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My TOEFL iBT - 117/120

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DanaJ Site Admin
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My TOEFL iBT - 117/120 Post Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:33 pm
If you’re a non native speaker aiming for any type of graduate education taught in English, then get ready to be asked for some sort of proof of your proficiency in English. Personally, I am somewhat familiar with three types of tests:
-Cambridge Certificates - took this one in the 11th grade, but it seems it’s not really that much recognized outside Europe
-TOEFL - pretty much any school will accept TOEFL scores, especially if you took the Internet-based (or iBT) format
-IELTS - another test that some of my friends took a while ago. It’s apparently administered by the Cambridge ESOL as well

So there you have it: three options to choose from. However, from my own experience of taking the first two tests and my friends’ accounts of the third, it’s best to go for the TOEFL, since it is probably the easiest of the three.

This was my reasoning when I decided to sit for the TOEFL sometime in November. I am currently finishing up a semester-long Erasmus exchange in Porto, Portugal. However, the city does not have a testing center. The nearest would be in Coimbra, but since both I and a colleague were taking it, we decided to go to Lisbon. We reasoned that this would also be a good opportunity to visit Portugal’s capital, so we stayed there for 4 days... But before I make any touristic recommendations, let’s “get down to business”, as they say.


Materials used

The best book you could hope to buy is the Official Guide to the New TOEFL iBT. This book is edited by ETS, the organization that administers the test (and who used to administer the GMAT as well up until a few years ago). However, the two books (the OG for the GMAT and the OG for the TOEFL) are structured in markedly different ways. While the GMAT OG features over 900 practice items, the guide for the TOEFL has a lot fewer than that. This is balanced by the fact that the TOEFL OG efficiently breaks down the question types and provides some strategy you can use on the big day.

I personally did not need to practice that much, since I use English on a daily basis, having first started studying it around 14 years ago. However, even if you’re extremely confident in your skills, do try to go through this book, because you’ll know exactly what to expect on test day. The reading and listening question types in particular are formulated in a special way that should not catch you off guard when you’re taking the TOEFL. Also, the writing part has two “standard” types of essays that you should have templates for. Unfortunately, the TOEFL OG does not have such templates, but I’ll provide some in a later post.

In total, it took me around 15 hours to go through the entire book, meaning reading the indications for each question type, doing all the practice sets and reviewing my answers. This is definitely not a lot, but unfortunately the month of November was an absolute nightmare for me with school, so I had to spread these 15 hours over two and a half weeks. However, depending on your skill level, you can also choose to go through it faster or slower - a good friend of mine spent only like 4-5 hours practicing and got an 109 (his English level was quite good, though) in September.

There were a few things that I think are worth mentioning about the TOEFL OG. First off, NONE of the texts or audio clips bored me! It was unbelievable: I actually solved the entire listening section in just one sitting, because I could not get myself to put down the headphones! Second, I was a bit surprised by the fact that the writing samples were graded with extreme generosity. It gave me a confidence boost, because I knew I could do at least as good as that... Honestly, the writing part was the most frightening for me, because I had gotten a 5 in the AWA and thought that my essay writing abilities were not as sharp. This is why seeing those passages really helped with my morale.

Apart from the TOEFL OG, you can also use a software that’s freely downloadable on the test’s official site (ets.org). However, there are a few bugs in this program. The most annoying was the fact that I wrote both essays in the boxes of the software, but when I wanted to have someone review what I’d written, I could not access my answers! While it was still good practice, it was pretty frustrating not to be able to get a second opinion on the two essays.

I did not use anything else, but my cousin did buy the Kaplan book. I plan on reviewing it when I get back to Bucharest. I’ll write my impressions in another thread.


Registration tips


Similarly to the GMAT, you use the official site to register for the test. It’s not that difficult - it just takes a lot of time to fill out all the details that they require. With regards to testing centers, the TOEFL has a clear advantage over the GMAT in that there are considerably more centers for the former. This is one reason why ETS has been trying to market the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT: the GRE is also administered by ETS and is accessible to many more.

There’s one important thing that you need to remember when you register though: pick your schools then and there, or at the very latest on the eve of the test. I was expecting to be asked for the schools at the test center, as was the case with the GMAT. You can choose a few schools that will receive your scores for both tests, but it’s different for the TOEFL - you need to do this at home. Please, please, please do not forget to do this! I had to pay for extra score reports just because I was not aware of this.... It is of course clearly stated in one of the many PDF documents you’ll find on ets.org, but I was careless enough not to read everything.


Time for the test!

We had the test scheduled on December 4th, but we got to Lisbon on the 3rd. We wanted to check out the test center location, just to be sure that we did not waste time in the morning. The center in Lisbon is pretty close to a metro station, Ameixoeira, which was definitely a plus, since we were staying at a hostel close to Restauradores (right next to the Lisbon Hard Rock, which YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT!). Naturally, since we were travelling in a group of over 5 (all students), I did not get a good night’s sleep - only had a few hours of rest, which was not such a good idea, in retrospect...

We woke up early and got to the test center without any incidents. Once there, the staff was not exactly what you’d call operational - I think we started more than 30 minutes later than the scheduled time. Unfortunately, the room was packed, almost all spaces were filled.

When you first sit down, you are asked to do a mike check. The sound automatically adjusts to the way you speak, so try not to shout. If you do, you’ll probably be speaking so loud during the test that you’ll bother those around you even more than it is necessary.

So I started off with the reading part. No one told me this before going into the exam (I’m sure it’s written in the PDFs on ets.org, but... you know the story about not reading all the documentation), but you get either more reading passages or more listening passages, because you also get an ungraded “experimental” section, which can either be a reading or a listening one. I was “lucky” enough to get more reading passages, which require a lot more time (and attention, in my opinion) than the extra listening clips. I think I had either 5 or 6 passages in total and the whole section lasted for over an hour and a half! I was really upset when I realized what had happened, but decided to keep cool. The general level of the reading section seemed comparable (if slightly higher) than what I saw in the book. I think I was unsure of around 3 questions of the total.

As mentioned above, I really enjoyed listening. This second section went by without any incidents - for me, it was quite relaxing, especially after the grueling reading part. I remember not being 100% of one question, but that is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion. By the end of my listening section, people (who had probably gotten the extra listening and not the extra reading) around me had already started the speaking section, which was slightly distracting. However, it was not that bad as I’ve heard some say it is. All you have to do is stay focused and it will all work out.

Speaking is the third part of the test. As I’ve said, I use spoken and written English daily and have also lived in the US for three months. As such, I consider myself to be a pretty fluent speaker. However, I was not prepared for this section. It was the only one for which I did not practice properly. I was supposed to get together with a friend and just do timed practice, but he had to cancel because of some school projects. I figured I can definitely do well anyway - but oh, how I was wrong! It’s not that the speaking itself is an issue, it’s just that 45 seconds fly by EXTREMELY quickly! This is why I strongly advise any test takers to ask someone to just listen to them, while timing the whole thing. Ask your grandma, if need be, as long as someone with a stopwatch is listening to you! DO NOT forget to practice for this one! My timing was so bad that, for the first task, I realized the time was over only after the second had already begun!

There’s no surprise that I did worst in this section. I blame it on myself entirely for being nervous and for not doing a single exercise at home. When I went in my break (you have to take it, btw), I heard my friend talking about the same things that I had to talk about - he sounded much more confident than I did, which was reflected in the scores: I got a 27, while he got a 29. The background noise is also pretty distracting, since you have around 20 people in one room, trying to sound as convincing as possible, which is why most of them tend to yell. Be prepared for this!

The final section was the writing, which went pretty well because of the templates that I used. You get two essays: the first one is a comparison, while the second is just an essay on a given topic. The TOEFL OG recommends that each essay be around 300 word in length - well, both my essays were over 500, with the second well over 600... I will write a separate thread with some of the hottest writing tips I’ve collected for my essays, just so that users can have a quick reference for this section.

Anyway, bottom line of the experience: extremely tiring. I was famished by the end. The reading passages were particularly draining! If I were ETS, I’d have the break between the reading and the listening parts Smile


Scores and other details

If you check out the official site of the test, you’ll see that scores are posted online in about two weeks. They were not 100% punctual in my case (they missed the deadline by a day), but I’ve heard of people who’ve received their scores earlier. Anyway, final scores: reading 30/30, listening 30/30, speaking 27/30 and writing 30/30, with a total of 117/120.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the scores. Given the fact that I did not do that much work to get these results, I’m confident that anyone can also get a good score on the TOEFL. The test in itself is not hard if your knowledge of English is good. It’s not nearly as harshly graded as the GMAT! I’ve heard people compare the reading parts of the two tests - trust me, the TOEFL is a piece of cake when compared to the GMAT.

The gist of it all

1. When you register to take the TOEFL, select the schools you wish to receive your scores. Do this at the very latest on the eve of your exam! If you forget, you'll have to pay $17 per score report.

2. Use the TOEFL OG in full confidence. It's a great book with tones of tips you can integrate in your strategy.

3. TOEFL reading is much easier than GMAT reading. If you take the GMAT first, be sure not to over-analyze TOEFL reading questions: the vast majority are pretty decent, straightforward questions.

4. ALWAYS ALWAYS practice the speaking section! Timing is essential with this one: you have no idea how fast those few seconds actually go by!

5. Use templates for the writing (will provide some in a later thread). However, do not use big (but general) phrases such as "globalization is a big part of our life" and "this is an important issue that has sparked an intense debate". Be truthful!

That's about it. If anyone has any questions, you're welcome to either start a thread or ask them here! I'll be happy to help!

Dana

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Yes.WeCan Rising GMAT Star Default Avatar
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Post Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:44 pm
Great read, planning to take the TOEFL myself this year.

mircealitoiu Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 3:04 am
Hy Dana. My name is Mircea and I guess your from Romania too(I saw the full name and some other posts of yours). I saw your post on the TOEFL and I was wondering if you can give me that writing templates. I am scheduled on the 27 of February for the test and I would really need some advice on that part. Great score

DanaJ Site Admin
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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 3:08 am
Hey Mircea,

Yes indeed, I am from Romania Smile I am scheduled to go back home this Saturday after spending a semester in Porto, Portugal.

As for the writing templates, I'll probably write a separate thread either tonight or tomorrow morning, so be sure to check out this site!

And don't worry - you've got plenty of time to ace the TOEFL!

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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:49 am
Do these materials help with Sentence Correction on the GMAT?

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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:12 am
osirus0830 wrote:
Do these materials help with Sentence Correction on the GMAT?
Hey , I think since SC is not being tested on TOEFL exam you would better concentrate on GMAT SC .

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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:39 pm
Congratulations DanaJ. It was a wonderful explanation. You really covered each & every bit of TOEFL from all aspect. Really a great job, would appreciate if you can manage to share some of your materials. Once again congratulations for the score and thanks for posting your experience.

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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:59 pm
Thank you for sharing this experience DanaJ. I was also going to take my TOEFL test next week as one of the university I applied requires me to get a TOEFL test although I have said to them I will be getting a degree 3.5 months from now, which would actually exempt me from taking the TOEFL. I have lived in the US for 4 years, so yes.. I am quite confident of myself. How long did it take for you to prepare for this test?

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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 4:35 pm
@osirus0830: I'm afraid not.... SC is not tested on the TOEFL!

@prinit: I have written an account of the strategies I've used for the writing section. I have not used anything else except those tips and the TOEFL official guide.

@TheRekz: I'm sorry yo hear that. I know you're probably proficient in English, but, as I've said, do not forget to practice a bit! I took about 15 hours to finish up with all the official guide and write four essays.

TheRekz Just gettin' started! Default Avatar
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Post Tue Feb 02, 2010 5:03 pm
Yes, I just finished doing the reading and listening from the official guide of the iBT TOEFL test and got all the reading and listening correct. How weird would you think the speaking was? I think 15 sec to prepare for a topic is a short time, what was it like during your experience?

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Post Wed Feb 03, 2010 1:40 am
It was pretty weird... That's why I stressed the fact that you need to practice the speaking section with a timer! You need to make someone listen to you. Personally, I did worst in this section: 27/30.

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Post Fri Mar 05, 2010 9:34 am
DanaJ -

Did you take the Toefl test they provide on the official site? I paid about 40 (I think) for it and took it at home. The setting at home was bad, the mic wasn't quite working, but I managed a 115/120. Do you think I will be able to ace the test as well, or the practice test is easier?

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Post Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:06 pm
I did not take that test - $40 is too expensive for a poor undergrad student like me Smile

However, since you did pay 40 bucks, I think the test is probably close to the real thing. Don't forget that even the most expensive GMAT book won't cost you that much! In the end, all they had to do was analyze two essays and hear your responses to the speaking part, because the other two sections are automatically evaluated by a computer.

I think that if you are doing good in reading and listening (your hit rate for the Official Guide to the TOEFL exercises is good), you follow the templates in the other thread and practice a bit of speaking, you'll be just fine.

If you want, you can post an essay or two on the forum for grading! I promise I'll personally look over them and tell you what I think. If you agree to this, I only ask for one thing in exchange: share your post-TOEFL experience and that regarding the $40 practice test! Very Happy

Good luck with your prep!

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Post Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:30 pm
DanaJ - I can share my experience, not a prob! I got perfect scores in almost everything except speaking, which is weird because I am brazilian, but I do not carry an accent. Most people can't tell I'm not a native if we are speaking over the phone. Maybe it was the hummmms...... that got me!

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Post Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:55 pm
It's also quite challenging to get ready in just 15 seconds... At least it was a challenge for me...

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