Tips and Secret of TOEFL

I took TOEFL test recently in Mongolia. This test is mainly used for a benchmark to enter English speaking country’s universities or to prove English skill for job recruitment.

I have taken this test quite many times to enter US grad school, but the test score is valid only for 2 years, which makes sense since language skills can be lost quickly if you don’t use. Thus I decided to take it again.

Although I graduated from US university and have been using English at my work, it doesn’t mean I am prepared for this TOEFL: Just like any other test, you need to know the characteristic of the test and study to the test. Also, some of my native English speaking friends even make some errors on this.

Given its complex characteristic, I will talk about some tips on TOEFL including some secret techniques.

Structure of TOEFL (know your enemy)

Below is the basic structure as well as some remarks/templates.

Structure of TOEFL and remarks
Section Content Time (min) Topic  Remarks/ Template
 0. Register Arrive on time but register later. Bring passport, water and extra cloth for back cushion
 1. Reading  3 readings 60 (20 each) Academic  Don’t take so much note for time issue
 2. Listening 6 listening 60 (30 listen+30  answer) 2 campus
4 academic
 Detailed memo is ideal (what topic, why s/he said so, Guess from the context, etc )
 3. Break Rest  10  rest Bathrom and water→check template for section 4 and 5→ return earlier to get speaking idea
 4. Speaking (1) Independent 15 sec prep
45 sec speak
 Free  Opinion → 2 reasons → Conclusion
(2) Independent 15 sec prep
45 sec speak
Agree/
Disagree
Opinion → 2 reasons → Conclusion
(3) Reading + Campus 20 sec prep
60 sec speak
Summary According to the announcement, XX→ Fe/Male student dis/agrees → 2 reasons
(4) Reading + Lecture 20 sec prep
60 sec speak
Summary The professor explains the concept of reading by providing 2 examples → detail
(5) Campus 20 sec prep
60 sec speak
Summary +
Opinion
 The fe/male student has problem→ 2 possible solutions → I prefer XX because
(6) Reading + Lecture 20 sec prep
60 sec speak
Summary  The professor explains the concept of reading by providing 2 examples → detail
 5. Writing  (1) Integrated (Reading+ Lecture)  20 Contrast only point on the Note→The professor argues XX from the reading is not necessarily true→ 1st/2nd/3rdly, YY which refutes reading which state ZZ→Proofread (5 min)
(2) Independent  30  Free only point+example on the Note→
Opinion→3 reasons+example →Conclusion→proofread (5 min)

Some prep and tips for each section

0. Register
To explain why it is better to arrive on time but register later, I have to disclose the secret first: if you start later, you get to hear others’ speaking answers to have some ideas about questions (during the section 2 and 3) . Also, in the section 5, if you are the last person, every one have already finished section 4 so you get to concentrate on writing without hearing others’ speaking.

1. Reading
To prepare for this, you need to read a lot and have good vocabulary. Although I read English articles and use it every day at work, 20 minutes per each article is still not enough (I am a slow reader too). So it is better to skip taking memo, and read paragraph by paragraph then answer each question.

2. Listening
To prepare for this, listen to any English audio (e.g. faster rate of TED talk or audible). Since the question includes pretty detailed information, try to take detailed notes. That is, note taking starts from this section (not reading). And as mentioned in the section 0, if you want to hear others’ speaking answer, you need to take off the headphone while you answer listening (not during you listen to the audio).

3. Break
You are half way through!
Make sure you go to the bath room, drink water, and check the template for speaking and writing. If you return early to hear others’ speaking idea, I suggest not to take memo (test center people might stop you).

4. Speaking
This is the hardest part for me, since unlike other sections, you don’t have much time to prepare (that’s also why having some idea beforehand can help a little bit, not a lot though).
To prepare for this, make your template (available in many sites but I just need the ones I put int the table), and practice as many as possible with real examples and time. Ask your native friend to check if you have one.

5. Writing 
To prepare, make your template and write a lot! What’s important is before typing, write down main idea, 3 supporting points and conclusion (just words, not entire sentences for time limit)
For integrated task, you just need to summarize the lecture’s point on the reading (it’s always same: just state professors’s argument and how it differs from the passage).
For independent writing, take your position very quickly, and take 3 reasons with examples (real or fake personal stories) and conclude by summarizing your points.
Also, take 3-5 minutes for proofreading (you will most likely find some minor errors).

6. General tips
Enjoy learning about new topic: As you are aware, most of them are lectures, instead of just test for your college or job entry, try to enjoy new learning opportunity during the test.
Meditate regularly to concentrate: you get to hear others’ speaking when you are in the listening section, so try to be ready to concentrate, and meditation can be a good practice for this. Also, try to set up good condition through quality sleepness, food and exercise.

This time, I learned that
Every test is different so you have to prepare by practicing to it, and you can actually enjoy learning something new during the test.

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