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Thread: My TOEFL IBT experience

  1. #1
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    My TOEFL IBT experience

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    Hi all,

    Having received my TOEFL scores just yesterday, I figured it would be helpful to those out there preparing to sit the TOEFL IBT.

    I should start my saying that I am from a country whose native language is English. However, with that being said, I stressed out so much over this exam, so I understand how nerve-wrecking it can be for those who have another foreign language.

    I had exactly one month to prepare for the Toefl. As I had just completed another exam, I took the first 4-5 days off and didn't really go hard with my studying till the last two weeks, and especially the last week.

    I had purchased the official toefl prep book from the website which I went through first. I found it to be quite overwhelming for two reasons. First, the written English in the book was complex as it is; I ended up restarting before I started the practice exercises as I didn't quite catch their learning points. I did have a tiny hiccup with the listening section as I wasn't given the audio files but these were emailed to me pretty fast. They have the audio written down if you want to read as you listen to really understand the language. I didn't practice the speaking and writing sections as I thought it would be better to start with youtube videos.

    There are really good Toefl prep videos on youtube, specifically by a Professor Joseph who works at Notefull. Definitely watch them and nail those tips!

    Despite being an English speaker, I have severe test anxiety so I focused a lot in this area. When I'm nervous, I speak fast. I had to drastically change this as it made my speech lose order, made it seem like I was missing out words, going wrong with pronunciations, and especially made mistakes. I used Notefull's tips on how to approach the speaking sections. Then just practiced everyday. It is tempting to bring in a lot of information in hopes of scoring higher. Take it from me, it's more important to slow down even if that means you'll lose detail. As long as you answer the question, you're fine!

    I also did some research and bought a one month access to a learning platform called Bestmytest. The reason I bought this was to have an expert answer my questions, and most importantly, review my spoken and written English. This platform was super helpful in my opinion. Not only was the personalized feedback helpful (you get a set number of reviews but you can purchase more), but they had a host of excellent features:
    1. Of course, expert help which highlighted my flaws. Their response time was really quick.
    2. Additional videos and written tips.
    3. Progress tracker including the percentile of each completed section, a score board to monitor your performance based on your ideal score and an excellent breakdown, especially in the Reading section, of which question type you are really struggling with. Mine was the insert the questions and gist content questions for which I sought further help from experts.
    4. A massive question bank; practice makes perfect, remember that!
    5. Additional lessons that really dig into the foundation of the language.
    6. I found the questions quite hard, and the expert feedback to be very constructive and non-lenient with scores which prompted me to really smooth out the rough edges. This prepares you for the worst case as I was pretty much fighting to get up to my target scores during preparation.

    The last week, I focused on my weak points. I didn't learn anything new; just practiced. My written English is my strength but I still focused copious amounts of time getting Bestmytest's written template etched into my memory. If found myself to be quite tight with time, leaving under 2 minutes for a complete review. I had to improve this. Naturally, the introduction took the longest as you're thinking of what to write. Below are the strategies I employed:
    1. A short introduction. I tend to introduce 2-3 ideas I'll be dedicating a paragraph to in the passage. I start off with one idea and start writing the main body. This gave me time to think of the second paragraph. I would then go back to the introduction to write it down, lest I forgot. This allowed me to think of ideas and make my introduction specific.
    2. For those who struggle with detail, try this: a neutral approach. For example, you may be asked if you agree or disagree with a learning style. I would dedicate the first paragraph to 'agree', with an example, the second to 'disagree', with an example and the third (if I can), a combination of how the learning style, which I disagreed with can still work and how, even though I agree with the learning style, an issue it has. Give examples.
    3. Conclusion is quick; summarize the main points. There are many ways to end a conclusion but I like ending it with a thought provoking sentence which I haven't discussed.
    4. Try to learn complex words which are general and can be applied across a range of topics. When used right, they really boost your score.

    Tips on speaking:
    1. Slow and controlled.
    2. I downloaded a free voice recorder app with a playback and timer feature to train me to speak within the time limit and allow me to listen to how I would sound to the examiner. I highly recommend this as my partner and I listened back and caught potentially significant errors I didn't realize I was making.
    3. The Bestmytest platform offers expert reviews. I practiced a few questions of each question type and sent one of each type for review.
    4. Whilst recording, it is tempting to start again when you make a mistake. Avoid this as you cannot start again on the day. I employed a method of adding a 'sorry' and restarting the sentence where I made the error. This allowed for correction and hopefully mimimized confusion. With that being said, avoid getting to this stage. If you speak slowly, you are less likely to make errors. It's all about practice.
    5. Try to be less generous with time when practicing. I gave myself 5 less seconds per section. This allowed me to get my main points in on time just incase I end up wasting valuable seconds on the day. On the day, I had time left over which I let run out. This is a luxury as I had said my main points. Plus, this also allows you time to add crucial points that you missed.

    I found the listening section to be the easier one during practice but did find this section the hardest on the day. This was quite weird for me as my learning style at college and university was to write down pretty much everything the professor said. I gained my speed of writing whilst listening this way. Here are my tips for it:
    1. Even if you find a section to be easier, don't overlook practice. A way to force you to get the practice done is to work on full mock exams. When I purchased the official Toefl guide, I also got access to 4 practice tests. I left these for just before the exam. They are the closest representation to the exam with difficulty level and on screen experience.
    2. Practice listening and writing. If you don't have friends that speak English, go to a Starbucks or other cafe. Just sit and write down conversations you hear (non-private ones of course), and the exchange between the cashier and customer etc etc. Find your own place that gives you access to a wealth of conversations by English speakers. The next time you watch an English movie or tv show, practice writing!
    3. If you miss some information, forget it. Move on. Or you'll miss more. I ended up making a lot of educated guesses.
    4. Underline words you think they'll ask you questions on. As far as timing goes, this section is stingey. It is very important to find information fast. Underlining words helped me locate the right sentences faster.

    Overall tips:
    1. I learnt the entire content in a quiet study area but went to the library in the last week to get used to working with noise as there is a high likelihood of noise on the day.
    2. Get to your venue early. My exam was really early (8am) plus you need to get there at least half an hour before you start. I had issues with rush hour traffic and confusing location so I ran into the venue panicking. Practice getting to the venue and definitely adjust your sleep cycle the last two or three days, to wake up for the exoected time on the day of the exam.
    3. Added bonus: if you get there before other students, you can start earlier which means you reach the speaking section quicker, therefore, will be less distracted by the noise. I was distracted in the reading section by noise as you all test your microphone before starting. Also, get used to wearing headphones while practicing. They genuinely help with minimizing audio distraction on the day.
    4. The actual exam may be longer. I had an extra exercise in the Reading and Writing sections. When preparing, really make use of your day to get used to the long duration of the exam.

    I know it's a lot I have written but that's just because I understand how daunting the entire process is. Find your own additional strategies which only come with practice.

    I'll finish off with my scores:
    Reading: 24 (when preparing) -29 (actual)
    Listening: >25 (when preparing) -25 (actual)
    Speaking: 26 (when preparing)- 30 (actual)
    Writing: 28 (when preparing)- 30 (actual)

    I wish you all the best! Just keep practising! In my opinion, it is worth investing in study materials and expert help as retakes will be so much more expensive. Practicing really calmed me down too. Many fail because of nerves, not because of lack of knowledge. Train yourself to leap over this pit; let your confidence guide you to success!

  2. #2
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    Smile Re: My TOEFL IBT experience

    Hi Shivani
    Could please share your short-notes of complex words for writing section. That would be really helpful.

    Thank you

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    Re: My TOEFL IBT experience

    Quote Originally Posted by Datta View Post
    Hi Shivani
    Could please share your short-notes of complex words for writing section. That would be really helpful.

    Thank you
    Hi Datta,

    Thank you! I don't have notes in this area unfortunately. The training program I used has notes on complex words which I remember glancing through. It's called Bestmytest. Check them out. They offer a 7 day free trial. I don't remember if they offer these notes in the free trial but it's worth a check. They did have loads of vocabulary mini tests though which you may find beneficial. Hope that helps!

    All the best!

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