The internet TOEFL test, or TOEFL iBT, replaced the very successful computer-based TOEFL several years ago. One of the most important innovations was the addition of a speaking section not seen in its previous iteration or even the one before that, the TOEFL paper test. There are still a handful of TOEFL test locations that offer the TOEFL paper test, but they are soon to be phased out.
Most people take the internet TOEFL for academic purposes, and this is reflected in the nature of the questions you will see in the body of the test. The context for most of the spoken conversations is on a university and the discussions are either about academic topics or are between people on a campus (eg: a tutor talking to a student, two students talking with each other). Nevertheless, there are other uses for the TOEFL iBT. Australia now accepts the TOEFL iBT for migration purposes, leading to a dramatic rise on the number of candidates applying for the test around the world.
There are numerous books for the TOEFL available to purchase on the market, including excellent tomes from respected publishers such as Longman and Cambridge. These preparation books are a handy way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT because they include TOEFL sample essays, genuine TOEFL writing samples and listening exercises on CD roms. Although you will feel the lack of any guided learning from an instructor, you will be able to run through TOEFL test simulations that will help you feel more at ease with the format of the TOEFL iBT test structure.
Since each of the four language skills – reading and listening (receptive) and speaking and writing (productive) – are tested by the TOEFL iBT, the TOEFL grading is organised in a logical way. Each skill is given a mark out of 30, meaning that one’s total score can be anything up to 120. How much you need to get in the TOEFL iBT is decided by the institution to which you are applying. As a guide, you would be hard pressed to find any credible institution of higher learning allowing a student to enrol with an overall TOEFL iBT score lower than 80. Many top universities in the United States and Canada will expect you to achieve no less than 105 out of 120, with a minimum of 26 in every skill.
What is the best way of tackling the speaking?
TOEFL iBT was one of the first major tests in which the candidate did not interact with another human being. By taking on sophisticated software based on input from language testing experts, model answers and real samples taken from actual test-takers, the algorithms embedded in the system then grade your efforts.
Many candidates are put off by the absence of another person to talk to, and feel that it makes the task even more challenging. We naturally react to the responses we get from other people, which is why so many learners of English find speaking on the telephone more challenging than having a face-to-face chat. Once you have got over the fact that you’ll be speaking into a machine, it does bet easier. In the TOEFL IBT you are expected to respond speaking out loud after the relevant prompt. This can be something you have heard, read or both (in an integrated activity).
Another factor that tends to make matters worse, is the noise made by all of the other candidates during the speaking section of the test can be hugely distracting. Without the benefit of noise-excluding headphones, you are going to have to learn to cope with this. You can do this by yourself by going to a busy place like a bus station or a cafeteria and record yourself responding to questions into your phone. There is nothing else to do but ignore the chaos around you and focus on the task at hand. Concentrate on your own words and the way in which they come out of your mouth. If you’re doing it correctly, the hubbub around you will become background noise and you can rise above it.
How long do I need to prepare for the TOEFL IBT?
Give yourself a decent amount of time to become familiar with the format of the test. An intensive preparation period of about three weeks is about right for most people, but this will vary according to your level of competence before you start.
There are TOEFL test locations all over the world, and tests are taking place every week of the year, so you can think about booking when you feel you are ready. Some of these TOEFL test locations get very busy at certain times of the year. While you can be fairly confident of being able to sit the TOEFL iBT on the day of your choice, the further in advance that you book your test, the better. If you leave it too late, you may not be able to sit your TOEFL iBT test at the location of your choice. The last thing you want to be doing on exam day is taking a long drive to a far-off location.
Written by Colin David.