I had my TOEFL exam on January 18 and yesterday I received my score. My target was at least 105. I would like to share my experience and my sources of information.
My first contact with TOEFL was on a local class, which focused on the exam format and some "templates". It was four five-hour sessions, one session for each section. The course was taught after Longman Prep guide (which I found the easiest from every material that I read). I knew that my weakest points were in speaking and writing, so I focussed on those. After I finished the course, I took a simulation test (also from Longman) and I scored around 90. I was very disappointed and I start to look on the internet for alternative materials.
My second book was the OG which I found a little bit above Longman. I did all the exercises, I scored ok on listening and reading (28-29-30) and I started to focus on the reading and writing part. I can say that on that day my real preparation begun.
The most useful site for speaking I think it is notefull com. At least for me it did the trick. I found a lot of free resources there, and I made my "templates" for speaking based on those suggestions. It took me 2 weeks to master those templates, but eventually paid off. I am a little (more) frightened to speak in public and also on a microphone. With time being so short, and the content being so precise, my first answers were completely out of the question. I thought I will never succeed to pass on this test. 15 seconds seemed so little to prepare, and 45 seconds seemed like an eternity... and I didn't knew what to say there. In 15 seconds I couldn't come up with some good thoughts, reasons and examples.
But, with practice on the templates, I could focus my whole attention on the blank parts of the templates that I had to fill in. Also I knew exactly the timing, after couple (and maybe more) tests. Finally, I start to gain some trust.
After getting a little better at speaking, I thought it was the time to move on writing. Here, again, the templates were very helpful for me. I found here some pretty good templates, and I kind of molde them after my personal preference. I did 4-5 essays for each section, but I didn't know a score for them. The only measurement I had it was to put the text in a spell checker and count the errors. But I wasn't satisfied with this. I found on the internet a site which automatically grade your essay (if you agree for them to post it). After precise calculation of my chances to get some money for those brilliant essays, I decided to agree to be published free of charge and got my results
. It was a very pleasant surprise for me to get multiple 5/6 and even a 6/6 for one essay. The site is :findscore com and they have an automatic scoring program. But it was ok for me.
At this point I thought I was ok, but I just want to be in my top shape so I searched a little bit more on the internet. And I found a software from Kaplan
with 4 complete tests. Woke up in one morning, had a coffee and sit on my computer for having the first test. The feeling after 5 minutes was that I didn't know anything. The reading part was killing me. I couldn't understand the text, a lot of words I never heard and I didn't know their meaning. Completely stunned. My score for the reading part : 22. I was ruined
The listening part also very tough. Scored 25 but with some luck (I had 2-3 guess answers). And this put a big question mark on my head. From all my preparations, I found Kaplan
to be the most difficult. Also a lot more difficult that the exam itself. But very useful. After going on all 4 mocks from kaplan
I did a simulation on Longman and it found very very easy. It is easy for me to look back and smile, but back then the Kaplan
almost killed me. I survived. So it made me better prepared. Completely recommend, with the advise to not be disappointed by the lower grades, just think of it like a teaching tool, not a grading tool.
My next preparation software : OG - 2 complete exams. Which I found very close to the actual exam. I felt on the right track again. It did put a lot of confidence in me.
Three days before the exam : I took two days off. In those days I simulated an exam in each morning. The official simulation from ETS. Highly recommend, also a little bit (more) pricy. But I found it very useful. My exam was scheduled at 11:00 AM, so in each day I woke up at 8, I had breakfast, I took a 30 minutes walk and then got in front of my computer and did one simulation "for real". 108 on the first day, 105 in the second. But the more I practiced, the more I felt comfortable with the test. I knew all the info, all the info screens, all the timing, etc.
Two nights before, I forced myself to go to bed as late as I could and woke up at 8. In this way I was a little tired all day, but I could go to sleep at 11:00 PM (and fell asleep very soon) on the night before the test, and actually slept until 8:00AM.I was very rested and ready for the test.
One particular little trick that I found extremely helpful for my stress : on ted search for "fake it till you make it" - a talk by amy_cuddy. I completely recommend. It did helped me to have near zero emotions on the test itself.
In the test room we were around 15 students, very close one to each other. Each student was called to his or her computer and started the test. I was a little bit lucky because I called after 10-11 students. I did all the things that I could do to delay as much as I can the speaking session. It is very annoying to concentrate on what you want to speak when all the students talk loud. So I took a lot of time reading all the instructions, even if I completely knew all the information there. But... I had to start the reading session.
Reading : I had 4 texts and 80 min. The texts were not very difficult, on average I would say. And at about the same difficulty as the one in the simulations from ETS. The timing is crucial. I practiced my timing for reading very much, so I took around 2 minutes to skim the passage, paying more attention to the first para and try to grasp the overall idea. After the 2 minutes, I knew that I had to solve the first 8 questions in the first 10 minutes, next 4 in 5 minutes and the remaining 2 in the last 5 minutes. The last question from each "set" is the most difficult and took me around 3 minutes to solve it. I finished the first text exactly on time, after 20 minutes. I was satisfied with the pace and also with the answers. I didn't guess on any question. The next text was a little bit more difficult and I finished it in 21 minutes. I was a little bit worried because I thought I could save 4-5 minutes in the end for the final review. But right now I was behind the schedule. The third text was a little bit easy and I finished it in about 17 minutes, having a total of 22 minutes for the last one. I finished all my questions in 76 minutes, having 4 minutes for final review. Again, my goal being to delay as much as I can the speaking session I took all the available time to review some of my answers. Didn't change anything and move on to the listening session. Asked for paper exchange and received a new 3 sheets of paper.
Listening : not very much to tell. As I expected, the same usual stuff. I used the instruction time to write down my speaking templates on a sheet of paper, from those three. Very useful for me to have it noted down when the time comes. Started to listen the first passage... answered the questions. Also here I kept a very strict evidence of time (the first 5 questions 3 minutes, next 6 3.5 minutes, next 6 3.5 minutes). In this part I never had any problem with the time, so I was very confident. I remember that I had a question that I haven't any clue (couldn't remember what they were saying about it, and also didn't write it down). So I eliminated 2 answers "evidently" wrong, I guess between the remaining 2. Besides this event I do not remember anything particular. And finally the break.
I split it into 2 : first 4 minutes went to toilet, get some water on my face. Actually, a lot of cold water in my face, forcing the blood to be more active in my face/brain. The last 6 minutes I went to my computer, put my headset and repeat my speaking templates. I spoke out loud, as I was answering to some imaginary questions. And use the timing for getting on the pace. I succeeded to say once all the six answers. Did some move for getting confident and I was ready for the test. By the time I started the speaking session, only 2 students didn't finish their speakings. Very good... I remember in my break I heard a lot of students speaking and it was not very nice. The first question pumped up... Rapidly write down 2 reasons in my template... Didn't have time to think of any example. Start to speak... a little nervous... But I delivered the planned content. And so on all the questions came up... And the speaking part was ok. I knew I had some ungrammatically words, but I think that overall they understood what I wanted to say. After I answered the sixth Q I knew that I am going to take a good grade.
The writing part ... no surprise. I have some advice here, that I found in the morning of my exam from note full. Even if the ETS says 150-225 for the first essay, and 225-300 for the second, you have to write at least 300 words for the first and 400 for the second. Or at least around those numbers. As writing and typing is no problem for me, I wrote around 300 words (using a 4 para templates - intro and one para for each "reason") and 400 words (using also 4 para template - intro, 2 for reasons and one final. For each reason and found 3 supporting ideas and one good example) for the second one.
Hardly wait for my score.... and finally had it yesterday morning (when was also my birthday : )). R : 29, L : 30, S : 23, W : 29. The best score from all the simulations that I had. Marked this exam as complete, moving to the next beast: GMAT.
In conclusion :
1 - materials :
a - Kaplan
- the hardest - harder than the exam - highly recommend (but do not be too disappointed when you see the results...).
b - OG - both the book and the tests - very close to the difficulty level of the exam
c - Longman - easy - I wouldn't recommend.
d - notefull - especially for the speaking session
e - findscore - writing automatic score
2 - mock test :
a - OG - 2 free tests - very good
b - Kaplan
- very hard - very good
c - ETS - they have an official test (and you can buy another 4). If money is not a problem, definitely recommend. At least 2, take one in each day before the exam. Just simulate the whole exam.
d - Longman - not recommended
- Writing - 300 words for first and 400 for second.
- Try to delay as much as you can the speaking session (in this way you will be alone speaking and everybody writing)
- Use the break to :
Get some cold water on your face
Speak, speak, speak. After 2.5 hours of not speaking, you can't imagine how beneficial is to actually speak like in the test. You don't want to start speaking directly as a response to the first question. It will be a mess, believe me.
- See the video with some confidence exercises - and use it in the exam. You will feel much more confident.
This is pretty much all that I remember. If you have some more questions, I will try to address in particular.