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How to Pass TOEFL exam for admission in US Universities

Examinations have never been a favorite topic for student across the globe. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is not an exception. But as per my experience, it is just an English exam and I believe it is less about knowing English and more about performing the language in stipulated time under exam pressure. When the candidate listens from the head phone, “You have 10 seconds to prepare your response and 30 seconds to record it”, this announcement is as if someone has put a loaded pistol on the forehead and has been asked to speak with extreme confidence. I wonder even some of native speakers may find trouble in the given exam scenario. Here is the trick and that is believing pistol just a plastic toy and that nothing is going to happen.

TOEFL like other language tests is composed of four components i.e., Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening. Speaking and Writing are active forms of communication while Listening and Reading are passive way of comprehending any language. I have a favorite statement, “The better you are at listening, the better you will be in speaking and the better you are at reading, the better you will be at writing”. So, improve your passive abilities and active abilities improve spontaneously without much effort.

I observe that a French kid speaks French, a Chines kid speaks Chinese and a Spanish kid speaks Spanish and no kid speaks a word when he/she is born. Kids even don’t speak for approximately one year; they just listen to their elders even if they don’t understand a word in their infancy. The same applies to learning English language if you are new to it.

As mentioned earlier, there are four domains of language, two are passive that is reading and listening while remaining two are active that is speaking and writing. To improve writing, one must have to spend time in reading and to be good at speaking one must spend a great deal of time listening to the language even if they don’t understand much of it.

Here is a problem, the adults face: When they don’t understand, they turn the channel off. It doesn’t matter whether you understand or not, what matters is the amount of time you are exposed to a language. The more you are exposed to any language, the more are chances you will understand it and later will be able to speak it fluently. To ace at listening and speaking, there are many if not infinite number of sources out there on the web. YouTube contains now over a billion videos out of which more than 80 per cent are in English Language.

There is a great website to listen to and that is, over which more than 1000 talks from experts of various fields are present. Being mostly academic, almost all the speakers at TED speak fluent and correct English devoid of slang. Listening to ted talks not only helps listeners improve their listening and speaking power but also help them discover great ideas to enrich their knowledge about the world. Also, the website contains the transcript of all the speeches that can help viewers to understand and grasp the idea clearly.

I don’t recommend watching Hollywood movies without subtitles as they are difficult to understand for new listeners. Instead, it is better to watch documentaries on National Geographic Channel or Discovery channel as the language spoken in the programs of these channels is soft, clear and understandable and mostly it comes with subtitles that helps the listeners to understand.

There is some great free stuff available right in your smart phone. Google Play Store for Android users and Apple’s Play Store for apple users contain lot of free applications for improving TOEFL score. I encourage young aspirants to install these apps on their phones and use them like a game to play with. Learning is a fun if it is learning but unfortunately, the education system has made it so dull that younger kids take it as punishment rather than a reward. Exams are just a tool for evaluation and there is nothing wrong in failing or making mistakes but the education system in general and the society in particular treat the failures and mistakes as unforgivable sins that badly hurt the learning process.

There are some great resources available for free on ETS website and internet that must be used before appearing for the final examination. Magoosh and Noteful prep are great providers of excellent study stuff and if someone can afford, they should invest in these courses to get the required score. “Building Skills for TOEFL IBT” 2nd Edition, Longman IBT CD, and Kaplan CD for TOEFL preparation are also worth trying. Although, there are many sources, relying on and sticking with few is always a great tip to crack any exam. Training yourself to the exam questions and practicing while turning the timer on is the key to score as per the board’s requirement.

Lastly, always treat an exam as an evaluation tool rather than a case of life and death and instead of worrying and taking stress, channelize your energies in learning and coming up to the mark. Treat exams as test-yourself opportunity rather than exams testing your nerves.

By M Imran Sajid

Fulbright Principal PhD Candidate