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Studying for the TOEFL
Okay. This is the final lesson on the introduction to the TOEFL and in this lesson we’re going to talk about studying for the TOEFL. How you study for this test. There are really two parts to studying for the TOEFL. The first is learning the test, and the second is learning English.
You need both the test experience and English experience to do very well on the TOEFL. You need to know the structure of the test and how you should answer specific questions, you also need to have a lot of experience speaking English naturally and listening to English. Of course the TOEFL is the test of English, so this is more important.
If you don’t have the level of English that you need for your high score, there is nothing you can do to improve it other than more English practice. You need that practice, you need that experience, the test on the other hand is something a little bit quicker to learn. What do I mean by learning the test? Well, there are really 3 parts to this, there is the format, the strategy and the timing.
The format is what the test looks like. The strategy is how you take the test, how you answer the questions. And the timing is how much time you spend on each question, and how you should organize yourself so that the clock doesn’t cause a problem. When you’re studying this, you can learn it pretty quickly. If you are only studying the test, if you’re not really improving your English, then you can learn the test in about one to three months.
Now, I’ve had many students who have gone much faster than that. Some students only spend one week studying the test, others spend one year, or more, studying the test. So this one to three months is not exact. Everybody is different, but I think if you want to learn the test very well, and you are only studying the test, then one to three months is about right.
There’s a lot of information, so one week makes it a little bit hard and also it’s only the test this is not about studying English or improving the skills so one year is a little bit long the truth is that, that student who spent one year plus probably was also spending time learning English. This takes more time, you need to gain a lot of experience and that can take months to years.
You need to experience as much speaking, as much writing, as much listening, and as much reading as possible. This is not a test of grammar and vocabulary. You need to use English for a very long time in order to improve the way the TOEFL wants. Now let’s look more at learning the test.
What do I mean by learning the TOEFL? How do you study the TOEFL? Studying format. If you want to learn what the test looks like, how the test is structured, what types of questions you’ll see, official materials are best. ETS, the company that makes the TOEFL, makes two books and some other resources online on the internet which describes the test very well.
They show you the format there is nothing better than official materials for that. Unofficial materials like Magoosh or Kaplan or Behrens or Cambridge or Oxford or any other company that’s not ETS, unofficial materials are more helpful for strategies. Strategy is how you take the test, how you look at a reading passage, how you take notes, what you see in wrong answers.
This is something that ETS does not teach. You can only get it from unofficial materials. Official materials are good for practice. You learn the strategies and then you try the questions in the official materials to see if you learned it well and if you’re improving. And the final part is timing, both official materials and unofficial materials are good for timing, because this takes a lot of time to improve.
You need a lot of practice. Timing is not just organizing, it’s not just reading a passage and then moving to the questions at the correct time. It’s something more, it’s also stamina. What is stamina? If you are a runner maybe you are a short distance runner and you only run for 5 minutes or less maybe 30 seconds, you might be very, very fast, you could be an Olympic gold medal runner.
But, you do not necessarily have stamina, unless you are a long distance runner. A marathon runner has stamina, because they start running and they don’t stop, they continue, and continue, and continue, and they keep their energy. Stamina is continued energy after a long time and this test is long, it’s four hours long. So you need full length practice sections and tests to improve that stamina.
If you are only answering, ten questions or twenty questions, that’s not like the real test. For that, official materials help, but they’re not enough, you need even more. Official materials include the official guide, which gives three practice tests and the five official practice tests on paper and there are some online resources as well.
If you’re only using one book or one resource from the official materials, you will need more. Even if you use all of the official materials you might still need more because increasing your stamina takes time. All right, how about learning English? Well, this is a very, very different story.
Learning English is outside the classroom. Again, don’t just study grammar exercises. They’re helpful but they’re only helpful with experience. You can do the grammar exercises, and then practice it in real life. You need to find your weakest skills.
What causes you the most trouble? Do you have trouble speaking? Well then practice speaking. Do you have trouble reading? Then read everyday. If listening causes trouble, then watch TV, listen to the radio.
Radio is great for the listening exercises. Find your weakest skills and practice them outside of the classroom in your daily life. You should be swimming in English. Every day doing something in English. You should be thinking in English, talking in English, dreaming in English, writing emails in English, talking with friends or family in English as much as is possible.
Ideally you should be practicing with natives, learning from natives. Now this isn’t always possible, I know sometimes you don’t know any natives, you don’t have any natives you can talk to or write to or listen to. But if you are at least reading and listening from natives that can help. Reading real world magazines and newspapers in English, listening to the radio like I said, that can help definitely.
If you can speak with natives also, even better. That is the best thing for your speaking and writing as well. Remember, your end goal is to, study at a university, at a college and use English all day, every day with natives. If that sounds very, very scary to you, if you think that you can’t do that, then you might want to rethink taking the TOEFL.
The TOEFL is a doorway to this goal, a doorway to living in English. You need to prove that you can do that. If you feel that you can’t do that, yet, then learn English. Focus on this for months or years, and then come back to the TOEFL later. The best way to learn from natives, as I’ve said a moment ago, is reading and listening materials from academic sources, not just real world sources.
Academic means something from your studies if you think that it’s something you might here at a school then it’s good for learning English for the TOEFL one good resource for this for listening especially is TED, TED has some great academic English this is really good for listening. Another good resource may be The Economist is a great magazine. Now this is very, very difficult The Economist.
This is for very high level but it would be great academic reading. There are a number of other magazines and newspapers and websites which you could use which we’ll talk about in another lesson but the idea is you want these academic resources that are similar to something you would see in a college. All right, that’s all for this lesson and thank you for listening on our introduction to the TOEFL lessons.
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