The TOEFL® is the epitome of a high-stakes test, used for purposes ranging from college admissions to professional certifications to the satisfaction of visa language requirements. According to the website of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) (www.ets.org/toefl), it is recognized by over 9,000 universities and other institutions as a measure of the ability to “use and understand the English language as it is heard, spoken, read and written in the university classroom.” Hundreds of thousands of people take the TOEFL® every year at a cost of $160 to $250 each time.
The ESL Program at VIU offers a variety of TOEFL® preparation courses. Recently, I sat down with two full-time instructors, Claire Gimble and Lauren Pollard, who kindly shared several pieces of tried-and-true advice regarding how to succeed on this very important gatekeeper. Among the themes emphasized repeatedly by both was the centrality of quick thinking and strategic time management. In short, you may have an impressive level of English proficiency, but if you do not manage your time well enough to demonstrate it, you will not get credit for your ability. Here are some of their recommendations.
1. Repress the urge to understand every detail—be strategic.
On the reading section, managing your time strategically may mean temporarily forgetting some of what you have learned about deep reading comprehension. You will likely find that it is simply not possible to read all of the texts on the TOEFL® thoroughly; thus, even more so than usual, you will need to read with a clear purpose in mind. In many cases, it may help to skim a passage and take in its organization so that you will know where to look in order to answer the questions. With practice, you may realize that you can answer questions despite having grasped only the gist of large chunks of the text.
2. Limit your planning time.
On the writing section, lightning-fast planning is of the essence. If you are given 30 minutes to write an essay, you should spend at least 20 minutes writing your answer and should devote 5 minutes at the end to editing your work. That leaves only a few minutes for initial planning. One way to streamline the planning process is to internalize the structure of a standard 5-paragraph essay. Having that organization in mind can make it very quick and straightforward to plug your ideas into a predetermined template.
3. Develop your ability to think—and type—quickly.
For many students, common roadblocks on the TOEFL® include a lack of experience with impromptu speaking under time pressure and choppy, error-prone typing skills. To improve your ability to speak extemporaneously in a well-organized manner, have friends ask for your opinions on random, unexpected topics, and practice saying as much as you can in 45 seconds. Devoting 20 minutes a day to free writing on a computer can kill two birds with one stone, helping you to increase your typing speed while also becoming more comfortable with getting your ideas out as quickly as possible.
4. Do not worry too much about conveying your true opinions.
Being contemplative and insightful may have benefits in other areas of life, but on the TOEFL® these qualities take a back seat to communicating as much as you can as effectively as possible. The scorers do not care what you think; they care how you express it in English. Considered in a certain light, writing and speaking on the TOEFL® can be liberating! If you are asked to argue in favor of one of two options, identify which side would be easier to speak or write about, and choose that one, even if it contradicts your actual opinion. Your main goal should be to let your English proficiency shine.
5. When practicing, simulate the testing circumstances as closely as possible.
Gain confidence by familiarizing yourself with all sections of the test, proactively planning out exactly how you will approach them, and enacting your plan until it becomes second nature. Decide how much time you will devote to thinking vs. writing vs. editing, for example, and be very strict about holding yourself to the designated restrictions so that you internalize a sense of what the various time limits feel like. Since the TOEFL® is internet-based, practice in front of a computer. The more you can simulate the exact testing circumstances, the better.
And last but not least, considering the cost of the TOEFL®, take the test when you are ready. There are many ways to practice in the meantime! Written by Dr. Rebecca Sachs.
THE FULL TOEFL® PACKAGE
VIU helps students succeed on the TOEFL exam by providing superb TOEFL prep classes as well as having an onsite test center. As an ETS authorized TOEFL iBT® Test Center, VIU holds four to eight TOEFL iBT® test sessions in a month. Our Test Center can accommodate 19 students in each of our TOEFL iBT® test sessions. The test center is open to both VIU students and the general public. VIU’s ESL program also offers TOEFL iBT courses for those who need satisfactory TOEFL scores to meet their academic and professional goals. Students who are in lower levels and select the TOEFL track may take intro TOEFL courses in which they learn the structure of the test and basic test-taking strategies. This is where they are exposed to different topics that often appear on the TOEFL. Those that have already demonstrated sufficient English proficiency to be in the two highest levels are allowed to take intensive TOEFL courses, two of which can be taken per term. However, for those who are interested in pursuing a degree at VIU without taking the TOEFL exam, VIU does not require standardized test scores such as TOEFL or IELTS for admission. Students can easily enroll in their courses after taking the English Placement Test, provided by VIU.