Do you dread TOEFL Independent Speaking questions?
Let us guess:
- You have taken the Official TOEFL exam more times than you can remember, and you still don’t have the required Speaking score;
- You have seen all the templates and heard all the sample answers available online and offline;
- You have taken TOEFL preparation courses, or had a private tutor, but none of it helped;
- You’ve been practising TOEFL Independent Speaking questions with peers, but their English is not much better than yours;
- You have managed to find a native English speaker, maybe even an ESL teacher to practise with, but s/he doesn’t specialize in test preparation, or has little experience in it;
- When you hear other people answer Independent Speaking questions, you think to yourself: ‘That seems so easy for them!”;
- But, when it’s your turn, you freeze, and can’t think of a single thing to say;
- You can answer familiar TOEFL Independent Speaking questions, but, you are stunned by the unexpected ones….
If any, or all of the above sounds familiar, it might be time to try something else – our
- We apply proven TOEFL Speaking practice methods, developed over more than a decade of teaching TOEFL preparation courses;
- We practice with 100+ realistic TOEFL Independent Speaking questions, which include the ones, recently introduced to the Official TOEFL exam;
- A lot of our questions are new to you – you wouldn’t have seen them before, even if you have already covered a lot of practice materials;
- The groups are limited to 6 participants per workshop; that way everyone gets exposed to a lot of questions;
- Every participant has the opportunity to answer a number of questions and offer peer feedback to other participants;
- In addition to hands-on, timed practice in answering the questions, participants also learn to analyze their own and their peers’ answers:
- Our experienced TOEFL preparation specialist is always there to provide professional feedback, correction, evaluation and advice;
- Most importantly, we nurture the atmosphere of mutual respect – we judge nobody and help everybody in the group.
The term “Internationally Trained Professionals” (also known as Foreign Professionals) is fairly new. It refers to Professionals with degrees from non-English speaking countries who wish to pursue their career in English Speaking counties. Many Internationally Trained Professionals are in the Medical field ; they might be physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, etc. Other typical professions include engineers, teachers, instructors, university lecturers, MBAs, etc.
English Proficiency requirements for Internationally Trained Professionals
In North America, most Internationally Trained Professionals are required to take an Academic English Proficiency test, so they can continue working in their field. Some of them have to take TOEFL or IELTS , even if they are already working in the field, in order to obtain or renew their Professional Licence. (This is a very common case with pharmacists) Finally, the third most common reason that some Internationally Trained Professionals need a particular TOEFL or IELTS score, is to apply for Graduate studies (Master’s Degree and Doctoral Degree programs).
Why are Internationally Trained Professionals different from other TOEFL takers?
Internationally Trained Professionals are adult test takers. They typically have very busy schedules and juggle multiple responsibilities: their families, jobs, education. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for test preparation, especially the one-size-fits-all kind of preparation. On the other hand, Internationally Trained Professionals already have extensive higher education (albeit, not in English). Unlike the high school students aiming at Undergraduate studies in the English speaking countries, these mature test takers have very specific needs. They require customized and personalized test preparation.
Test preparation courses vs custom TOEFL preparation
Most online and offline test preparation programs have the one-size-fits-all approach. They offer generic courses which expect the student to adjust to them (in terms of the skill focus, learning style, length of study, pacing, etc.) That might work for younger students who still have a lot of time to devote to their test preparation (and their parents who are willing to pay for multiple trendy courses). However, Internationally Trained Professionals know better; they understand that each test taker has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. They also know that those can be identified and addressed only through individual instruction.
In my many years of teaching TOEFL preparation courses, I found that there is one underlying skill that all my high-scoring students had in common – strong Academic vocabulary. Every section of the TOEFL test depends on it, directly or indirectly.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Reading
In the Reading section, you actually have to answer a number of questions directly related to vocabulary. You need to pick synonyms for particular words, in the given context. These questions make up more than 20% of all the questions in the Reading section. Knowing the most common or most widely used meaning of the word is often not enough. You need to know more than that – other possible meanings, word forms and collocations. If you have done some TOEFL Reading practice , you’ve probably already discovered that the correct answer choice (for the vocabulary questions) is rarely the one that seems most obvious or most familiar.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Listening
When it comes to the Listening section, the stronger your Academic vocabulary, the easier time you’ll have following and understanding the lectures. These academic materials make up two thirds of the section; out of six listening materials scored for you, only two are campus related conversations; the remaining four are actual, grade 12 level, lectures. Consequently, it’s impossible to score more than ten out of thirty points without the knowledge of the key terms.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Speaking
As for the Integrated Speaking, you will not only better understand the reading and listening prompts, but you’ll also be able to produce a higher scoring answer, if you can use the appropriate Academic vocabulary in your speech. Granted, the Academic Speaking questions make up only one third of the Speaking section, but that could mean the difference between scoring in low twenties , and getting more that 24 or 26 iBT points, which is a requirement for many Professionals in the Medical, Legal and some other fields.
Academic vocabulary and TOEFL Writing
The same goes for the Integrated Writing. Remember that, although you do have access to the reading prompt the entire time you are writing your Integrated Essay, it’s not a good idea to copy directly. Instead, you are encouraged to paraphrase the key points from this prompt whenever possible. The listening prompt is likely to be an even bigger challenge – you will only hear it once, and unless you can follow and take notes efficiently, as well as show your understanding of the key concepts in a well written Integrated Essay, it will be near impossible to score high in the Writing Section (as this essay counts for 1/2 of the section score)
Academic vocabulary – how to improve it
First of all, it’s important to understand that no vocabulary can be learned over night. It takes time, repetition and application to acquire new vocabulary. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen if you rely on memorizing vocabulary lists or if you study using resources that don’t provide in-depth understanding of the Academic vocabulary and a lot of practice in applying the newly acquired vocabulary to your speaking and writing. Learning vocabulary, especially Academic vocabulary, is a long process that requires a systematic approach, and that is something that a learner can do only with proper guidance. In other words, enlisting help from a qualified ESL teacher or tutor, will save you a lot of time, not to mention the frustration of trying out many books and sites (usually recommended by fellow test takers), only to find out that they don’t work for you.
Here is a site that offers some good practice for the Academic Vocabulary.
Professional ESL Test Prep also offers an offline ACADEMIC VOCABULARY MASTERCLASS. (follow the link to find out more)
Reading section – the structure
As most of us in the world of TOEFL preparation know, the Reading section of the Official TOEFL iBT consists of 3 reading passages. These passages typically deal with academic subjects – anything from natural and social sciences, to business and the arts . The materials in the Reading section are at the first year of university level. Each passage is 600-700 words long, and contains ALL the information needed to answer the 10 questions that follow. So, remember, you don’t need to have extra knowledge on the subject itself ; knowledge of academic subjects is not what TOEFL tests – it tests your ability to understand and use English in the academic environment.
Reading section – additional passages
Now, you might ask , what about the 4th and maybe even the 5th passage that some test takers get on their Official TOEFL iBT? These ‘extra’ passages are not scored for you – they are there to evaluate the new test materials. You are going to have additional 18 minutes for each extra passage, along with the usual questions. It’s worth noting here that EVERY passage should be treated the same. You won’t know which one (or more) is the additional material (it could be ANY of the ones you get). As your Official TOEFL test is approaching, you might want to start building your stamina by practising with longer Reading sections.
Reading section – how to prepare
Preparing for the Reading section of the TOEFL exam shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is NOT something that can be mastered in a short period of time. It takes time and a lot of CONSISTENT PRACTICE. In fact, if you start building your general reading skills early, when the time comes (to focus on TOEFL Reading Section strategies and practice), you will find that part of your TOEFL preparation a lot more manageable.
If you are just starting your TOEFL preparation, it is best to refer to the official ETS website. The website offers all the necessary information about TOEFL , including the list of useful resources (like “The Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT” series). You can also read about the Basic TOEFL reading techniques and strategies here.
If you are already familiar with the basics of TOEFL Reading, the next step is to APPLY that theoretical knowledge to daily reading practice. You can start with one TOEFL Reading passage (the first few days), but make sure you get used to the full length Reading section, as well as the ‘extended’ version, early on. This will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed on the official test day.
Finally, keep consistently practising TOEFL Reading, even if you have to focus on other sections of the test. It will help you avoid a very common mistake a lot of TOEFL takers make – they neglect the reading practice if they need to improve other TOEFL skills (like Speaking and Writing); as a result, many of them often get a lower score in Reading, when they take official test again.
TOEFL Reading techniques
There are a few common reading techniques that TOEFL you might already be applying to this section of the test. If you are a thorough reader, you probably spend most of the, on average, 18 minutes you are given, reading every single word, and trying to understand every detail of every sentence. Unfortunately, that usually leaves little time to answer any questions. This ineffective technique could be the result of treating the TOEFL Reading section like your ‘closed book’ university exam, where you don’t have access to the study materials during the test. Fortunately, the Reading section on TOEFL iBT is more like an ‘open book’ exam – your reading material remains on screen for 18 minutes.
On the other hand, you might have been told that you shouldn’t waste time reading, at all. If you choose to listen to that advice, you probably just scroll to the end of the passage and start answering the questions immediately. Granted, this technique might work for some questions (the ones that do not require the understanding of the entire passage). However, you will probably find that you don’t even know where to look for the information needed to answer those more complex questions.
The third reading technique is the one that has proven to be most efficient. It combines the reading for gist (also known as ‘skimming’) with the more detailed reading of some of the paragraphs (also known as ‘scanning’). This technique involves a very quick reading (maximum 5 minutes) of the entire Introduction (the first paragraph), the Conclusion (the last paragraph) and the first sentence of each paragraph in between. The first sentence of these so called ‘Support paragraphs’, is known as the ‘Topic sentence’. The reason this method works is the common structure that most passages have – the Introduction gives you the Subject/Topic and the Main Idea of the passage (in other words, tells you what it’s about); the Topic sentences introduce the key (most important) points; the Conclusion usually summarizes the whole passage.
TOEFL Reading – general strategies
Once you have these pieces of the puzzle, you will be able to start tackling the questions with a lot more confidence. Remember that you can skip questions in the Reading section. You can also go back and change your answers (of course, within the 18 minutes you are given for the passage). Here is where an old test taking trick still applies – answer the quick and easy questions (like vocabulary, detail and reference ones) first, as they appear; skip the challenging ones (like inference, purpose, cohesion, summary ones) for now; once all the straightforward answers are in place, go back to the more difficult questions. By the time you have answered the easy questions, you will have a better understanding of the entire passage, which should help you answer those complex questions towards the end of the passage.
So, next time you practise the TOEFL Reading section, try to remember and apply some of these reading techniques and strategies.