Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Predict the Dialog

In my last blog entry about the Listening Section, I explained that it is importnat to read the questions before you listen to the audio on the CD. This is good advice. however, it is importnat to do as much as you can when you read the questions. The more we can predict about the dialog or speech we are going to hear, the more likely it is that we will be able to answer the questions well.

For example, take a look at the following question:

We can tell from the vocabulary used in the questions that the two people are going to be talking about a job interview. We see vocabulary like: 'interview' and 'applicant'. If you look at question one, we also see that all of the times are in the morning (or very close). And, we also see a qeustion talking about the afternoon. So, wa can assume that the conversatiopn is about a job interview and then what the people will do after it.

The second set of questions is clearly about a party because we see the word party in each question. We can also guess that there is a problem with this party and that location.

It is of course, always important to look for key words in the questions such as (What/Where/When) and the main verb in each question.

Stay Ahead in the Race

This TOEIC blog is about sections 3 and 4 in the Listening area of the test. The image above is a picture of Christophe Lemaitre winning a race. I have used this image because you have to imagine that when you are in the listening section of the test, you are in a race. A race against the CD that plays the questions. Very simple, you must think faster than the CD plays.

In the two sections you will have to do three things:
  1. Read the questions
  2. Listen to the audio
  3. Answer the questions
It is difficult to do all of these things at once. So, you need to follow a procedure:
  1. Read the questions before you hear the audio. You need to have finished reading before the audio begins. This is very important.
  2. Listen to the audio. Stop reading. Don't do anything except listen.
  3. Answer the question. Do this as quickly and decisively as you can.
This all sounds very simple, doesn't it? Well, unfortunately, it is not so easy. You have to be very organised in how you do this.

The first step you must follow is when Section 3 begins. The voice on the CD will begin by taking one minute to describe Section 3 (Or 4). During this time, read questions 1, 2 and 3. Then, when the first conversation begins, you listen. After the conversation is finished, answer the questions as quickly as you can. The longer you wait to answer, the less chance you will have of getting the answer right.

After the conversation finishes, you will hear the questions being read by the voice on the CD. Ignore this. It does not help you - the questions are written down in front of you. You should use the time when the voice reads the questions to (i) answer as quickly as you can, and (b) read the next questions.

In simple terms, it is easier to answer the questions if you know what information you are listening for. Therefore, it is hugely important to read each question before the dialogue begins.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Practice Your Methodology

In one of my earlier blog entries, I suggested that one of the best ways to get high marks in the TOEIC exam is to think of yourself as a detective looking for evidence (;postID=7370930501862566810). I compared the situation to the TV show 'Les Experts' (Or, CSI for those outside France). This is great advice because if you can understand the logic of the questions, you are far more likely to be able to answer them. It is important to look for vocabulary clues and for grammar clues and to use those clues in your thought process when you answer.

I recently thought about the above blog article and realized that I had missed something very important. The advice is fantastic for your exam, but it is also vital for your preparation. If you follow the logic whilst you are preparing, it will make it easier to do the same when the pressure is on in the exam. As teachers often say "Practice Makes Perfect".

With all this in mind, I have listed two practice questions and have shown how you can go about answering them.

Tom prepared the ____________ for the meeting.
  • lunch
  • clothes
  • agent
  • agenda
This question looks rather easy, doesn't it? I am sure a lot of you can see straight away that the answer is "agenda". But, it is important when you are preparing to show your logic - even if you are preparing alone. Therefore, I tell my students to answer the question like this:

Tom prepared the ____________ for the meeting.
  • lunch
  • clothes
  • agent
  • agenda
We know that the answer is agenda because the question asks about a meeting. I have added a few other exmaples here. Please look at the photos I have attached:

This one is from section 5. In Question 117 we have chosen "since" because we see the phrase "eight years ago". Question 118, we choose discretion because it is a noun and we can see the possessive "her" before.

The idea of using evidence is not just for sections 5 and 6, you can use it also in section 7. Here is an example question where I have found the vocabulary that links to the answers in the text provided.

The more you follow this process, the easier it will be for you in the exam. Obviously, in the exam you cannot make a lark on the question book, but you can look at the questions and pick the correct answer using the logic you have practiced.

Time Management - Where to Use Your Time

I recently sent some of my students in Nice this breakdown of how the TOEIC Test works

1.       The Picture Section (10 Questions)
a.       In this section you see a picture and hear four descriptions of the picture. You must choose the one that best describes the picture. The only thing you see in the test book for this section is the picture.
2.       Question-Response (30 Questions)
a.       In this section you will hear one person ask a question or make a request. You then hear three responses. You must choose the best response. There is nothing written in the book for this section.
3.       Dialogues (30 Questions)
a.       You will hear two people having a conversation. You must answer questions about the conversation.
b.      The questions are written in the book and they are spoken on the CD
4.       Monologues (30 Questions)
a.       You will hear one person talking. You must answer questions about what he/she says.
b.      The questions are written in the book and they are spoken on the CD

The Listening section of the test comes first. It is done on a CD. It takes approximately 45 minutes. You have no control of the time or the order of the question, you must follow the CD.

5.       Incomplete sentences (40 Questions)
a.       You are given a sentence with one word missing. You must choose the correct word to go in the gap. There are four options.
6.       Text Completion (12 Questions)
a.       Your are given a passage of writing with three short paragraphs. There is a word missing in each of the paragraphs and you must choose the best word.
7.       Reading Comprehension (48 Questions)
a.       You are given a passage of text (It can be an email, a report, an advert etc) and you must answer comprehension questions based on the text.

The Reading Test is different to the Listening as you have 75 minutes and the way you manage that time is up to you.

This made me think about the way we use time in a TOEIC exam. This is one of the most important parts of the TOEIC test - it is almost as important as the language involved. In the Listening section of the test, you do not have much freedom. The CD goes at one speed and you must answer the questions as they are presented to you. You have no choice here.

However, in the Reading section, things are different. The 75 minutes you have are yours to do with with as you want. You can break the time up in whichever way you choose. Therefore, it is important to use those minutes as well as you can. Therefore, we need to be prepared. The first thing to remember is that Section 7 takes much longer than sections 5 and 6. You need to be 100% aware of this fact. I have controlled many TOEIC exams and I regularly see students missing the last few questions because they run out of time. Therefore, I have put together some suggestions to help you.
  1. Do not relax in sections 5 and 6. You need to answer these questions as quickly as possible.
  2. If a question is difficult, do not spend 5 minutes thinking about. Give your best answer and move on.
  3. Answer the easier questions first. Go through section 7 and answer the questions that you think you can get right. Leave the difficult ones until the end.
This third point is possibly the most important. if you spend a lot of time on the first 90 questions in the Reading section and cannot finish the last ten, that is 10 marks you definitely wont get. You will lose 5% of your possible score right there. It is possible you could have got eight or nine of those questions correct. But, if you spent too long on two or three difficult questions, you lost the marks. Remember, you can always come back to a question.

If you come to a difficult question, you have two choices:
  1. Pick your best answer and move on as quickly as possible.
  2. Leave it until the end of the test
You should never:
  1. Spend four or five minutes thinking about it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Avoid Distractions

This blog entry focuses on a key tactic that can help you in Sections 3 and 4 of then Listening part of the test and in Section 7 of the reading section. This is to avaoid distractions. What do i mean by distractions? To explain, please take a look at the following sample question. We are going to focus first question 1. The correct answer is a. In the morning. however, both vocabulary similar to both b and d are in the dialog (I have marked these in blue). Next, lets look at question 3. The correct answer is c. Making a phone call. However, if we look at the other options in the answer, we can see words related to all of them in the transcript (I have marked them in red).

Man: I was wondering if we received the contract from Ms Park? She said last night that she'd fax it here today.
Woman: It hasn't arrived yet. Perhaps we should call her if we don't get it by lunchtime?
Man: Well, it is only ten o'clock in the morning, and she is very reliable. The Seoul office is running so much better since she became the manager.

Question 1: When does the conversation take place?
  • In the morning
  • Around midday
  • In the late afternoon
  • At night
Question 2: What are the speakers waiting for?
  • A call from a customer
  • A job application
  • A food delivery
  • A contract
Question 3: What does the woman suggest?
  • Sending a fax
  • Making a phone call
  • Hiring a New Manager
  • Flying to Seoul

So, what advice can I give you to help here. Well, the obvious answer is to read and listen carefully. Don't just pick an answer because you see it or hear it. These are on the test to distract you. However, that is a bit simplistic and will not necessarily help you too much. The best piece of advice that I can give you is to (1) read the questions carefully (2) do this before you listen to the dialog/monolog or before you read the piece.

Why is this so important? That is a very good question. It is importnat because many students do not prepare for each question individually. This is crazy. You must be ready for each one.
  • In the Listening scetion, after you have answered questions 1,2 and 3 you will hear them read out on the CD. This gives you around one minute of time. You answer 1,2 and 3 quickly and use the time you have to read 4,5 and 6. if you know what you are listening for, it makes answering the questions so much easier.
  • In the Reading section, students think that they save time if they read the text first and then answer the questions. This is not the case. Read the questions, then read the text and then ... read the questions again.
Very simply, be sure the choice you make answers the question you have been asked. Do not pick an answer just because you see or hear the words. If you look at the question above, you heard most of the words, but not all of them answered the question.

Synonyms in Section 3

This blog entry is going to focus specifically for the Listening section of the Test parts 3.
  • In section 3 you hear two people having a conversation and then you will have to answer questions based on the conversation.
  • In section 4 you will hear one person talking and then you will have to answer questions based on the speech.

 In section 3, you might hear conversations about:
  • Meetings
  • Arranging lunch
  • Products
  • Travel arrangements
  • Ordering food at a restaurant
  • Customers and services
  • Shipments and orders
  • Returning items at a store
  • Traffic updates
  • Weather updates
The questions will focus on the topic and vocabulary you hear in the conversation. In this situation, the first piece of advice I have is simple: Listen carefully and try to find the phrases in the questions that match what your hear. let me give you an example. The following passage is a transcript of a genuine TOEIC test question:

Man: I was wondering if we received the contract from Ms Park? She said last night that she'd fax it here today.
Woman: It hasn't arrived yet. Perhaps we should call her if we don't get it by lunchtime?
Man: Well, it is only ten o'clock in the morning, and she is very reliable. The Seoul office is running so much better since she became the manager.

Question 1: When does the conversation take place?
  • In the morning
  • Around midday
  • In the late afternoon
  • At night
Question 2: What are the speakers waiting for?
  • A call from a customer
  • A job application
  • A food delivery
  • A contract
Question 3: What does the woman suggest?
  • Sending a fax
  • Making a phone call
  • Hiring a New Manager
  • Flying to Seoul
 If we look at question 2. It is easy to find the answer because the question uses the same word. I have marked this in red. Question 3 is the same. The vocabulary is easy to spot. I have marked this in blue.

The important question, though, is number 1. Here the vocabulary is different. In the conversation, the speaker does not use the word morning, she says "by lunchtime". This is a synonym for "In the morning". This is a very important point to remember. In Sections 3 and 4, you will need to recognise synonyms in many places.

If you are likely to hear synonyms, it is very important that you practise these and are ready for the ones that you read/hear in sections 3 and 4. The example above shows time. But, you should think about improving your vocabulary in some of the areas I mentioned above. I have started things for you below. The synonyms are in Blue:
  • Meeting: Appointment, Conference
  • Schedule: Planning, Timetable, Arrangements
  • Problem: Issue, Query, Complaint
  • Traffic Jam: Congestion, Delays, Heavy Traffic
  • Customer: Client
These are just a few examples. To really expand your vocabulary, I would brainstorm words for each section that I have listed at the start of this article. I would then try to find three synonyms for each of the words you can come up with. A great resource for this is

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Prepare for Pictures

Many people believe that section 1 of the TOEIC exam is the easiest section of the test. this is probably true. However, because they think it is easy and because there are only ten questions, many people ignore it and do not prepare well. this means they lose important marks. This is terrible. We do not want to lose a single possible mark! So, what should we do to ensure we do very well on section 1?

The tactic to be successful in section 1 is very simple. You should look at each picture before you hear the descriptions and try to predict what you think the description will be. Look at the picture and try to identify which nouns and verbs you think you will hear. If you know what you are listening for, it is much easier to make the right choice when you hear the four descriptions. I have two fun and easy ways that you can prepare at home:
  1. Pick up a magazine or a newspaper and look at the pictures inside. Then, simply, describe what is happening in that picture to yourself. Think about what the people are doing. Think about where they are. Think about what objects are in the picture.
  2. Take your camera or your smart phone and walk around your city taking pictures. Then, when you get home look at the pictures and try to describe to yourself what is happening.
Section 1 is not so big and not so difficult. And, even if you get all the questions correct, it does not mean you will score over 900 on the test. But, you should be 100% ready and should be prepared for the pictures you see and the descriptions you hear.

Prioritse Your Vocabulary Practice

An important piece of advice for scoring very highly on the TOEIC exam is to improve your vocabulary. This is a rather obvious statement, but it is true in several ways:
  • In the listening section of the test, if you can understand all the words that you hear, it will make it much easier to answer all the questions.
  • In the reading sections, if you can understand all the words you read, it will make it easier to answer the questions. Specifically in section 7, you will understand the articles, emails and memos you read. In Sections 5 and 6, you will be able to choose the best words for each answer.
However, if I said to you simply, "Improve your vocabulary", this would be terrible advice. It would take hours and hours of work simply to raise your mark by five or ten points. the amount of work needed, would not be worthwhile for the result you would get. Instead it is better to be focused on improving the right pieces of vocabulary. It is better to focus on specific areas that your are certain to see on the test:
  • Transport: You will hear and read lots about airports and train schedules and plans in the TOEIC exam. Try to improve your vocabulary in this area. A good tip is to read a lot of train and aeroplane schedules so that you know what the real thing looks like.
  • Meetings: There will be lots of dialogues and emails/memos about meetings. Every TOEIC test I have seen features at least one. Improve your vocabulary in this area because you will hear and read related subjects.
  • Hotels: There will be an email about travel and hotels or a conversation about booking a hotel. Practise the vocabulary here. Think about the words you associate with making reservations and staying in a hotel.
  • Office: The TOEIC test focuses on business. You will definitely hear something about the office. Think about office furniture and office descriptions.
  • Jobs and Departments: You will hear lots of vocabulary about jobs using the names of departments and job-titles. Make yourself familiar with the names of different departments within a company and the different job-titles you might hear.
  • Times: You will hear and see lots of words to do with times and dates. it is vital that you can use times and dates well and understand them.
  • Complaints: You will probably hear one dialogue and read one email where people complain about a product or service. Be clear on the language people might use in this type of situation.
  • Numbers and Prices: You will see advertisements and invoices in the reading section of the test and you will hear advertisements and sales presentations. Therefore, it is vital you are ready to hear numbers, prices and percentages.
These will not be the only areas that you need to practise. But, you will hear vocabulary that relates to all of these. So, be ready.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Be Decisive

Getting a good score on the TOEIC exam is very difficult. However, lots of people make it even more difficult for themselves by being indecisive and thinking about things too much. A key part of passing the TOEIC is making strong and quick decisions. Students who are decisive score more points.

The picture you can see above is Rodin's The Thinker. This is a beautiful piece of art, but it is the kind of think we need to avoid during the TOEIC. If you are in the listening section of the test, you only hear the questions once. If you do not answer them quickly, you will begin to forget. It is best to answer whilst the information is as fresh in your mind as possible. In the reading section, you can read the questions as many times as you want, but they will not get easier. In both parts of the test is is best to make a decision and answer. If you do not, you waste time and you do not give yourself a chance to get any more marks.

So, how do you make good decisions? I like to recommend the traffic light system. This can be applied to the reading section of the test. 

Red Questions: When a question is very difficult and you do not know the answer, do not worry. There will be some questions like this for every student. Even if you score 940 points, you will get some questions wrong. In this situation, pick the answer you think is best and move on. Do not waste time.
Orange Questions: These are questions that are difficult, but you think you can answer them. These are the questions to spend time on. Think about the answers. Look for clues and evidence (Like CSI). Do not take five minutes to answer each, but think about these.
Green Questions: These are easy questions. if you know the answer, give the answer and move on. Do not spend time worrying about them.

If you spend your time on the orange questions, you can gain more marks. You are using your time well. if you waste too much time on Red and Green questions, you waste time.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Be Careful ... Don't Rush

In my last article, I talked about being like the police officers from the TV show ‘Les Experts’. I explained that it was very important to look for evidence and reasons when you are answering questions on the TOEIC. Answering questions is great, but if you can explain the logic behind your answers it means that you will be able to answer more questions in the same way.

Looking for evidence is great advice. I recommend it to all my TOEIC students. However, there is another aspect to it that is also really important: Reading the questions carefully and listening to the CD carefully. This might sound like really obvious advice, but it is also very important. When you look for advice, you need to look at or listen to the tenses involved and the vocabulary involved (this is true of the whole test from section 1 all the way through to section 7). If you do not read and listen carefully, you will not understand correctly.

This all sounds extremely obvious. Why, you might ask, am I writing about something that everybody knows? The answer is simple. When many people take the TOEIC, they are worried about running out of time, so they try to ready quickly and try to answer quickly. They will look and listen for key words and just use those.  This is crazy! The test is designed to ensure you cannot do this. Students who look just for key words will save time, but they will also make many mistakes.

Below are a few tips to help you read and listen carefully:

  • ·         In reading sections 5 and 6, read the whole sentence and all four options. Section 5 is only a list of short sentences. You cannot save much time here.
  • ·         In reading section 7, read all of the texts and all of the questions. There is a lot of information here and it takes time, but it is designed so that if you read the test well, the questions will be easier. If you read it quickly, it will be more difficult.
  • ·         In listening section 2, listen to the questions carefully. Listen for (a) the question words like What Where and Why, (b) Listen for the verb in the sentence, and (c) Listen for any important nouns in the sentence.
  • ·         In listening sections 3 and 4, read the questions carefully before you listen. Identify the question words, key verbs and key nouns. Then, listen to the audio very carefully.

This all sounds very obvious, but there are many students who do not do this. These are the students who get low scores!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Be an 'Expert' - Use Evidence

One of my favourite TV programs is the US show CSI. I like this show because I am interested in the crime stories and because it is very exciting. However, I also like it because it gives great lessons for the TOEIC exam. This might sound strange, but it is true. In Les Experts, the investigators are always looking for evidence, which is exactly what students doing the TOEIC need to be doing.

The investigators in Las Vegas, New York or Miami are looking for evidence to tell them who committed the murder. TOEIC students are looking for evidence that tells them how to answer a question. So, exactly what do you need to do to be an 'Expert'? It is actually quite simple, when you answer a question on the TOEIC, you need to ask yourself “why?”.

I find this tactic particularly useful in the reading section (although it applies to the Listening section as well). If you read a question in section 5 (where you need to complete the sentence), it is important to look at the grammar and vocabulary in the sentence. Let's look at an example:

Yesterday I ______ to the movies
  • go
  • went
  • have gone
  • will go

If you look at this question, the key word is “yesterday”. Yesterday is in the past. Therefore, we know that the answer for this question has to be in the past. It must be “go”. This is a very easy example, but, if you can apply this type of logic to other more difficult questions, you will get more and more correct. It doesn't just work with grammar based questions. It also helps with questions that test your vocabulary. For example:

Did you ________ the meeting
  • attend
  • attack
  • deliver
  • complete

The key word in this sentence is “meeting”. We need to choose the verb that goes best with the word meeting. That verb is “attend”.

I tell all my students to follow a simple rule in the TOEIC test. When they answer a question, they must think about why. When they do this, it allows them to be logical. They can apply this logic not just to one question, but to all of them, which gives a greater chance of getting a higher mark.