All things TOEFL iBT

Helping struggling writers

The TOEFL iBT demands good writing. Univserities demand good writing. Life demands good writing.

Strategies to help struggling writers

TOEFL Writing task – Read a student’s interview on the use of i-pads in the classroom. List two benefits or two setbacks the project brings and state which jeopardizes the learning more. Give examples to justify your answer.

I had the opportunity to interview a Freshman student, Nick Boone (@2050TGOD) that I coincidentally met on Twitter. He saw a conversation that I was having with a popular YouTube personality, and gave his opinion on iPads in the classroom. I took this chance to contact him and ask if he would answer a few questions. He almost immediately agreed to the interview, which we completed via Google Docs just a matter of a couple hours. Nick had the opportunity to participate in a 1:1 iPad program at his high school…

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Why summarize?

The importance of knowing how to summarize goes beyond the TOEFL iBT – look at how this tweet sums things up quite nicely – thanks to @mdeHSD


The art of essay writing

A quick read but to the point:


Rethinking writing skills

Writing is an integral part of international exams like the TOEFL iBT, and something of concern of teachers in primary and secondary levels of school.

This chat I participated in sheds some more light on the issue, in particular the use of the 5 paragraph essay as a standard


The Independent Writing task of the Toefl IBT requires the candidate

talk about a topic,

say if they agree or disagree with a statement,

choose the best alternative to allocate resources.


The text should take a four or five paragraph format of an introduction, body and conclusion in no more than 300 words.

The introduction should have the thesis of the text and the body paragraphs should have a topic sentence each.  The pargraphs should provide reasons and examples to support the main idea.

The conclusion summarizes the ideas presented in the text.


With that in mind, here is a reverse task, identify

  • the thesis statement
  • a topic sentence
  • a reason and/or example
  • a conclusion

Dissertation from a 12-year-old about doughnuts


Were the kid’s ideas and arguments clear? How would you grade this work? 




Does this apply to TOEFL-iBT reading texts?


Content and Usability


Eyes on the Prize

This can be very helpful when preparing for a test like the TOEFL iBT. Any candidate needs to draw up an action plan to achieve the final prize, which ultimately, is the desired score.

Teaching with Touchstone

‘To get where you want to be
You have to set a goal
And keep your eyes on the prize’

Bob Dylan

Simple, isn’t it?  Or is it…

There are 2 sides to motivating learners to work independently.  One is through assessment and the other is through engagement with the process and outcomes (the prize).  Let’s look at establishing the prize.

Working with learning portfolios, learners need to set goals, fill the portfolio with task output (e.g. voice recordings or pieces of writing) that prove by the end of the semester that they have achieved those goals.  We don’t have to adopt portfolios to borrow a little from portfolio philosophy to help us establish the prize for our learners.

There are different sets of prizes – long, short and medium term rewards.  Spend time getting to know your learners’ final aspirations for their careers or travel or social lives.  Get…

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Dealing successfully with the Listening Section of the TOEFL iBT requires certain skills. Do you have what it takes?

Strangely enough, the topic of online learning came up during our last class discussion. The infographic aims to prove that online is not a waste of time.

How do you feel about online learning? What arguments in favor of online education does the infographic present?


Two related topics to explore the pros and cons format of TOEFL Independent Writing, which can also be applied to the Independent Speaking tasks.

The pros and cons of applying for a study program backed by government or private institutions as opposed to paying your own tuition.

The pros and cons of studying abroad as opposed to studying in your own country.

This kind of essay requires that you present advantages and corresponding disadvantages of the topic. You do not necessarily have to choose.
What is essential is that you present a benefit or a drawback and give an example of how it can happen. You are comparing and contrasting two sides of the same coin. 

Seize the opportunity

  1. The best time is now.
  2. Opportunity only knocks once
  3. Don’t let the it slip through your fingers.
  4. Make the most of every situation
  5. Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today
  6. Take the bull by the horns
  7. It’s your turn to shine
  8. Step into the limelight
  9. It’s now or never.
  10. A once-in-a-lifetime chance
  11. Don’t throw away your chances
  12. Don’t play with your luck.

The proverbs and sayings above all cover the same idea: SEIZE THE DAY

How do these words of wisdom relate to the current Brazil riots across the country because of bus fares (the original reason)?

Shakespeare once said that ignorance is bliss. Many Americans would probably agree with him, in light of the recent surveillance programs scandal involving the National Security Agency. Or maybe they wouldn’t.

The debate now spins on the figure of ex- CIA technician Edward Snowden, for some a hero, for others a traitor. Why did he decide to blow the whistle? Watch the video to find out.

There are many words for someone like Snowden, someone who reveals top secret information and unleashes a scandal of catastrophic proportions.

Whistleblower = Squealer = Snitch = Rat = Canary = Sell-out

Regardless of the name you use, do you think Snowden did the right thing by revealing this kind of information? What reasons do you have for your view?

Before you answer the question:

Complaining about or showing disapproval of someone’s annoying behavior nowadays is like making a storm in a teacup: no one seems to care anymore.

Speaking your mind makes you look like the fussy one: someone who is always hard to please.

Would you consider any of these things annoying? Where would they usually happen?

  • Not using the indicator
  • Speeding
  • Not respecting pedestrians
  • Revving the engine
  • Blowing/honking the horn
  • Using the shoulder as a lane
  • Slurping your drink
  • Eating smelly food

Of course, there are many other behaviors that piss us off everyday. Here is the question at hand:

Do people from your country have good manners? Give reasons and examples to support your view.

You have two alternatives: record an answer by clicking on the Vocaroo icon below or write an answer in the Comments.

If you´re recording, don’t take more than 45 seconds.

If you’re going to write about it, write at least 300 words in 30 minutes.

If you want to do both, by all means do so.

Powered by Vocaroo Voice Recorder


Have you ever heard of these techniques? 

  • Elaborative interrogation

  • Self-explanation

  • Summarizing

  • Highlighting/underlining

  • Keyword mnemonics

  • Imagery

  • Re-reading

  • Practice testing

  • Distributed practice

  • Interleaved practice

According to a recent study published on BBC, most of the techniques students use to prepare for tests are not effective – so when we think we are getting an upper hand on our studies we are actually wasting a lot of time that could be spent practicing a hobby or broadening our cultural horizons,

The question is, like anything in life, we have to find what works for us, even if that something just has a psychological effect.

So which of these techniques do you use? What other techniques do you normally resort to and how effective are they?

Which of these techniques would be useful to prepare for the TOEFL iBT?

Post your answers in the comments box.  

Types of shyness?

How would you define these kinds of shyness?

We are all shy

How can someone who is outgoing and confident be shy?

Tests and stress


When we think about tests, here are some words that come to mind:














goals, objectives

multiple choice x discursive

under pressure

One way of doing well in tests is knowing how you react in test-like situations.

What kind of student are you in test situations?

I shake like a leaf  = I am visibly nervous = I tremble = I get the jitters

I freak out

I get goosebumps

I get butterflies in my stomach

I get white as a sheet (of paper)

I get cold sweat

I get cold feet

My mind goes blank = I draw a blank

Here is some more language used to talk about tests and stressful situations in general. Match the sentence halves 1-12 in bold with the other halves in the bullet points in italics below.

  1. I get nervous about …
  2. I get nervous when …
  3. My level of nervousness depends on …
  4. I deal well with  …
  5. I find it hard …
  6. The more nervous I get, the more I …
  7. It’s easy for me …
  8. Ideally, …
  9. In the best case scenario, 
  10. Usually when I do/take/sit a test, I …
  11. I feel grumpy …
  12. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I try not to … 

  • the kind of test I have to do
  • beat about the bush
  • waste a lot of time
  • to be concentrated/focused in tests
  • unexpected/adverse circumstances 
  • make sure and get a lot of rest the night before
  • taking tests
  • if I know I could have done much better at a test
  • I keep my cool in tests
  • to get straight to the point
  • tests don’t bother me
  • I have to give or deliver a presentation
  • stressful situations

Now tell us:

If you could choose the way you could be tested, what would it be and why?


Read and listen to some tips on how to improve listening skills. Then answer the THREE questions below in a continuous text in the COMMENTS box.

  1. What tips does the person give?
  2. Which of them do you find most useful?
  3. What other tip would you give to a person learning English?

Improve your listening skills

Getting straight to the point: 

  • Clarity
  • Objectivity
  • Naturalness 
  • Comprehensibility
  • informativeness
  • Simplicity
  • Effectiveness

Did you guess the WORD? Image


#61 Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

Parents or adult relatives should make important decisions for their (15-18) teenage children.

Give reasons and examples to support your answer in a text of at least 300 words.

Time limit:

30 mins

Read the article on this blog about ways parentes can protect their kids

Watch the video on what parents should allow children to do:

Summarize the points raised in the video and say how the speaker’s position contrasts with that held by the author.

Time: 20 minutes

Length = 200 words minimum

It is much easier to learn in a small class than in a large one.

Use specific examples and reasons to support your answer in 300 words.

Give yourself 30 minutes to write your answer.

You be the judge!

You’re going to look at some model answers to an Independent Writing task and give a score for each.

First look at the rubric Scoring the Independent Writing Task on page 677 of the pdf version and on page 650 of the printed version. It says what is expected of a text to get a maximum score of 5 or a low score of 1.

Next, look at the exercise “Scoring the Response” on page 681 of the pdf version of the book and on page 645 of the printed version. Read Responses 1, 2 and 3.

What score, from 0 to 5, would you give for each response and why?

Answer the question below in a text of AT LEAST 300 words. 

(#163) Is the ability to read and write more important today than in the past? Why or why not? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Important tips

  1. Use NO MORE than 30 minutes to answer the question. Paste the text in the COMMENTS box.
  2. Use the following format to structure your answer. The text should have at least 4 paragraphs:

Introduction: Say if you think the skill of reading and writing is more important today than in the past and mention the REASONS for your view (think of TWO reasons, minimum)

Paragraph 2: Talk about one of the reasons and give examples or ideas to support this reason

Paragraph 3: Talk about ANOTHER reason and give examples or ideas to support it

Conclusion: Summarize the main points you discussed in the text and restate your original view.  


#174 Every generation of people is different in important ways. How is your generation different from that of your parents’? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Minimum length: 300 words

Maximum time: 30 minutes


Watch the video and state the main reasons according to the speaker why certain videos go viral. Then, state which in your opinion is the most important or effective way of popularizing a video.

Record your answers on the Voxopop page here.

Describe a job that you’ve held and explain why it was important.

Step 1: Decide the purpose

present an opinion

explain facts in a lecture or reading

summarize someone else’s opinion

describe something of importance to you

Step 2: State the topic: I think/believe/feel the most important job I’ve had was …

Step 3: State what or why: I believe this was important because …

Step 4: Wrap things up/Conclude: Restate your thesis e.g.

In conclusion the most important job I’ve held was …

For these reasons I mentioned previously, being a … was the most important job I’ve held.

Record your answer on the Voxopop group page here.

“You can’t stop progress. Sometimes you shouldn’t even try”.


Do you agree or disagree with this quote above? Give reasons and examples to support your opinion in a text of at least 300 words.

Try your hand at going through TWO integrated tasks. The pages in the printed version of the book are in bold and in brackets.


Integrated Writing p.657  ex. 23.2 (p.632) – Tasks 4 and 5

Listening p.321-329 ex. 12.2 (p.347)

You can post your draft answers to tasks 4 and 5 above in the Comments box if you please.



Should there be prerequisites for someone to occupy a democratically-elected political position? Give reasons and examples to support your answer.  Write at least 300 words. 


Here is some useful vocabulary:

  • alderman or councilor
  • to be politically-minded or politically-conscious
  • to run for a position
  • to be biased
  • to have a solid academic background
  • to have a clean record
  • not to have a shady past

Discuss the importance of the landing on the Moon in 1969 for humanity. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Consider the following points:

  • the dawn of a new era in scientific research
  • the advent and acceleration of technological devices
  • the materialization of a long sought-after dream (to venture out and explore the universe)

Why go to university?

Simple question, step-by-step answer.

TOEFL 15.08.2012

Here are some extra resources to prepare on the fly:

The 10 Essential TOEFL iBT Skills

TOEFL iBT How to exam Tips

TOEFL iBT Target Skills


Useful Sentences For Toefl Essay Writing


#164 People do many things to stay healthy. What do you do for good health? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Minimum Length: 300 words

Time limit: 30 minutes

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, the perennial discussion on the individual right or non-right to guns in the U.S. once again comes to the fore. Read the following text on the topic:

I have a dream to counter the nightmare of Aurora. I see three or four ex-presidents standing together, speaking truth to the American people. Here is what they would say:

“Our fellow Americans, we have come together not as Democrats or Republicans, but as men who have been privileged to lead this great country. We all treasure the constitution and the Second Amendment. We believe that Americans have the right to own guns. But that amendment does not entitle citizens to own combat weapons like the assault weapon that the Aurora shooter used to kill 12 and wound 58 more in a Colorado theater. The AR-15 assault rifle is a military-style weapon designed to feature high-capacity ammunition magazines capable of firing up to 30 rounds of ammunition without reloading. You don’t need an assault weapon to protect your family or shoot a deer. No one should own an assault rifle except our folks in the military and the law enforcement officers who protect us. For 10 years, assault weapons like these were banned in all 50 states until Congress let the Federal Assault Weapons Ban “sunset.”

“Our fellow Americans, it’s time to reinstate this law. We call upon the men who lead, or want to lead this country, and the Congress, to do the right thing: protect American citizens by restricting the sale of such weapons to those who have been authorized to use them.”

Is such a group presidential statement a pipedream?

Former President Jimmy Carter has long called for reinstating the assault weapons ban. So, too, did President Clinton. In 1994 Clinton signed two bills that became the hallmark of such efforts. The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act required a five-day waiting period and background check for the sale of handguns and created a National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The Assault Weapons bill he signed banned the production and importing of 19 types of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and other guns with similar features, as well as ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds.

President George H.W. Bush signed an executive order making it illegal to import Uzis and AK-47s. Even his son, President George W. Bush, whose opposition to gun control may have helped him eke out victory over Al Gore, indicated in 2004 that he would have signed an assault weapons ban reauthorization had Congress approved it.

If not now, when? How many more massacres must Americans endure –the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Columbine, Amish girls, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabby Giffords? Can’t we do more than pray for families of victims and carry flowers to their graves? 

For the full article, go here.

Now watch the following video in which the speaker seeks to answer a very simple question: Do American Citizens have the right to own a gun?


The task: State how the reading passage contrasts with the views presented in the video. Give examples and reasons presented in each. Write at least 200 words.  

Task 1
What was the most important decision that you have ever made? Why was this decision important to you?
Task 2
If you could spend a year living in any city in the world, which city would you choose to live in? Give the reasons why you would want to live there.
Task 3
What do you think of this statement?
Failure often leads to success.
Give an example of why you think this is sometimes true. Give another example of why you think this statement is NOT true. Then state your opinion of this statement.
Task 4
You have received a full scholarship to a good university in your country. You have also been offered a full scholarship to a top university in another country. Which of these two scholarships would you accept? Why?

Here is topic question that can be used in the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT:

What was the most important decision you have ever made? Why was this decision important to you?

 Here is a sample response:

The most important decision I have ever made was when I decided to leave home and live in another country. This decision was crucial for two reasons

In my area of study there are not many opportunities in my city so I needed to venture out on my own to earn experience and find a job that would suit my qualifications or that would allow to apply the knowledge I would have acquired.

Being the youngest child in a large family, I was always under the wings of my parents and siblings, which meant that I always had someone spoon feeding me. I felt that the time had come for me to learn to fend for myself. What better way to gain independence than to live on my own and away from the over-protective eye of my loved ones?

These are the reasons why the most important decision I have ever made was leaving my hometown to live in another country.

Wanna share your important decision? Leave a comment here and try rehearsing your speech by recording your voice on the Voxopop group. Go to the site here.  


Sample answer to an Independent Writing Task – done in the classroom

Question: There are many types of television shows: comedies, news programs, dramas, reality shows and so on. What is your favorite type of TV show? Why do you prefer this type of TV show? Give some examples from your own experience watching TV shows.

I’m not really into TV programs but if I were, I would probably go for NEWS PROGRAMS for several reasons, three of which I will explore in this essay: they are factual; they are objective and, they are informative.

News programs aim to provide us with factual information, things that are happening in our world today. Since I find it important to keep up to date with the latest news, watching this kind of program is a must for me. It is much more beneficial than fictional shows, the content of which I can find in a book. Moreover, I remember many times being able to acquire valuable information for my research projects at school from news programs, most of which I still can remember today.

In light of the fact that news programs are factual, they would necessarily be impartial or objective, which is completely different to what you might find in a reality show, which might intentionally try to sway the viewer’s opinion. Despite the popularity of the latter, reality shows are knowingly rigged to get people to vote for a particular participant or just to boost the TV station’s viewer ratings and bombard us with explicit merchandising.

If it is factual and objective, a news program would supposedly be informative; in other words, it should teach and educate viewers about important issues that affect our daily lives. Given the globalized world in which we live, information, and consequently, critical knowledge, are paramount for an educated university student like myself. The need for a competitive edge in today’s market can not be denied, so I make it a point to be always informed of what is going on in the world at local, national and international level. This information can help me to make important decisions that will affect my future and my family, like for example, the decision to study at an American university. I had set my mind on seeking admission at a top American university after learning on a news program that the higher education institutions from the U.S. are ranked in the top one hundred learning centers around the world. Obtaining a degree from one of these colleges then would mean a lot to my academic and professional career.

In short, news programs offer much more to my personal development and do much more of a service to the community at large than say, comedies or reality shows or fictional programs. That they are factual, objective and informative are what make them my favorite type.


And you, what is your favorite type of  TV show? 

#116 People learn in different ways. Some people learn by doing things; other people learn by reading about things; others learn by listening to people talk about things. Which of these methods of learning is best for you? Use specific examples to support your choice.

Post your answers in the COMMENTS box. Write no more than 300 words and give yourself 30 minutes to do so.

Do you remember these words/expressions?

Click here.


#171 Imagine you are preparing for a trip. You plan to be away from home for a year. In addition to clothing and personal items, you can take one additional thing. What would you take and why? Use specific reasons and details to justify your answer.

Explain the importance of music in your life. Give reasons and examples to support your answer.

#172 “When students move to a new school, they often face many problems.  How can schools help students with their problems? Use specific reasons and examples to explain your answer.”



Remember the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT has two independent tasks.

The purpose of these two tasks is to have candidates talk about their own experiences and give opinions about everyday topics.

The slides are here to give more insight on the topic:

Independent Speaking skills & Personal Preference language



#173 It is sometimes said that borrowing money from a friend can harm or damage the friendship. Do you agree? Why or why not? Use reasons and specific examples to explain your answer. 

#183 – Films can tell us a lot about the country where they are made. What have you learned about a country from watching its movies? Use specific examples and details to support your answer.

Points to remember:

Take no more than 30 minutes

Write a maximum of 300 words

Divide your answer in at least four-five  paragraphs – introduction, main point #1, main point #2, main point #3, conclusion.

Use a word processor to write your answer first; then copy and paste the text into the Comments box.


Urban legends

Here is the task:

Visit one of these sites and choose a legend that interests you. Take notes on the story and post your notes in the Comments box.


Click here to do the questionnaire.

This activity is aimed at working fluency and recognition of letters and sounds.

Do you know how many silent letters there are in English? Click here to go to the Voxopop discussion. In the opening notes of the group, there is a link that shows the sentences you have to record.

See how good you are at recognizing silent letters in English? 

What are the implications for the author’s propositions on preparation for originally US-based language tests like the TOEFL, TOEIC, or Michigan? Give reasons and examples for your answer

TEFL Equity Advocates

1. British English can no longer serve as an optimal, reasonable model of English language use. Not after the Brexit campaign, fuelled by lies, racism, culminating in deaths of a British MP and a Polish migrant. The Leave campaigns used British English to make false promises, mis-represent facts (to the point of possibly risking criminal litigation), and divide British people – and they won. The Remain campaign failed to engage on any level beyond fear – and it lost.

2. American English can no longer serve as an optimal, reasonable model of English language use. Not after Trump. His presidential campaign “took relentless aim at institutions and ideals”, presented a pessimistic, polarising vision of America, steered clear of facts, policies or rational arguments – and it won. The Clinton campaign failed to engage people whose momentum was felt in the Democratic Party with Sanders still in the running – and it lost.

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What educational system are we upholding?



Occupy Wall Street’s non-violent attempts to change the private sector suggest that similar tactics can be applied to America’s public K-12 education system.

This is an intriguing possibility given that nationwide just two of three students graduate school on time. Further, of those who do graduate on time, approximately one in 10 needs pullout remedial help, another one in 10 requires special accommodations, and yet another one in 10 is under-challenged. These numbers reveal an educational system that works poorly for half the school-age population. For urban areas, the numbers are worse.

Since the 1950s, getting from a system that educates some students well (let’s call it “A”) to one that educates all students well (“B”) has been the preferred outcome of countless reform efforts. During this time, while attempt after attempt worked in an occasional classroom or school, wide-scale achievement of B was elusive. Now, however, B is achievable.

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Scholar, google thyself.

Understanding your digital presence

The Thesis Whisperer

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a foreign university to provide a written reference for someone I didn’t know.

Usually when I am asked to write a reference I know the person well and can speak to their strengths. In this case, the university in question wanted my expert opinion about the work of one of their staff members. This ‘blind peer review’ of a person – rather than a paper – was a new process for me.

The university sent me a portfolio of ‘stuff’ which I had to review before I wrote the letter. I diligently read this material, but still felt like I didn’t know the person well enough. So I got on the Google machine and did a bit of academic stalking. If you have done anything like this recently you will know just how much information is floating around about you on…

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Perpetuating Stereotypes


This is an integrated writing task based on the video showing part of a Russel Peters’ presentation.


 Write your answer in no more than 200 words.