How to pass the TOEFL test (no grammar or vocabulary lessons necessary)
- March 24, 2021
- Posted by: Shannon Amaadar
- Category: teaching techniques
So, you have a student who wants to prepare for the TOEFL test of English. What is the best way to prepare them?
The TOEFL is a standardised test, so it’s easy to develop a clear strategy for success if you know exactly what the examiners are looking for. I have some great tips that will help you prepare your students for the TOEFL test and achieve a high score.
Students come to me and ask me to help them prepare by building their vocabulary and practicing grammar rules. These are actually the worst things to focus on. Your students will spend a lot of time practicing these elements and then when they get into the exam, they’ll find themselves spending too much time reading, misunderstanding instructions and losing confidence as well as marks.
I always tell my students that we aren’t going to be spending a lot of time on vocabulary and grammar. If you need to work on those things you aren’t ready for the test yet. Instead, I like to focus on time-keeping strategies and common tricks that native speakers use when looking for information.
Building confidence in your students can go a lot further towards success than building a large vocabulary. When students know what to expect then they can anticipate obstacles and think of strategies to overcome them. Confidence is important and it will come across in the way they answer the testing questions.
So where do we start?
The first thing I always discuss with my students in the structure of the exam. I let them know how much time is allocated to each of the four sections. This way, they can organise their time in a way that’s productive and allows them to remain relaxed.
The reading and the listening section are both similar in that the student has between 60-90 minutes to complete the test depending on the questions. Knowing this, students can use practice tests to reduce their time using the techniques that they’ll learn.
The writing section allows 50 minutes, enough time to write the required essay or essays. Knowing how to structure a good essay is essential for being able to stay within this time frame.
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The speaking section is the shortest at 20 minutes. Students will be asked to tell a story or some detail about themselves or a simple subject. The key to this section is confidence, which is the most important focal point when preparing a student for this test. Every success comes down to how confident the student is in their ability.
It’s helpful to get an idea of where you are when you start. You can take practice TOEFL tests at https://www.examenglish.com/TOEFL/index.php . Once you find out where you are at the beginning, you’ll know the students’ areas of strength and weakness and plan lessons accordingly.
Time should be spent on each section, but if a student is great at the listening section and finds difficulty with writing, then it makes sense to focus more heavily on the writing.
Tips for each section
I’ve written a great eBook for teachers to help prepare their students to take the TOEFL test. You can find that here
if you’re interested in all my tips and tricks to achieve a high score. It comes with four lessons for each of the sections of the test. Each lesson is embedded with resource links and study material. It’s really helpful and everyone who’s used it has found amazing success, including myself.
I offer a tip for each section of the exam that students can use to make answering the questions easier or faster. Knowing what information to look for can make things seem a lot less overwhelming. Knowing what to do in each section will not only build up confidence but increase the likelihood of achieving a high score in the exam
When approaching the writing section, the best tool is to understand good essay structure. There’s a minimum word count and having good form can help students reach that number easily without counting each word.
Introduction, paragraph 1, paragraph 2, paragraph 3 and a conclusion. This is the structure students should be familiar with. Even though spelling and grammar are important, examiners will be looking more for coherence and cohesion. If a text is clear and concise, regardless of minor grammar mistakes it will receive a better score. A text may have good grammar, but if the ideas are jumbled and it’s hard to find flow and meaning then it won’t fare as well.
Keywords are the trick here. Teach students to read the answers before the text. They can then scan the text for keywords and discover the answer without reading in-depth. This can save so much time in the test, and it’s a strategy commonly used by students and professionals all the time.
If faced with the summary question, this can be completed without reading the text at all, as long as the student understands how to recognise a summary. Eliminating options is a great way to find the right answer.
This is a tougher section than most think. Many students spend a lot of time listening and re-listening, wasting time. Keywords are important here too. Reading the questions beforehand will tell the students what they should be listening for. They’ll be able to hear the information a lot faster if they know specific words to listen for.
A lot of students don’t think they have to practice this one, but many find out that the questions are harder than they originally thought. Practicing is the best way to build confidence, and it’s so important. If a student is second-guessing what they hear, they’ll spend too much time answering the questions and perhaps running out of time.
This is where vocabulary is important, but not large, fancy words. It’s important in this section that students can be expressive. Build vocabulary that is descriptive and discourage the use of “boring words”. Pronunciation practice is another good way to build confidence in students. As long as they are clear and understood, the student should do well in the test.
Remember that this test is meant as an assessment to judge how well a student may perform in a school or work setting, so lessons should be designed with that in mind.
Do your own assessment of how well they’re performing in your class and talk to them about what will be expected of them.
I’ve taught many students who thought that they could slack a little in my lesson then fail the practice test I’ve given. I always have discussions with students about what college or university will be like and the challenges they may face. This always gives them that little bit of motivation to try a bit harder and pay a little more attention.
My aim as a teacher is to help my students achieve their goals, and these are the strategies I use to make sure they do. I’m always just as excited as they are when they get their score and their acceptance letter to the school they’ve applied to.