Do you have suggestions for students preparing TOEFL test? –as an online English teacher (part 1)

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Khaye, Online English Teacher and Trainer at Acadsoc.

Khaye, Online English Teacher and Trainer at Acadsoc.

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Many Chinese students are looking forward to finishing their higher education abroad, especially in the US. Though China is developing so fast, at an incredible speed in recent years, USA is still the leader in many academia territories, such as astronomy, computer science, biology…Therefore, there is a massive demand of TOEFL preparation, Chinese students seeking a qualified English teacher to help them hit the expected score, while our online English teachers accepting training at Acadsoc to be qualified and armed to match students’ requirement.

As an online English teacher before, I successfully helped many Chinese students improved their TOEFL performance, particularly for TOEFL speaking and listening test. Therefore, I applied for the position of a trainer, willing to help more teachers be ready for TOEFL training courses. If I continued to be an online English teacher, I might help 5-10 students pass TOEFL in a term, I could have helped 100 students passed if I trained 5-10 qualified teachers in the same period. So, why not? Being helpful to others is my greatest pleasure!

It seems like an easy question, isn’t it? If you are asking for its full name, anyone can google it online. However, if I ask any of my trainees the first time we meet, online English teachers at Acadsoc, what is the purpose/intention to set up such a test. Rarely, I can hear a correct answer, never mind they have any idea on how to prepare for it. Definitely, I will not blame them since I know most of my co-workers never had a chance to take TOEFL test or accept any training for TOEFL preparation. It is not part of traditional normal schooling or in any courses of an education major in the university unless someone plans to study in the US or has many years’ experience in ESL courses.

TOEFL IBTTOEFL iBT® test is the abbreviation of The Test of English as a Foreign Language (Internet Based Test), aiming at measuring attendees’ ability to use and understand English at the university level. And it evaluates how well one combines reading, listening, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. Please note, two key points in this official proclamation, ‘academic‘ and ‘combine‘. Since we all know, academic English is various from daily English, asking users to state their point of view in a comprehensive, reasonable and evidential way.

Academic writing, mostly essays or assignments, requires a clear subsequence and combination of opening, body and ending paragraphs. Within every single paragraph, it begins with your main point, followed by your reason(ing), evidence/proof, sub-points/addition, additional proof, a transition to your next point/part (optional). And every single sentence must strictly follow English grammar, not allowing oral expression or unnecessary abbreviation, which may lead to severe misunderstanding or confusion.

Combine all four skills in one is never a piece of cake, which requires our students to practise them synchronously and flexibly. Since too many Chinese students put too much weight on writing and reading, seeing them as a prior or faster way to gain scores, they usually ignore that S-L-W-R are intimately connected to each other. To better improve one’s writing, he/she has to read and refer to other’s masterpiece in academia. To better understand other’s work, he/she has to watch/listen to multi-media resources online as background knowledge. To better know what the reporter is talking about facing a camera, he/she will have to speak to native speakers and see how they use English in daily life. To better avoid misunderstanding or confusing expression when speaking English, eventually, you still need to keep a good habit in English writing, using complete, grammatical and clear sentence structure.

Though we all oppose tore learning nowadays, unfortunately, memorising more vocabulary is still the base for all non-native learners. With more words in your mind, you will be able to comprehend more sentences and diversify your expressions. TOEFL official never tells us the exact amount of vocabulary one should capture, but from my own experience, it must be at least 8,000.

TOEFL vocabularyHowever, reciting words is not to repeat new words several times, memorise and then leave them aside. According to the curve of memory by Ebbinghaus, we can only remember 50% of what we learned yesterday, and it will drop down to 25% regarding what we learned the day before yesterday. It indicates we need to review and practise what we have learned before to prevent them from slipping out of our brain. But how?

My suggestions to students would be to repeat, to use and enrich newly captured words. The other day in the morning, after finishing your breakfast, check by yourself how many new words you can still recall in your mind, or you may ask your friend/parent to dictate them for you. To make this practice most efficient, when recalling/dictating, they are supposed to correctly spell out the word, with its interpretation in Chinese, its antonym and homonym, and a complete sentence made using the word. Since we all know, the more information we have for something, the more likely we will keep that in mind for a long time. Babies learn ‘Blue’ by a rich snippet of information given by parents about blue and different types of blue, blue sky, blue toys, blue paints, blue…What’s more, by introducing antonym and homonym, students can capture at least three new words when reciting one. And such memorisation is more reliable to stand the test of time, backed by related words as a rich snippet of information.

Another way to strengthen memory of words is to use them. For instance, after memorising technical terms of Biological Chemistry from your English vocab book, you shall find news/videos regarding BC territory and try to comprehend the professional words lies within. Same principle here, more information around a new word will make the learner better keep it. What’s different, practising by video/audio can meanwhile improve students’ listening skill as well, activating more parts of his/her brain to engage in learning English.

Unlike IELTS, which separate speaking test apart from the other, attendees of TOEFL need to fully prepared for almost four hours’ test. Though there is a ten minutes’ break in the middle, I don’t think you can comfortably relax during that period. To adapt your body and mind best fit the test, please keep a healthy biological clock. If possible, following the sequence of tests when preparing for it. I.e. Start with Reading practice first, and then listening, speaking and writing.

That’s what I have told my students when doing mock exams in their spare time. If you want to simulate the occasion of TOEFL test, you’d better take the length and sequence of your tests into account and make it a daily habit for you. For instance, TOEFL reading test begins from 9am and will last 1 hour or 1 hour 40 minutes(could be longer if there are additional reading tests), which indicates students better practice reading during 9am till 10.30am every day and strictly limit the average finishing time of each article to 20 minutes. And just copy such strategy to speaking, writing and listening part.

I know this point is more about exam skills instead of English level itself, but as my colleague, Emmy has addressed in Suggestions for IELTS preparation, exam skills and exam intelligence is also an essential base for every student. With good learning and examing habit, a student can save a lot of time during the test and be more confident when they truly step into the battlefield.

Hope you can feel helpful after reading my article and sharing, thank you. Other suggestions for TOEFL preparation will be published later because I am so busy training teachers at the moment, lol.

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