One of the requirements for studying at the UGA is to get 80 points at the TOEFL test with at least 20 points in the Speaking and Writing section. Since the application deadline for the Spring term 2014 is October, 15th and you can take the TOEFL only once every three weeks, it had to work at the first try. After getting a pretty good score (Reading 30/30, Listening 28/30, Speaking 27/30, Writing 30/30, Total 115/120), I want to share my experience with the TOEFL and how I’ve prepared for the test.
Living in Germany, I had 8 years of English at school. I didn’t pick the advanced English course and even in the basic course I wasn’t that good.
After leaving the school, I became more interested in the language and started watching TV shows and movies in English and also read English books. I think that this regular contact is the most important part in both learning English and getting a good score!
This year, I’ve started writing this blog and currently I’m writing my bachelor thesis in English as well.
For preparation, I’ve bought these two books:
- Cracking the TOEFL iBT with CD, 2013 Edition from Princeton Review
- English Grammar in Use with Answers and CD-ROM: A Self-study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English by Raymond Murphy
In the end, I had no time reading the grammar book and only did the first few exercises. It’s a good book but unless you have plenty of time for preparing the TOEFL, you shouldn’t focus on such a pure grammar book.
I really liked the first book and did all the exercises. The “drills” are somewhat exhausting but, as stupid as it may sound, practice is very important for this test! And by practice I don’t mean improving your English in general but getting familiar with the question types at the TOEFL. Of course, other books do the job as well and may even be better, but I definitely can recommend “Cracking the TOEFL iBT”.
About three weeks before the test I started reading the book. At that time I had a semester break but had to work on the bachelor thesis. Of course, it depends a lot on your schedule but I think that three weeks is a reasonable time frame for working through such a book.
In order to do well on the Speaking section, the book probably does not provide enough information and examples and since (in my view) this is the most difficult section, you should put some more time into preparing it. There are some YouTube videos that helped me a lot(!) here:
In case the links don’t work: Search for videos by the YouTube user “NoteFulldotcom”. Watching those videos is time well spent!
As mentioned in the book and in the videos: Record your responses on the Speaking section. I know, listening to your own voice is annoying (unless you are Morgan Freeman), but you learn a lot for the actual test. For example, I wasn’t aware of the long breaks I used to make between sentences when answering a TOEFL question.
In addition to the book and YouTube videos, I also did the example test that is offered by free ETS test software. Yes, that’s correct: free! I never thought I would use the words “ETS” and “free” in the same sentence.
This was pretty much all I did to prepare the test.
The Test Day
My test started at 10:30 a.m. and it was mentioned that one has to be there 30 minutes before the test. This was not necessary in my case but I recommend planning to be there at least 45 minutes before the test.
After a short instruction (general stuff like switching off mobile phones, no eating and drinking in the test room etc.), I had to show my ID and got assigned to a computer which was then unlocked by the staff. We didn’t had to wait until everyone was ready but could start the test right away.
I often read that the test conditions are horrible during the test; too cold/hot rooms, bad air, too loud when everyone is having the Speaking section and so on. For me, the test conditions were quite good. The temperature and air was good and the headsets did a good job canceling other noises. It was a little strange while talking since I barely could hear my own voice but you get used to it.
By the way: When you are done with your ten minute break, the staff has to unlock your computer before you can continue with the test.
Besides getting comfortable with the language by watching/reading in English, it is very important to understand the structure and question types of the test. Get familiar with the questions by practicing with a TOEFL preparation book. Especially for the Speaking section, it is important to know the structure of your answers before taking the test since you don’t have enough time to build a good answer from the ground up during the test. Watch the YouTube videos and memorize the way he takes notes and structures the answers. That really helps a lot!
In case you have to take the TOEFL test in the near future: Good luck! :-)
If you have any question, feel free to ask.