Friday, March 8, 2013

Robert Frobisher: And all becomes clear. Wish I could make you see this brightness. Don't worry, all is well. All is so perfectly, damnably well. I understand now, that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me. 

- Cloud Atlas, 2012

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inspirational article by graphic novel author

 And it took so many years and so many pages and pages of bad comics to reach a point where my comics were good enough to be professional comics, but … it was so, so worth it. It IS so worth it.

You can read it here:


Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to Pass TOEFL

I have recently passed iBT TOEFL and got a score of 114 out of 120. I took it for the first time, with little preparation.
So, I decided to share my experience with those, who are seeking advice on how to pass TOEFL with high score without long hours with think volumes or additional tutoring or panic.

The exam itself

I have taken the exam in Moscow, Russian Federation, 22 December in testing center. Exam does not begin exactly on time. Registration takes time, but once you are registered, you are immediately seated and start your exam. So remember, that everybody starts their exam on different time. You cannot ask to be seated where you would like to sit - computer is selected automatically for you. I came with a friend, but she sat at a different table, I could only see her back.

There are going to be a lot of distractions. I have been working in the open space office for a few years, so it did not really bother me. If you do not have similar experience, I suggest you try to go and study or read at the library or a cafe to get accustomed to people talking around and shattering your table. Looking up and practicing some concentration techniques might be a good idea. At the exam I suggest you have headphones on your head at all times. Some directions to the test are being said through headphones and you might miss it if they are not on. Also, headphones lower down sound of other people speaking (although you might want to listen to them and get ideas for speaking session).

There will be a break. You should leave the room and do some exercises, breath fresh air etc. I must confess I wanted to pee through the last half of reading section and all listening section (that's why I probably got lower results for the latter - only 26 for listening, while I did not find it very challenging). So, please, pee before you register. Pee twice if you need to. And pee during the break, too. Also you might want to wear some layers of clothes which are easily removed. It became hot in the room just before the break and unbearably hot during writing section. I had to take off my university hoodie and headphones :-)

I would recommend you to take spare pencils from home. I wrote during the listening section (my memory skills are mostly visual, so I prefer to write everything down) and my pencil stopped writing somewhere near the end of Listening. They won't complain about your pencils. You will be given 3 sheet of paper and they will change them while you are at the break.

Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing

Every section has three parts with similar tasks.

Reading was tough. I was really surprised to get the highest score for this part, because I panicked and could not concentrate for a while. I thought of this exam as a really big deal and I did not prepare thoroughly, so I started doing questions pretty stressed out. It got better later. And there is really, really little time for Reading. I did not read any text from beginning to end.

I used the following approach to this section:
1. Look through the text and understand what it is about (e.g. turtles in the ocean).
2. Click next to see questions.
3. Read the question, find answer in the text, pick A, B, C or D.
4. Go to the next question. Find answer just below the part where you found the answer for the last question (really!) and go on.
Do not skip questions. I don't know about others, but I did not have time to even push the revise button and check whether I answered all the questions.
Do not try to read the whole text or get some inner meaning if that is not required by the question. I savored sample texts from site during preparation and my panic and new situation of the examination room got me to spend more than 20 minutes on the first text (out of three).

Listening is the next section. I have already mentioned that I decided I should write down everything they say be it lecture or conversation. That's what I did during the preparation (on samples they had on and that's what I did during exam. It might be uncomfortable to write on the computer table, so you should decide where to move the keyboard and put your papers when you are seated. No pressure, you might use another technique. I saw other students taking few or no notes. I don't know their results, though. I did not have to look at my notes answering the questions, because I remember things if I write them, but only after I wrote them.

Anyway, you have to think better on answers, because you have enough time (10 minutes per part of the section, listening time does not count). I found that questions like "What did she mean by that" were sometimes tricky for me. Like how the hell am I supposed to know what she implied.

Speaking. Egh. This is the section that scared me the most during preparation. I am a mature person. Thus questions like 'Who is your best friend and why?' got me into a 5 minutes philosophical insight over my personal life. At the exam it's 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. I used songs on CD in my car while going to and from work to track time. Also, to speak louder and ignore distractions and temptations to sing along. I printed out 100 topics for the first question from here and new topics from the same site and put some more from somewhere else. I was kind of taken aback when I looked up the other two tasks for Speaking. I did all of the samples from official site with timer in hands.

Writing was the last and most relaxing of all sections. Lots of time, familiar topic, and for a blogger like me it was rather simple. I got 28 for that, though. I tried to put a complex sentence at the last moment and I think I might have made mistakes there. Actually, I have looked through the book called 'How to ace your essay on TOEFL' (and SAT, as it turned out). The guy sets some standard approaches to essays, writes on how to structure your ideas.

How to prepare

Alright. Now the most interesting part.
Your preparation will depend on how much time you have. I have registered for the test in November and thought I would have to pass it right away - how disappointed I was that the nearest available date was at the end of December! So, I urge you to plan ahead your examination.

If you have a month, you are ok. You can really improve your language then. If you have a week - you only have time to get accustomed to the tasks, which is fine.

I started early. I knew I was going to take this exam sometime, so I got a few books like the aforementioned 'Ace your essay'. And looked through them. I got some old practice books which were encouraging me with strange tasks which were not on TOEFL any more. So be aware that might happen. I suggest you go to the official site and read what they have on preparation pages. But don't do all the sample tests, leave at least two of them to simulate a real exam during the last week before Day X.

For Reading section I did lots of sample tests, which helped to get a better understanding on question types and how to find answers fast. I always read the text and I suggest you try to answer questions both way - reading the text and without doing so. Also, write down all new words and collocations from the text and look them up in the learner's dictionary (English definition). Most of 'new' unknown words can be found in every 10th text. Learn synonyms of those words! Also, if you like mindless browsing here is a good site for you:

For Listening part I watched movies and tv shows :-) Seriously. Sometimes I had to watch a scene twice to catch what they were saying. I also went to the site of some campus newspaper to read about 'college issues' they might talk. We don't really have similar problems in this country. And I have never lived in the dormitory, too. I would also suggest you read/watch/listen to a lot of science and technical materials. I got two lectures on top-notch astronomy stuff and one on neurobiology! Read science news just so you won't be shocked by the concepts they speak about in lectures.

For the break you can make sandwiches ;-) I did not take any food/drink with me. I don't regret that much, but you might need something especially if you tend to skip breakfast. Imagine spending 4 hours without food doing task after task!

I have already mentioned how I prepared for Speaking. At first I just spoke. I do not have lots of practice of spoken English, but I have picked up some 'erms' and 'what do you call that' and 'well...' so that my language would sound more natural. Then I spoke on all of the 100 topics. Tip: be aware of the time! You should know how much you can say in 45 sec or 60 sec. I learned how to use preparation time only on the last day of preparation. You should try to make the best of these 15 (30) seconds before you start speaking. Don't write down anything for your first question, though - not enough time. But other tasks might require some written words to lead your speaking.

Finally, Writing. I blogged. But that was not what I should have done to prepare for TOEFL. I should have written more essays and try to make them look like those with highest scores on sample answers at the official site. They are not scored high for nothing. So you should imitate these sample answers from and read their commentaries carefully to understand what the examenators expect to see in a good essay.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ignite your career

The American philosopher Henry D. Thoreau in the nineteenth century said that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This means that most of us lack the courage to live the life we dream about. To have the courage to pursue our dreams despite knowing that we risk failure is perhaps the greatest form of courage. 
Quote from this good inspirational free book:
They have other free books, too, so check it out. Not all of them are worth it, though. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Motivation for students: set goals for studying

To pass exams you should know why you have to study. So, take a few moments to understand the reason behind all of that struggle and hell that you are currently going through. I have never done that, but I suggest you write your reasons on a paper and put it on the wall and remember them every time you feel like slacking off and procrastinating.

Here are some quotes that might put you in the right state of mind for goal-setting:

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” 
- Bill Copeland

”Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare.” 
- Japanese Proverb

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
- Wayne Gretzky

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” 
- Lao Tzu

“Don’t go through life, grow through life.” 
- Eric Butterworth

“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” 
- Steve Jobs

”Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” 
- William Shakespeare

“Some men see things as they are and say why – I dream things that never were and say why not.”
- George Bernard Shaw

”Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great makes you feel that you, too, can become great.” 
- Mark Twain

“The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others.” 
- Hasidic Proverb

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 
- Abraham Lincoln

For motivation to actually begin to study go to this page.
Here is an intro for Motivation for students series of posts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Motivation for students: to study after failing the previous test/exam

I know how it feels to fail. I had to take a few exams twice, got low marks for some and often got depressed with results even though not all of it was that bad. Looking back at my student years I know I could do much better. I guess I can even make up some advice of how to go through a row of exams or tests, when you failed the previous one:

1. It's ok. Everything's fine. Breath.

2. Do not panic! I know you've used most of your preparation time for the next exam whining over the previous one. But now it's time to take your life in your hands and fight because it's not over yet!

3. You should always remember that you are awesome for just trying. Some people do not do that. Thus you are strong and amazing human being who can and will endure anything.

4. I've got quotes that will surely set you on fire for studying some more today:

"I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work." 
- Thomas Edison

"It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up." 
- Vince Lombardi

"A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him." 
- Sidney Greenberg

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." 
- Truman Capote

"Winners lose much more often than losers. So if you keep losing but you’re still trying, keep it up! You’re right on track." 
- Matthew Keith Groves

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." 
- John Wooden

"If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a chance of being a prophet." 
- Isaac B. Singer

"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
- Winston Churchill

"An obstacle is often a stepping stone." 
- Prescott

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." 
- Dr. Denis Waitley

"The sure way to miss success is to miss the opportunity." 
- Victor Chasles

"When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." 
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

"That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger." 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

"Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down." 
- Charles F. Kettering

"What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog." 
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Success is sweet: the sweeter if long delayed and attained through manifold struggles and defeats." 
- Amos Bronson Alcott

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." 
- George Eliot

"In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing." 
- Theodore Roosevelt

"If you’re going through hell, keep going." 
- Winston Churchill

Here is the intro for motivation for students series of posts. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Motivation for students: to actually study


1. Decide why you have to study. The shining goal (or dreadful consequences) is what will keep you working through the night. 

2. Define the scope of work. You've got to know how much information you are going to out in your head in the next few days/hours. Go through questions and materials you already have, get additional books or friends' lectures. Plan and set goals for every day! (or at least read some material for every question especially for oral exams!). 

3. Understand your weak points. If you remember something from your classes, revise it and move on to the questions of which you've never heard or know very little. 

4. Forget about your past failures. Whatever happened, happened. Like Batman, you've got to rise again regardless of your position. Stay positive!

5. Here are some quotes that will help you to set your mind on studying for exam or test or whatever obstacle there is on your road to graduation:

"Make use of time, let not advantage slip." 
- William Shakespeare

"Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today." 
- Benjamin Franklin

"Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there." 
- Will Rogers

"Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right." 
- Henry Ford

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." 
- Benjamin Franklin

"If not us, who? If not now, when?" 
- John F. Kennedy

"The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones." 
- Chinese Proverb

"If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way." 
- Napoleon Hill

"The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs… one step at a time." 
- Joe Girard

"Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was." 
- Richard L. Evans

"It has been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly." 
- Isaac Asimov

"Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get." 
- Ray Kroc

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." 
- Vince Lombardi

"Men do less than they ought, unless they do all they can." 
- Thomas Carlyle

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." 
- Aristotle 
(because we all know that sometimes you have to read complete gibberish)

"The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work." 
- Richard Bach

"The real opportunity for success lies within the person and not in the job." 
- Zig Ziglar

"Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
- Henry David Thoreau

Here is the intro for motivation for students series of posts.