How to nail the TOEFL (in two weeks)!

Well, this is the first time that I have been demanded to write an article about something. So a new personal best for this rather boring blog.

I recently gave the TOEFL and was pretty much shocked to see my scores. Here they are:
Reading: 30/30
Listening: 30/30
Speaking: 24/30
Writing: 30/30
Total: 114/120
(^Dedicated to all the English teachers who criticized me until I was convinced I suck at English!)

Without wasting much time, let's get to the point!

First of all, let me make it clear that TOEFL is easy as well as difficult at the same time. The questions certainly won't make anyone sweat but there are other factors in these test that you need to tackle. Also, deciding a target score for TOEFL is very difficult despite the fact that TOEFL scores don't matter that much for selection process.

You're done with your GRE, prepare for TOEFL in a completely relaxed manner. No need to go savage here. Though don't extend the date beyond three weeks as you still need to have some of that Reading Comprehension fever from GRE. I personally prepared for 12 days with a lot of breaks in between. Had to attend college and a lot of other stuff. This should give you an idea of how difficult the exam really is! :p

  1. Start off with skimming through the ETS official guide pdf. It is not worth solving anything from here. Just read about the type of questions asked, scoring rubrics in speaking and writing. You're done.
  2. Watch the NoteFull videos. Many people strongly recommend these, but the structure of the TOEFL has changed a lot and I feel these are pretty old now.
  3. Give your first mock test. You will know where you stand and what to improve.
  4. Use this day to prepare yourself well for any of the two sections( preferably reading and speaking ) by referring various videos on YouTube. Write down the strategies you feel you will be using.
  5. Follow the same for the remaining two sections.
  6. Now you can give tests for the remaining days. It is not necessary to give all tests completely, some days you can skip the speaking / writing section as they are not scored anyway and invest some time in revisiting your strategies and the YouTube channels for which I will be providing the links further. 
I gave two tests from Barrons, three from Cambridge and three from ETS of these only 5 I attempted completely i.e 2 from ETS, 1 from Barrons and 2 from Cambridge. I will however say that skip the Barrons writing and speaking parts. They are way off from the TOEFL. Also, do not worry about the scores you get. I only scored 100% just once in listening and used to get scores way low than my final score.

Section wise tips:

  • For the first reading of the passage just read the first sentence of each paragraph and then start answering.
  • Do not over think for a TOEFL reading question, your answer at the first instinct is correct.
  • Now, I always used to get the reading to learn questions wrong while practicing so here is what I did- First eliminate the wrong ones, next from all the options left whichever are from the middle of the passages means that they are not the central idea but rather a supporting idea. Eliminate those and you get the answer. Because, after eliminating the improbable, whatever is left however improbable is the answer!
  • Try to save 7 to 10 minutes in this section so that you go on to the next section early. But be sure to review everything once quickly.
  • Listening questions are the easiest however the trap here is no matter how efficient you are at note taking there is a lot of disturbance at the center.
  • Learn to take good notes as you practice and also how to structure your notes well.
  • If you give even two mock tests you will start to know what notes to take down, what to skip, which part to expect a question from. 
  • I got lucky here as two of the lectures were about stuff I had seen on the discovery channel and also watching a lot of series helps to comprehend native English.
  • Now I am not the correct person to talk about this but I can tell you about the mistakes I made.
  • First of all don't go for templates. If you go for templates then go all in. I changed my mind half way during my preparation and on exam day I blurted out stuff from the templates which put me off track and did not help make my case.
  • I am not that good of an English speaker, but I am not that bad either. My tendency to speak at a faster rate harmed me because- I am not a native speaker and once you speak fast you don't have enough time to prepare your next sentence. So speak at a medium pace. Once you listen to the sample responses you will get to know!
  • I would suggest watch the videos from the suggested channels, make your own templates, prepare a strategy and practice.
  • Also, do not worry about factual content. I unknowingly implied that a certain astronaut is still alive which is not really the case. But I got maximum marks for this part of the section.
  • While practicing record yourself on your mobile and listen to yourself. Find some friend who can evaluate these responses.
  • Just see the videos by and follow what they ask you to do. 
  • I followed the same pattern with a few tweaks and make sure your content is better than average which is pretty easy for TOEFL essays as compared to GRE awa.
  • There is a lot of ambiguity about the length of these essays. I wrote about 400 words for the Integrated essay and 600 for the Independent essay. 300+ and 400+ words are advisable, respectively. Do not attempt to write too much if that starts affecting the quality of your content.
Few extra tips:
  • Visit the exam center early.
  • Wear a hoodie.
  • While preparing, give your last one or two mocks with a lot of background noise. There was constant disturbance at the center throughout the test which made my score even more shocking to me. There are times when everyone starts speaking at once and you just cannot concentrate. Better to get used to it.
  • Most important: Be considerate of your neighbors. Speak only as loud as much it is necessary. You are not being scored for the intensity you shout at. Everyone has paid the same amount as you and if you are the reason for someone else screwing up, you are truly an A-hole.
  • That being said, if someone besides you starts speaking loudly or is being disturbing. You too should start speaking loudly whatever you can. There was some disturbance in my neighborhood in the reading and writing section. I used to start reading aloud the passage or what I was writing and it helped me concentrate on what was in front of me.
  • Save time by hitting continue as soon as possible when instructions come on the screen. 
  • Try to return from your break as early as possible, the earlier your speaking starts the better it is for you. 
  • One thing I have learned from these two exams is confidence is the key. I rarely did well in any exam since my 12th standard. However, this time I had made up my mind that I know what I know and it ought be enough to do well. You can make use of little psychological tricks, I did a little meditation the the exam morning and had some glucose before starting the exam. I don't know whether it really helped, but you will have a sense of feeling that your mind is at its peak because of whatever mumbo-jumbo you did. Doubt yourself for a second and its game over.(This was only for all you average loser folks just like me)

These are the YouTube links:
NoteFull : To get acquainted with the test after reading ETS guide and before giving any mock.
Linguamarina : Some useful strategies and tips. Good presentation!
Kathy TOEFL teacher : Comparatively new and made in accordance with the latest format of questions.
Toefl Resources : This is what should replace NoteFull as the go to source. Visit their website too.
There are other channels too, but these will suffice and you definitely do not want to work that hard on TOEFL.

Here is the drive link to all the materials you need!

That's enough from me! Hope this helps at least someone a little bit. All the best if you are reading this actually before your exam!
Make sure to hit +1 , share and give your feedback if any. It helps me improve!

For folks preparing for the GRE here is the article on that.

Until next time!

Note: All registered trademarks belong to someone else and not me. Just don't sue!


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