases:

Humpback whales are intelligent enough using stars for navigation.

Humpback whales are intelligent enough navigating by stars.

 

If you still find it a challenge to speedily change a verb, then change an adjective or a noun.

Alternative Paraphrase:

Humpback whales seem to be smart enough to use constellations to navigate by.

 

After you’re familiar practicing these techniques to paraphrase better and faster, you may be considering how does re-phrasing influence your integrated writing task result. Be confident that proper paraphrasing does positively impact your score…just as copying lowers it.

When you are short on time, remember that your paraphrase does not have to be perfect like the original writing in the passage, which was written by a professional.

To sum up, if you make it a habit to practice paraphrasing words or phrases from the original text, it will lead to better habits of faster thinking and writing in the language. In both tasks of the writing section, it’s important that you are comfortable writing your own words. In an upcoming post, we’ll analyze how to paraphrase the prompt properly in the independent task.

Finally, if you stay calm and focused, your paraphrasing will improve with practice. Before you know it, you’ll ace your paraphrasing technique on TOEFL writing and in professional business interactions.

How to Learn English Effectively

Slide1

So, you need to acquire proficient English Level 7 and become more fluent to attend a university program in the United States or Europe. You’ve been studying intensively for a year or two, but you do not seem to improve in great strides. How do you get from your present English level to the level where you need to be to excel in all academic skills? Your desire is to make leaps and bounds in the language more quickly, so you can reach your next goals. What are you doing that is not as effective as it could be in your study?

Language Learning Strategy

  • Yes, practice does make perfect, but having patience is also useful in learning English or any language.
  • If you wish to learn and recall better, you need to set and outline the challenges and strengths that match where you are at, highlight the level of where you want to get to, and adjust the way you are learning and acquiring language through your approach to tasks to meet your goal.

Consider creating your own language learning strategies in order to target which technique will help you develop each academic task (a task-based strategy) you need to improve on. After you have a strategy set for each skill, then you need a way to practice those strategies in every day practice. Once you implement the daily pattern of practicing English with your set techniques, you will take note of efficient improvement. Then, use internet technology, create a proper study environment (such as an ideal location, atmosphere, group versus individual study, and minimal distractions,) and make your study tasks interesting so that you will remember most of what you acquire in your sessions. If, on the other hand, you study each day doing some exercises, but you do not have a set technique to approach each academic skill, your study of the language will be a mess, and it is likely that you will remain at the same level without increasing your advancement at the speed you would like. Studying daily with strategies in mind will develop your skills in English because the repetitive habit will become faster and shape the manner in which you learn.

To specifically prepare for skills which are tested on standardized tests such as TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, GMAT, and GRE to target your abilities to improve test-taking, reading, listening, speaking, writing, note taking, analyzing, critical thinking, integrating, synthesizing, grammar, and vocabulary.

When you make the web your classroom, you have a broad base to develop your own unique approach which you are comfortable with to learn English successfully.

Top 5 Tips to Help Improve Your English

Set concrete goals high

Set concrete goals high

 

  1. Establish short term and long term goals why you are learning English.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the reasons I want to learn English?
  • What will I do with the language?
  • Do you need to travel abroad or to the United States?
  • Do you plan to attend graduate school?
  • Do you want to speak with your friends who are English-speakers?
  • Do you want to use English in running a business?

Self-Reflection:

  • Whatever your reasons, consider why learning English is most important to you.
  • Write down your goals.
  • Make a chart that you can refer to daily to inspire you to move forward.
  • Consider how long you will need to study.
  • What exact skills do you need to improve in the language?
  • How will you get from point A (where you are now) to point B (your destination i.e. your short term or long term goal)?
  • How will you know when you are able to meet your goal?
  • What is going to happen when you reach your objective(s)?

 

  1. Try a new strategy

How long have you been studying test-taking in English? 1-2 years? If you feel your language level has not continued to improve week by week, try a new technique. For instance, if you are studying from a book, try something different. At times, if you feel stagnant, making a change in the manner in which you learn will help to improve your language skills. Doubtless, change will help you grow.

  • Listen to English podcasts
  • Listen only to English music on your phone when you are relaxing
  • Get a native English coach
  • Enroll in an English course online
  • Watch English TV
  • Watch (international) news only in English
  • Meet a native speaker online to do a language exchange by the web
  • Meet an English-speaking colleague/friend
  • Join an English study group
  • Join a college course online that is in English

 

  1. Never give up. Learning a language requires practice. Take runners, for example, who do not run a marathon without training; they put in months or more of training. If you keep trying, and if you continue to practice English, you can master academic skills in reading, listening, speaking, writing, and vocabulary. To be inspired, think of yourself in a marathon. What you can do each day to get you to reach your goal .Keep telling yourself you will get there to a major accomplishment with these minor achievements. The days or moments you feel frustrated while you are learning, remember not to give up hope. Believe in yourself and your abilities. If you keep putting in extra effort into language learning, the next study day you will feel more comfortable, confident, and fluent. When you feel down, think about the last thing you learned, and pat yourself on the back for having learned that. Encourage yourself to keep going forward.

 

  1. Be positive about the learning process. Mastering English does not happen overnight, so be patient with yourself. Avoid putting yourself down with negative thoughts. If you hear yourself in your head saying, “I’ll never be fluent in English,” immediately switch those negative words to positive encouragement. Tell yourself, instead, “Even though it’s a new language, if I keep studying, I’ll learn more each day” or “Though a lot of new vocabulary is challenging, I can accomplish learning more if I keep studying day by day.” Stay positive in your mind, because in this way you will learn English more quickly.

 

  1. Harbor no fear about making minor errors in English. In fact, being fearful of making mistakes can stop you from learning quickly. If you sometimes avoid speaking with native speakers because you lack confidence, you can change your attitude to be more confident. Stop being fearful of producing mistakes since it is natural to make errors when using another language. When people speak other languages, mistakes arise. You will only get better in another language the more you practice it and the more confidence you feel about your abilities.

 

If you like this post, SUBSCRIBE to my email list to get helpful updates for mastering advanced English.

 

Why Am I Not Improving English?

Woman Writing in Daily Planner

Avoid translating

  1. You are translating from your native language into English. That’s a big “no-no.” Avoid translating from your first language into English. You can speed up your progress in English if you simply focus on listening to English and catch the words you understand. Use the context to guess understanding. For instance, if someone says, “There will be a big shin dig this Friday night.” Imagine you don’t know the word shin dig. Don’t translate it. Just imagine what those words could mean in terms of happening on Friday night: a feast, a reception, a get together, a dance, or a dinner party.

 

  1. You are not practicing enough English speaking with a native. Dedicate enough study time to make advancements. Don’t expect to study English only a half hour per week and improve rapidly. Intensive language learning of a few set hours every weekday can expand your progress. When you do have a set study session in-person with a native speaker, don’t forget to speak. Sometimes, when you are conversing with someone in another language, it’s easy to just listen, but you won’t learn English faster if you don’t practice participating more in the conversation. So, the more you converse, the more you will learn to communicate better in English. If you spoke English just one time today, next time or tomorrow, try to speak two times. Of course, the more often you practice speaking, you can improve your confidence and your fluency in the language.

 

  1. You lack confidence in your English abilities. How can you improve in the language if you do not believe in yourself? Be confident that you are learning, and you will acquire more language skills day by day. Avoid saying, “Sorry,” if you don’t feel confident using English fluently yet with a native speaker. If you come across a new word/phrase/express, you can always ask a native speaker, “What does (~phrase) mean?” Just because you may not be familiar with idiomatic expressions or advanced vocabulary, you don’t need to apologize if you are not at the highest level. Remember that you are trying. Give yourself a break because you are learning a language. Keep trying your best, be confident that you will learn more and more. No doubt, you will learn more vocabulary as you progress to a higher level.

 

  1. You are not listening to a sufficient amount of English daily. Perhaps you do not understand enough of what you listen to. Let’s say that you comprehend only about 65%. This is particularly a concern if you live in a foreign country (a non-English speaking place) and do not have access to listening to speakers of English face-to-face. Solution: get a native trainer online or in-person, or listen to English on the web. Practice listening to English every day to train your ears to focus on words you already know in English and listen for word chunks, phrases, which you may be familiar with to comprehend the context. Avoid listening just for grammar. You won’t be able to attain fluency by picking apart a conversation through grammar points. Stop trying to catch single words. Neither will you be capable of advanced fluency if you are concentrating only on individual words in a dialogue. You need to listen for how phrases are grouped together in a pattern. You can listen to music, television, or movies to gain more fluency and understanding. Tell your ears they must listen to English phrases, understand English in context, and capture the bigger picture, the overall meaning.

 

  1. You forgot what you already studied in previous lessons. If you are not remembering your intake, then taking notes on what you learned during your study sessions will help you review and keep the knowledge fresh. For example, keep an English notebook for acquiring more information. In your journal (digital or paper,) you can take note of phrases that are new that you can learn. Then, try to use these new groups of words if you think of it in context. If you write down only the vocabulary word, you may not understand in the future how to use it in context, so try to catch an entire phrase. Later, when you review your notebook, the whole phrase will serve as a reminder of the meaning in context. Consequently, it will be much easier to recall. Furthermore, it will be a base for you to move up to the next level.

If you like this post, SUBSCRIBE to my email list to get helpful updates for mastering advanced English.

Improve English to Score High on TOEFL

Success and Failure Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Have you picked your brains about how to rapidly advance your language progress to improve your TOEFL score?  Here are a few techniques to help get you achieve your objectives.

First, stay mentally motivated. You need to put in the time to study to improve. You can give yourself constant encouragement by dwelling on all of the reasons that you want to attain your target score. If you make a list of those reasons, you can post them on the wall near your study desk so you can look at them daily to keep you focused on your goal. Having your reasons posted nearby will help you not procrastinate. Whenever you feel like you want to put off studying, look up at your list with your goals, and that reminder will help you stay on task. If you are able to study consistently without being distracted, you have a higher chance of keeping your motivation level high. Only you can drive yourself to the next level of commitment. Your list serves as a daily reminder.

Second, make time to study. You need to schedule enough time to practice each section and review your errors so that you can improve from your mistakes. Though you may have a balancing act of student, work, or family life to juggle, keep concentrating on your priorities of getting to your highest score. You need to arrange time and dedicate extra energy outside of your normal life activities to study test preparation so that your English will advance step by step. It is not only important to study new materials, but also to brush up on what you learned a few days previously, so that you can easily retain the information to use later on.

Third, think about learning positively. Do you have a good spot to study? Wherever you plan on having your study sessions, make sure that area is conducive to staying focused. Eliminate distractions. If you have a positive learning environment with a clean desk area, you will feel less stressed to get down to study. Sitting yourself in a quiet, clean space will help give you a positive mindset. In your study space, plan your time to accomplish certain activities. For instance, study for 25-30 minutes and then take a break for two minutes standing up and moving around to move your energy. You must not study more than one hour sitting at one time because the brain performs better when it has a little rest. If you are planning to sit down and study for three hours, a positive approach would not be to study straight through, but to take 3-5 short breaks within the overall time. Statistically, the research has proven that the brain focuses better in this way. You will be able to retain more information, and it will bring you more success in the long run.

Next, avoid anxiety and stress. If you tend to worry about negative thought patterns such as, “It’s difficult; I can’t do it.” Eliminate those ideas from your mind. Don’t be frustrated. Try to be patient and focus on your goals. Talk to yourself with positive words like, “I am learning more every day. I retain all the information that I study. I am good at English. I can achieve my goal with my daily studies.” If you are able to avoid stressing yourself out, you will be able to block out the negativities. Positive reactions to taking a test will result in calmness on the day of the test. You will have a mental advantage on the exam. When you feel overwhelmed, it is okay to just take a break. Get enough rest, and don’t forget to have fun. Keep yourself positive and the stress will melt away.

Lastly, find a balance in your life. Work-study balance is vital to keeping your brain calm so it functions well on the test day. You will be able to achieve success if you schedule in time to do fun things with friends and family. It’s not just about studying. To get your goal, you need to have a solid balance of academics and normal life so that the brain is stronger. Take time to eat well, exercise daily, and reflect on all the positive improvements you have made and all the skills you have advanced on.

Effective Note-taking for TOEFL Success

Taking notes is a dual skill (using the brain and the body) that is one of the most essential academic skills for successful learning at university. People need notes to remember important information which they can use later on. Of course it is challenging since it is mentally and physically demanding. Whether you are taking notes on a class material, a text, an article, a reading passage, or a presentation, video, podcast, audio, or lecture, you have to train your hand to physically move and take notes while your ears keep listening or your eyes move along the material. Essentially, you are training yourself to do two actions at the same time, thinking and moving your hand to transcribe or moving your fingers to type.

 

Can you remember back to a time when you mastered a physical skill? Think to when you were a child. Did you every play a sport that you got good at or play an instrument? Advancing at a sport or playing a musical instrument well did not happen in one day. You need to perfect these physical skills with practice. The same strategy works for note-taking activities. If you are able to practice taking improved notes on a day by day basis, you will become more confident, and eventually a master.

 

To accomplish taking good notes in another language is a complex feat since you are using another set of skills working in a non-native language. In most cases, there are those college students who type on a laptop what is spoken in class, and in recent studies in university classes it has been discovered that this type of note-taking is not necessarily developing critical thinking skills on the material since the fingers are simply typing what is being said. On the other hand, hand-written lecture notes has proven to be effective in cases where the writer is able to abbreviate concisely what is being said quickly by a lecturer without letting the pen or pencil movement distract from listening to the key points of the lecture content.

 

For taking notes on lectures, you can listen to videos, podcasts, English TV or movies, or audios to gain improvement and comfort on your note-taking speed, accuracy, and skill. Listen only once so that you simulate TOEFL. You will only be able to listen once on the day of the exam, so when you listen to a lecture just once, you force your ears into training your brain to listen and write at the same time. Use shorter lectures under 5:00 minutes for note-taking practice. If you choose to do longer listening to videos or lectures of over five minutes (let’s say a 30-minute Ted talk, for instance,) then simply listen for advancing your listening skills rather than taking notes.

To practice for the TOEFL exam, aim for listening an hour per day. You can listen to longer lectures during your commute, for example. Practice at least five minutes note-taking each day on short lectures or news clips. For successful notes, consider and concentrate on these steps:

 

  1. Which words are the best terms to write in your notes? (nouns—subjects or objects + verbs–actions) vs. What words should you avoid writing in your notes (prepositions, articles)?
  2. Which abbreviations are smart to use? (e.g. Btw, w/, o, wt./yd./in/gal univ., months, directions, co, corp, no., op, pop., pt., pl., sing.ie., inc. inst, dr, dist, div., aca, alt, assn, b. [born in])
  3. Which symbols help have faster notes in TOEFL? &, +, ß, à, X, %, $, #, @, <, >
  4. What’s another way to speed up accurate note-taking? Write no vowels in words or shorten words: e.g. universityàuni., peopleà p, studentsàss, studyà s, talkà t, schoolà schl, technologyàtch, informationànfo
  5. Listen (at the beginning) for what happened and who—what person that did the action (often the main purpose)
  6. Listen for key points that will support a description of what happened and who—steps… why (reason)
  7. Listen for details to support those points: where (place), how (in what way/manner), when (time, year, month, date, day), who (people involved), how much or how many
  8. After you listen and take notes during some TOEFL speaking tasks questions, consider the best way to organize your notes quickly and practice that pattern so you can talk easily from your notes.
  9. For other speaking TOEFL questions, build your confidence and comfort level by practicing note-taking.
  10. For the integrated writing task #1, practice note-taking to build speed and accuracy.

Note-taking can help you in all areas of your life. By becoming better at note-taking for TOEFL, you can succeed in improving your score. Once you get into college, you will be building on these skills to take notes well during classes and around campus for studies and professional advancement. Finally, polishing this skill, you will be able to apply this skill to life outside of your studies such as in your career.