Wednesday, 12 March 2014


One of the most common misconceptions held by students studying for the TOEIC is that a TOEIC class and an English class are the same thing. This is not the case, at all. They are two very different things. You can speak very good English and still struggle on the TOEIC. Conversely, you can have a relatively limited langauge base and still do well - to a degree at least - on the TOEIC. The key to enjoying maximum success is knowing how to improve both your English and your specific TOEIC skills. If a student wishes to pass the TOEIC, the best course of action is to take a two-pronged approach:
  1. To improve the student's overall language base
  2. To add TOEIC skills to a solid base of English langauge learning

It is important to note that the following advice is based on the idea that the student is not working to a tight deadline and that he/she has time to work both on specific English language skills and also on TOEIC skills. This blog is going to look at specifically which English language skills are the ones that a student should focus on to improve in preparation for the test. We are going to look at three separate areas:
  1. READING - this will relate specifically to performing well in section 7 of the test.
  2. GRAMMAR - this will be for sections 5 and 6
  3. LISTENING - this will be for sections 1, 2, 3 and 4
There are lots of things a student can do to improve their general reading skills. Finding articles in English is always a great idea. However, if we are thinking about applying those skills to the TOEIC exam, we need to be a little bit practical. Therefore, it is important to read a whole variety of things in English. Students should not just try to read one book. They should try to mix things up: 
  • Magazine articles of all lengths - try things like TIME and Newsweek for difficult stuff, but also the BBC's English learning website for smaller items.
  • Instructions - look for any real life examples such as for recipes, for computers, for electrical appliances.
  • Schedules and Timetables - the student needs to see itineraries for buses, for planes, for trains, for TV programs or for holidays. 
  • Newpspaper Articles - this does not mean reading the NY Times from cover to cover, but it is a great idea to read the short snippets of news in English papers
It is also really important for students to use their own hobbies and interets as a way of improving their langauge skills. They should find topics they find interesting and read about those topics in English to help their overall skills.

Finding good listening practice is a little more difficult than finding reading practice. However, it is still very important. the first recommendation I have to is to try to watch short TV shows in English. This will helps students sharpen up their listening skills. Things such as Friends or How I Met Your Mother are good choices as they are short and not too difficult to follow. Movies are not such a gopd idea as they are perhaps too long and will be a little difficult to follow. I would also suggest finding podcasts online. Students can find these on either business (because the vocabulary will be useful for the exam) or a subject they find interesting. 

The key thing in preparing for the listening section is for the students to try and get used to listening to native speakers using English at a good speed. If the student can becaome comfortable with understanding natural dialog, the examples on the TOEIC exam will be easy.

Students can find grammar practice everywhere on the internet. It is a great idea to practice the main tenses such as:
  • Past Simple
  • Present Perfect
  • The Continuous Tenses
It is also very important to practice such areas as the Infinitive and Gerund, which comes up often on the test. If the students are clear with the fundamental tenses and major grammar points in English, section 5 will be much easier.

A student with poor listening or reading skills can improve their mark on the TOEIC by practicing for the exam. But, it is really importnat to also remember that TOEIC prep is not magic. A student who struggles to understand when native speakers have a basic conversation will not find the listening scetion of the test at all easy. To do well, the student needs to work on both their language base and their exam skills.


One of the good things about the TOEIC exam is that lots of the skills required to succeed in the exam are transferrable between some of the different sections of the test. On a broad level, the CSI Methodology that I recommend - where students look for evidence for each answer that they may find difficult - is applicable to all three parts of the Reading Section of the test. In the Listening Section, the same methodologies can also be applied for sections 3 and 4 because the format of the two sections is the same. Section 5 and 6 also bear some distinct similarities - both have gap-fills, but section 6 has a full text whereas section 5 is indivivdual sentences.. So, in today's blog, I intend to look at how we can use this to our advantage and also to think about what we need to be on guard for.

Both 5 and 6 follow the same basic principle: You need to fill in a gap in a sentence. To do this you need to apply logic that relates to either the vocabulary or the grammar within that sentence. The good news here is that this means if you master the logic in section 5, you have also mastered it in section 6. When I teach TOEIC preparation classes, I emphasize that the students need to employ the same logic here and that they do not need to over-think the difference between the two sections.

This all sounds great. We get two sections for the price of one as it were. However, ETS - who write the tests - are not stupid. they are not simply going to create two sections that are exactly the same. That would be just ridiculous. This means there are some hidden surprises in section 6 that we need to be cosncious of. These surprises all relate to the location of the context for each question. I explained in one of our previous blogs that answering the questions in section 5 and 6 is all about finding the evidence for the answer and finding a context. This can be things like:
  • A time reference to tell us about the tense needed
  • A piece of vocabulary that gives the sentence a context
In section 5 the situation is simple. The context or the time refence will be in the sentence given. In some questions it will be obvious and in others it will be more difficult to discern ... but there will always be something. In section 6, most of the time, this will also be the case. In ten or eleven of the questions the evidence or the context will be in the sentence with the gap. However, one or two other questions, it may be earlier or later in the text. This brings us to our key action point. 
  • If you can see the evidence by just redaing the sentences with the gaps, then fantastic, you can save time. However, always remeber that if the sentence does not seem so easy, you may need to look backwards or forwards in the text to find the information you need.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


For this blog entry, I want to talk a little bit about Section 5 of the TOEIC test. As I have said in two or three of our previous entries, our major objective in Section 5 is to get as many marks as possible... as quickly as possible. This will allow us to save time that we can then use in Section 7, which is much more intense and time consuming. This approach can be taken as given, because it is an established technique for TOEIC. However, to make the most of it, we need to be sure how to get the best out of the questions in Section 5.

To maximise section 5 we are going to look at using context. Specifically, we are going to break this down into two sections:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
The first point I wish to make is that it is important to identify which type of question you are being asked to answer. This makes it a lot easier to then identify the best way to go about it. So, how do you know if you are looking at a grammar question or a vocabulary question? The simple answer to this one is to look not at the question, but at the answers. If the answers are all of a similar type of word - such as a noun or an adjective - then you are probably looking at a vocabulary question. If the words are different structures (nouns/verbs/adjectives) or they are different forms of a verb, then you are probably looking at a grammar questions.

So, once you have identified the type of question you are looking at, what do you need to do? How is the approach different? Essentially, the overall tactic is the same. You need to look at each question for clues to the answer. However, the things we are searching for are different. Here are a few pointers:
  • If you have a selection of forms of the same verb, it is a good idea to look in the question for a hint on the time. This can help you pick the correct tense. Look for times dates or written forms that give a hint as to the time.
  • When you have verbs in your answer choices, always look for the auxiliary. The auxiliary will tell you about the tense and the form of the verb you will need. If you identify an auxiliary verb it becaomes far easier to eliminate incorrect choices and deduce the correct ones.
  • When you have identified a vocabulary question, think about the context and look for words that either go together or are opposites. Think about how the question and the answers relate. Always look for words that have a relationship.
These are just three simple ways of making the questions in Section 5 just that little bit easier.

Monday, 10 March 2014


One of the things that is most difficult when doing the TOEIC exam is budgeting your time. When I prepare students for the exam and when I administer the exam I constantly see students frantically trying to finish questions at the end as they have run out of time. I also get feedback from students who tell me that they were going well in the test and they didn't find it too difficult, but they just didn't have enough time to finish.

The last statement in the paragraph above does not really make too much sense. There are 200 hundred questions on the TOEIc exam and you cannot get a great mark unless you answer all of them. Answering 180 of them well will probably still leave you short of your desired mark. So, what do students need to do to have enough time? How can they use the two hours well?

To answer this question, we are going to look at the Reading section of the test. The reason for this is that the Listening section has to follow the pace of the CD. Students cannot really save much time in that situation. So, it is the Reading section that will make a difference.

As I mentioned in another of our TOEIC blog articles, Section 7 is the largest and most time-consuming section of the test. Students need to be aware of this before they begin the test. To use an American phrase, section 7 really is 'The Ball Game'. This means we need to examine how we can use our time to greatest effect in sections 5, 6 and 7. 

These sections are not large and are relatively easy to deal with. Therefore, our objective is simple: to get through them as quickly as possible to give ourselves time for section 7. However, of course, we do not wish to lose marks in these sections simply by rushing. So, what should we do. The key here is awareness and avoiding complacency. It is vital to understand that section 7 takes longer than sections 5 & 6. Many students waste time on Section 5 because they think that they should give it the same amount of minutes as section 7. This is not the case. Even though 516 are almost the same size as 7, we need to give 7 much more time. Students should know this befeore they go into the exam.

In the same way that we should not be complacent in sections 5 and 6, it is important not to be complacent in the early parts of section 7. This is because the early questions in section 7 are easier than the ones at the end. The first 20 questions of section 7 tend to be short written articles with two or three questions to answer. By the time we reach questions 90-100 students are reading a letter and a response and answering five questions. The later ones take time!

So, what can students do about this? How can they ensure they use their time well? The key here is practice. Students should take a run through of the test at home. They should buy a book with Model tests - Tactics for TOEIC or Barron's are good choices - and do these tests in real time. This way they can find out which part of the tests will take them the longest and how best they can budget thier time.

When I teach a five-week TOEIC course, I give students four weeks of homework to do the reading section of a model test each week. I insist that they take only 1h15 mins for the homework and that they note down how long they spend on each section. this gives them a good barometer for when they actually sit the tes.

Monday, 17 February 2014

SECTION 7 ... More Time!

One of the things I talk to my students about in the TOEIC classes that I teach is time management and the way they distribute their time. In the listening section of the test, this is realtively easy. This is because the test is controlled by the CD that is playiong. Students cannot work fast or work slow - they can only go as fast as the CD. Similarly, they cannot change the order of the sctions or skip questions. In short, everything must follow the CD.

In the writing section, this is not the case. The students have 75 minutes ... and they can use that time in any way that they want. If they want to study section 7 first and section 5 last, that is ok. If they want to spend most of their time on section 6, that is also allowed. In short, there are no rules. Even though the reading section is more open and free for the students, that does not mean the students should do whatever they want. Just because you are allowed to spend most of your time on section 6 does not mean that you should!

The reading section - and for that matter - the whole test rests on section 7. The reason for this is pure mathematics. First of all, it is the largest sectyion of the test. It has 48 marks. That is more than any section. It is also often 10 or 15 pages long. Again, this is more than any section. Simply put, section 7 takes more time than any of the other sections in the test.

My advice here is simple. Remember this. Section 7 is bigger and takes longer. Be prepared for this. You cannot allocate the same amount of time for section 5 as you can for section 7. Budget more time for section 7!

Friday, 8 February 2013


There are many misconceptions that students hold about taking a TOEIC exam. However, there is one that we need to focus on most: that TOEIC is all about improving your English.  It is not. A TOEIC test focuses on Listening Skills and Reading Skills. Obvioulsy, these involve English, but the test is not focusing on 'Pure English'. Therefore, it is important to understand what you are doing when you begin the test. And, it is importnat to understand what you are not doing.

I had a student come to me a few days ago and ask me how he could improve his vocabulary for the TOEIC. i told him to focus on synonyms for certain areas of vocabulary such as:
  • Meetings: Conference, Congress
  • Transport: Arrival, Get-in, Departure, Leave
  • University: lecture, Presentation, Tutorial
The student took the advice and worked on these. But, a few days later he came back and asked me for more. he said, "I want to improve all my vocabulary"; I told him he was wrong. There is not so much use in improving your vocabulary to do with food or reading books because these are not likely to feature on the test. 

To prepare for the TOEIC, you are not improving your English. Improving your English is a great thing to do, but it will take a lot of work to improve your general English enough to make your TOEIC results better. It is all about improving for the areas the test will focus upon. here are a few action points:
  1. Focus on Listening and Reading - Not Speaking
  2. Find resources to practice the exam: Buy the book Tactics for TOEIC for example. 
  3. If you are looking for resources online look for TOEIC resources, not English learning resources. is good.

Prepare for the Exam

For many people, taking the TOEIC test is a difficult experience. It is often, though, not a problem with their English. Often it is a problem with the stress of the exam. They do not expect to feel so much pressure and when they get into the exam, they crack. They find themselves swimming. So, it is important to be ready for the stresses of the exam.

I also recently read an article in TIME Magazine that said many schools in the USA are starting to spend a lot of time not just teaching their students the information they need for their exams, but also teaching them to cope with the stress of doing the exams themselves.

The first thing to do here is to be clear on what it will be like in the exam room:

1.       It will be quiet. You are not allowed to speak in the exam. So be ready for the silence. Do not let it get to you.
2.       The examiner will be strict. The TOEIC examiners have to follow a strict script. They must read it that way. It sounds very harsh. It tells you all the things you cannot do and explains that you be thrown out of the test for breaking the rules.
3.       It will be long. The exam lasts two hours. You need to be prepared to invest two hours of your life to the test.

You cannot change any of these things, so you need to be ready to deal with them.

There are a few actions that you can take to help yourself feel better and to do well in the exam:

1.       Be Positive. If you know that the examiner is going to be very negative and give you lots of instructions. During this time, stay positive. Don’t worry about what he says. Focus on what you are going to do in the exam.
2.       Don’t let the start make you nervous. It takes over 30 minutes before you actually begin the test. You have to fill in your exam sheet and you have to answer questionnaire questions. Do not worry about this. None of it is hugely important. Do not let it distract you from your thoughts and from the exam.
3.       Go to the bathroom before. The test takes two hours and you will be in the room for two and a half hours. This is a long time. Go to the bathroom before! You cannot leave the test.
4.       Get a good night’s sleep. The test takes a long time, so you need to be alert. Do not stay up late studying. Go to bed early and be fully rested.