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TOEFL iBT experience

 

Monzurul Amin
M.Pharm, B.Pharm ( University of Dhaka)
At present: South Dakota State University, USA.
TOEFL iBT score: 102
E-mail: mailpharmacist-form@yahoo.co.in

Is TOEFL for me?
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a test conducted by Education testing service, USA (ETS) to judge the level of English language competency of international students. To get admitted in North American Universities in undergraduate or graduate studies (Bachelor, Masters, Ph.D. or equivalent), you must sit for TOEFL.

What is TOEFL iBT?
Previously TOEFL was CBT (computer based test) or PBT (paper based test). After 2006 those tests are replaced by iBT or internet based test worldwide . The format of the test is as follows:

Test Section Number of Questions Timing
Reading 3-5 passages; 12-14 questions each 60-100 minutes
Listening 4-6 lectures, 6 questions each
2-3 conversations, 5 questions each
60-90 minutes
BREAK   10 minutes
Speaking 6 Tasks: 2 independent and 4 integrated 20 minutes
Writing 1 integrated task
1 independent task
20 minutes
30 minutes

Source: TOEFL iBT Tips : How to Prepare for the Next Generation TOEFL Test and Communicate With Confidence (ETS)

How is it different?
ETS discussed the following difference in their TOEFL iBT Tips booklet. Download it from there website. I am quoting from them here:

  • It tests all four language skills that are important for effective communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The emphasis will be on using English to communicate.
  • It will be delivered via the Internet in secure test centers around the world. Once the new test is introduced in an area, the computer-based and paper-based tests will no longer be offered there.
  • Some tasks require test takers to combine more than one skill. To succeed academically in English speaking colleges and universities, students need to be able to combine their language skills in the classroom. New integrated questions, or “tasks,” help students build the confi dence needed to communicate in the academic environments they plan to enter. The new integrated tasks will ask test takers to:
    • read, listen, then speak in response to a question
    • listen, then speak in response to a question
    • read, listen, then write in response to a question
  • The new TOEFL test includes a Speaking section. This section includes six tasks, and test takers wear headphones and speak into a microphone when they respond. The responses are digitally recorded and transmitted to ETS’s Online Scoring Network, where human raters evaluate them. The raters are carefully monitored for accuracy, so test takers and score recipients can be assured of the reliability of the Speaking scores.
  • The Writing section has been expanded. The new test requires test takers to write a response to material they have heard and read, and to compose an essay in support of an opinion. Human raters also evaluate the responses to the Writing tasks via ETS’s Online Scoring Network.
  • The new test is approximately 4.0 hours long. All test sections will be completed in one day, so there is no need to travel to the test center twice.
  • Note taking is allowed. Test takers can take notes on any section of the test and they can use those notes when answering the questions. After testing, notes are collected and shredded before the test takers leave the test center.
  • The new scores help to explain test takers’ English language ability. ETS provides comprehensive scoring information that will include scores for four skills and a total score. Competency descriptors for each skill and level can be found on pages 65–70 and are available at www.ets.org/toefl /nextgen.
  • These descriptors help to explain what the new scores mean. In addition, test takers will receive helpful performance feedback on their score reports.
  • The new scores will be reported online. Beginning in September 2005, test takers will be able to view scores online 15 business days after the test, as well as receive a copy of their score report by mail. Colleges and universities will be able to view scores online starting in 2006, but they will also continue to receive scores via their current delivery method.
    (End quote)

When should I take the test?
The test is taken all the year round. Most of the international students are admitted in Fall session in USA which starts from August/September. You should sit for the test one year before the Fall session starts. For example you are planning to get admitted in US university in Fall 2009, then your work flow may be like this:

  • June 2008: Register for the test at August
  • June-August: Prepare for the test
  • August 2008: Sit for the test
  • October 2008: The test score reaches the selected universities from ETS and to you
  • November 2008: Apply for Fall 2009 in universities

How long is the score valid?
Your test score is valid for only two years. After that period ETS removes your test data from their archive.

How can I register for the test?
If you have decided to take the test then you have to pay 150$ fee (for Bangladesh). The best way to pay it is through online using international credit card. If you can not manage credit card, then go to Varsity Admission (http://www.varsityadmission.com/ToeflGreSat/Toefl_Gre_Sat_App_Fee.php) for help.
Please register 2-3 months before the test date as test centers fill up quickly.
If you do not have passport then immediately get one. Without valid passport, you will not be able to take the test.

How can I send my scores to foreign universities?
US universities will not accept the TOEFL result directly from you. You must send the scores through ETS. You can send the result to four universities without cost during registration. If you want to send to more than four, then additional charges apply.
You have to give the names of universities at the time of registration.

Where are the test centers in Bangladesh?
There are three test centers for TOEFL in Bangladesh. These are
1. American Alumni Association (AAA, Banani)
2. AIUB (Banani)
3. Grameen Star (Panthapath)

Our advice is to select the AAA and avoid the notorious Grameen Star test center.

What is an acceptable score in TOEFL iBT?
Most universities of USA want a minimum score of 79 in iBT. Top universities or very competitive programs may require up to 100 score. The highest mark attainable is 120. Please visit the websites of universities you are interested to know their score requirement. The information is usually given in links like : prospective students/future students>admission>international students.
The average score of TOEFL iBT for Bangladeshi students is 83 (according to 2008 statistics).

How much time is required for preparing for the test?
There is no syllabus for TOEFL, so the preparation totally depends on you. If you can read 700 word passages within 10 minutes, understand American accent, speak about any topic within few minutes in English fluently, and type 400 words of neat essay on computer within 30 minutes, then you are prepared to take the test tomorrow. It may not be the case for everyone. Even if you (a Bangladeshi) are very much familiar with American culture and living there for years, test result may be poor. Though the test has no syllabus, you have to practice well before sitting for the exam.

How can I start the preparation?
Our advice is as follows:

  • At first give a mock test. You can administer the test yourself by using test materials from ETS. Download the 70 MB ‘Free iBT sample questions for test takers’ from www.toefl.org. You can also use the test CDs of Barron’s, Kaplan etc. listed at the end of the article.
  • After the test, find out your weak points. Maybe you are weak in speaking. Then practice speaking section more and more.
  • Follow the test materials and resources for different sections listed at the end of this article. Section wise tips are given below:

Reading comprehension:

  • Practice from model tests of The Official Guide to the New TOEFL iBT by ETS (it contain actual test questions previously administered). You can also use the test CDs of Barron’s and Kaplan’s TOEFL iBT.
  • Practice to read from computer monitors. For this purpose read English newspapers like Newyork Times (www.nytimes.com), wall street journal (online.wsj.com), economist (www.economist.com) online frequently.
  • Use a good American dictionary as vocabulary is also tested in TOEFL. Avoid much popular Oxford dictionary and get a copy of Merriam Webster’s (MW) dictionary. MW soft copy can be found on net.

Listening:

  • Practice the model tests of ETS, Barrons and Kaplan. You can also listen to National Public Radio online (www.npr.org) which has wide range of topics. Listening to CNN maybe helpful but I personally find it boring. Watching American movies, specially the comedy ones are recommended by ETS!
  • While listening, take notes. It is very important. Learn about note taking techniques from Barron’s.

Speaking:

  • Use the listening section to help you in speaking. Get used to American accent and try to get rid of your native accent. Listen to a topic and try to summarize orally in English.
  • Try to converse with your friends or colleagues in English if possible. Use a stopwatch and practice to speak on different topics within one minute.
  • Record your speech and listen afterwards. You will be amazed to find so many false starts (um umm ..) and pauses during your talk. These things are annoying for listeners who will rate you. So try to replace these pauses with ‘I mean’, ‘actually’ etc but avoid ‘you know’.
  • Speak confidently (loud and clear), with smile and in medium pace. If you speak slowly and in low voice then the listener may not hear you or think that you are not sure about your speech.

Writing:

  • Practice typing on the computer. You should be able to write 400-500 words within 20-25 minutes.
  • When you get a writing topic, think about it. Write in scratch paper if you agree/disagree with it. What are reasons for your support/opposition? After deciding what to write, organize your essay. Your essay will be rated by two experienced examiners and they expect neatly organized essay. Do not try to write flowery or pompous words. Write simple English while maintaining the sequence of reasoning. If you have three reasons to agree/disagree with the topic then describe:
    First…,
    Second..,
    Finally...
  • To know more about this, read Barron’s tips on writing.
  • Write an introduction after finishing your task. Most of the people waste their time about how to start the essay. You don’t have much time, so write it later. In the mean time, your essay will come into a shape and then you can write in the introduction what the reader can expect onwards. For example you summarize your reasoning in the introduction. Besides try to add context to the introduction. Learn from previously mentioned books on how to write context lines.
  • Visit webpages where sample essays for TOEFL are published. For example testmagic (http://www.testmagic.com/test/index.asp)
  • To improve your writing style, read the feature articles of NYtimes.

Where can I get the mentioned test materials?
You can get the books and CDs in bookshops of Newmarket and Nilkhet, Dhaka. Specially Khan Book Center in Nilkhet can provide most of the materials.
In addition, utilize internet sites such as official TOEFL site (bulletin, tips, sample questions), blogsites (for ebooks), esnips (for ebooks), youtube (for video lessons), npr (for listening), NYtimes (for reading) etc.

List of useful Books
The official guide to the new TOEFL iBT. McGraw Hill. ETS. One audio CD.
Barron’s TOEFL iBT. One audio CD.
Peterson’s TOEFL iBT
Merriam Websters Dictionary

List of useful websites
www.toefl.org
www.nytimes.com
www.npr.org
www.youtube.com (search : toefl ibt)
www.esnips.com (search : toefl ibt)
http://www.testmagic.com/test/index.asp

List of useful softwares
Sample iBT questions, 70 MB. Download from toefl.org
Kaplan TOEFL iBT test. Five computerized tests in one CD.
Barron’s model test. Seven computerized tests in one CD
Merriam Websters Dictionary.

If you have further inquiries feel free to mail me.


Some important thing you should know about TOEFL

What does TOEFL stand for?
The term ?TOEFL? stands for ?Test Of English as Foreign Language?. This test measures your ability to perceive written and oral English as well as to express your ideas in English both in oral and written form.

What are the sections of TOEFL?
TOEFL ibt (Internet Based Test) consists of 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. Each section contributes 30 marks to a total of 120.

What score is considered as good for getting admission to US universities? graduate programs?
In TOEFL ibt, a score of 100 is considered as good because with this score, you will be able to apply to all US universities. But some universities require a minimum score in a specific section which you also have to fulfill.

A score of 80 is also sufficient to apply to many US universities. So it can also be considered as a satisfactory one. But a score below 80 will create problem as only one or two universities will allow that for enrollment into graduate program.


How many days? preparation is enough for making a good score?
Truly it depends on the individual who is taking the test. A student with better understanding in practical English can achieve a high score with 10 to 15 days of preparation. But for those who have shortcomings in listening or speaking English, it will take some time to practice those as these things are rarely developed in short notice.

Where is this test given in Bangladesh? Can I take this test from outside of Dhaka?
In Bangladesh, currently there are three test centers, American Alumni Association (AAA), American Int. University of Bangladesh (AIUB) and Grameen Star Education Center.

No, it is not possible to take this test from outside Dhaka as there is no test center available.


How much is the registration fees?
The registration fee for TOEFL is $150. The cheapest registration service is provided by GRE Center.

I do not have International Credit card. How can I do registration?
It is a common problem for the students of Bangladesh as very few students have international credit card. There are some organizations who help students to registrar for the exam by using their credit card. These institutions take some charge in addition to the $150 fees. Among all of these organizations, GRE Center offers cheapest service cost.

To how many universities can I send my TOEFL score directly from the exam center?
With the registration fee, the score can be sent to a maximum of four institutions at free.

Is it mandatory to fix the Universities? names during registration?
No, it is not mandatory to fix universities? names at the time of registration. You can select universities later on. But it is better to complete your selection at least a day before the exam schedule.

Do I have any option of changing my Universities? name if I change my mind after registration?
Yes, you can change your choice after registration as many time as you wish, but it is better to finalize your choice at a day before the exam.

How can I send Additional Score Report (ASR) to a University?
To send additional score report to a University, a fee of $17 is required. You can send your score to as many universities? as you wish with a fee of $17 for each. Please contact GRE Center office for any assistance.

What is the validity of TOEFL?
TOEFL score will remain valid up to two years from the test date.

Like GRE, can I also know my score just at the end of the examination?
No, to get the score, you have to wait for two weeks. After that, the score will be sent electronically to your TOEFL account on ETS.

GRE is Computer Adaptive Test, means, every question is fixed on the basis of my response to previous question. Is TOEFL also like that?
TOEFL is not a computer adaptive test. Here each question carries the same value. Also, the questions are not adaptive.

Which section of TOEFL is considered to be toughest?
It solely depends on the student taking the test. But many students of Bangladesh struggle with the listening and speaking section.

Is there any good website where I can go and download essential materials?
The official website of ETS, www.toefl.org, is quite comprehensive. From there, you can download sample questions and model test. The download library of GRE Center's website (this website) provides a short link to all of these essential materials.

Are all the TOEFL test centers of Dhaka equally good?
The test centers are almost similar but among the three, AAA has got reputation as the best, AIUB is good as it's set up is completely new and then the Grameen Star center.

How is the spoken part of TOEFL given?
The spoken part is the shortest one as far as its duration is concerned. Here, you will hear the question by head-phone and then you have to speak in response through the microphone.

I have heard it from my friend, he was taking the original TOEFL test, and just during his spoken part the computer went hang. Comment on it.
I also have heard similar complaint from some of the guys. Most of the objections are about the test center in Grameen Star Education. In that case you will have to re-take that part, because the computer could not save your answers. The test center delegates would be responsible for this.

Tell me about the writing section. How many topics do I need to write? Also, generally what topics are given for writing?
Writing section is the last part of the test. Here, you will be given two questions, one independent and one integrated task. In the integrated task, you will read a passage about an academic topic for three minutes, and then you'll hear a lecture related to the topic. Then you'll be asked to summarize the points in the listening passage and explain how they relate to the specific points in the reading passage. This task measures your ability to communicate in writing about academic information you have read and listened to. You will get 20 minutes to complete the integrated task.

In the independent task, you may be asked a question to be answered with reasons and examples like "How do movies and televisions influence people's behavior". You may also be asked to agree or disagree with a statement like "Television has destroyed communications among friends and family". Here, you will get 30 minutes to complete.


Is there any online database that I can use as a source of Essay Topics.
Have you visited ets website? It is really helpful.

Is there any "percentile below" in TOEFL, like GRE?
No, there is no "percentile below" thing in TOEFL.

What books should I collect if I want to prepare for TOEFL at home?
The official guide book of ETS is very helpful. After reading that book thoroughly, you can practice by using CDs of Barron and many others found in Nilkhet.

Generally how many days does it take for official TOEFL score to reach my home at Dhaka?
After the result is shown in the web site, it may take 15 days to 2 months to reach your official score at Dhaka. But you don't have to be panic with the official result as the universities' wont require you to submit the paper copy. They just need the electronic copy to be sent by ETS.

I have heard that watching CNN and American movies is beneficial for TOEFL. Please comment.
Yes, watching CNN and American movies may help to improve your listening score. Beside, you may learn some style of speaking which may also improve your speaking score.

What happens if I suddenly catch sick and decide to cancel the test? Can I get my money refunded?
If you cancel the test, you wont be refunded at all. But if you want to re-schedule the test, you'll be able to do that by paying a fee of $50. You must re-schedule at least three days prior to the test date.

Which one should be taken first, GRE or TOEFL?
TOEFL is not an evaluation criteria for admission in any US university. It is a requirement that must be fulfilled by you, but a higher score will not give any extra benefit.

On the other hand, GRE is a key evaluation criteria and the more you score, the more will be your chance to get into there. So one must give his prime focus to prepare himself for GRE. In preparing for GRE, one becomes familiar with many uncommon words which will help him in TOEFL reading section, and as GRE also has a writing part, one may get benefit from it in the writing section of TOEFL. So, it will be better to take TOEFL just after completing GRE.


Tell me something about the Reading section
Reading section consists of reading comprehension. There are two forms of questions. In short form, you will face 3 comprehensions each having 12-14 questions to be answered within 60 minutes. In this case, all the comprehensions will be taken into account in calculating your score.

You may face a long form of reading section where 5 reading comprehensions will appear and 100 minutes to deal with. Here any 2 of these 5 will not be taken into account in your score. But you won't be allowed to know which 2 comprehensions will be discarded. So you have to take all these 5 with equal importance.


Tell me something about the Listening section
Listening section tests your ability to understand North American conversation and class lecture. Here one conversation and two class lectures comprise a unit. Here also, question will appear either in short or long form. In short form, there will be two units, i.e. two conversations and four class lectures. All will be taken into account.

The long form consists of three units, i.e. three conversations and six class lectures. Here, any one unit of these three will be discarded without informing you which one to be. So you have to take all these with equal importance. In TOEFL ibt, a long form must appear either in reading or in listening section, but not in both sections.




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