The little library in my neighborhood got rid of its entire collection of English books… and replaced it with an entirely new collection.  What a strange occurrence.  I had to walk to the next city over to get a copy of the first book on today’s list.

Guns Germs and SteelAnyways, that book was Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” (available on Amazon, and in the Open Library).  This book attempts to explain why events happens in certain places on earth, but not on others. This means it deals a lot with what I’ve called here “early human history,” which happens to be a favorite topic of the people who write the reading section of the TOEFL. Actually, I suppose Diamond’s book is on the shelf of all of the ETS item writers. It truly is just page after page after page of “TOEFL style” stuff.  Even the reading level and vocabulary usage seem to be quite similar to the TOEFL.  The best part, though, is that the book presents arguments instead of just describing things.  Seriously, if you only buy one book mentioned in my columns, get this one.

Jerusalem by Colin ThubronNext, I read Colin Thubron’s “Jerusalem” (out of print now, but available in the Open Library)  I’ve mentioned a few of his other travel books here.  They are probably too challenging to be of use to TOEFL test-takers, but I like to mention them here as I’m slowly working my way through Thubron’s complete bibliography of travel books.  This one marks the end of Thubron’s trilogy of books on middle eastern locales.  If you are interested in the region, you might like the book.  Just be prepared to keep Wikipedia open to look up his references, as Thubron assumes his readers already have a well-rounded education.  

Finally, I read both of the June issues of Science News. A few short articles stood out as relevant to TOEFL test-takers.  They are:

Hey, would you believe that I’ve been writing this column for a whole year?  Don’t worry… I’m not going to stop anytime soon.  Keep checking in every month for the remaining 88 parts!

 

The TOEFL is a somewhat misunderstood test. There is a lot of incorrect information about it online, and in print. I suppose this is because most major American publishers have retreated from the world of TOEFL, and a lot of the online companies that emerged with the creation of the iBT in 2005 have let their products wither away. This means that online TOEFL prep is still a sort of “wild west” where myths and legends run wild!

With that said, here are the top six TOEFL myths that still drive me bonkers.

Myth One: There is a penalty for writing more than the suggested word count

Regular readers of this blog will be tired of me constantly ranting about this myth, so I will keep this one short.  You can write as much as you want! There is no penalty for writing long essays.

Proof: Official Guide, page 199.

Myth Two: The TOEFL is Easier in Some Countries

This is the weirdest myth I hear.  Some people are convinced that the TOEFL is easier in certain countries. This has existed since before the IBT was introduced. People still take international flights because they are duped by this myth.  Crazy, right?

Proof: Honestly, I don’t have any.  But use your brain, people.

Myth Three: The Human Rater and E-Rater Have Equal Weight

This is an enduring myth, but I don’t believe ETS has ever stated anything of the sort. Actually, they have stated that “human ratings for the integrated task currently receive twice the weight of machine scores.”  Keep that in mind.

Proof:  Andre Rupp, 2019

Myth Four:  Students Ought to Mention the Lecture First in Writing Task One

This one drives me bananas.  A lot of teachers insist that every body paragraph in the first essay task ought to mention the lecture details before the reading details.  This is based on an overly-zealous close reading of the question prompt.  Fortunately, this isn’t mandatory.  A quick look at the various “high scoring responses” published in the three ETS books reveals that students can present the details in whatever order they prefer.

Proof:  The sample essays in the Official Guide to the TOEFL and the Official iBT Tests book.

Myth Five:  The Lecture Sometimes Supports the Reading in Writing Task One

Look, anything is possible.  ETS could change the test at any time. You should be prepared for anything.  But they’ve published four tests in the Official Guide, ten tests in the Official iBT Tests books, two on the website and maybe a couple more in deprecated products.  And 50 more tests through New Oriental in China.  And a few more in Korea via Digital Chosun.  That’s like 70+ tests.  The lecture opposes the reading in all of them. Some people might call the “problem/solution” style questions supporting essays… but that’s a stretch.

Proof:  All of those tests!

Myth Six: Each Reading Passage Always has Ten Questions

Okay, now we’re getting into “who cares” territory, but this is another myth! A lot of people think there will always be ten questions per reading passage and panic when they only get nine.  Or, worse yet, they assume that a passage with nine questions is an “experimental” set and skip it. Avoid problems on test by being aware that sometimes (especially when a fill-in-the-table question is used in the set) there will be only nine reading questions. That’s totally normal.

Proof: Official Guide, Practice Test 1 (third reading).  It’s only got nine questions!

I have updated my TOEFL writing templates for 2021. In the attached video, you’ll find templates for both the independent and integrated essays.  I’ve adjusted them only slightly for this year… but I think they are a bit better than the 2020 versions.  I’ll probably make a video containing all of the 2021 speaking templates as well, so keep an eye on the channel.

Over the next few days I will adjust all of the static webpage articles so that they include the new templates.

This one’s hard to explain, so pay attention.

Access as Verb

When used as a verb, “access” it is not followed by “to.”  Just write:

  • “Thanks to the Internet, I can access information at any time.”
  • “Students can access a lot of books at the campus library.”
  • “Everyone wants to access the Internet nowadays.”

This is the most common use of the word, I think.

Access as a Noun

When used as a noun, “access” should be followed by “to.”  As in:

  • “Thanks to the Internet, students have access to a lot of information.”
  • “Students who visit the library have access to a lot of books.”
  • “Student wants access to more books.”

Don’t Write “access (v) to”

The most common error I see is when students use “access” as a verb and write “to” after it.  This will always be wrong.  Don’t write:

  • On the Internet, students can access to a lot of information at any time.”

 

This is a simple one.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Don’t use “make effort.”
  • Do use “make an effort.”

This is a mistake I correct almost every day!

Here are a few correct sentences:

  • You won’t pass the test if you don’t make an effort to learn English.
  • Joseph will likely make an effort to arrive on time.

When I checked Google News I found 213000 articles that included ” make an effort .” I did find 4850 articles that included “make effort” but they are mostly from countries outside of North America.

Well, I didn’t get invited to the EFL Magazine TOEFL Teacher Summit, but if someone asked me how to be a successful TOEFL teacher, here’s what I would say.

About Success

First, though, a few words about success.

No one has ever gotten rich teaching TOEFL, so maybe there has never been a successful TOEFL teacher. That said,  I’ve never spent a penny on advertising and my website is just a crappy WordPress template… but I’m still really busy.  Maybe that’s a kind of success.

About these Methods

Overall, this article stresses the need to be (and be known as) an expert in all things TOEFL.

Other approaches are possible, of course.  I’ll pass this article on to some other teachers and post a follow-up with their suggestions.

1. Read Everything

You have to do the research. Every month a different TOEFL tutor scolds me for suggesting that students should write more than 300 words in the second writing task.  They insist that that isn’t allowed. But the Official Guide to the TOEFL clearly states that there is no penalty for a long word count. These teachers haven’t even done the most basic research. Additionally, I still see claims like:

  • The unscored reading and listening passages are “experimental” content.
  • Personal examples should not be used in the second essay.
  • There are always 10 questions per article in the reading section.

None of these things are true, but I see them all over the Internet. Even the most cursory research  disproves them. One day I’ll make a recommended reading list, but off the top of my head you should read: the three official books, the TOEFL Insight series, all of the relevant articles from the ETS database, Carol Chapelle’s book on the validity of the test, the SpeechRater book from Rutledge, the e-rater book, and the teacher training manual from ETS.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Bottom line: The point here is that you should become a TOEFL expert. This will make you a better teacher, and will also generate word of mouth recommendations that mention your expertise.

2. Understand Grammar

Don’t be that teacher that says “that’s just more natural” whenever a student asks a question about why you made a certain correction. English has grammar and you should understand it. Know how to use the proper terminology to give explanations.  Sadly, this will require more reading.  Start with Michael Swan’s book.

You won’t be successful as a tutor if you know less about grammar than your students. I’m not saying you need to be a perfect writer.  I make grammar mistakes in all of my blog posts. I’m just saying that you need to have the ability to explain things to your students.

Bottom line:  Be a grammar expert. Grammar sucks, but it is important on the TOEFL.

3. Don’t be Annoying

Write good content and put it on the Internet in a clear and straightforward fashion. Good content that is easy to access will expose a lot of students to you and your work.

Remember that you must not annoy people with a giant pop-over advertising your newsletter.  Don’t force people to submit their email address to get your stuff. Don’t write “SEO rich” content.  No one likes that. Remember how frustrating it was last week when you were trying to find a recipe for french toast?  That’s how your readers feel when they get sucked into your e-mail funnel nonsense. Actually, they feel worse because their search for information actually matters.

Bottom Line: Quality content presented in an easy-to-digest way will let students know you are an expert.

4. Quit and Teach IELTS Instead

Hard statistics aren’t available, but most experts agree that the IELTS is a way more popular test.  My guess is that it has an 80% market share, compared to TOEFL’s 20%. If you want to make money, consider just teaching IELTS instead.

And, meanwhile, the Duolingo is chipping away at both tests.  Not to mention the growing importance of the CAEL.

Bottom Line: You can make more money doing something else.

5. Remember who Takes the TOEFL

If you stick with the TOEFL, remember who is actually taking the TOEFL.  Test-takers are mostly: Chinese + Koreans + Japanese + Pharmacists in the USA.  For the first three categories that 80/20 split is probably reversed.  And the last one is 100% TOEFL. If you want to be successful teaching TOEFL you should figure out those markets.

Bottom Line: Understand your market.

6. Remember that Blogs Still Exist

Word of mouth by way of blog posts can really help your business. This might sound strange to some readers, since blogs died off in the United States more than a decade ago.  But they are still really popular in non-English markets. I’m not kidding!  This is especially true in the aforementioned big three TOEFL countries: China, Korea and Japan. When students from those countries contact me out of the blue I ask how they learned about me, and the response is generally that they read some international student’s blog.

This compares favorably to the trend of getting students to post endorsements on Facebook.  I see a lot of great comments about teachers on the big TOEFL Facebook groups, but those lovely comments all sink down into the algorithm’s black hole within 48 hours. Never to be seen again.

Bottom Line:  Word of Mouth, Damn it!

7.  Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

If your schedule permits, I recommend that you do 30 minutes or an hour of pro bono work each day.  This might mean answering questions on Facebook, or Reddit or even Quora (LOL). This may help to establish your expert credentials, but it will also help you keep up with what students are thinking, and what they need. The latter is quite important but often overlooked – student needs change as time passes, based on the available resources. Emerging ed-tech really changes what students can do on their own, and what they need a teacher for. It is likely that many students nowadays need specialists rather than generalists. 

Bottom Line: Keep up with the changing world.

8.  Don’t Place Your Faith in the Algorithm

It was once possible to rely on Facebook and YouTube for a steady stream of clients. That is still an option, but it is more difficult than in the past. Those spaces are a lot more crowded now, and the demands of the algorithm for constant content can be a bit overwhelming.  If you rely too much on those streams you might burn out.  That’s why point 6 (word of mouth on other people’s blogs) is relevant.  You should also try to maintain  quality static content of your own (I mean building a frigging website). Getting eyeballs that way is a bit more manageable than dealing with the feed-the-beast aspect of social media.

—–

Anyhow, I realize now that this is all “big picture” stuff.  It doesn’t really go into the nitty-gritty of day to day teaching, technology use, scheduling, marketing, etc.  Hopefully I’ll have a few words to share about those things in the future.

It can be difficult to use “near” and “nearby” properly.  I fix mistakes with these two words in TOEFL essays almost every day!  Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Use “near” as a preposition that states the proximity of something to something else.  Like this: “There is a beach near my house.”  This means that there is a beach close to my house.
  2. Use “nearby” before a noun (as an adjective) or after a noun (as an adverb) to say that something is close: “The beach is nearby.” And: “We can meet at a nearby beach.
  3.  Don’t use “nearby” as a preposition to describe the closeness of something to something else.  Never say: “There is a beach nearby my house.”

 

Those are the main usage notes that TOEFL essay writers need.  Of course, a few more things are worth mentioning.  They are:

  1. It is okay to use “near to” as a prepositional phrase.  As in:  “There is a beach near to my house.”  
  2. To make matters more complicated, we often use “near” as an adverb to talk about where we do actions.  As in: “We live near the beach.”
  3. For those keeping track at home, this is covered in Michael Swan’s book in entries 415 and 531.  Maybe I’ll e-mail Swan and suggest a special “near vs nearby” entry in the “word problems” section.  It is a common error.

Great news!  This year,  Dr. Pamela Sharpe (author of Barron’s TOEFL iBT  ) will again provide scholarships to help students cover the cost of taking the TOEFL test. Dr. Sharpe has offered this scholarship for decades, and last year she awarded scholarships of $200 to seven students, including several readers of this blog.

Like last year, the relevant details are:

  1.  The scholarship is open to students from all countries.
  2.  Students should have taken the test at least once before and be preparing to take it again to earn a higher score.
  3.  To apply, students must write an essay on the following topic – “What is the best way to prepare for the TOEFL?” and include at least three suggestions.
  4. The essays (along with contact information) should be e-mailed to  [email protected] in September.
  5. The scholarships will be awarded in October, and students will be contacted by e-mail.

I really want to draw your attention to the last point. You should wait until September to send your essays. Instead of sending your essay right away, use August to think about your work.  Try to be thoughtful and persuasive.  Really demonstrate that you have a serious plan to prepare for the TOEFL.

More information is available on Dr. Sharpe’s personal website.  Scroll down to the second scholarship listed there.

Hey, hey, hey… check this out!  It appears that ETS has implemented Oracle’s B2C system to streamline its customer support!  Hopefully this will speed up its responses to support requests.  This is actually number four on my list of ways to improve the TOEFL experience which I published last month.  Needless to say, I’m a happy boy.

Of course the system includes a link to the TOEFL FAQ page which is broken, but I’m sure someone in Princeton will notice that eventually.

Students in France can use the promo code “summer21” to get a 15% discount on the TOEFL this summer. You gotta register and take the test before September 20, I think.

I don’t think many people from France read this blog, but there ya go.  I’ll keep an eye out for discounts available to students in the rest of the world.  Keep an eye on the blog!

 

Update:  ETS now has an official list of accepting schools, so I will retire this page!

Okay, it begins!  On this page I will list the schools that accept and do not accept the TOEFL Essentials Test.  Keep checking back for updates.  I will  maintain this list until ETS makes their own.  When that happens I will post a link.  

If there is a school you want to know about leave a comment down below and I will contact them in August.

I’m pretty sure that the NABP will not accept the test.

Edit: I’ve bumped this post to the front of the blog to highlight all of the recent additions.

Schools that Accept TOEFL Essentials

  • Western Illinois University (source)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (source)
  • Bryn Mawr College (source)
  • Macalester College (source)
  • Grinnell College (source)
  • Vanderbilt University Graduate School of Business (source)
  • South Dakota State – Graduate School (source)
  • Loyola University (source)
  • Drexel University (source)
  • University of Rochester – Simon Business School (source)
  • Fuller Seminary (source)
  • Illinois State (source)
  • Texas A & M – Graduate School (source)
  • NC State University (source)
  • Purdue University (source)
  • Cascadia College (source)
  • UT Southwestern – School of Health Professions (source)
  • Boston University – Various Undergrad (source)

In addition, here is a list that came from the office of ETS Global BV Korea.  These schools will likely accept the test, but have not announced it.  As I find official announcements, I will move the schools to the above list.

  • Los Angeles Piece College
  • University of San Francisco
  • Gulf Coast State College
  • Campbellsville University
  • Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • Perkiomen School (High School)
  • Bob Jones University
  • Clemson University
  • Marquette University
  • Huazhong University of Science and Technology
  • Northwestern Polytechnical University
  • Shandong University of Technology
  • Wenzhou-Kean University
  • Wuhan University of Technology
  • City University of Macau

Schools that do not Accept TOEFL Essentials

  • NYU (source)
  • Johns Hopkins – School of Engineering (source)
  • Santa Clara University (source)
  • Colorado State University – Graduate School (source)
  • Boston University – Dental School (source)
  • Northwestern University – School of Medicine (source)
  • Duke University – Graduate School (source)
  • University of Nebraska Omaha (source)
  • Case Western University – Graduate School (source)
  • Stanford University – Graduate School (source)
  • Brigham Young University – Idaho (source)
  • Northeastern University (source)
  • University of Chicago School of Law (source)
  • Penn State Great Value Graduate School (source)
  • Johns Hopkins – Carey Business School (source)
  • Stanford University – Graduate School (source)
  • Dickinson College (source)
  • University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Economics (source)

I blogged last month about how TOEFL scores in China skyrocketed in 2020.  Part of that was due to the test changes in 2019, but of course that isn’t the whole explanation, as scores in the rest of the world didn’t increase quite as much.

To figure this out, I asked one of my contacts in China for comment.  This teacher owns a small TOEFL tutoring school in a major city.  He said:

That is a significant raise in average scores. Compared to when I started teaching TOEFL in 2013, parents are definitely expecting more of their kids and tutors nowadays. I remember at the time, the ‘target’ most students would aim for was +100. Now, everyone wants to reach +105, with some parents & counselors/advisors insisting on +108 for their children. I think this stems from increased competition, as the number of Chinese international students applying to the USA has increased quite a bit, so students need to strive harder to stand out. Even the average age of our students is much younger than before. We get quite a few middle school students now whose parents are younger, more international, and globally savvy as well.
Of course, how students are actually able to achieve better results, I have a hard time placing my finger on. In general, I think the reason might be that the international education industry is more developed than before. There are more international schools; STEAM programs and Project Based Learning is being heavily embraced by the industry; and test prep is now mostly comprised of small, independent centers rather than the monopoly New Oriental had on the market. From what I’ve heard, it was quite easy to get by at New Oriental before, as long as you could entertain large classes and could play politics in the company. Now, with all the smaller centers, more responsibility is placed on teachers as there is more direct contact with students and families. This is just a guess based off the changes I’ve seen recently though.

So there ya go.  An insider’s take on TOEFL prep in China.

As expected, the price of the TOEFL increased this month. Below you can see the list of countries I’ve been tracking since last year and their changes.

This year the changes are somewhat different than usual.  While I tracked prince increases in 30 countries, I also tracked price decreases in five countries.

However, those are not actual decreases. In those countries sales taxes are now added at checkout. This page at the ETS website lists the countries where sales tax is added.  However, it omits Canada… where sales tax is also collected.

A few observations are worth mentioning:

  • Switzerland remains the most expensive place to take the test, at a whopping $335. That’s an increase of $15 compared to February of this year.
  • The test costs 2100 RMB in China, or about $325 USD.  That’s quite a lot.  I don’t list China in the chart since the test is handled by NEEA in China.
  • The cost in India increased by $5 to $190.  I think India is one of the biggest markets for the TOEFL outside of China.
  • The cost in Korea increased by $10 to $220.  Korea might be a bigger market than India, now that I think of it.
  • The cost in the United States increased by $10 to $235.  Obviously the USA is also a huge market for the test.
  • The United States is a patchwork of local and state laws. You may or may not actually get sales tax added to your purchase.

I think prices will be adjusted again in February of 2022.  Check back at that time for a full report.

 

Country

Pre August 1, 2020

August 1, 2020

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

Afghanistan 

$200

$220 

$220

$230 

Argentina

$195

$195

$205

$205

Australia

$300

$300

$300

$273 + tax

Azerbaijan

?

$195

$195

$205 

Bangladesh

$190

$200

$200

$205 

Benin

$185

$185

$185

$185

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$245

$245

$225 + tax

Colombia

$240

$240

$240

$202 + tax

Congo, DR

?

$195

$195

$195

Egypt

$180

$185

$185

$195 

Ethiopia

?

$200

$200

$210 

France

$255

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

$180

$185

?


?

Georgia

?

$180

$185

$190 

Germany

$255

$260

$260

$265 

Ghana

$200

$220

$220


$220

Guadalupe

$180

$185

$195

$195

Hong Kong

$225

$245

$245

$255 

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$230

$220

$220

$220

India

$180

$185

$185


$190 

Iran

$225

$245

$245


$245

Iraq

$195

$215

$215


$225 

Israel

?

$280

$280

$280

Italy

$255

$270

$270


$280 

Japan

$235

$235

$245

$245

Jordan

?

$195

$200

$205 

Kenya

$200

$220

$220

$225 

Korea

$200

$210

$210

$220 

Mexico

$180

$185

$190

$200 

Mongolia

$195

$210

$210

$215 

Morocco

?

$210

$220

$230 

Netherlands

$255

$265

$265

$270 

New Zealand

$270

$270

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$195

$195

$182 + tax

Norway

$290

$315 

$315

$325 

Pakistan

$195

$195

$195

$200 

Palestinian Territories

?

$235

$245

$245

Peru

$210

$220

$220

$220

Philippines

$200

$215

$215

$225 

Russia

$260

$260

$260

$270 

South Africa

$230

$230

$235

$240 

Spain

$245

$250

$250

$255 

Sweden

$270

$280

$280

$290 

Switzerland

$295

$320 (!)

$320

$335 

Tajikistan

?

$185

$185

$185

Thailand

$195

$210

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$185

$185

$157 + tax

Uganda

$195

$215

$225

$235 

United Arab Emirates

$240

$255

$255

$270 

United Kingdom

$210

$220

$220

$235 

United States

$205

$225

$225

$235 + tax?

Vietnam

$190

$220

$200

$200

West Bank

?

$215

$215

$215