There is a wonderful article by Sugene Kim (Nagoya University of Commerce & Business) in this month’s issue of “Assessing Writing” that describes TOEFL writing tutoring in Korea.  I’ve written about how Korean students prepare for the TOEFL a few times (see this article from last year), and Kim’s article touches on some of the same themes.

Kim describes how Korean tutors use templates to prepare students for both of the writing tasks.  But these aren’t templates like the ones on this site.  The templates prepared by Korean tutors are almost complete essays.  The template might come out to 300 or 350 words, and the student simply plugs in 20 or 30 words that match the given topic.  The article includes interviews with students who confirm the effectiveness of this method.  The tutors produce totally personalized templates for each student so they are much harder for ETS to detect.  The article describes how the most successful tutors become stars in education sector.  One is referred to by students as “the Writing sniper.”  Of his work, the interviewee notes:

“He gives lessons based on his own templates, which are famous for ‘mesmerizing’ ETS essay raters.  Most of his former pupils are known to have experiences a dramatic score increase after taking his classes.”

The article doesn’t exaggerate.  I am based in Korea, and one of my close friends in the TOEFL-prep industry is  a star tutor.  His business is booming and he gets results.

A sample template (complete with student annotations) is available in the article.  Personally, I don’t teach this way but if I was going to write a “Korean Style Template” it would look something like this:

Introduction

A lot of people today think that [opposite of thesis].  However, I strongly believe that [thesis] for two reasons.  First, it leads to a lot of great job opportunities.  Second, it vastly improves our health and wellbeing, which a lot of people are struggling with nowadays.  To be fair, a lot of older people have the traditional view that [opposite of thesis].  That said, I think this viewpoint is outdated and quite useless in today’s society.

Body 1

First, [topic] can improve our range of job opportunities in the future.  As I implied above, people my parent’s age (and older) think that [topic] is actually quite dangerous.  When I was young and they had a lot of influence over my world view, I actually had the same opinion.  At that time, I thought [aspect of topic] would actually make it harder for me to get a job, and so I was hostile toward it.  However, after I entered college and my social network broadened, I realized the unique benefits of [aspect of topic].  Now I realize that [specific aspect of topic] can help us find employment in high paying fields.  For example, my young cousin makes a lot of money because he works in a field related to [specific aspect of topic].  His experience changed my perspective, and now I am focusing on [aspect of topic] at university in the hope of achieving the same thing.

Body 2

Second, [topic] has a noticeable effect on our physical health and maybe even our mental health.  I actually read a story about this in the Village Voice Newspaper a few months ago.  It pointed out that if we properly use [topic] we can avoid the poor health that a lot of people are dealing with nowadays.  The article claimed that 75% of Americans think that the best way of staying fit is making use of [aspect of topic].  Medical experts who reviewed the study results agreed, and suggested that [topic] will have an even greater impact in the future because of [aspect of topic].  Consequently, I strongly feel that benefiting from [topic] is a fantastic way to stay healthy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think that [thesis].  This is because it can lead to gainful employment, and because it has a positive impact on our minds and bodies.

 

Okay, so I might use this to answer a prompt about the Internet ( Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Overall, the widespread use of the internet has a mostly positive effect on life in today’s world) thusly:

A lot of people today think that the internet is harmful.  However, I strongly believe that internet access is beneficial for two reasons.  First, it leads to a lot of great job opportunities.  Second, it vastly improves our health and wellbeing, which a lot of people are struggling with nowadays.  To be fair, a lot of older people have the traditional view that the internet is damaging.  That said, I think this viewpoint is outdated and quite useless in today’s society.

First, the internet can improve our range of job opportunities in the future.  As I implied above, people my parent’s age (and older) think that the internet is actually quite dangerous.  When I was young and they had a lot of influence over my world view, I actually had the same opinion.  At that time, I thought websites would actually eliminate jobs, and so I was hostile toward them.  However, after I entered college and my social network broadened, I realized the unique benefits of online communications.  Now I realize that the Internet can help us find employment in high paying fields.  For example, my young cousin makes a lot of money because he works in a field related to online commerce.  His experience changed my perspective, and now I am focusing on information technology at university in the hope of achieving the same thing.

Second, the Internet has a noticeable effect on our physical health and maybe even our mental health.  I actually read a story about this in the Village Voice Newspaper a few months ago.  It pointed out that if we properly use the Internet we can avoid the poor health that a lot of people are dealing with nowadays.  The article claimed that 75% of Americans think that the best way of staying fit is making use of fitness applications.  Medical experts who reviewed the study results agreed, and suggested that the Internet will have an even greater impact in the future because of new developments.  Consequently, I strongly feel that benefiting from the Internet is a fantastic way to stay healthy.

In conclusion, I think that the Internet is beneficial.  This is because it can lead to gainful employment, and because it has a positive impact on our minds and bodies.

But it isn’t as easy as that. A few things are worth mentioning:

  • At first glance, it seems like this template might be useable with only about 10% of the prompts on my sample page.   The star tutor will give students a bunch of templates to cover the whole range of possible prompts.  They will also get them to mix and match body paragraphs covering a range of benefits (jobs, health, quality of life, family bonds, relationships, etc.).
  • I spent about 10 minutes writing this template.  It isn’t great, but I think it demonstrates the point I am trying to convey.  The star tutors work harder to provide much better templates for their students. 
  • As the article points out, students take the test many times.  The system doesn’t always work.
  • As I mentioned in a blog post last year, ETS seems to be penalizing students for fake surveys and research nowadays.  Professor Kim didn’t mention this, but anecdotal evidence I’ve heard seems to corroborate my claim.

What does this all mean?  I don’t know.

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