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March Shares Her Experience on the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT

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Recently my lovely student March got a 27 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT

When my students finally finish TOEFL I ask them to share their experience so that other pharmacists, dentists, physical therapists and working professionals can see that they are not alone. The questions I ask them are very specific – the goal is to motivate people who are still struggling and also to explain a little more about my teaching method.

I could tell you about my classes, but somehow my students always do a better job!

I have been a teacher for almost 15 years now, I have learned how to provide guidance, knowledge and information specific to my field. For TOEFL, I motivate my students, organize their study schedules, their study areas and sometimes, their lives. Over the years I have laughed and cried with my students aged 3 to 63 and I am proud to say that in every teaching experience that I have had, I too have learned something. That is the greatest joy in teaching.

March has a lot to say about her lessons with me. I will post more after the New Year because now she is going to take a well deserved holiday with her family.

Here’s what she said when I asked her specifically how I helped her on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT.
“First of all, Sierra helped me to feel more comfortable during speaking practice so that way I could speak more naturally. For each task she had a specific exercise or protocol to help me with my specific issues.
For example with Tasks 1&2 I used her “Think Fast” protocol to improve my topic development and get familiar how to answer questions within the time limit. This helped me answer questions faster with good examples.
Tasks 4&6 were the tasks that I had problems with the most. I used to hate them, but now I love them! Before I studied with Sierra I didn’t know to study them correctly, but after Sierra helped me study them the right way, and taught me to look for keywords and try to understand the readings and paraphrase them using my own words, I could do them so easily.
For every task, Sierra helped me by fixing my grammar or helped me find better words or create more natural sentences that were more suitable for speaking, she gave me choices to choose from. I like when she didn’t tell me what I did wrong in the first place. She left it blank and I had to think what I did wrong and fix it myself. It helped me recognize my mistakes and remember not to do it again. If I didn’t know how to fix it, she’ll always be there to help me.
During classes, we practiced speaking together. She helped me to pause in the right place, where to link words and how to say them correctly all together. She also recorded my responses speaking them for me so I could practice them and imitate her intonation, her word stress and linking and I improved a lot by doing that.”

March’s Reaction to her S27 and W27 on the TOEFL Exam

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Last week my student March texted me to let me know that she finally achieved her target scores on the TOEFL iBT. This week I will ask her some more specific questions about her TOEFL journey so that you can learn more about what we did in our classes. Today’s post is about how she felt when she got her scores! It is an emotional story that captures her excitement and energy and that I hope will inspire other students to stay focused and continue to strive for their goals. Enjoy!

This is what I wrote about what happened when I found out that I passed the test. It’s super long, but I want to share it with you. You helped me to be done with the test and move on to the next part of my life. It means the world to me. Without you, I might be stuck with this test for who knows how long. I can’t thank you enough. I just want to say that doctors might save patients’ lives, but you give a new life to me and your students!!!  Have a great day Sierra!

March’s reaction to her S27 and W27 on the TOEFL exam

After I got an email saying that my TOEFL scores were available online. I jumped and my head started to spin. I took the test in November 17th. It usually takes about 10 days for me to get the result, but because of the holidays it took a little longer. I’d been waiting and waiting and I wasn’t sure what I should expect. I was excited and scared at the same time because I was disappointed before and I didn’t like that feeling. Even though this time I didn’t expect that I would get the score I needed it because I thought that this time I would go in to take the test as my practice test before the real test that Sierra and I planned that I would take it in December. Now,the moment of truth!!!! I opened my laptop with my shaky hands and logged in to see the result. When I saw the result, I couldn’t believe what I just saw because I am nearsighted and my eyes are really poor.

So I squeezed my eyes and looked at it closely, and yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I got it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! R23 L28 S27 W27 OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!!!!!!


I was screaming like a crazy person, my heart was pounding and my body was shaking. I emailed my husband and called Sanky. Sanky and I have been through a lot together and the amazing thing  is that this time we went to take the test on the same day and we both passed!!!!!!! I’m so happy right now. I told my family over facebook but they didn’t respond  because it was late there. My head hurts right now, I think it’s because I’m so so happy….

I couldn’t have done it without the help of Sierra. She is very organized which I really like. I’m a kind of person who like to see what I have to do step by step so I can do it correctly and she gives me that. We mainly focused on Speaking because it was the part that I had a lot of problems with. First, we started by making a schedule so I could manage my time wisely and knew exactly what I should do and when. In order to improve my speaking, I had to follow it intensively. Then, we started the classes. I liked how she approached them. I always get nervous when I have to speaking in front of other people. So she helped me starting with baby steps and told me to think that I was talking to my friends nothing to be afraid of and it helped. (I’m still nervous when I have to speak on the test but feel so much better than before). We practiced and practiced and practiced.

Sierra made a speaking protocol for me to follow in each task which was very helpful. We practiced “delivery” in class which I really liked because I had problems with intonation, pronunciation, and linking and I recorded video in class and I used them to practice after class. It was really useful. Also, I liked that she created a “skill building” plan for me to improve my confidence to do task 4&6. I really appreciated it. When we practiced Sierra really paid attention in detail when she listened to my responses or when she edited my transcripts and she would point out everything that I needed to improve, pronunciation, language use, grammar and vocabulary. I learned a lot from my mistakes.

She also introduced me to Spaced Repetition for Memorization and how to make efficiently flashcards. It was a life changing for me. I studied my flashcards with space repetition and I remembered them better. I also like that she gave me homework by laying out them step by step in order. For me, it helped me to stay focused and wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I followed what I had to do for homework and how I had to do it.

I’m trying my best to cover everything she has done for me but I couldn’t put them all because they were tons of things.

With her, I know that studying a difficult exam like TOEFL takes dedication not only from students but from teachers as well. They have to meet in the middle and put 50% and 50% to go through it together. Sierra devoted her time with the best knowledge and resources that I couldn’t ask for more. I really appreciate everything she gave to me. Finally, we ended this journey beautifully together! I’m so ready for the next chapter of my life.

Thank you Sierra!

Madonna’s Reaction to her S27 and W26 on the TOEFL iBT

By | Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT | No Comments

That’s it! She’s done! Madonna has finally finished TOEFL!

I have so much to say about our experience together! What a journey it was! I want to take the time to write it clearly and make sure I include as many details as possible so that I can help more students like her in the future so today I’m just going to share what she wrote to me the day she found out her scores. It was a very emotional day for both of us! Below you can see our chats back and forth and of course, I called her on the phone and we both jumped up and down screaming and crying with joy for a while.

That’s what happens when you work with someone on and off for a year and they finally pass the exam. You explode with joy! I hope some of that energy and excitement is captured in our messages below…




Perfecting the /TH/ sound for a 26+ on TOEFL iBT

By | Pronunciation, Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT, TOEFL TIPS | No Comments

Achieving a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT requires targeted pronunciation practice from an exam preparation professional. If you want a 26 your teacher should have experience with the exam as well as with accent concepts such as: pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and linking sounds. One of the sounds that I work on the most with my students is the /TH/.

It’s a tricky one and if you don’t say correctly it can really affect your speech because it is such a common sound!

Just look at this sentence…

“According to the professor the changes that happen to rocks due to their exposure to air and water is called weathering, and there are two ways that weathering can occur. ”

Just in that sentence alone, there are 11 /TH/ sounds!

And in this one, half the words have a /TH/ sound in it!

“The student who wrote the letter thinks that the university should close the theater.”

Watch this video from Rachel of “Rachel’s English” to learn how to pronounce this sound correctly:


Learning how to say this sound correctly takes time and practice. Using this video along side many of my own materials and protocols, I have developed a method that I adapt for each student’s individual needs to help them improve this sound. Here’s what one of my students had to say about her experience with the all important /TH/…

“Hi, Sierra. I just want to share with you my experience with /TH/ pronunciation. As you know, I began to do this exercise about 6 weeks ago. And I remember that you sent me the letter where one of your students shared her experience, so something like I’m doing right now. And in that letter, the student wrote that after two weeks of practicing /TH/ she noticed that she actually began sounding the right way. At that time I was kind of skeptical about it, I thought like..O, yes, tell me. On the back of mine mind, I didn’t believe her. So, anyway, because I promised myself to do everything that you told me to do, I followed your recommendations. And guess what? Yes, it works!!! Your method helped me succeed with /TH/ pronunciations. In two weeks I noticed some changes, but I wasn’t sure about it. But now, after 6 weeks of practicing, I feel like my tongue automatically goes to the right place to make /TH/ sound. And now I feel pretty much confident about my /TH/ pronunciation. Thank you so much!”


Skill Building for the TOEFL iBT

By | English Fluency, Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT, TOEFL TIPS | No Comments

This week’s TOEFL Tip is about “Skill Building”.

I work with a lot of students who need high scores on the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL iBT. The first question I ask them is what are your Reading and Listening scores?

Language is integrated!

Forget about your target scores for this exam. If you want to speak fluently, if you want to write well you need to have strong reading and listening skills. Yes, you need to expand your vocabulary. Yes, you need to understand the basics of English grammar, but what many students don’t realize is that one of the best ways to do this is by reading English texts and listening to native English speakers every day.

Careful! Just reading ANY text won’t help you on the TOEFL exam. Listening to the news or watching American sitcoms is not a good place to improve your vocabulary or speaking skills when you are preparing for an exam that tests your knowledge of campus situations and academic topics.

If you want to make the most of your time, dive into TOEFL material!

Use the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT. Read TOEFL reading passages slowly to understand, don’t race against the clock to try to answer the questions. If you read a passage once and you don’t understand the majority of the text, go back and read it again! Learn how to analyze the texts paying attention to grammar, vocabulary and organization. when you listen to a campus conversation or lecture, don’t listen to find the answers, listen to understand! Listen to how the person is speaking! Use transcripts to improve your listening skills.

Once you have built these skills you will see a difference on the exam. Don’t stop building these skills because you have achieved your required score… keep going! Raising your Reading and Listening scores to 26+ will make the Speaking and Writing sections so much easier for you!

If you need help, get in touch!

I am trained TOEFL iBT Exam Preparation Specialist. I am a native English speaker with over 13 years experience teaching students from all over the world. I have helped many students reach their target scores of S26 and W24.

You can find me on Facebook at “Sierra Forest English Academy” or use the contact form below!

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Don't miss out on news about my group classes and workshops!

Are you ready to improve your English today? Say goodbye to difficult exams like the TOEFL iBT. Learn what has been holding you back from a high score. Improve your pronunciation and communicate better with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates and friends.

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TED-Ed “The benefits of a bilingual brain”

By | English Fluency, Multilingualism, Speaking 26+ | No Comments

Did you know that “knowing more than one language keeps your brain healthy, complex and actively engaged”?

I’m a native English speaker from the United States and speak Spanish fluently after living in Madrid for six years. I learned conversational Mandarin when I lived in Beijing and I can still order food, and talk (briefly) about my experience as a university teacher there – something I am very proud of!

Now I’m learning my third language here in France! It’s exhausting sometimes but I’m making progress!

If you are bilingual, trilingual or multilingual you are making your brain “more healthy, complex and actively engaged”! Watch this TED-Ed talk by Mia Nacamulli to learn more!

TED-Ed “The benefits of a bilingual brain”

Don't miss out on news about my group classes and workshops!

Are you ready to improve your English today? Say goodbye to difficult exams like the TOEFL iBT. Learn what has been holding you back from a high score. Improve your pronunciation and communicate better with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates and friends.

Sign up for my mailing list to be the first to know about group classes, online courses and workshops.

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