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10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

December 26, 2017

10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

The TOEFL test includes a Writing section, which has two parts. Do you know how to prepare for TOEFL Writing? Here are 10 tips for improving your TOEFL Writing score.

10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

TOEFL Writing has two parts: the Integrated Task and the Independent Task. The test is about 1 hour long.

For the Integrated Task, you will read text, listen to a lecture, and then write an essay. Visit the official TOEFL site, ETS, for sample text and lectures.

For the Independent Task, you will be asked a question. The topic of this question is related to TOEFL Speaking Task #2. For the Writing test, you will be asked to express an opinion based on your personal experience.

Tip #1: Learn to identify the main ideas

What are the main points of the passage you read, and what are the main points of the lecture? Be sure you can identify main ideas while reading and listening. For practice, read articles, listen to the news, or listen to podcasts and try to identify the main topics.

Tip #2: Take good notes

Learn how to write and listen at the same time. To do so, try watching TED Talks or listening to podcasts. Take notes while you listen, and pause the recording when you need to. You will quickly learn to be able to do both things at once.

Tip #3: Plan and prepare

Do not begin writing without having a clear plan. For the Integrated Task, use your notes to make an outline of what you want to say. For the Independent Task, brainstorm ideas based on your experience. Prepare an essay with ideas that connect, and then begin writing.

10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

Tip #4: Paraphrase, don’t plagiarize

In the Integrated Task, do not use the exact words from the passage or recording. Learn how to paraphrase (say the same thing using different words). If you do not do this, you are plagiarizing, which can cost you points.

In the Independent Task, do not use the exact words from the prompt. Use synonyms.

Tip #5: Vary your sentence structures

Learn how to make more complicated sentence structures and your TOEFL writing score will improve. Here are some examples of grammar concepts to learn in order to improve your score.

Mixed Conditionals

If + subject + had + past participle, subject + would + have + past participle

If I had known you needed help moving, I would have helped you.

Had + subject + past participle, subject + would + have + past participle

Had I known you needed help moving, I would have helped you.

Should + subject + base verb, base verb

Should you need help moving, let me know.


Expressing Regret

Using the construction “if only + subject + verb”

If only I had known you needed help moving!


Noun Clauses

Make your -ing clause the subject of the sentence

Living in San Diego has made me very happy.

Growing up in Northern California was very peaceful and fun.

The more you study grammar, the more your understanding of complex sentence structures will improve!

Tip #6: Learn connecting words

Connecting words will help you understand how a lecture or argument changes. For example, if a sentence begins with “however,” we know that the following information will contradict the information before. Read our article about Connecting Words in English to understand more.

Tip #7: Read

The best way to improve your writing is to read. The more you read, the more vocabulary words and sentence structures you will come into contact with. Read the news, read books for pleasure, and read short academic articles to prepare you. Our article Book Recommendations for ESL Students is a great place to start.

10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

Tip #8: Learn how to summarize

For the Integrated Task, you will have to process information in the text and lecture and then respond to it. Learn which parts are main ideas, which parts are details, and which parts need to be included in your writing.

For the Independent Task, you might have to provide your reader with a backstory or details. Make sure that you can do this efficiently.

Tip #9: Learn to edit

Editing your own work can be difficult, but with practice, you can train yourself to look at your work like you are a teacher or an editor. The best way to do this is to edit other people’s work, so find a study partner and trade writing samples. This will teach you how to look for mistakes.

Having your paper edited will also help you to understand the common mistakes that you make. Remember these common mistakes and then look for them when you edit your own paper during the test.

Tip #10: Take a preparation course

A TOEFL preparation course will provide you with:

  • Access to a skilled instructor
  • An English learning environment where TOEFL is the main goal
  • A chance to speak English more often than you normally do
  • TOEFL preparation materials
  • The opportunity to improve your confidence and abilities

Bonus Tip: Be comfortable on a QWERTY computer

The TOEFL Writing is taken on a computer with the American QWERTY keyboard. Practice typing on this keyboard to ensure that you are comfortable.

10 Tips for Improving Your TOEFL Writing Score

Good luck!


Converse International School of Languages has provided quality English instruction for over 45 years. CISL offers TOEFL preparation classes in San Diego and San Francisco. Contact CISL for more information on its intensive TOEFL preparation classes.

Why CISL? Our classes are never more than 8 students!


Academic English CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English

December 14, 2017

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English


When choosing English classes, students are often confused about the difference between Academic English and Conversational English. Do you know the difference? Understanding the advantages of both will help you decide which course is right for you!

Academic English vs. Conversation English: What’s the Difference?

Conversation English: Overview

The goal of conversational English classes is to improve one’s ability to communicate. Therefore, conversational English classes focus on all aspects of learning English: improving listening, speaking, grammar, reading, and writing. There is typically a strong focus on vocabulary, idioms, and phrasal verbs.

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English

Who should take Conversational English classes?

Conversation-focused English classes are for everyone! Most students feel that their communication in English could be improved: these classes are an excellent opportunity for students of any level to improve their confidence and skills.

When choosing a conversation-based English class, the most important thing to remember is to choose a reputable school with qualified teachers. Make sure that your classes have a clear structure, that goals are outlined, and that the class syllabus is followed.  

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English

Academic English: Overview

Academic English classes are designed to improve a student’s English skills that are needed in the college classroom. Therefore, the classes will focus on improving English skills (listening, speaking, writing, and reading) for the university classroom. Vocabulary lessons focus more on academic English skills (and less on idioms, slang, and phrasal verbs). Academic English classes tend to focus more on writing, specifically research, essay practice, and citations. Listening lessons focus on listening to lectures and improving note-taking skills.

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English

Who should take academic English?

Academic English is great for many language learners, including students who:

  • Want to attend college or university in the U.S.
  • Plan to use English in a more formal or business setting
  • Would like a more rigorous workload than they receive in a conversational English class
  • Plan to take the TOEFL, IELTS, or other English proficiency exam
  • Would like to teach English in the future

The Differences Between Academic English and Conversational English

Do you still need help deciding which course is right for you? Contact CISL!

Converse International School of Languages has provided quality English instruction since 1973. CISL’s small class size (maximum 8 students per class) and effective curriculum help students reach their English learning goals quickly, and in two of the best cities in the U.S.: San Francisco and San Diego! Contact CISL for information on its Standard course, English for Academic Purposes course, or other programs such as Academic Year Abroad, Career English, and University Pathway.

Academic English EAP Featured San Francisco University Pathway

Meet our CISL Pathway Partner, California College of the Arts!

November 22, 2017

California College of the Arts International Students

“Make art that matters” is the motto of our CISL Pathway Partner, California College of the Arts. Are you looking for a career in the arts? A degree from this college might be for you!

Meet our CISL Pathway Partner, California College of the Arts!

California College of the Arts (CCA) was founded in 1907 as a private college. Today, the college has 21 undergraduate and 13 graduate majors in many fields, including:

  • Fine arts
  • Architecture
  • Design
  • Writing

California College of the Arts International Students

Why CCA?

CISL selected CCA as a Pathway Partner because of its dedication to student involvement. Students do not just attend class and then go home and study: both of the campuses (in Oakland and San Francisco) also host events, lectures, and talks from esteemed artists. The college believes it is important for students to receive this inspiration and motivation from others in the industry: these are the valuable experiences that cannot be taught in the traditional classroom!

California College of the Arts International Students

About CCA

CCA has campuses in Downtown Oakland and in SF’s Portrero Hill neighborhood. Its small student population provides students the opportunity to work closely with their professors: on average, courses have an average of only 13 students per class and the school has an 8:1 student/faculty ratio.

California College of the Arts International Students

CCA also prides itself in offering students real-life skills. Students are offered more than 600 internships per year and classes focus on teaching students skills that can be used in the workplace. CCA is also a great value: in 2016, it was voted “Best Value School” by PayScale, a website which ranks the value of colleges using the world’s largest database of salaries and tuitions.

California College of the Arts International Students

Attending CCA as an international student

With CISL’s Pathway Program, CISL students can attend California College of the Arts without taking the TOEFL. Students simply need to complete CISL’s English for Academic Purposes Course and apply to CCA. With the help of CISL’s Pathway Advisor, students receive guidance throughout the application process.

To learn more about CCA or CISL’s Pathway Program, visit the CISL website.


Academic English EAP Featured University Pathway Vocabulary

50 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays

October 28, 2017

 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays
In English, we often have to analyze data, research, or facts. Do you know how to do this effectively, while using the appropriate verbs of analysis? This list of 50 verbs of analysis in English will help you.

Note: this list is for advanced English learners (CEFR level B2 or above). All definitions are from the Cambridge Dictionary online

50 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays


Definition: to have an influence on someone or something, or to cause a change in someone or something.

Example: Experts agree that coffee affects the body in ways we have not yet studied.


Definition: to increase the size or effect of something.

Example: It has been shown that this drug amplifies the side effects that were experienced by patients in previous trials.


Definition: to say that something is certainly true.

Example: Smith asserts that his findings are valid, despite criticism by colleagues.


Definition: Something that characterizes another thing is typical of it.

Example: His early paintings are characterized by a distinctive pattern of blue and yellow.


Definition: to say that something is true or is a fact, although you cannot prove it and other people might not believe it.

Example: Smith claims that the study is the first of its kind, and very different from the 2015 study he conducted.


Definition: to make something clear or easier to understand by giving more details or a simpler explanation.

Example: The professor clarified her statement with a later, more detailed, statement.


Definition: to collect information from different places and arrange it in a book, report, or list.

Example: After compiling the data, the scientists authored a ten-page paper on their study and its findings.


Definition: to judge or decide something after thinking carefully about it.

Example: Doctor Jensen concluded that the drug wasn’t working, so he switched his patient to a new medicine.


Definition: to prove that a belief or an opinion that was previously not completely certain is true.

Example: This new data confirms the hypothesis many researchers had.


Definition: to join or be joined with something else.

Example: By including the criticisms of two researchers, Smith connects two seemingly different theories and illustrates a trend with writers of the Romanticism period.

 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays


Definition: to show or find the difference between things that are compared.

Example: Smith differentiates between the two theories in paragraph 4 of the second part of the study.


Definition: to reduce or be reduced in size or importance.

Example: The new findings do not diminish the findings of previous research; rather, it builds on it to present a more complicated theory about the effects of global warming.


Definition: to cause people to stop respecting someone or believing in an idea or person.

Example: The details about the improper research done by the institution discredits the institution’s newest research.


Definition: to show.

Example: Smith’s findings display the effects of global warming that have not yet been considered by other scientists.


Definition:to prove that something is not true.

Example: Scientists hope that this new research will disprove the myth that vaccines are harmful to children.


Definition:to notice or understand the difference between two things, or to make one person or thing seem different from another.

Example: Our study seems similar to another one by Duke University: how can we distinguish ourselves and our research from this study?


Definition: to add more information to or explain something that you have said.

Example: In this new paper, Smith elaborates on theories she discussed in her 2012 book.


Definition: to represent a quality or an idea exactly.

Example: Shakespeare embodies English theater, but few can understand the antiquated (old) form of English that is used in the plays.


Definition: to copy something achieved by someone else and try to do it as well as they have.

Example: Although the study emulates some of the scientific methods used in previous research, it also offers some inventive new research methods.


Definition: to improve the quality, amount, or strength of something.

Example: The pharmaceutical company is looking for ways to enhance the effectiveness of its current drug for depression.

 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays


Definition: to make something necessary, or to involve something.

Example: The scientist’s study entails several different stages, which are detailed in the report.


Definition: to consider one thing to be the same as or equal to another thing.

Example: Findings from both studies equate; therefore, we can conclude that they are both accurate.


Definition: to discover or get proof of something.

Example: The award establishes the main causes of global warming.


Definition: to make someone remember something or feel an emotion.

Example: The artist’s painting evokes the work of some of the painters from the early 1800s.


Definition: to show something.

Example: Some of the research study participants exhibit similar symptoms while taking the medicine.


Definition: to make something possible or easier.

Example: The equipment that facilitates the study is expensive and of high-quality.


Definition: the main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest.

Example: The author focuses on World War II, which is an era she hasn’t written about before.


Definition: to act as a warning or sign of a future event.

Example: The sick bird at the beginning of the novel foreshadows the illness the main character develops later in the book.


Definition: to develop all the details of a plan for doing something.

Example: Two teams of scientists formulated the research methods for the study.


Definition: to cause something to exist.

Example: The study’s findings have generated many questions about this new species of frog in South America.

 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays


Definition:  to attract attention to or emphasize something important.

Example: The author, Dr. Smith, highlights the need for further studies on the possible causes of cancer among farm workers.


Definition: to recognize a problem, need, fact, etc. and to show that it exists.

Example: Through this study, scientists were able to identify three of the main factors causing global warming.


Definition:  to show the meaning or truth of something more clearly,especially by giving examples.

Example: Dr. Robin’s study illustrates the need for more research on the effects of this experimental drug.


Definition: to communicate an idea or feeling without saying it directly.

Example: The study implies that there are many outside factors (other than diet and exercise) which determine a person’s tendency to gain weight.


Definition: to include something as part of something larger.

Example: Dr. Smith incorporates research findings from 15 other studies in her well-researched paper.


Definition: to show, point, or make clear in another way.

Example: Overall, the study indicates that there is no real danger (other than a lack of sleep) to drinking three cups of coffee per day.


Definition: to form an opinion or guess that something is true because of the information that you have.

Example: From this study about a new medicine, we can infer that it will work similarly to other drugs that are currently being sold.


Definition: to tell someone about particular facts.

Example: Dr. Smith informs the reader that there are some issues with this study: the oddly rainy weather in 2017 made it difficult for them to record the movements of the birds they were studying.


Definition: to suggest, without being direct, that something unpleasant is true.

Example: In addition to the reported conclusions, the study insinuates that there are many hidden dangers to driving while texting.


Definition: to combine two or more things in order to become more effective.

Example: The study about the popularity of social media integrates Facebook and Instagram hashtag use.

 Verbs of Analysis for English Academic Essays


Definition: to not have or not have enough of something that is needed or wanted.

Example: What the study lacks, I believe, is a clear outline of the future research that is needed.


Definition: to make something legal or acceptable.

Example: Although the study legitimizes the existence of global warming, some will continue to think it is a hoax.


Definition: to make a problem bigger or more important.

Example: In conclusion, the scientists determined that the new pharmaceutical actually magnifies some of the symptoms of anxiety.


Definition: something that a copy can be based on because it is an extremely good example of its type.

Example: The study models a similar one from 1973, which needed to be redone with modern equipment.


Definition: to cause something to have no effect.

Example: This negates previous findings that say that sulphur in wine gives people headaches.


Definition: to not give enough care or attention to people or things that are your responsibility.

Example: The study neglects to mention another study in 2015 that had very different findings.


Definition: to make something difficult to discover and understand.

Example: The problems with the equipment obscures the study.


Definition: a description of the main facts about something.

Example: Before describing the research methods, the researchers outline the need for a study on the effects of anti-anxiety medication on children.


Definition:  to fail to notice or consider something or someone.

Example: I personally feel that the study overlooks something very important: the participants might have answered some of the questions incorrectly.


Definition: to happen at the same time as something else, or be similar or equal to something else.

Example: Although the study parallels the procedures of a 2010 study, it has very different findings.

Converse International School of Languages offers an English for Academic Purposes course for students interested in improving their academic English skills. Students may take this course, which is offered in the afternoon for 12 weeks, at both CISL San Diego and CISL San Francisco. EAP course graduates can go on to CISL’s Academic Year Abroad program, where students attend one semester at a California Community College. Through CISL’s University Pathway program, EAP graduates may also attend college or university at one of CISL’s Pathway Partners. See the list of 25+ partners on the CISL website. Contact CISL for more information.  

Academic English Featured Los Angeles University Pathway

Meet our CISL Pathway Partner, Santa Monica College!

September 15, 2017

CISL is proud to announce a partnership with Santa Monica College in beautiful Southern California! With this new partnership, CISL’s English for Academic Purposes graduates can attend Santa Monica College (SMC) without taking the TOEFL. Learn about your future with SMC below.

CISL’s Newest Pathway Partner, Santa Monica College

What is Santa Monica College?

Santa Monica College is a two-year college that is part of the California Community College system. It is one of the most affordable colleges in the state and also one of the best: SMC is the #1 transfer college to UCLA, USC, the University of California system, and Loyola Marymount University. Begin your college studies at Santa Monica College and you are one step away from transferring to some of the best universities in California.

Why choose SMC?

Your academic options are impressive at SMC! Popular academic programs at SMC include Business, Computer Technology, Early Childhood Education, Graphic Design, and Nursing (for a full list of programs, visit the Santa Monica College website).

Here are some more of the many reasons to consider SMC:

  • Incredible professors, including award-winning scientists, artists, scholars, and authors
  • Beautiful location (less than two miles from the beach)!
  • History of success in transfers: SMC has been the #1 transfer college to the UC system for 26 years
  • Modern campus with buildings that have won several architectural awards
  • “Smart classrooms” equipped with the latest technologies
  • Numerous student clubs (more than 70!) and sports clubs for students to join
  • Affordable tuition
  • More than 60 academic degree programs
  • 3,000+ international students from more than 100 countries
  • Active International Education Center to assist with housing, academic counseling, and adjusting to life in the U.S.
  • The college provides assistance with housing options (most students find housing within 5-7 days)

From SMC to University

After completing two years of education at SMC, finish the final two years of your four-year bachelor’s degree at a California State University campus. With SMC’s Guaranteed Transfer Agreement program, students with specific majors are guaranteed admission to a California State University school that has partnered with SMC. (To receive this, students must pass all of their classes.)

Some of the many areas of study include:

  • Art History
  • Business Administration
  • Communication
  • Economics
  • History
  • Journalism
  • Mathematics
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

For further information, read these statistics on CSU and UC transfers and student population demographics.

To learn more about CISL’s Pathway Program and how you can attend a U.S. college or university using a TOEFL waiver, contact CISL. Be sure to ask about our English for Academic Purposes course, which will provide you with the academic English skills you need to succeed in the American university classroom.