Facts and Concerns of ESL Students’ Summer Overseas
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Testing strategies only work when your English reading, listening, and writing foundations are well built.

Just like all consultants always wondering about how our previous students’ lives are behind the college gates, I often want to find out about my ESL kids’ summer productivity overseas, or more specifically, their summer in China. Most cities in China are most likely not the ideal summer vacation destinations for people here due to the humidity and traffic issues, but definitely are ONES for international students who came to just study in the United States. To them, summer in China means more than a family reunion and hanging out with friends, but a language barrier and worry-free land, and a feeling of belonging. I understand that feeling but I am more concerned about my original summer plans for them overseas – taking TOEFL and SAT preparation classes since they all claim the teachers there know more about testing techniques.

Dear Students,

How is your summer in China so far? Would you please write me something about your summer in China? For example: How did you spend the past three weeks in China? What are you planning to do for the rest of the summer? What have you learned or achieved and how has that affected your summer so far?

Thank you and look forward to hearing from you soon.

24 hours after sending this message to 10 students who are currently in China, I received the very first reply from John (anonymous). I made grammar corrections within his original message.

Dear Valerie,

(My summer) is good so far. I kinda just want to stay here forever 🙂
(I) just finished my TOEFL class in (a local test preparation school). I feel (like) my summer vacation just (about to start). I (am) planning to go to Tianjin next week with my friends.

I was not surprised to learn that he prefers to stay in China longer, but I was disappointed to not see any other words that were TOEFL related than a simple “finished.” How much had he really learned and benefited from the class? How can those alleged testing techniques be used if TOEFL was only a daily two-hour lecture for him?
48 hours later, I received a second response, a text message, from Jessica (anonymous).


That, for sure, tells everything about her summer already regardless of her original plans for TOEFL and one-on-one SAT tutoring at a test prep center in Shanghai. I became more anxious and started to question if all 10 students had already wasted the first half of summer while having left their test preparation plans behind. Three days later, I had to admit I was right. No responses were received after that short and exciting message.

Summer is always a good time to catch up on a few things – GPA boosters, test preparation, and extracurricular activity enrichment. For ESL students, participating in overseas TOEFL and SAT classes are always the most reasonable excuse to fulfill the mission of going home. “Teachers in China know better about how to teach TOEFL and SAT.” That is the most common thoughts I have heard from Chinese parents and students whom I am working with; however, my unpleasant survey results questions that statement directly. Yes, teachers over there might know better testing strategies, but are our students really studying?

Dear Students and Parents,

I sent an email to all of you a week ago and asked how you are doing in China. Unfortunately, as of today, I have only received two replies. I am seriously concerned about your execution of the test preparation plan we discussed before your departure, and I am worried that all of you are only attending classes for a few hours per week but have never really made enough effort to be benefit from the opportunities in the summer. Receiving lectures by the best teacher in the world is useless if you do not spend a significant amount of time on studying and reviewing. Testing strategies only work when your English reading, listening, and writing foundations are well built. You are only going to waste your only opportunity to achieve a decent score on the test in the near future.

All student-readers, are you one of those who are wasting your summer overseas?

By Valerie Zhang , ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant and Academic Counselor