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A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)

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A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 18 Feb 2016, 00:54
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Hi,

I would like to share with all of you my TOEFL experience and a few tips that I learned while preparing for the TOEFL.

Preparation: I took the GMAT about 2 months prior to the TOEFL, therefore my TOEFL preparation is somewhat convoluted with the preparation for the GMAT. Additionally, I found a copy of Cracking the TOEFL iBT in my local library, and I purchased a speaking test series on the ETS website. I chose only the speaking series as I already took the TOEFL iBT about 7 years ago (R: 30, L: 27, S: 23, W: 30), and only the speaking part of the test seemed daunting.

Hint #1: Know the test. TOEFL is a test which aims to measure the English language skills of the test takers. It means that it tries to approximate the real skills by asking questions in a standard format. Therefore, besides knowing English, it is necessary to know what the test is about. It is especially true for the speaking part; I guess even a native speaker would have difficulties giving a coherent answer for the independent questions. I would certainly do in my own native language (e.g., an instictive one sentence long answer which I would probably give just wouldn't cut it). An added bonus for knowing the type of questions during the speaking section is that it allows working on the answer while the question is being asked (it might add a precious 5 seconds or so).

Reading and Writing: The GMAT preparation helped tremendously with the reading and writing parts. Therefore, for these two parts on the TOEFL , I felt like I didn't need to prepare anything. The TOEFL reading section is very simple compared with the one of the GMAT. Perhaps the main difference is that GMAT takes a good vocabulary for granted while the TOEFL actively scores it by having questions concentrating on the meaning of a few more difficult words. The TOEFL writing is different from the GMAT writing as my impression is that GMAT concentrates more on the logical side while the TOEFL rather appreciates logic but focuses on grammar and vocabulary (these two being taken for granted on GMAT).

The writing part has an integrated and an independent task. I am not sure on which part I lost a point or why, but my guess is that I probably wrote a too long essay for the integrated part: the TOEFL advises us to give an answer of about 150-225 words, I wrote about 300. Again, I am not sure whether I lost a point because of being too wordy, but if I took the test again, I would restrict myself to the 225 words max. limit.

Listening: I went through the Cracking the TOEFL iBT Listening part flawlessly, so I decided not to invest time for preparation for the listening part. However, here comes my second hint:

Hint #2: Take notes. I know that everybody says it but I also think it is really important. Not that you would use the notes for answering the questions but rather by forcing yourself to take notes, you make yourself be aware of the information content of the listening (and reading, speaking and writing sections). I am very quick at taking notes; at the TOEFL test I asked for 3 pencil changes and 5 paper top-ups (well, I also write with a somewhat large fontsize). Actually, for taking notes at the listening and reading sectiong, I used the approach that the Manhattan GMAT advocates, i.e., use extremely abbreviated words with standardized signs for logical connections. For the speaking and writing sections, I rather wrote down full words as I needed to use them later.

Hint #2b: Take notes during the speaking passages, especially during the integrated tasks. If you know the test question types, then you know that each of them has a required logic. If you are prepared, you can easily collect the data in a cross table format. For example, during the conversations, I wrote two columns for the conversing parties (e.g., two students, a professor and a student), if it was augmented with a reading passage than I collected the topics of the reading passage in another column and placed the topics that the reading introduced in the rows and then later added the relevant parts of the conversation to the same rows. Or another example, when a professor contrasts two issues (e.g., two species of carnivores) along two-or-three dimensions, you can simply place everything in a 2-by-2 or 3-by-2 matrix.

Speaking: I was afraid of the speaking parts as I received a relatively low score at the first time I took the test (in spite of dating an American girl at that time). After going the Cracking the TOEFL iBT speaking advice, the ETS online practice scored me for 24 even though I "cheated" on it by repeatedly answering the same question and clicking next when I was satisfied with the answer. So well..I was a little bit concerned about it.

One day before taking the test, I started looking at random youtube videos of TOEFL teachers, and although I didn't have access to their lectures (I neither paid for them nor had the time to actually study anymore), I found one thing in common from them: when giving the answer, don't speak during the predefined scheme that probably most books recommend (for example, the Cracking the TOEFL iBT). It was a little bit risky but I tried it during the test; I tried to speak like if I had a conversation with somebody, I was even gesticulating (I might have been a bit hyped up). I also made sure that I recited some small details from the speaking passages such as the name of the persons if mentioned, or anything else. I added colloquial sentences, for example for the "what would you recommend"-type question, I said something like, "but, you know, the professor is a human being, he would understand that...". I even ran out of time on two questions.

So well, after the test, I was anxious about the speaking part. I was happy with the two independent questions but I thought that I had completely messed up the integrated parts (esp. those two that I couldn't finish, I think I even swore loudly when I realized it but hopefully that wasn't recorded anymore). I felt that I certainly did worse than my "cheated" best on the practice test; I expected a score about 22. Well, I was elated when I saw my 29 which brings us to hint no. 3.

Hint #3: Be lively on the speaking section. It is kind of weird being lively when talking to a computer screen but imagine the boredom of examiners when they listen to all of the same answers (this was mentioned in one of the youtube videos that I watched). For scores about 26, I read online everywhere that one needs to sound like a native speaker. I don't sound like a native English speaker. I can speak English without difficulties but no native English speaker would ever think for a moment that I was one of them. It seems that it might be sufficient to have a relatively good grammar, show an understanding of the reading/speaking passages, possibly by even mentioning details from them, keep a loosely logical sense, and speak as if you were really speaking with somebody and not just reciting a predefined scheme. Again, TOEFL tests your English skills and not the logical skills as the GMAT does.

Hint #4: Use the time that you gained by taking structured notes and not needing to listen to the questions. If you took structured notes as I wrote above, you basically saved much of the necessary preparation. If you also know what the question is going to ask (e.g., if it is the two peope speaking, one has a problem, other has two solutions, you don't need to listen to the question to know what it will be about), you have extra few seconds that you can invest on thinking about how to connect the logical structure that you prepared, maybe even writing down a few connecting words, or, what I did was that I wrote down my opening sentence. I found myself starting to answer the question the most difficult, once I started, I could keep going, but sometimes, I found it hard during practising to start speaking with a really good opening sentence. Well, because I already did most of the preparation in advance, I could spend 5-10 seconds thinking about a really good starting sentence (complicated clauses and words, and really describes the topic), and writing it down. Once the beep came, I simply started reading it aloud, and then kept on talking.

Hint #5: Don't rush. When you can answer the reading and listening questions easily (in the reading section, remember that maybe the first essay is a very long one, and you might think that you are doing badly but if the following ones are short, you will catch up easily), you will have lots of time left. I had 15 minutes left from the reading section when I finished everything (although I read all of the passages completely, and took notes of them, but then I didn't need to spend much time for answering the questions), and 15 minutes left as well from the listening section. I decided to take it easy, rest my brain and my fingers that were hurting from the frantic note-taking. I just sat there for 15 minutes, watching out of the window, closing my eyes, and afterwards, I was much more rested to tackle the remaining sections. I saw some other people that decided not to use the extra time for relaxation but rather went on with the test, and that meant that they started the speaking section in advance of the other people...I would certainly advise against it, I would feel too self-conscious to have a lively conversation while all of the others are still working on their listening section (and maybe listen to me as well). I felt more comfortable blending in the chaos of simultaneously talking people.

NB: Taking timing recommendations from me is probably not the best. On the GMAT, I finished both my verbal and quantitative sections 10 minutes early (even when I slowed down for the last five questions or so...), and I could have certainly received a higher score if I had used my time wiser.

I think that's it. I hope it helped. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Originally posted by japaneseGraphics on 17 Feb 2016, 14:21.
Last edited by japaneseGraphics on 18 Feb 2016, 00:54, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)  [#permalink]

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New post 17 Feb 2016, 19:53
Wow!! Speaking 29 is a really good score.
Thanks for sharing your tip. By the way can you share those youtube video you were talking about?
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Re: A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)  [#permalink]

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New post 18 Feb 2016, 00:54
I watched a couple of hours of videos randomly on youtube about TOEFL iBT tips. I don't remember exactly which videos were these but I know that the "don't sound like a droid" advice was given either by Jaime Miller/English Success Academy or Englishraven*, or both. Of course, they are all in the business of TOEFL teaching, so they give only teasers for free in their videos:)

*Unfortunately, I cannot post links as I didn't write enough forum entries, but you can find their channels on youtube.
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A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)  [#permalink]

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New post 18 Feb 2016, 18:17
Thanks a lot I'll look in to those.
I'll write TOEFL again on 28th February hopefully I can score as high as you did. :-D
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A few TOEFL tips (R: 30, L: 29, S: 29, W:29)   [#permalink] 18 Feb 2016, 18:17
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