I found a copy of Kaplan’s TOEFL Pocket Vocabulary from 2018, and thought you guys might like a quick review.  

Here’s what you get in this book:

  • Thirty lists of words, containing 600 words in total.  Each includes a definition, sample sentence and other forms of the work (adjective, verb, noun, adverb, etc).
  • Twenty-one lists of idioms, containing 420 idioms in total.  Each includes a definition and sample sentence.
  • A handful of fill-in-the-blanks multiple choice exercises to help you remember the above.
  • No TOEFL practice questions.

This is probably a useful book, though some people might find the vocabulary a little too easy.  For your reference, here are the words in list 23: attitude, level, repel, uniform, trend, function, comment, lecture, emphasis, analysis, hypothesis, circumstance, strategy, tradition, regime, target, era, authority, generation, hierarchy. 

As you can see, some of those are “advanced” vocabulary, but others are pretty basic.  I suppose this means the book is suitable for an intermediate student.

More valuable, perhaps, is the collection of idioms.  Most ESL students will be able to learn quite a lot from those lists.  I don’t usually recommend the use of idioms on the TOEFL, but I know a lot of students (and some teachers) are obsessed with them.

If this book doesn’t appeal to you, I also recommend the “Barron’s” TOEFL Vocabulary book.  It contains somewhat more technical words and accurate TOEFL practice questions.

Hey, I’m on my first real trip since the beginning of the plague, so this month’s column will be really short.  Just a couple of things worth mentioning crossed my path.

First up, I read about a “massive effort to change the way kids are taught to read” in the USA in a recent article in Time Magazine. It seems that there is an effort to return to a method of reading instruction that was once brushed off as old-fashioned and un-helpful.  That method?  Phonics.  This quotation really grabbed my attention:

“We abandoned what worked because we didn’t like how it felt to us as adults, when actually, the social-justice thing to do is to teach them explicitly how to read.”

Yikes.

Meanwhile, I finally read Norbert Elliot’s fine biography of ETS founder Henry Chauncey, “Henry Chauncey: An American Life.”  I don’t know if there is a huge audience for books like this one, but if you are interested in how ETS came to be what it is, and about the people who created it, Elliot’s book is highly recommended.  One day I will compile a list of essential reading for ETSologists, and this will be at the top of it. 

That’s it for now, but I will have a real column for you at the end of October.

If you visit the Official TOEFL Website from an American IP address you will see an attractive new design!  Over the past couple of years I’ve written about the need for a new official website, so I am really happy to see this change.

Right now, visitors from outside the USA seem to still get the old site, but I am sure that will change in the near future.  In the meantime, you can use a VPN to see it, or even just check out archived pages on the WayBack machine.   I don’t know if the registration pages have changed, as I will need to tinker a bit to get my VPN set up on the Chromebook I’m using right now.

In any case, here’s a preview for everyone outside of the USA:

It seems like ETS might be taking plagiarism in the TOEFL writing section a bit more seriously than before.

In February of this year, the following sentence was added to the “Why and How ETS Questions TOEFL Scores” page:

“When there are concerns regarding plagiarism in the Writing section, the scores from the test administration are automatically canceled.”

Since then, I’ve been contacted by quite a few students whose scores have been cancelled for this reason.  In every case, the decision has been final, and no appeal process has been provided.  The entire test is cancelled, and no refund is offered.  Before this year I was never contacted about this issue.

Each time, the student gets an email like this:

I am writing to advise that the test scores issued in your name for August 21, 2022 have been canceled. In the quality control process, the ETS Writing staff noticed that your response(s) to the integrated/independent Writing task did not reflect a response to the assigned task. This was noticeable since the responses for which you receive a score should be your own original and independent work. Further reviews determined that a portion of your Writing response(s) contains ideas, language and/or examples found in other test taker responses or from published sources.

Everyone seems to get an almost identical form letter, without many details.  It is not indicated which of the essays was in violation of the misconduct policies.  Nor does it really indicate exactly which of the possible violations was spotted.

Due to the vagueness of the letter, I’m not really able to provide much guidance other than a reminder to not plagiarize when you write an essay.  Don’t memorize examples.  Don’t rephrase examples that other people have written.  Don’t memorize long stretches of content.

It is worth mentioning that when asked, the students with canceled scores have insisted that they didn’t plagarize, or use any “templates” or “shell text” at all.

Part of me wonders if this change is a response to journal articles like this one by Sugene Kim out of Nagoya University who wrote about how plagiarism is a common approach to TOEFL test preparation in South Korea.  

I like the change, of course.  Plagiarism is terrible for everyone involved.  It would be nice to have a bit more information about what is detected in each case, of course.

If this has happened to you, by all means contact me.

The free Duolingo English Test Practice Test now includes a few new question types.  Note that these question types are not on the real Duolingo English Test at this time.  The practice test is occasionally used to pilot question types that may or may not appear on the actual test later on.  These questions are:

  1.  Listen to a sentence in English and then repeat it. The repetition is done from memory, as the sentence is not shown on the screen.
  2.  Look at the script of a short conversation between two people with all of the dialog from one of the speakers missing.  Fill in those missing turns by dragging sentences from a list of options.  After that, summarize the conversation by writing a few sentences.

Let me know if you see these on the real test.

According to a story published by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Eddie Monteiro is no longer the Chief Operating Officer of ETS.

The end of a story about the appointment of Rohit Sharma as senior Vice President of Global Workskills includes the following:

Sharma’s appointment comes after the former chief operating officer abruptly left the company last month. Eddie Monterio, who was hired in April 2021, was also a senior vice president. He arrived at ETS after serving as as senior vice president of global business and technology services at Pearson™ PLC, where he oversaw various initiatives to improve overall cost effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

It was unclear why Monterio left the company and repeated emails to an ETS spokeswoman were not returned.

Indeed, Monterio is no longer included in a list of the leaders of ETS.  At present, that page does not include a COO.

I updated the TOEFL and Duolingo English Test score requirements tracker for September. Only Columbia University revised its DET requirements based on the new score conversion charts provided by Duolingo.  They now require a DET score of 135, which is the highest I have ever seen.  This should come as no surprise to readers, as Columbia takes its English language testing more serious than most universities.  Even after achieving 135 on the DET, most students will be required to take the in-house ALP Essay Exam, which is a grueling 105-minute affair.  Good for Columbia for having standards. 

The chart is below (mobile users should tap and scroll horizontally). 

School

Spring 2022

DET / TOEFL

August 11
DET / TOEFL

September 4
DET / TOEFL

MIT

120 / 90

120 / 90

120 / 90

U of Toronto

120 / 100

120 / 100

120 / 100

Cornell

120 / 100

120 / 100

120 / 100

UBC

125 / 90

125 / 90

125 / 90

Emory

120 / 100

120 / 100

120 / 100

U of Arizona

100 / 70

100 / 70

100 / 70

Carnegie Mel.

125 / 102

125 / 102

125 / 102

Brown

125 / 100

125 / 100

125 / 100

U of Utah

105 / 80

105 / 80

105 / 80

Rice

120 / 100

120 / 100

120 / 100

UCLA

120 / 100

120 / 100

120 / 100

Columbia

125 / 105

125 / 105

135 / 105

Dalhousie

115 / 90

115 / 90

115 / 90

City College of SF

85 / 56

85 / 56

85 / 56

De Anza College

95 / 61

95 / 61

95 / 61

Imperial College London

115 / 92

115 / 92

115 / 92

U of Chichester

95 / 79

95 / 79

95 / 79

Use “since then” to talk about an action that started at a specified point in the past and is still happening today.  As in:

“I met Julie when I was in university.  We have kept in touch since then.”

This means that I am still in touch with Julie.

I should not say:

“I met Julie when I was in university.  We have kept in touch until now.”

The problem is that “until now” implies that I just stopped keeping in touch with Julie.  

I can’t find a good reference in a grammar book, but to my ear “until now” always means that the action has just stopped.  As in:

“Until now, I have gotten good grades.”

This means that I just stopped getting good grades.  

Basically, “until now” implies that a change has happened at the present time.

For more information about how to use “until now” check out this blog post.

As I’ve discussed many times, the TOEFL writing rubrics can be hard to fully grasp. They require a certain amount of decoding, in my opinion. I have already explained the concepts of idiomaticity and syntactic variety, and in today’s post I will explain “lexical errors.”

“Lexical” just means related to words.  As Vocabulary.com points out, anything can be lexical.  A linguist has a lexical job.  Solving a crossword puzzle is a lexical activity.

A “lexical error” is an error related to word usage… but not in a grammatical sense. That said, there is a fine line between grammatical and lexical errors.  They look very similar.  They are also very similar to issues of idiomaticity.

To get a sense of the most common lexical errors, I will refer to a list by Süheyla Ander and Özgür Yıldırım, from an article they published in 2010. Note that this is not a comprehensive list.  There are certainly other types of lexical errors your students may make.

1. Wrong Word Choice. This is when a student uses an incorrect word which makes it difficult to determine the meaning of a sentence.  For instance, a student might write: “If they have an open mind, a student is more likely to alleviate their classes.”

A single confusing word makes it impossible to understand the intended meaning.  This isn’t a grammatical error, nor is it really an issue of idiomaticity (where it just sounds unnatural).  It is simply impossible to figure out.

2. Errors of Literal Translation.  Closely related to the above, this is when a student literally translates their own language into English and ends up with an incorrect word choice.  A Korean student might write “I ate my medicine.”  A Turkish student might say “Many people live this problem.”

3. Errors of Omission or Incompletion. This is when a student omits a word and the omission changes the meaning of a sentence or makes it impossible to determine the intended meaning.  For instance, a student might write: “Mr. Kent visited a foreign university in the UK and me when I was transferred to London two years ago.”

The student wanted to express that he was helped by Mr. Kent when he was transferred to London, but he omitted that key verb.

4. Misspellings.  This should be obvious.  Spelling does matter on the TOEFL, at least a little bit.

5. Errors of Redundancy. This is when a student needlessly uses or repeats words or phrases.  A common redundancy on the TOEFL is something like: “In my opinion, I believe that students should be required to attend all of their classes.”

There is no grammatical problem here, but “I believe” is redundant and unnecessary.

Another one is an opening line like: “Many people feel that learning to speak English is more difficult.”

This is a grammatically correct sentence. But since no comparison is being made, the comparative “more” is unnecessary.

6. Errors of Collocation. This one overlaps a lot with idiomaticity. It includes errors like “do mistakes” instead of “make mistakes.”  Or talking about a “studying environment” at a college instead of an “academic environment.”

7. Errors of Word Formation. This is when a student uses the wrong form of a word (for instance, a noun when they should use an adjective).  Like: “Thanks to his kindness act, I got to school on time.”

 

There you go. I think you can grasp now how lexical errors differ somewhat from grammatical errors.

 

 

Once again, Dr. Pamela Sharpe (Barron’s TOEFL) is generously providing scholarships to help students prepare for the TOEFL test. Details about how to apply are below.  Make sure to read them very carefully.  If you apply, I recommend that your spend some time working on your application essay.  Don’t rush that – make sure it is as good as it possibly can be.

The number of scholarships provided by Dr. Sharpe varies each year (depending on the number and quality of the applications), but it is generally around five or six. 

Be sure to pay special attention to the payment options.

 

TEFLPREP Scholarships for TOEFL® Registration Fees

Purpose: Scholarships are awarded by Dr. Pamela Sharpe, the author of Barron’s TOEFL preparation books to assist with TOEFL registration fees.

Qualifications:  Students from all countries who have already taken the TOEFL and are taking the examination again to achieve a higher score.

Amount:  $200 U.S. for TOEFL registration fees.

Application:  Submit a one-page essay in English on the following topic:  What is the best way to prepare for the TOEFL?  Include at least three suggestions.

Deadline:  Submit the essay with your name and contact information to [email protected]. Make the submission in September to be considered for one of the annual scholarships. Awards will be made in October every year.

Payment:  Successful scholarship recipients must be able to receive their $200 awards in one of two ways:

  1. TOEFL voucher payment is available for the following countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam. You will redeem the voucher at the ETS/toefl website.
  2. Check on a US bank is available for all countries; however, you must be able to cash the check either in your country or by asking a trusted friend or relative in the United States or Canada to cash the check for you and send you the award.

At this time, it is not possible to use other transaction methods for the scholarship.

Good luck!

I read a couple of books about tests this month.  They might not be particularly interesting to TOEFL students, but teachers who read this blog might enjoy them.

First up, I read Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews.  It describes how Jaime Escalante prepared underprivileged students in East Los Angeles  to take the AP Calculus Exam in the 1970s and 80s.  Escalante’s unique approach to this task yielded amazing (and unprecedented) results.  I don’t know if his techniques would work forty years later, but this is a great book for anyone interested in teaching and in the value of testing.  It is also a great advertisement for the AP program, which continues to this day.  Readers might also benefit from its sketch of how public schools operated in LA during those decades.  They faced challenges then, and they face challenges now.

One incident in the book stood out to me.  In 1982, ETS (yes, ETS) determined that several of Escalante’s students may have cheated on the test.  Their suspicious were due in part to a controversial mathematical analysis called a “K Index.”  They were told that they could do one of three things:  cancel the test and get a refund, take the test again, or submit additional information.  The students were told that if they provided additional information, it would be reviewed by a panel of three ETS officials.  They would only have to convince one of the members of the panel to have their scores restored. Or they could turn it all over to the American Arbitration Association.

Skip ahead to 2022, and that’s almost exactly what some students are told when ETS challenges their TOEFL scores.  The mathematical analysis is different of course, but everything else remains the same.  Funny, that.

Next, I read Michael Young’s “The Rise of the Meritocracy: 1870-2033”   Young was a sociologist who coined the term “meritocracy.”  But this book is not in praise of meritocracy, as most are.  The book is actually a dystopia that uses the rise of intelligence testing in the 1940s and 50s as its launching point.  Young tracks a fictional history of the United Kingdom as it slips into a more and more segregated and caste-like society due to its emphasis on “merit” above all else.  It is an interesting thought-experiment.  Especially in 2022 when the general consensus seems to be that meritocracy is always a good thing. I think there is something in here that explains part of our current political chaos, but I’m going to keep the blog politics-free for now. But for more on this topic, check out this debate on IQ2.  Or my review of “The Big Test” a few months ago.