Passing the TOEFL-iBT: Tips and Other Chitchats

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Monday, October 29, 2007 with No comments
A friend asked me one time for some tips on an examination she is about to take, the TOEFL-iBT. For those who do not know what this is, it is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Internet-Based Test (iBT). One needs to take and successfully pass this if s/he wants to pursue his/her studies in English-speaking colleges and universities. I took this exam last January of this year for another purpose: as a requirement for a credential evaluation for work in the US. I’d rather not disclose the score that I got, but let’s just say that I "satisfied" the score requirement for each of the four tasks for the credential evaluation as well as that of the Maryland PT Board.

Some of the tips here are from the thread I posted on the forum found on the TOEFL Practice page (and I literally had to dig through pages and pages of threads just to find it… hehe). Well, I just hope that my efforts will not prove futile and that these tips I’m about to share will be of help to future TOEFL test-takers (as I’m sure my friend found so… fingers crossed).

First, I would recommend that you get a copy of "The Official Guide to the New TOEFL-iBT." This book has everything. It explains in detail all of the four tasks that you will need to hurdle and pass: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. This even comes with a CD that has spoken responses for the speaking part, and the rating/scores for those responses are likewise found on the book. If you have already paid for the real TOEFL-iBT, you can make use of the free TOELF-iBT Sample that you can find on your profile. This simulates the real examination; thus, this will help you familiarize yourself on how the exam goes, how to answer questions, stuff like that.

For the reading, I actually read the whole passage. If you are good at skimming through very long write-ups, do so in this part for this will save you time. You need not worry, though, because when the questions appear, you will get to read the passage again (albeit this will eat up your time). Honestly, this is the part that I found the most difficult. It’s the first that you have to take and the first to really drain your mental juices because of the length and the content of the material you’re going to read. Some of the questions focus on vocabulary; those are easy. But the inference ones, difficult. Be on the look out for the type of questions that will be asked (I believe there are about five types), and the book will give you pointers on how to distinguish one from the other. "Understanding what you read" is really the name of the game here.

Speaking. As non-native English speakers, this would have to be the most difficult. But as Filipinos who’ve had English lessons since kindergarten, this really shouldn’t be as hard as most thought it would be. I remember a pointer given by an American employer during a job interview I had last year. She said that we need not try so hard to sound American. We just need to speak the way we normally do and be conversational when we give our responses. As a point of emphasis, a soda commercial comes to mind, “Be yourself.”

Given the time limit for this task, the test-taker needs to be brief yet concise. For that, I advise that you practice with a portable recorder. Time yourself when you answer questions and then listen to your recorded responses. With that, you'll get a general idea on how you fare (and sound) in this part of the TOEFL exam. Have somebody listen to your responses as well so that they can give some inputs on areas that you can work on. With the integrated questions, take notes. When you do, write them as you were making an outline. Put the negatives and the positives on separate columns, and when the time comes the question pops up, refer to your notes and put a check on the ones that will form part of your response. Your preparation time of 15 seconds (in some questions, 20 seconds) will give you ample time to do that. When answering, don't forget to use transitions like moreover, furthermore, nonetheless, however, et al. This will limit your chances of having long pauses and as well as give you time to think.

For the writing, my advice is to take notes especially during the integrated part where you get to listen to a lecture and then read a passage. Get everything that you can because you will be asked to contrast/compare the lecture from the reading passage. If you have all the details from the lecture, you will fair very well on this task.

Have a positive outlook before, during, and after taking the TOEFL. It’ll help carry you through. Also, be at least 15-30 minutes early. That'll wade off some of the nervousness that you might feel during the exam. And lastly, cliché as it might sound, believe in yourself. Tell yourself that this is going to be a one-time-one-take-only examination. Remember, the P7,500 test fee does not come easily nowadays.

There. I hope these will work out for you (it did for me). Not being able to pass this is not the end of the world or something that one should construe as your lack of or poor knowledge of the English language. If anything, you must accept that as a nub to even ace this exam. Just be prepared and everything will follow suit.

I did not include listening because that part was easy. I guess you just have to swab your ears before you step inside the test center (hehe). Good luck and break a leg!