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I beat the TOEFL - 113/120

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Davide Junior | Next Rank: 30 Posts
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I beat the TOEFL - 113/120

Post Tue Nov 06, 2012 8:51 am
Ok, this is my first post here: I followed this community from time to time during the last two years, and I have to say that it is an amazing source of information and inspiration, perhaps the best one all over the web. I decided a long time ago that my first step towards the MBA would have been the TOEFL, and on October, 27 I took the test. Tonight I received my official score: 113/120, so now I can begin to work on the GMAT, but this is a different story.
Since I received many hints about the TOEFL in the last months just reading your posts, I would like to report my own experience as well, so that other test takers may benefit from it.
To start with, this is my score:

Reading 30/30
Listening 25/30
Speaking 28/30
Writing 30/30
TOTAL 113/120


My background

I'm 28, and I received both my B.Sc. (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and M.Sc. (Environmental Engineering) degrees from the University of Salerno. Now I am completing my Ph.D. (3rd year), and I plan to submit my applications to B-Schools by next fall. I have to say that I really enjoy using English: everytime I can, I watch rolling news in English, read books in English and also talk with native speakers as much as I can. Today, I think of English as a sort of second native language, or at least this is what I'd like to achieve in the next future. Moreover, in 2010 I spent one semester abroad (Cranfield University, UK) working as a visiting researcher; once back in Italy, in 2011 I took the Cambridge's FCE (passed with A, so a C1 level); a couple of months ago, on March 2012, I also took the Cambridge's CAE (passed with A again, so a C2 level). Therefore I felt that this was the right time to take the TOEFL and finally put an end to the list of English certifications I was collecting.

Planning my own strategy to beat the TOEFL
Basically I believe that the TOEFL is a piece of cake (just to use the words of some other Beatthegmat users which reports really helped me) if compared with other English tests or the GMAT; however, since I wanted to get a 110+, I decided to get some books to improve those skills that are tested, such as taking notes or paraphrasing, which I considered as my main weaknesses. So I purchased the Barron's and of course the Official Guide, as well as the McGraw-Hill's 400 must-have words (a total waste of money, in my opinion). I also got the Kaplan, Thomson and TOEFL Sampler to have a number of complete tests to do during my last 2 weeks of preparation.

My study plan
I began to work on the TOEFL test 2 months ago: I know that many people got a 110+ score just reading some writing samples for 2 or 3 days, but I like to take my time and to do my best to score high. So, first of all I went through the Barron's during the first 3 weeks, then I took the first 2 Barron's complete tests, recording my scores on Reading and Listening (which, by the way, are the two sections that I like the most): I earned a 25 on both sections, on average. So I decided to read cover-to-cover the Official Guide, apart from the two complete tests (which I considered the most important element of the OG), and this took me 1 more week; then I read the Kaplan (another week), and I began to take a complete test every day (roughly in the following order: 6 Barron's, 4 Thomson, 3 Kaplan, 2 Official Guide, 1 TOEFL Sampler), even though sometimes, during weekends, I was able to take 2 complete tests per day. The day before the test I took 1 OG test and the TOEFL Sampler, just to familiarize with the program, which is the exact copy of the one you will find at your test center.

Some additional information
Something about the time I devoted to the preparation for the test: every day I woke up at 7, and watched CNN for 30-45 mins in order to improve my listening skills (after 2 months of diligent practice, I can say that in my case it definitely worked); then during weekdays I reserved at least 2 hours to study for the test, and sometimes I was able to study 3 or 4 hours; during weekends, I studied 4 hours per day. I also read the Economist every day, in order to enhance my reading comprehension as well as writing skills. I found that in my case the best way to write good essays was to read good material, and in my opinion the Economist is an amazing source of well-written articles. I always took timed tests, since from the very start I found that I was able to complete both the reading and listening sections with a good amount of time left.

The test day
My TOEFL was scheduled at 10 am, in a city that is 60 km away from the one in which I live, so I had to wake up early, take a train and then take the subway. Nevertheless, I managed to show up at 9 am at the test center. Even though I am a rational person, on that day I was somewhat agitated; there were other 7 test takers, and the room was tidy and comfortable, even if all the computers were very close to each other.
The test center director gave me a form to be filled with some personal information and then she logged me into the ETS system: in a few seconds I was already reading the first passage. The system provided me with one additional reading passage and one additional listening set. I found the reading quite tough if compared to the tests I took during my preparation, while at first I thought that the listening was very easy. Now I see that I was totally wrong, since I scored 30 on the reading and 25 on the listening section; I must confess that I am happy with my score, but I still ask myself where that 25 comes from. After the usual 10 mins break, which I used to go to the bathroom, eat one or two energy bars and check again my strategy for each of the 6 speaking questions, I entered the test room and logged in. The speaking questions were quite easy, and at the end of the last one I knew that I did a good job there. So it came the first writing question: since I tried to write a little bit more than the usual 200-250 words (my first essay was 350 words, more or less) I found myself hurrying up to write the conclusions paragraph when 3 mins were left: as you can imagine, there was no time to check my essay, and together with the tough reading I truly believed that this was supposed to be the major flaw in my TOEFL exam (actually, I scored 30 on both reading and writing). The last question was quite easy, I just remembered the template Dana posted on this forum, and 30 minutes and 450 words later I was done. Once I left the room, I began to think about the score, and my poor performance on the reading section as well as my first writing essay, which might have been full of mistakes.

My final considerations

Reading: read in English as much as you can, day in day out. In my opinion it doesn't matter if you are reading a book on Greek temples or a prominent newspaper, the important thing is that the more you read, the more you improve your ability to write high-quality essays. In addition, at first I was overthinking on many reading questions, but this isn't the GMAT, so the correct answer is very often the simplest one. I did not take notes at all during the reading section, neither on the test day nor on any other test I took before.
Listening: during my preparation, I always scored between 27 and 30, so I felt confident about the listening section. I ended with a 25. Nevertheless, I think that this doesn't reflect my actual listening skills, but this is how standardized tests work. My advice is to listen to TV and radio as much as you can, every single day of your preparation. CNN is a good option, but there are many other broadcasters available online. About taking notes, I used the Barron's method, and I was able to write down a good deal of details as well as all the major points of the dialogues/lectures.
Speaking: I got a 28 following the notefull instructions that are available on YouTube. Those are great videos, there you will learn everything you need to attack the speaking section. Clearly, practice makes perfect, so the more speaking questions you answer (always timed!), the better.
Writing: I read a lot of books about writing strategies, but at last I wrote my essays according to Dana's templates, and I had no problems since I got a 30. I followed the Intro-Paragraph1-Paragraph2-Paragraph3-Paragraph4-Conclusions structure, diligently using connectors where needed. I think that using phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions might help, too.

And now, the GMAT...
I hope that my experience will help future test takers.
From now on, I will prepare myself to beat the GMAT...
Thank you!

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watchsmart Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
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Post Mon Nov 12, 2012 4:39 am
Can you share more about your note-taking strategies? That's something a lot of students struggle with.

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Davide Junior | Next Rank: 30 Posts
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Post Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:06 pm
Actually, I did not take any notes at all throughout the reading section. On the other hand, all the dialogues and lectures of the listening section required a big deal of note-taking. Basically, I followed the Barron's method: separate your sheet into two parts with a vertical line, leave a blank row on the top for the title (lectures) or main topic (dialogues), then fill your scheme with major ideas (on the left) and examples/additional info (on the right); make connections between these two groups of information with arrows etc.; try to focus on the important stuff.
Note-taking in the speaking section went differently, in that I diligently followed the instructions from Notefull's videos (e.g., A/R1/R2 for the first two questions, MW chart and so on...) apart from the two lectures: there I returned to the Barron's method, which enabled me to have a detailed prospect of the listening that proved itself to be quite useful, in truth.
Finally, I handled the integrated question in the writing section simply reading the text (without taking notes) and then writing down as many points made by the lecturer as I could.

Thanked by: watchsmart
watchsmart Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
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Post Thu Nov 15, 2012 3:50 pm
Nice. Thanks for passing that along. I'll try that method out with my students. One of the toughest things my kids have (even the high level ones) is taking good notes during demo listening tests. Will let you know how it works out!

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jjanbol Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts
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Post Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:12 am
First of all, thanks for your experience on toefl. You said that you usually scored 25 on practice tests. But I want to clarify something. You know almost every reading section has 39 questions. So did you score 25 out of 39 questions or you get 25 out of 30 ?

tailvbk Newbie | Next Rank: 10 Posts Default Avatar
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Post Tue May 23, 2017 11:03 pm
Hi Davide,
Thank you for your sharing and congratulation your achievement!

I'm new comet. Now i'm making plan for TOEFL test so all your sharing is really valuable to me.

Btw, could please you give the exact names of the books/documents you used during your preparation?
It would be absolutely useful to me during my preparation.

Thank you very much!

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