Moin Biologistas! If you are following me on instagram you’ve already got a good impression of the ups and downs of my TOEFL journey. Today I want to talk about my experience. Furthermore I would also like to show you the aids I used for studying.
First of all, I want to make clear that I am absolutely no English-pro! Besides from an one-week english course I haven’t had English classes since 2013, so the only thing I did to maintain my English was watching movies, youtube videos, and posting on instagram. Additionally, I feel quite insecure with speaking. Conversations with native speakers are usually no problem for me, however if I have to speak English under pressure, my brain seems to stop working properly. The result? The most simple sentences with the use of only basic vocabulary. Yep. This is why especially the speaking part of the TOEFL freaked me out. Not because I had to speak, no, but because of getting a question, 15 seconds for thinking about an well-structured answer, and 45 seconds to answer in a microphone. How was I supposed to do so?
The TOEFL is divided into four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. In each section, the highest score that you can reach is 30. In order to get into my desired master’s progam I had to score a 90 out of 120. Thus, depending on the requirements of your university, you don’t need to score perfectly in every section. That’s why you should focus on the sections you struggle with the most.
Start surrounding yourself with English!
I began studying approximately 3 weeks before the test. To do so, I surrounded myself with English. This is the easiest way to get yourself back into thinking in English. Also, it helps improving your vocabulary and your intonation while speaking. Try to do what you always do – but in English! You like reading? Read English books! You enjoy playing games on your console? Use the English version! Watching movies? Do it in English! It helps you with studying, because you are actually doing things that you enjoy. For speaking I recommend talking to a native speaker. If you don’t have that option try talking to friends, especially about topics you’re not too familiar with.
Although I was able to talk and write quite fluently, I decided to review grammar, tenses, and vocabularies. Most people are confusing tenses, so do I. There are plenty of free overviews on the internet. When it comes to writing, linking words (connectors) are your best friend (check out the next post for more info on writing!). They don’t only connect your sentences but improve your word flow extensively. Additionally showing a great range of vocabularies is an advantage. To expand my vocabulary I used the app from languagecouse.net. It already contains different word lists for Englisch C1-level and the TOEFL, but you can also create your own.
Know your enemy!
The TOEFL isn´t actually testing your English skills. Well, it is, but not as much as you would think. The most important thing in studying for the TOEFL is internalizing answer-templates. The TOEFL wants you to answer in a certain way. Therefore you should familiarize with the different question types and answers of the test. I used different media for this.
The first thing I used and recommend is the book “Cracking the TOEFL iBT 2017“ (I got it on amazon.com). It contains many different exercises which help you getting an idea of the answer patterns the TOEFL is looking for and also a whole sample test including answers. I worked 1 to 3 days on each section. I especially liked the part about reading, because it teaches you how to extract the main idea of a text fast.
Secondly, I used youtube. The internet contains so much information – why not use it? Out of several youtubechannels which are sharing TOEFL experiences, the channel “notefull TOEFL mastery” seemed to be the most helpful one. I watched every video and wrote down the given answer templates. Their videos also include sample answers from different people practicing for the TOEFL and the scores their answer would get. I found the videos to be particulary helpful for time management.
The test day
On the test day I tried to be chill (after getting up at 5am it seemed to be no problem at first because I was tired af!). Have you tried staying relaxed while some guy was commanding you around, checking your ID every few minutes, taking probes of your handwriting, voice, and a picture of you? (of course from the worst angle you could imagine… What’s it called again? Frog perspective? 🐸) And when you are thinking that nobody will see the pic anyways you come to the realization that it’ll be printed on your scoring report and sent to your university… Yeah!
Anyways, I felt pretty chill during the reading and listening. But when I reached the speaking section, my heartrate exploded. I felt so uncomfortable in that room filled with approximately 20 people, divided by cardboard walls, and having headphones that wouldn’t cancel sounds out at all. Then, I finally got my first speaking-question. I opened my mouth and I said… nothing. Well, I did say something, but it was more of a out of the context babbling full of uh’s and uhm’s. And then, the 45 secs were over. That was the point when I thought that I had failed. So I tried harder on the next questions, but I wasn’t happy with my answers, because they didn’t sound as good as the sample answers on the internet at all. However, I stuck to the templates I had been practicing, eventhough my content was awful. All in all, I was pretty unhappy with my answers being judged by several people in the US.
It went better than exspected
After the test being a horrifying experience I already accepted that I won’t be reaching my desired goal of 90. Ten days later though, my scores were uploaded and I couldn´t be happier!!! I am not sure how this happened exactly, but I think sticking to the answering templates has helped me a lot. My final scores:
If I can, you can do that, too!