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TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation

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TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 14 Nov 2017, 14:39
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Hello everyone,

I am preparing a PhD proposal and I need both GRE and TOEFL in order to apply. As the deadline is in December, I booked both tests at the end of October - beginning of November in case I had to retake them. In the same period, however, I was also finalising my MA thesis, thus I didn't really have time to prepare for the tests. I took GRE with 3 days preparation and got an average score; I dedicated one week to TOEFL because I needed at least 110.
I'm an Italian native speaker but I'm majoring in English Literature, which means that I wrote a lot of 5-paragraph-essays and I'm quite used to reading very complicated stuff. I soon realised, though, that being able to understand Kant in German or Derrida in French doesn't mean anything, your TOEFL score can suck anyway.

My results, which I just received, are: R 29; L 27; S 29; W 30

To prepare, I didn't spend a buck on extra-material, because where I live I already had to pay 200 + 275 dollars on the tests. I thought that was enough. I thus watched all the videos on NOTEFULL, some YouTube channels and some forums (as true Latin speakers, we might say - anachronistically - fora). I then borrowed Kaplan and Barron's CDs to practice some stuff. I also downloaded some free apps for the speaking section.
Since I only had one week, I decided to focus on reading and listening two days, just doing practice tests. I dedicated two days on the speaking section. The rest was practice tests. At the moment, I'm also a TA, which means I didn't have time to prepare for TOEFL all the time, I had various classes I couldn't skip.

A couple of tips, maybe a bit redundant:

- Reading: use the strategy outlined by Notefull. You might want to watch some Magoosh videos as well. Important thing to bear in mind: it's not necessary to read the excerpt. Answers are usually in one sentence in the text. Check out topic sentences for "summary" questions and the like.

- Listening: structure your notes in bullet points. E.g. thesis, example 1 + details, example 2 + details etc. They will ask for the bigger picture: you won't need to remember the exact composition of ethylene, but maybe what happens when you inject it (if you know what I mean). Detail questions are about "big" and "easy" details: things that are supposedly understandable by everyone. My issue was with some tricky - oddly phrased - questions. Sometimes you have to state the main purpose of the lecture, in which case you shouldn't be distracted by the examples that follow: the answer is usually in the first sentences. Also, you might want to see the type of examples provided, i.e. what kind of lecture it is (group discussion, thesis and demonstration etc.)

- Speaking: I struggled with this one at first. I think a lot when I talk to people, and I can't really produce an answer as they want it in 15 seconds. Familiarise yourself with the templates provided by Notefull and other platforms as well, but remember, these templates will NOT work perfectly. You'll need to improvise a bit. Let me rephrase it: maybe the template for the first two questions is okay-ish, but it won't be for questions 3-6. As for the praxis, I have an Italian accent, though not as strong as the stereotype goes. You can re-formulate when you make a mistake. My concern was with timing, I was always worried I won't be able to fill all the time. Although I did, sometimes I spent too much time on summarising some arguments and had to state my position in 10 seconds or so. In this case, use programmatic sentences like: "If I had to choose between X and Y, I'd choose..." and some concluding sentence (not the impersonal ones such as "And this is why I feel that way", these are bad, use something from the topic instead).

- Writing: I was pretty comfortable with it. I only tried it once at home. I soon realised that the writing in the actual test was easier than the practice tests. For the first part, I had a clear text with "First", "Second" and "Third". The lecture followed the points in the same order. The second part was a bit tricky, I didn't really like the question (it was not a "X is Y, do you agree?" type). Make sure you write an outline on your scratch paper before you start writing. Then try to be clear with your explanation, providing strong examples and fancy vocabulary. I'm sure I made some grammar mistakes. I didn't really have time to revise. I wrote like 500 words for the first task, and 700 for the second one.

Concerning my facility, I read some good things on the net. The test should have started at 9. I got there at 8.15 and had to wait with 60 other people in the corridor of the building. Only 9 could enter at a time for registration. I went in at around 9.45, last group of people, and thus I was amongst the last to leave. I brought my own earplugs, which was a good idea. However, I had some 10 minutes at the end of the reading section, which I used to listen to other people doing the speaking part: I was trying to figure out what the topic of the first two questions might be. My advice: though it could be frustrating, try to enter last and do the same. If you have your own earplugs, you won't be bothered that much in the reading and listening section. Also, you'll be alone during the writing.

Good luck with your TOEFL.

Last edited by SkunkStyle77 on 16 Nov 2017, 03:26, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 16 Nov 2017, 03:18
Very good score ! Where did you appear in the test ?
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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 16 Nov 2017, 03:48
subhashghosh wrote:
Very good score ! Where did you appear in the test ?

Hey, thanks. I took the test in Zurich, Switzerland, because I'm studying here. I didn't have time to go abroad to find a cheaper place, but maybe I gained a bit in comfort. Although the test was on rather crappy notebooks, the separations were okay, space was tight but enough, and proctors were nice. Only down point is that you have to walk through testing room to enter registration room. I was sitting right next to it, and people kept walking past while taking their break. Still, better experience compared to what I've read on the internet.

I took GRE in Geneva, where the facility seems better: the separations are in wood, more room, bigger computers, and registration room is actually before the testing place. For Swiss people, I'd suggest you go there.

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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 19 Nov 2017, 08:02
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However, I had some 10 minutes at the end of the reading section, which I used to listen to other people doing the speaking part: I was trying to figure out what the topic of the first two questions might be. My advice: though it could be frustrating, try to enter last and do the same.


Great tip, I did the same. I wrote down several ideas which was helpful with the first two questions.
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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 09 Dec 2017, 13:33
Hey...thanks for the insights and Congratulations.

What were you scores on Kaplan mocks? How close were they to your real TOEFL scores/experience? I have taken their 3-4 day free trial which has 3-4 mocks. Just gave a diagnostic and scored 28-28 on Reading and listening.

How can I estimate my writing and speaking scores?

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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation [#permalink]

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New post 09 Dec 2017, 23:58
HarshBazooka wrote:
Hey...thanks for the insights and Congratulations.

What were you scores on Kaplan mocks? How close were they to your real TOEFL scores/experience? I have taken their 3-4 day free trial which has 3-4 mocks. Just gave a diagnostic and scored 28-28 on Reading and listening.

How can I estimate my writing and speaking scores?


Funny thing is I tried Kaplan and Barron mocks (I prefer Kaplan's) on Monday and scored 27-30. I did a couple more on Friday, the day before the exam, and I had 25-27, probably due to stress. For the Reading part, I had the extra section, thus four readings instead of three. I think the exam was slightly easier than the mocks. The questions are easily answerable with the methods you find online, e.g. at NOTEFULL, wherethe readings really fit the structure. I thought it was counter-intuitive, but it's actually useful. I'd say you can lose a few points on random questions, but do the summary-ones right.
For Listening it goes the same way. The exam was a bit easier than the mock exams. I lost a couple of points there because at one point I was simply listening to the people around me. If you want to do it, do it during breaks between sections.
To estimate speaking score, listen to the analysis of some experts online. They usually take responses from students and comment on them, stating where they could improve. What they say, I had the impression, is always lower than the actual score you get in your TOEFL - I guess they do that so that people keep paying for their services. Compare yourself with the answers given, and if the expert says you'd get a 2.5/3.0 in one question, expect a 3.5/4.0 in TOEFL.
As for the writing I don't know how you could estimate the scores. Make sure you write a lot, signpost your stuff ("The first reason why...", "Another reason...", "Therefore, I think this...") and use loads of transition words. They like mechanical stuff. I had to take 5-f* semesters of that stuff in my studies and I introjected it.
Good luck on your exam!

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Re: TOEFL Debrief - 115 one week preparation   [#permalink] 09 Dec 2017, 23:58
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