Improving the listening ability

April has already begun and so has the Japanese academic year.
We have two test dates set for April. Hope you will do your best. 
Since you are (if you are a Japanese citizen) at the beginning of the entire academic year, I am sure you feel refreshed and well motivated to achieve your goal, whatever score it may be.
For learners of English as a foreign language, listening always poses a threat. Yes, it is a psychological threat. You may feel virtually petrified in front of the computer screen while you are hearing. You ARE hearing, because you can tell the lecture is being given in English. However, those sounds do not mean anything to your ears. If you are not good at listening, you must have gone through this all the time. As soon as you read the script, however, your tension eases.
What does this all mean?
Those learners depend on the visual stimuli too much to remember that there is another means of communication: sound. When they listen as they read, they are not practicing listening. That is a type of reading practice. Then, why do they do it? Because they find it easier and more relaxing if they listen always with the help of visual aids.
What they have to do is to focus on their acoustic sense. It should be strengthened and reinforced. Their visual ability has already been augmented more than enough.
To tell the truth, listening is much easier than reading. If you think about learning how to use an electric gadget, will you read the instruction yourself or will you get someone else to read it so that you can focus on the machine itself? Latter, right? This is something you will go through when you have reached a critical point. 
This sense of achievement cannot be shared by native speakers, who, obviously, are able to listen without effort. If so, this is what second language learning is all about. Those learners who have read all the time may have done a good deal of reading, which is good, per se. However, if that’s what they do only because it’s more comfortable and easier, they are not learning hard enough. 

How to get a better score in the TOEFL writing section

How did your last TOEFL test go? 
What’s important is to study really hard so that you will declare the next time with confidence that this is going to be the last test you take!
My latest book on TOEFL writing just came out. It is now available both online and off-line stores. Hope you will take a look.
By the way, what is the average score of the writing section … as far as the Japanese nationals are concerned? (since I am Japanese and I teach TOEFL exclusively for the Japanese-speaking people at least for the time being.)
…not bad! (I regret to say that this is the best section for the average Japanese test-taker…sigh)
It implies that the writing section is not hard to overcome. Therefore, if you think of getting a score of about 20, there is no need to intentionally try to improve the score. It will, just as your reading and listening scores will improve.
Things will be very different after that: If your score is 22 already, but you are looking to get 28 so that your total score will be 105, which is required by the MBA program at Columbia, then you need a specific and explicit instruction for this particular purpose. Well, I would say all the writing books in the world should serve this purpose. (Like I said, you don’t have to practice at all to reach 20 in this section.)
When your score has reached 20, then you will feel like you have bumped into a plateau. No matter how hard you try, the score will not be different. You study one book after another. You ask one teacher after another for advice…only to receive the same old advice with the same old template. That is why your score never changes. 
What you need to do is to make a drastic change in your attitude toward writing in the TOEFL test. That is how I came up with the idea of my new book.
In my book, I asked ten students of mine to write a response to the TOEFL writing questions. I then corrected the essay by each individual and rewrote it. When I rewrote it, I tried to write it as if I had the very same idea as each writer. In other words, I would like to show how different essays can be if I were to express the same idea. That is exactly what the test takers should work on to improve the score. 
You will find lots of different types of essays in this book. Make sure, however, that so long as you can write what other people can easily understand in an understandable English, your essay is to be rated as such. That means your score will improve up to whatever number you need. Test-takers throughout the world are focusing on what raters would ignore; or as the worse case scenario goes, the raters already know the template used in your essay and may be discouraged to read it through because the template cannot hold water. It’s time to be freer when you write.