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TOEFL Debrief

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Joined: 17 Feb 2013
Posts: 3
TOEFL Debrief  [#permalink]

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New post 04 Mar 2013, 20:19
Dear Guys,

just want to share about my TOEFL test,
kindly note that I'm not here to brag, or something like that, my purpose is to help you in any way if I can because me too, once feared that I could not get the score that I needed. I receive a lot of support reading in the TOEFL section in gmatclub so I think I owe gmatclub at least a Debrief,

below is the score:
Reading : 27
Listening : 27
Speaking : 27
Writing : 30

This was totally unexpected especially knowing that I had some difficulties on Listening and Speaking section, so thank God for that,

If you don't have time to read my whole post, one word to summarize the basic strategy to tackle TOEFL iBT: familiarity

I used two books for my prep, one Guide, and one Practice Tests book:
1. Princeton Review Cracking the TOEFL IBT with Audio CD, 2009 Edition (College Test Preparation)
Why did I use this instead of the blue Official Guide to TOEFL? well it's because that's the book I have at the time, it's given by my brother when he took TOEFL iBT years ago, so I think I'll just utilize what I have. But I might say if this wasn't the case and you don't have any book currently, I would go with the Official Guide (the blue one),
[+] easy to understand,
[+] give you clear basic concept about what this tests are about -> I think this is very important
[+] give a good strategy on how to tackle each section
[+] well structured

[-] the questions in the sample test is easier than real test,
[-] outdated (2009 vs 2013) -> that's 4 years difference, it might explained why the questions are easier than the test

Read the whole book, do not need to memorize it (I did a lot of skimming because I think it's just quite boring and tiring), just grasp the basic concept of TOEFL iBT, and how to answer them. You will have time to help remember the concept later when doing the mock tests.

2. Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio Volume One (McGraw-Hill's TOEFL iBT) - red book
Now after I finished my prep with Princeton Review, I still lack the experience of doing the real test. This book is highly recommended, it came with five real tests.

Pros :
[+] difficulty is relevant to the test
[+] helps you to gauge the format of the test
[+] it is OFFICIAL

Cons :
[-] answers to the questions are not explained in details (e.g. for writing only : 1.A, 2.B., etc)
[-] quite expensive (in my country it's about USD 40, but I think it's worth it)

Try to tackle each of five tests and sit yourself through for real simulation (e.g. 60 mins Reading, 60 mins Writing, etc, etc). You need to gauge your stamina to prepare for the real tests (no worries if it's quite exhausting, because you will have EXTRA power on the real test) Now because the answers did not come in details, I need to go back and see where it could go wrong if I did any mistake, and re-read the answers. I think my biggest improvement came after I did these tests.

Now I have done preparing, my next step would be to take the test itself

My test day was Sunday, 24 February 2013. The test started at 8 am. I came to the test place on about 6.45, some people already came and waited there. After the doors opened (yeah it hasn't opened yet when I came), I register and get the test order number. The main idea of this test is , the test will be done gradually, it won't be done simultaneously for all participatnts. So for example, if you registered as 10th person, you might need to wait for other 9 people to enter first and do some fraction of the test first. But keep in mind, you will not wait that long, I was 6th person and I think I wait only 10 mins. The test center also should have many PCs thus the waiting time is minimized.

Reading comes first, and it was quite a challenge. there are about three passages, 12-14 questions each, about 40 in total. Now I used ALL THE TIME (one hour) to finish this section.

now comes the most surprising and exhausting part. Listening comes in THREE sections, with two passage and one dialogue in each section (makes you total 9 stories). I said it was surprising because I did not expect there was three sections (I only did max two sections), so by the time I saw there was a third section, I kinda miss a lot of details on the listening part. Might have also been caused by the exhaustion I suffered (it was a pain listening to 6 passages, let alone 9).

10 minute break, use this time to eat some and drink some,

now the mother of all sections, easily the most feared section for non English speaker. It was least surprising though, because the format stayed the same with in the Official Guide. Screwed up a little in one passage, however I think I did quite a little bit better than in my prep. Thank God for that.

I think the most enjoyable section. Mostly because I already passed speaking, thus I'm relaxed. This was not surprising also, because the type of writing (making comparisons and making personal essay) was already covered in the Preparation Book.

That was it!


Disclaimer : the tips to tackle each section comes straight from my own experience, it might not be 100% accurate however these are the knowledge I used when I tackled the test

there are two main ideas of reading section. First one is, the answers are right in front of you. what I mean is, never assume something, and use only the information in the passage. Dig through the paragraph (I said paragraph, not the whole passage), to find the answers. If it's quite hard, try to eliminate some certain wrong answers first, then recheck again and use your judgment. Second idea is, there was nothing such as free lunch/answer in this section. The answer to the question is not straight such as 1+1=2. Sometimes the answers consist in passive voice. Sometimes the words have been altered a bit but they have same meaning in that context. Check all the answers first before hitting A, B, C, or D. For the final question in each passage (choose three main ideas), remember that you need to eliminate three incorrect choices which are minor passage and ideas not stated in the passage. I saw there was a lot of ideas not stated in the passage, so it might be a good idea to recheck again, after all, its worth 2 points.

1. do not read the whole passage when it was first introduced to you, just read the first sentence then move to the question. You'll do a lot of reading when you answer the question.
2. don't get stuck in one question, if it takes a lot of time, just guess and move on. you only have 60 mins to do all of them. If you have spare time left you can go back to the questions you were in doubt.

I don't have much strategy about listening, but the most significant one is I think notes taking. Prep books recommended not to jot down every kind of information, and only write the ones you think important. However I beg to differ on this. Do the notes taking in a method that is most comfortable and helpful to you. each person is different. For me personally, taking a lot of notes help you to remember the passage and keep you focused. But one point you need to ensure is to listen well while writing. Surely you don't need to write every each of the words being spoken in the passage. One thing I hate about this section is that sometimes there are minor ideas/details in the passage in my opinion, but it came out as a question (another reason to write much notes for me personally)

Oh yes, unlike reading section, you cannot go back to rectify your answers. You have 10 mins total to answer all of the questions in ONE SECTION (totalling 30 mins if there are THREE SECTIONS, three passage each)

1. Before answering a question, recheck your notes again, might have information you need to answer that question (I did at least one mistake because of not doing this)

Well, if there is one thing about speaking is : PRACTICE. This is the most sensible and straight forward way on achieving high scores. I was a nervous wreck and stutter a lot. Practice helped me to achieve good score. I spent most of my time preparing for TOEFL by speaking to myself (it is true). At first I was like "in my opinion, that, I um... [waiting 5 secs] think that... [wait another 5 sec], etc". After some practice, I managed to control my speech in a more fluent and calmed manner. In any way, try to practice using any topics in the website as many as possible. Then after you got the idea a bit, try to record it and manage to maintain between 45 secs - 1 min (according to the kind of question you have, summary question requires you to talk 1 min).

1. Practice
2. About the first and second question in speaking (personal opinion), there was no right or wrong answer (e.g. do you think education is not important, you may say NO). But, for your own sake, choose the answer that can give you easier reasons so you can think fast (I don't see any reasons why education is not important). The last thing you do surely is to give yourself a hard time.


Now comes the last but I think the best part of TOEFL iBT. I think prep books or forum discussion already covered the basics of writing essays. The most important thing that I think determines 85% of your score is Structure. Have a clear structure in your writing. Introduction, Idea1, Idea2, Conclusion. This format is not only safe but also helps you to manage your time better. If there is one tip I can give is Word Count. I wrote about >400 words in the first essay and >500 in the second. You don't need to worry about having many words (certainly not stick to ETS rule about 200-225 words in first essay and >300 words in second essay). That having said, all of the words you said in the essay must have a meaning. It means, avoid having redundancy between sentences, so that you have not only quantity but also quality in your writing.

One last message, I think the scoring system is not that stiff. E.g you can have several clear mistakes but score is still high. I certainly had some issues in listening and speaking section, but the score spoke for itself. Do not worry about the scoring system. Just prepare as maximum as you can, and I think you can do very well in the test.

That's all folks,

I really hope that it can help you, that is my main point of having this post,

If there was something that offended you in this post I really apologize,

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New post 05 Mar 2013, 15:25
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Re: TOEFL Debrief   [#permalink] 05 Mar 2013, 15:25

TOEFL Debrief

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