Warning: TOEFL Ahead

Triangle_warning_sign_(red_and_white)“I need to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). Can you help me?”

I get a lot of emails like that every year, often just before TOEFL scores are due (need to be sent to universities). I frequently have to say “No” because the student has waited too long to do what they need most – to improve their English. That’s why I’m writing this early in the year, hoping that students will read it and begin now to prepare for the TOEFL.

To do well on the TOEFL, nothing is more important than good, strong English. Many students spend a lot of time and money on cram (trying to do a lot in a short time) courses and other questionable activities, hoping they will prepare them for the TOEFL. Unfortunately, most of those activities do very little to improve their English.

The TOEFL is a test of how well you can use English in a classroom – to read and listen, to write and speak. The TOEFL score you need to be accepted by a school is the score they think you need to succeed in their classes. Each school is different. One school I know requires a score of only 62. Another says, “Don’t apply (ask to come) unless your score is more than 109.”

If good, strong English is so important, you may ask, “How good is good enough?” Here’s a little experiment you can try. Read part of this article by Sherry Turkle. And listen to some of this lecture from Dr. Paul Bloom’s Introduction to Psychology, a first-year class. Now think how you would answer these questions:

  • If you walked into class the first day and heard Bloom’s lecture or had to read Turkle’s article, how would you feel? Would you understand them well enough to take notes you could use to study later?
  • Would you be able to easily identify what they were talking about – the subject of the lecture or article – and what some of the main points (ideas) were?
  • What if I asked you to answer my questions in writing? Or by speaking? How well would you do?

If you’re comfortable with the questions I’ve asked, you’re probably ready to begin working on the academic skills – like essay writing – and test-taking skills that you’ll need for the TOEFL. If not, you need to forget about them for a while and spend time working on your English.

There’s only one way to strengthen your English, and that’s by doing a large amount of reading and listening. It’s not difficult:

  1. Find something easy enough to read or listen to without stopping. And so interesting that you don’t want to stop. You may not know all the words, but you will know enough to enjoy the story or learn from the article.
  2. Read and listen as much as possible. One hour a day, more if you can. Every day if possible. In other words, make English a part of your life.

As your English grows, you’ll be able to read and listen to increasingly difficult material. After a while you’ll be able to comfortably read and listen to material similar to Turkle and Bloom and feel that you’re ready.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for the TOEFL, check out Rethinking the TOEFL and Doing your TOEFL homework on my website.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL/EFL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Warning sign image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

This entry was posted in Language & Terms, Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Warning: TOEFL Ahead

  1. peter says:

    Dear Warren
    I think , I pass.
    I graduated 3 times from three different colleges.
    I got 3 imterrelated degrees.plus , I finished a two-year trade school program.

    So , the post today doesn’t apply to me.


  2. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    I am waiting for your comments. Thanks.

  3. peter says:

    Hi folks
    I was going through the mid-time episodes of eslpod last night!!
    U know, what I love most about Eslpod ? it is not chronological. It is timeless.
    I mean , the episods are self-contained. By that I mean if u watch them out of order, u r still good.
    And ,my dear peers, it is the beauty of it. They are not in sequential order.
    So , if u happen to get busy with ur life or sth, u can go back anytime as if u never lagged behind.
    Well , as u know , I have been wits eslpod for Quite long time. and ,a bunch of times ,as it so happened , over the course , something came up that I some how got detached wits eslpod. However ,I always returned to it at a later time and just simply had a marathon of Eslpod espisides for a day and two. Bang , there you go I m all Caught up.

    So , it the land of Eslpod the term ” falling behind ” has no really true meaning. As , regardless the plane of time u join the order , u are never behind.



  4. peter says:

    Hi Warren
    Just so you know , the British version of TOEFL is IETLS.
    Well , they are standardize , universally ratified test that evaluating and appraising the participant on the four main areas of English language which are
    Reading , speaking , writing, and listening.
    In a nut shell, they check to see if you own a reasonable command of English.

    The test format in TOEFEL is a tad different with that of IETLS. They are both universally consistent, though.
    You can take the test virtually every where across the world.
    Here , in Canada , it is compulsory for the new arrivals to take one of the versions of the test for entering colleges and universities. It is one of the requirement for admitting to a university or even a community college across Canada.

    The requirement will be waved if u already studied at a Canadian education institute for two years straight Which is ,as you may notice ,catch 22, a vicious circle if you will. By that I mean, in order to wave the Toefel requirement u need to studied for two years in college or university yet in order to get addmision in college u need to pass TOEFEl.
    Well, you might say
    It is the dumbest thing you ever heard.

    Well , not really
    The thing is , the TOEFEL result is valid only for two years. After two years , if you are not studying in a Canadian education institution , it is mandate to retake the test.

    So , let’s say you are in a comunity college and planing on continuing ur education and going off to university so in that case you are not required to retake the TOECEL as you have been already studied full time for two years.

    Well, I never took the English proficiency test for entering the university for I was not a new arrival back in the day. The reason I know About it in minute details is that I saw people go through it.
    And let me tell you folks , it is not a cake walk by any means. It takes serious studies.
    Honest , I highly doubt it if I can pass the exam. I was just lucky enough to have the two years study under my belt.


  5. Tania says:

    A great surprise! A new issue of the Learn English Magazine!
    I like it very much. Short video lessons, many interesting articles, access at the newspapers…and
    the Last Laugh… and of course Pao’s drawings.

  6. Tania says:

    “Do you have future shock?” Very interesting the changes founded in the infographic:
    daily e-mails, text messages, books published…
    Yes, we are surprised and “future shocked” by the new computerised technology, by how our young people,
    the children are so smart, brilliant, understanding so easily all smart devices, the outer space…

  7. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    Good advice, plain and simple, straight to the core.
    Common sense and experience! This is what I smell.
    Sorry students but ain’t shortcuts. Basically that’s the message.

    Thanks Warren.

  8. Mari Carmen says:

    Hi there,

    I was thinking about a sort of fact that I am going to call trans-language metonymy. Rebeca is a piece of clothing. It is a woollen round neck cardigan that usually combines with a same colour and fabric top.

    When I was a little teenager, my mother used to tell me as I went out, she said: “Maricarmen, take a rebeca with you in case it is getting colder later”. I disliked to do so, how could I’d be holding in my hand a cardigan all the afternoon long? It was out-of-fashion! I wondered it was better to take a jumper, which might be tied by the sleeves more easily round my neck or my waist. (All in all, my mother would be right when she said so, since at the end it always got colder). By the way, I must say that nowadays I really like to wear a rebeca over my shoulders sometimes.

    The Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rebecca had caused a great impact when it was released in the fifties. Main character, named Rebecca, wore that kind of twin set, so it was taken her name to call that type of cardigans. In that movie thriller, sweet Rebecca had to face a mistress’ abhorrence to her because… I don’t want to spoil the plot for someone wanting to watch it. I can only say my mother told me that back then there was a popular saying for naming an undesirable state of mind in a woman, which was: “she is worse person than the housekeeper of Rebecca’s” Oh, how I love it!!


  9. emiliano says:

    Good Mari Carmen, your mother was quite right, and even me just in this moment I have a rebeca
    on my body over the shirt to be warm.
    I like very much the cardigan “rebeca” as it is easy to put on and to take off.

    Warren, you know a lot about how difficult coud be to be approved in a exam like that.

    Being a young man I was examed to take the Cambrige Lower Certificate, for three days
    I was in the Madrid´s Complutense University doing the writing exam, first I was In the
    English Institute of Madrid to do the oral exam, and yes, I could have the Cambrighe
    Certificate after all.

    So yes, it was difficult but I was prepared to take it.

    Sorry Peter, but don´t be so proud about getting three times the Toefl, modesty is a good
    nice virtude after all.
    Beside for me sometime it is difficult to understand your way of writing , may be my
    skill is not so good as yours.

    But with Warren, Lucy or Jeff I have not that problem my dear friend, and please don´t take
    it by the hot side.


  10. Mari Carmen says:

    Hello, Emiliano. So it is my mother, alive and kicking. Although she complains about her legs, she won’t take a walking stick to go out. Otherwise, she is able to get, for example, the most delicious and cheapest oranges in town. I insist: in town. It’s not passion, I am being completely objective! Thank you.

Comments are closed.