Browsing Category


Academic English EAP Featured TOEFL University Pathway Vocabulary Writing

Academic English Vocabulary: Verbs for Citations

March 14, 2017

When CISL English for Academic Purposes students learn to write academic English research papers, students often have difficulty citing their sources. The problem? Finding synonyms for the word “say” in order to avoid repetition in their paper. The following verbs for citations can be used in place of “say.” Some are more appropriate than others depending on the situation: to better understand their usage, we are providing the situation in which we can use this word (as well as an example, which uses the MLA format for citing sources).

With each example, we are imagining a research paper written on the effects of caffeine. We will cite an imaginary scientist with the last name “Jacobs.”

Verbs for citations

Verbs for Citations


Usage: to cite a person who says something contrary to another argument.

Example: While many believe caffeine is harmful, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania argue that in small doses, caffeine can stimulate brain function and awareness (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who says something confidently or with force.

Example: Despite arguments against the validity of his research, the professor asserts that the study’s findings are accurate (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite someone who is stating or asserting that something is the case, typically without providing evidence or proof.

Example: The anti-environment group claimed that research about global warming was flawed (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite someone who is making (secret or new information) known.

Example: Jacobs disclosed that the research was funded by a pharmaceutical company with the intention of making their new drug appear effective (199: 2017).


Usage: to make private or sensitive information known.

Example: The summary divulged that the study was funded by the government (Jacobs 2017). 

Verbs for citations


Usage: to cite a person who keeps their opinion, despite claims against it.

Example: Although over the years other studies have been published stating the dangers of caffeine, Jacobs maintains that the original study is correct and that caffeine in small doses is beneficial (199: 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who is pointing out something interesting, adding a fact or piece of information.

Example: Jacobs additionally notes that caffeine has been shown to help maintain steady sleep patterns when used effectively (198: 2017). 

Point out

Usage: the phrasal verb “to point out” means to bring attention to an important fact.

Example: Jacobs also points out that many of the studies regarding the benefits of caffeine were paid for by the coffee industry, while his study was funded by a government grant (198: 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who draws a conclusion based on information, evidence, or knowledge.

Example: Scientists reasoned that the study’s results were due to the use of regulated doses of coffee, as opposed to studies that gave subjects higher doses of caffeine (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: a more formal synonym for the word “say.”

Example: Jacobs also states that the study was the first of its kind (194: 2017). 

Did you notice that each of the above words are followed by the word “that?” This is optional. To find out why, read our article on Defining vs. Non-defining Relative Clauses.

Would you like some more examples of verbs for citations? Check out the University of Toronto, Scarborough’s list of Verbs for Citing Sources, the University of Portsmouth’s Verbs for Citations list, or Centralia College in Washington’s useful Verbs of Attribution download.

Academic English Cambridge Exams EAP Featured IELTS TOEFL Writing

Exam Prep Writing: Beginning an Essay with an Effective Hook

December 16, 2016

Many writers (both native English speakers and English learners) agree that beginning the essay is often the most difficult part. For English proficiency exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge FCE and CAE, this is certainly the case!

Take a look at this sample TOEFL Agree/Disagree statement. How would you begin an essay? (For tips on TOEFL Agree/Disagree, check out our article that contains useful hints.)


Learn more TOEFL Writing Tips (and how to construct an Agree/Disagree essay) on the CISL Blog.

Writing Prompt:

Do you agree or disagree with the statement below?

There is nothing that younger people can teach older people. 

Use specific examples to support your arguments. 

Would you know how to begin an essay on this topic? Learn how to write a great “hook” (first sentence) and you will not have this problem again!

Students Writing

A strongly written essay will also include conjunctions: learn about how to use them effectively in our article about Coordinating Conjunctions.

Using the hook in writing

A “hook” is given its name because it hooks the reader. It’s the first sentence, and it entices the reader to continue through the paragraph and essay.

There are many types of hooks. Let’s look at a few.

Hook 1: A Question

Begin your essay by posing a question to your reader. It gets them thinking!

Example 1: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Example 2: We become wiser as we get older . . . but can we learn from those who have experienced less of life?

Example 3: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Hook 2: An anecdote

An anecdote is a personal story. Writing sections of proficiency exams ask you to use specific examples to support your opinion: with an anecdote, you are beginning with one!

Example 1: I will never forget walking into the classroom and seeing Vlad: even with his kind face, I thought to myself, “How can I teach someone who is significantly older than me?.” It turns out, I could.

Example 2: I’ve learned so much from my teachers and professors in elementary school, high school, and college . . . but I may have learned the most from my experience as teaching assistant to small children.

Example 3: Can the students be the teacher? I certainly think so after volunteering at a local elementary school.

Hook 3: A fact

In a test setting, it might be difficult to remember an exact fact or statistic. However, this is useful if you are writing research essays at home and can access a library or a computer. Even without a computer, this can still be a possible hook: check out some of these examples.

Example 1: You must complete four years of college and two years of additional training to become a high school teacher.

Example 2: Most companies ask for “2-5 years experience” from applicants.


Familiarize yourself with the many prompts you can get in TOEFL with our article on the Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts.

Hook 4: Set a scene

Grab their attention: tell a story! The reader will continue reading just to hear your ending!

Example 1: Jason watched as George slowly typed on the computer keyboard, carefully pushing one key at a time while looking confused and dismayed. “Can I help you?” Jason asked. “Sure,” George replied. “I’m trying to email my daughter a photo, but I don’t know how to attach it. This email thing is so confusing to me.”

Example 2: Looking around the classroom, Anna completed her lecture. “And that is how you publish your own webpage. Any questions?” A student in the back, a middle-aged gentleman with wire-rimmed glasses, raised his hand. “Just one question,” he said. “How did you learn all of this before learning how to drive?” The class laughed, and so did Anna. “Well,” Anna said, “I studied programming in high school and was well-versed in coding before I entered college last year.”

Hook 5: A quote

Without access to a computer, it might be difficult to remember exact quotes from famous individuals. However, your quote does not have to be from someone famous.

Example: “Yoga until you’re 90,” Sindhu kept saying during our yoga teacher training. With this in mind, we learned the best ways to practice yoga without putting strain on our bodies. Little did I know, in a few months my students would actually be near 90: I was soon to take a volunteer position as a yoga teacher for a retirement community in my town.

Hook 6: Your thesis!

Your thesis is the main idea of your paper. If you don’t feel like writing a catchy or creative hook, then begin your paper with your thesis. This direct approach is often very effective!

To write a powerful and concise thesis, check out our article on How to Write a Thesis with Predictors.

Example 1: I am a firm believer that everyone has something to offer, regardless of age; therefore, it is my opinion that the young have much to offer the elderly in regard to education.

Student Studying Writing Computer

Do you know how to write a thesis? Check out our article Writing a Thesis with Predictors for tips!

Hook 7: A misconception

Example 1: Many believe that the youth of today are misguided, self-centered, and irresponsible, and therefore have little to offer in regard to educating the wiser elderly population.

For more information on CISL’s intensive TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge CAE and FCE classes, check out CISL’s website.

TOEFL Writing

TOEFL Writing: Agree or Disagree prompt tips

September 15, 2016

CISL is proud to offer intensive TOEFL preparation courses for students who need to take the TOEFL exam. Our classes, which are taught by well trained and dedicated instructors, focus on the writing, reading, listening, speaking, and grammar skills necessary to ace the exam.

Today we are focusing on one of these prompts: Agree or Disagree, but keep in mind that the TOEFL Writing section can include many types of prompts: check out our article on Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts to learn about each!

Agree or Disagree Prompt

The Agree or Disagree prompt includes the following:

  • Instructions for this portion of the exam
  • A statement or question you are asked to agree or disagree with



Read the question. You have 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise your essay. Typically, an effective essay will include 300 words.


Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

White lies are acceptable in certain situations. 

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Student Studying Writing Computer

Essay Tips

Your essay should have the following:

  • Clear paragraphs (an introduction, body, and conclusion)
  • A clearly defined argument
  • Examples to support your argument
  • Well constructed sentences with varied structures
  • Conjunctions

Clear paragraphs (an introduction, body, and conclusion)

Do you know how to write well constructed paragraphs? A paragraph should have a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea of the paragraph. Every sentence in the paragraph should support this main idea through use of examples or supporting evidence. Your CISL instructor will teach you all of the tips and tricks to writing great introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs!

A clearly defined argument 

With this prompt, you are being asked to agree or disagree. Make sure that you do so! Your essay needs to have a clear thesis statement which includes your opinion: read our article on Writing a Thesis Statement to learn how to do this effectively.

Examples to support your argument

Why do you feel the way you do? Don’t be afraid to use your own examples and life experiences: these are valuable!

Well constructed sentences with varied structures

The same sentence structure for the entire paragraph can be boring: mix it up by using things like the Passive Voice or various English tenses to avoid this monotony.

CISL has an articles on many of the English tenses: check them out!


Conjunctions enhance your writing in many ways. Conjunctions such as moreover, additionally, therefore, and in summary help to guide the reader through your essay, and because they can join sentences together, conjunctions help form longer, more varied sentence structures (see above).

Check out our article on Conjunctions in Writing to improve your TOEFL writing score significantly!


Sample TOEFL Agree or Disagree Prompts

Prompt 1:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “Technology has changed the way we communicate, but not for the better.”

Prompt 2:

“Tourism negatively affects cities more than it positively affects them.” Do you agree or disagree?

Prompt 3:

“The internet has made cheating much easier for students, and students of today actually learn less than students who learned before the internet.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Prompt 4: 

“The best way to get to know a culture is through its food.” Do you agree or disagree?

Academic English Cambridge Exams Featured IELTS TOEFL University Pathway

English Test Proficiency: How Your TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge Scores Equate

July 14, 2016

CISL is proud to have 45 years of English test preparation experience, including Cambridge preparation and TOEFL preparation classes at CISL San Diego and CISL San Francisco and IELTS preparation courses at CISL San Diego. Are you taking an exam soon to meet your personal, professional, or academic goals? We can help! Our small class sizes and passionate teachers will provide you with the tools necessary to ace your next exam.

With so many English proficiency test possibilities, it’s easy to get confused. What IS each test, and how do the test scores equate to the scores of other proficiency tests? Use this simple chart to see how your TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge, or TOEIC test scores equate to the scores of other tests, and also see what your approximate CEFR (Common European Framework) level is. For a more detailed chart, check out CISL’s complete English Test Proficiency Equivalency Chart.

Are you not sure which test is right for you? Check out our useful article Choosing the Right English Proficiency Test and make an informed decision regarding which test is best for your academic or career goals.


If you are planning on taking an English proficiency test, make sure that you are prepared! CISL offers intensive TOEFL Preparation Courses, Cambridge Preparation Courses (including CAE, FCE, and PET), and an IELTS Preparation Course. Before you take your test, make sure that you also check out some of our articles on Cambridge, TOEFL, and IELTS. Your writing, reading, and speaking scores will surely improve after implementing these tips and completing these practice activities!

Business English Cambridge Exams CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco Featured IELTS Learning Materials TOEFL Vocabulary

Useful Idioms about “Importance” for English Proficiency Testing

May 10, 2016

Are you planning to take a proficiency test (like IELTS or TOEFL or Cambridge FCE/CAE)? If so, your writing, reading, speaking, listening, and grammar skills will be tested. But what exactly is an examiner looking for, and how can you improve your score? One of the most important things that you can do is learn to naturally use English idioms and expressions. Command of the language in this way will improve your score.

Don’t know which test you should take? Check out our article “How to Choose the Proficiency Test That’s Right for You.


Useful Idioms for English Proficiency Testing

Describing something/someone important

You will often be asked to talk about someone important during a speaking test, such as in Part 1 of Cambridge FCE/CAE or Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Module. You might also be asked to talk about a past event or experience. These idioms are perfect for describing important people or situations.

The “big cheese”

  • Definition: an important person
  • Example: “One word to describe my childhood? Perhaps ‘chaotic.’ We moved a lot when I was a child. My father was the big cheese of a corporation and every time they opened a new office, he had to oversee the planning and development.”

The head honcho

  • Definition: an important person
  • Example: “My goal in the next five years? Well, my career goal is to be the head honcho of my own insurance firm, but I suppose I won’t achieve that within the next five years. Still, I have made it my goal!”

A gold mine

  • Definition: full of resources
  • Example: “One of the most important people in my life is my grandfather. He’s a gold mine of funny stories about his crazy antics as a child, but he also gives incredibly good advice.”

Carry weight

  • Definition: to be important, to make an impact
  • Example: “One of the most recent challenges I’ve had is in my job. We had to create a new marketing plan, and at the moment I’m not sure if the plan will carry weight in the future. Time will tell.”

Interview Business English

Describing something/someone unimportant

A drop in the bucket

  • Definition: unimportant, ineffective
  • Example: “The thing I like the least about learning English is probably phrasal verbs. I try to learn a few each week, but it just feels like a drop in the bucket.”

To not give two hoots

  • Definition: to not care
  • Example: “I recently changed companies and I’m much happier now. At my last company I felt like they didn’t give two hoots about their employees, and it didn’t motivate me to work very hard.”

For more information on improving your scores on proficiency testing, check out these articles:

Click here to learn more about CISL’s test preparation classes for IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge ESOL.