ETS, the maker of the TOEFL exam, has generously released some highly coveted tips for those of you looking to take the TOEFL sometime soon.
Listen to English-language videos and music. When you rent a DVD or VHS from your local video store, challenge yourself by turning off the English subtitles or captions. Try your best to understand each person speak by watching his or her mouth move; sometimes, you might want to close your eyes and attempt to decipher whatever you can. It never hurts to challenge yourself.
Listen to a book on tape in English. There are many books on tape of various subjects nowadays. In fact, you can rent books on tape from your local library for free. This is a great way to practice your listening abilities by listening to a topic of your interest. Also, podcasts are a great way (and often times free) to test your listening skills. Podcasts are available online and can easily be transferred from your computer to your mp3 player or i-pod.
Listen to English-language recordings that come with transcripts. ETS recommends you listen to each recording three times. The first time, take notes about the main ideas you hear. Then, the second time, read the transcript and listen for the ideas you might have written down the first time. Then, on the third, listen specifically for any words or phrases you don’t know and look them up. Transcripts are often available online of popular recordings or even come with the recording itself.
It should be noted that ETS also recommends you attend educational lectures in English whenever possible. Now, this might not be easy to do, but many colleges or universities might allow you to sit in on a class, if you can arrange it well in advance. Also, if you have a friend enrolled in an English-speaking class you might be able to tag along and listen to the professor, should there be a lecture given that day. Regardless, when you do go, it might be a good idea to bring a tape recorder with you so you can play the recording over and over again later on for further practice.
Remember: when you listen to lectures, pay close attention to facts, details, opinions and overall structure. Challenge yourself, even – if science lectures are difficult for you, try your best to attend a lecture in a science class.
ETS has thankfully released some very valuable tips for the writing section on the TOEFL exam. It seems to be that most of the tips are for the integrated writing section, so for these purposes we will save independent writing suggestions for another time.
In terms of writing practice for the integrated writing section, ETS recommends you practice combining information you have read or watched into a written summary. This is comparable to the TOEFL in that for the integrated writing section, you are asked to write a 150-225-word essay, combining information from both a reading and a listening passage. How do you go about practicing? Here are the following tips from the makers of the TOEFL:
- Read an article in the news and then listen to an article online or on TV on the same topic. Perhaps you are able to find an article written about the recent summit concerning global warming. Take that article, make any necessary notes in relation to all its important information and then listen to a radio or TV show on the same topic. Listen carefully to the similarities and differences in how both articles were presented. Were there different supporting details? Was there a different opinion reflected in the articles? Listen carefully with an ear for comparison and contrasting.
- Watch a speech on TV or listen to it online. A lot of times, important speeches, particularly political, are often aired again and again on TV. Try your best to only listen to the speech once and take notes on all the important points. Then, write a summary of what you heard, listing all of the major points. (Feel free to then check yourself by listening to the speech one more time with your notes in front of you.) A lot of times, famous political speeches are available as podcasts, so check online to see what might be available. While there aren’t “political” speeches, per say, on the TOEFL, there are certainly lectures that deal with socio-political issues, so the vocabulary and syntax is bound to come in handy.
- Read a newspaper article on a controversial topic. Make any necessary notes about the topic and the newspaper article as you see fit. Then, interview your friends and ask them about this controversial topic. More than likely, you will see a difference of opinion throughout your various interviews. Make note of these in your notes and later on, sit down at your computer and type up a summary of all the different views accumulated. Make sure to note who said what, making it clear when there is either a similarity or a difference of opinion.
While advice from TOEFL instructors and tutors can certainly be highly valued, there’s no looking past suggestions from the makers of the TOEFL itself – ETS.
ETS has released several various articles with suggestions on how to prepare for the TOEFL. This article, in particular, will highlight some of ETS’ suggestions in how to prepare for the reading section of the TOEFL test.
ETS encourages a particular eye for outline reading passages, as the actual process of outlining can save you time on the TOEFL when getting through dense and complex reading articles. Keep in mind you have 20 minutes for each reading section on the TOEFL, which includes reading a one-page academic passage in addition to answering 12-14 corresponding questions.
Practice outlining, in particular, by reading academic texts or newspaper articles and writing one sentence for each paragraph, summarizing the paragraph’s main idea. Also, look for the ways in which main ideas in one paragraph might relate to the main ideas in the other paragraphs; drawing connections between paragraphs while outlining is no doubt useful. Also, you might find during your outlining process that some paragraphs actually address the same concept; take note of them while also paying close attention to the transitional words between all the sentences.
In general, writing one short summary of an entire passage, be it an academic article or an article from a well-established newspaper, can really help your outlining abilities.
While connecting words are often encouraged in your writing for the TOEFL, when you train your eye to pay attention to them in reading it can bring you one step closer to having a greater understanding of a reading passage.
Connecting words can often be placed into categories. ETS does a wonderful job of this on its website. Here are several categories and their corresponding connecting words:
- Connecting words that show RESULTS: as a result, so, therefore
- Connecting words that show COMPARISONS: in contrast, on the other hand
- Connecting words that show STEPS: first, second, next finally
In terms of the independent essay, we are not so much citing sources as we are trying to link our ideas together. While it’s true you are giving specific examples and, of course, example phrases and words will prove to be useful, your independent essay is significantly longer than your integrated essay and involves not only a strong opinion/thesis statement, but also often times personal examples.
1) When linking ideas, try your best to use different “connecting words.” You don’t always want to use “and” throughout the course of your essay, so here are some other suggestions, with many more options out there, when trying to link ideas in your writing.
2) Since your independent essay is a persuasive one with the sole purpose of expressing an opinion with supporting arguments, keep in mind using strong words to emphasize your point is crucial in writing an effective essay. Here are some suggestions of words to emphasize your point.
In the end, strong writing on the TOEFL independent essay section requires you to display unity, coherence and an advanced understanding of both question prompts. Adding variety to your word choice will also help along the way!
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