TOEFL preparation – where to start
If you are reading this, you most likely already know that YOU HAVE TO TAKE THE OFFICIAL TOEFL EXAM. You might also know what your required score is. However, you are probably not sure where to start. So, like most modern people, you turn to the internet for advice. As soon as you start searching for ‘TOEFL’ or ‘TOEFL preparation’ you get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of related ‘suggestions’ (aka advertising).
Granted, the introduction of Social Media to the world of test preparation has made the access to TOEFL preparation resources easier than ever. Anyone with a PC or a mobile device can now download hundreds of documents, applications and other practice tools. However, that can be the proverbial ‘double edged sword’ – how do you know which resource is credible?
TOEFL preparation – the best place to start
When in doubt, it’s always best to start at the source – in this case, the official ETS website. You can trust this site to give you all the necessary information about the TOEFL exam, as well as point you to some credible resources.
The first time you visit the official site, you need to create a free account. This is going to be the place for all your future communication with ETS. Once you have an account in place, you will get access to the basic information about the official exam, including the test dates, times and locations. You will also be able to register and pay for your future test . It’s worth mentioning that you can register for the official test months in advance; so, don’t hesitate to create your account early on, even if you are not planning to take the test for another year. Having an account, right from the start, will save you a lot of headache, because you won’t have to wonder whether the resources they recommend are credible or not. THEY ARE.
Having the ETS account will also help later on, in the final stage of you TOEFL preparation. After you have done a lot of practice, you might discover that you need some professional help. At this point, you will be so familiar with the right strategies and the typical TOEFL content, that you’ll immediately see the difference between the true TOEFL preparation professionals, and the self-proclaimed ‘TOEFL experts’.
TOEFL preparation for mature test takers
If you are an Internationally Trained Professional, or an adult TOEFL taker in general, you know that TIME is your most precious commodity. You are probably already juggling your family responsibilities, at least one job, your other studies, and more. You are barely finding time to sleep, let alone figure out what resources to use for practice, which study groups to join, whose advice to trust…. Since you cannot physically be at work and at a language school at the same time, you are most likely to opt for self study with an online/offline TOEFL preparation resource, or a private language tutor. However, that might just cause even more confusion.
TOEFL preparation – self-study
There is nothing wrong with self-study, at least in the beginning. You can learn the general test format and the basic strategies, from many traditional resources (yes, the good, old-fashioned books!). You can also find a lot of the same content online, in countless documents, courses and applications The advantage of self-study, of course, is that you decide when and how much to study. Given enough time and the right resources, you might even get your target score, with little or no help from others.
TOEFL preparation – when you need help
With most TOEFL takers, there comes a time when they need professional help. This is where it gets confusing and overwhelming, again. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of self-proclaimed ‘TOEFL experts’ out there. A lot of people, especially those active in the Social Media, think that “passing” the official test makes them an expert in TOEFL preparation. The truth is, what works for some, does NOT work for everyone; what might have helped them get their target score, may not help you get yours. So, when these individuals offer their advice for free, rest assured that is exactly how much that advice is worth – nothing. The wrong advice can actually cause more damage, than help.
On the other hand, even a qualified English teacher/tutor can do some damage, if he/she doesn’t specialize in TOEFL preparation. Although your tutor might be a native English speaker, that does NOT guarantee that she/he knows the test requirements and expectations. It’s like asking your Physician to perform brain surgery – they might understand the basic concepts and the theory, but if they have never performed a complex surgery before, you probably wouldn’t choose to be their first case.
Finding the qualified instructor
The only way to find out if a teacher/tutor is credible or not, is to spend time combing through background information yourself.
One of the best signs that someone IS a TOEFL PREPARATION PROFESSIONAL, is his/her WEBSITE. An up-to-date TOEFL teacher/tutor cannot function without a website, these days. Visiting an experienced professional’s website might also be very useful for you, since you are likely to find great FREE ADVICE in her/his BLOG posts.
Another option is to look through a LinkedIn profile, if there is one; this is probably the most reliable source of information on a person’s professional background . A person’s LinkedIn profile is basically their online resume. It often includes endorsements and recommendations from their coworkers, students/clients, which is what makes the information credible .
There are also other Social Media that you should check, when looking for a professional TOEFL teacher/tutor. Most TOEFL professionals now have a Facebook Page and/or a Facebook Group . The Facebook Page usually has reviews and testimonials posted by past clients/students. The Facebook Group is sometimes a great place to connect with the teacher and other TOEFL takers, in a less formal manner.
Making sure you “click” on a personal level
Last, but definitely not least, make sure that you can openly communicate with the tutor/teacher of your choice. If you are a mature test taker, you probably won’t appreciate being treated like a high school student. Instead, you should choose someone who has extensive experience working with adult, mature clients and professionals.