As an English teacher in México, you often encounter students who have studied English for many years either in school or having had private lessons.
Many of them aspire to complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, which is designed to assess the individual’s competency and ability to use English in the academic and professional setting. For students planning to continue their education abroad, many universities require this as part of the admissions process. I have compiled a few resources that I use to help my students to maximize their level of readiness prior to taking the test. While a majority of the student’s success or failure is reliant upon the amount of time they invest to preparing for the test, there are a few helpful hints that can help build their confidence and ensure they maximize the time needed to complete the test.
Important Tips for TOEFL Preparation
Students who have reached this point in their study of the English language must have a high level of proficiency in oral, aural, and written skills. They likely converse fluently and are able to express abstract ideas with ease. At this point, they need instruction in how to maximize reading comprehension and to skim through large articles in order to find the answers for specific questions. The most important concept that is often forgotten by even native English speakers is that the main idea is most likely introduced in the first sentence of the paragraph. By directing students to search for the main idea, they can quickly find the answers they are seeking for specific questions. While it is important to read the entire passage before answering, focusing their attention to the central ideas will reduce the amount of time needed to find the correct answer. Many students spend too much time re-reading entire articles for a single answer and lose precious time needed for more difficult parts of the test.
One of the most frustrating portions of the test is understanding the minute differences between grammar and syntax. This is where most mistakes occur, usually confusing verb tenses and other various parts of the English language. It is very important that the student understands the terminology used for various aspects of language. Terms such as synonym, antonym, adverb, adjective and preposition are often confused and cause the student to answer incorrectly. As part of your instruction, you should review the basic terminology for various components of speech and clarify the differences between verb tenses. Also, explaining concepts such as compare/contrast and definitions will better prepare them for standardized tests which commonly use this structure to create the multiple choice questions for the test.
Another common mistake is the inefficient use of the time allotted for the test. Students who suffer from test anxiety may freeze during a difficult portion of the test and waste valuable time. If a student feels prepared and confident in their abilities and command of the English language, they will have a higher level of success overall. The first tip for students is to skip any questions they absolutely do not know and continue on answering the questions that they do know. If there is enough time, the student can always come back to the question later. It is also vital that the student reads each question and understands what is being asked before attempting to answer. If a student rushes through the questions, they may misunderstand what is being asked and answer incorrectly based upon what they think they read. Worse yet, they may realize the mistake later in the test and return to questions they have already answered.
There will undoubtedly be questions on the test that the student will not know the answer. There are still a few techniques that students can use to improve their chances to answer the question correctly. For example, if the student does not know the meaning of a specific word, they can look at the rest of the sentence or paragraph where it occurs to infer meaning. Sometimes the definition of the word is restated in the same sentence or paragraph. There may also be a common prefix, suffix or root word which suggest at least a portion of the word’s meaning. For questions which require the student to fill in the blank, simply understanding what part of the sentence is missing will allow them to take an educated guess from the options provided.
Sample tests are by far the most effective way to prepare for the TOEFL examination. All of my Mexican students enjoy the sample tests because after two or three of them throughout the course, they see a distinct improvement. Many free websites provide free sample tests and questions for students such as http://www.examenglish.com and http://www.stuff.co.uk/toefl.htm. For this reason, we encourage students to take the tests on their own. There are thousands of sites engineered to help students prepare for the test. Many of these sites provide both paper and electronic tests students can take online. You can also administer the test during study sessions, and then review the answers with the student or class to ensure that they understand their mistakes. By reviewing the questions which students struggle with, you can focus on the areas in which they need the most help and clarify all their questions prior to the exam. Several of the sites also provide games to increase memory retention, focus, and speed. Sample tests allow students to see the question formats used for the test which will build their confidence prior to the actual test. When students feel that they know what to expect, it reduces anxiety and increases their chances for success.
The TOEFL examination represents the culmination for many English teachers and students. It provides a standard by which they gauge their fluency and acceptance among many international universities. Students at this advanced level must be proficient in the English language and will need methods that are more specialized in order to succeed. It is important for the student to identify their strengths and weaknesses so that each lesson can be focus on the areas in which they need the most help. The student is ultimately responsible for the total amount of time and preparation they invest prior to the exam. There are still important methods we as ESL teachers can introduce to students to increase their performance on the exam. Clear explanations for terminology and the differentiation between the parts of speech will ensure that the student understands what each question is asking. Teaching students to skim passages for main ideas will maximize the time they are given. It is also important that students simply pass questions they absolutely do not know the answers to; they can always return to the questions and use context clues to make an educated guess, but it is best to move on to questions they are confident in answering.
The most important thing to remember is that the student’s confidence will ultimately determine if they are successful.
If the student feels prepared and knows what to expect, they are less likely to suffer from test anxiety and perform to the best of their abilities. Sample tests are the most effective way to build confidence since the provide samples from previous tests. It provides a glimpse into the future and they will understand how the test is formatted. As a teacher, you will also be able to assess what areas the student is struggling in and can focus your lessons to their specific needs. Ultimately, our goal as teachers is to ensure that our students are confident they will succeed based upon our preparation. I hope this was an interesting read and helpful to you. I hope to see you in Mexico soon.
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