TOEFL iBT - Getting Started

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Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) evaluates a student’s ability to understand and use English in a college and university environment — particularly in USA and Canada. The TOEFL score is a yardstick to measure adequate English skills necessary for admission to over 5000 colleges and accredited educational institutions across 90 countries. The UK, other European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore all accept TOEFL scores.

The TOEFL is now Internet based (TOEFL iBT). TOEFL iBT is not computer adaptive as was the case with TOEFL CBT (computer based test). Here, all the test takers receive the same set of questions. The computer tutorial is absent. It has been newly designed to churn out students capable of a better academic performance than before in the same English-speaking environment.

TOEFL iBT tests students for English language communication skills such as Reading, Listening (receptive skills) and Speaking and Writing (expressive skills). The TOEFL score is equally divided between all four skills, and therefore, a student must do well in all sections.

The exam has no grammar or sentence structure section. The student’s knowledge of English grammar is tested through actual usage in speaking and writing sections. For the Speaking section, students are provided with headphones and must speak into a microphone. The digital recording is then transmitted to ETS Online Scoring Network to be rated by human scorers.

A new development is that students are allowed to take notes. They can write down points while they listen and/or read before they start to speak or write. These notes come in handy during responses. These notes cannot be carried outside the examination center.

The Writing section has been expanded to include one integrated writing task in addition to the independent writing task. The Reading section usually consists of three to five passages each of around 700 words. This section includes classifying information and/or filling in a chart or completion of a summary.

Lectures and conversations that appear in the listening section maybe longer than before, but speech is more natural. Although the focus of the listening tasks remains American, expect at least one lecture in British /Australian accent. There is a possibility of questions that measure understanding of a speaker’s attitude, degree of certainty and purpose.

TOEFL iBT has fixed test dates. Depending upon the number of test takers and the capacity, a test center will normally have 30 to 40 test dates in a year.

TOEFL iBT scores are reported online. Students can view their scores within 15 working days of the test. Score sheets will be delivered to the test-takers by mail.

What To Expect In The TOEFL?

TOEFL Test

The TOEFL iBt (Internet Based Test) evaluates test-takers on the basis of four sections of English language skills. These are reading, listening, speaking and writing. The TOEFL is for a duration of four hours with maximum time spent in the Reading and Listening sections.

Structure of Reading Test
This section has the maximum number of questions with about 36-70. The Reading test includes three to five academic reading passages followed by comprehension questions. The student’s ability to understand and analyse the meaning of the passages is tested. The question types are similar to those that appeared in the computer based TOEFL. Students are expected to demonstrate that they have learned what they have read, either by filling out a table or completing a narrative summary. Choose a correct paraphrase of a reading. The new features that make the testing experience easier and even include a glossary and review feature.

Structure of Listening Test
The listening section has anything from 34-51 questions. The test involves the student listening to two to three conversations on their headphones. The conversations may include two or more speakers in each. Apart from this, there are four to six lectures, which include classroom dialogue. A positive development is that test-takers can now write down notes while listening. Again, the questions are similar to those that appeared in the TOEFL CBT. There will be a few new question types that measure ability to understand a speaker’s attitude or meaning.

Structure of Speaking Test
The speaking test consists of a total of six tasks. Two of the tasks are independent tasks about familiar topics. The test taker is required to state, explain and support their response using personal knowledge and experience.

Two tasks are based on Reading and Listening material. These tasks include a short reading passage and a short talk. The questions require test takers to answer using the information provided in the reading and the listening material. One question is based on a campus-related situation, and the other is based on academic classroom material. Again, test takers can take notes and use the information to shape their responses.
The remaining two tasks are based on Listening material, including a short lecture or conversation. The questions require test takers to summarise key ideas from the talks in the responses.

Test-takers are judged on the basis of the following criteria:
1. Topic development: The student’s ability to understand the matter and draw connections between topics as well as their capability to convey relevant information.
2. Delivery: The ability to use clear, smooth, sustained speech.
3. Language use: Trained evaluators pay attention to the use of correct grammar and vocabulary. Close notice is paid to the response of logical answers.

The six tasks in the Speaking section are rated by at least two human scorers on a scale of 0-4. The six individual scores are averaged to arrive at an aggregate value. This aggregate is converted to the scale of 0 to 30.

Structure of Writing Test
The Writing test consists of a total of two tasks to be completed by the test taker. The first task could be a reading, listening or writing one — an academic reading followed by a lecture. Test takers must answer a question discussing the key points in the lecture and explain how they relate to those in the reading passage. The reading passage appears first, and then it is removed from the screen during the lecture. Test takers can view the passage again while responding to the question. The second task is an independent task about a familiar topic. Test takers must state their response and support it with information from personal knowledge and experience.

Trained evaluators measure the ability to understand the material, as well as write clearly, accurately and in an organized manner. The two tasks are scored by at least two human scorers from 0 to 5 and then the raw scores are totaled/averaged before scaling them to the range of 0 to 30.

TOEFL score
Each of the four sections of TOEFL iBT is scored on a scale of 0 to 30. The sectional scores are then added to arrive at a total score of 0 to 120. Each score corresponds to a percentile ranking. This displays how an individual’s score compares with that of other students answering the test.

The maximum score of 120 has a percentile of 100. Students will also receive information of what the numeric scores mean in terms of language skills and proficiency (high/medium/low), along with performance feedback including suggestions for improvement.

8 Ways To Prepare For TOEFL iBT

TOEFL Preparation

• Research: Do your homework to find out the TOEFL score requirements of the college/ university you are interested in applying to. The average minimum score required is approximately 70. However, prestigious universities may demand higher scores.

• Learn academic English: Campus and classroom conversation in the US is a little different that colloquial English spoken in India. Concentrate on the English used in these environments. Textbooks, encyclopedias, journals and research articles will get you acquainted with this kind of language.

• Practice, Practice, Practice: Several textbooks with exercises, vocabulary, practice tests, CDs and explanatory answers are freely available in the market. The internet too, has copious amounts of free samples and information that you can have access to, in addition to your textbooks.

• Develop Greater Concentration Skills: TOEFL iBT requires the student to sit at the computer for atleast four hours at a stretch. Most classes in colleges are for a span of two hours. Beyond this period, the student’s concentration ability starts to dwindle. Organizing personal test sessions at home will help build performance and concentration and also help you time yourself. Remember to pack in a good night’s sleep before the test to kill fatigue before the big day.

• Listen Carefully: In the TOEFL iBT you are allowed to take notes in the listening section. When practicing at home, don’t replay the CD more than once. The TOEFL iBT allows the test-taker to hear everything only once, without the option of replaying the passage. Train your ears to take in all the information in the first listen itself.

• Read, Answer and Revise: Skim through the passage given and read the questions that follow. Then, return to the passage for details to answer those questions. The questions usually come in the order the information appears in the passage. Solving several practice tests helps gain a picture of the kind of questions that could be asked in the exam. Engrain the habit of revising your answer before you proceed to the next section.

• Keep writing simple: Language used must be simple and clear. Don’t be ambiguous. Stay away from unsure vocabulary and over-punctuating your sentences. Using examples to support your essay adds credibility. Transitional words and phrases makes the essay breezy. As a rule, revise what you have written.

• Practice One-Minute Responses: Think up a list of familiar topics and practice speaking about them. Describe a familiar place or recount a personal experience and see how spontaneously you can come up with interesting points. Practice giving one-minute responses to topics.

TOEFL Reading Section - Prose Summary Questions

Prose Summary Questions

These questions are also ‘drag and drop’ style questions that will ask provide you with a main idea from the presented passage, and asks you to pick 3 sentences (out of a given 6) that express the most important ideas in the passage. You must choose at least 2 of the 3 correct sentences to be awarded any points for this question.

How to deal:

1. Treat the thesis provided as your guide. Choose answers that support this thesis.
2. Prepare for paraphrasing - the key ideas are important in these questions, not the specific vocabulary used.
3. Eliminate the overly specific options, or points that offer minor details. Remember, the focus of these questions is to test your ability to recognize a summary, which usually means a collection of important, but general points.
4. Make note of the key idea of each paragraph, and look for a combination of one paragraph or more in the offered summary sentence.

Watch out for:

* Choices offering information that was never mentioned in the passage
* Choices offering information similar to what was in the passage, but that has been altered or distorted in some day.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Paraphrasing Questions

Paraphrasing Questions

These questions are about taking what you’ve just read, and figuring out a new way to say it. These questions will provide you with a highlighted passage in the text and ask you which of the follow options best paraphrase the highlighted words. Remember, what’s important here is keeping the meaning the same, not structure. Watch out from wrong answers that leave out important information, or add information that was not covered. There will be no more then 1 question of this type per reading passage.

How to deal:

1. Locate the most important words within the highlighted passage and focus on them.
2. Watch for answers with synonyms, change of tense, or change in sentence structure yet still contain the key ideas of the highlighted passage.
3. Try rephrases the highlighted passage in your own words, the comparing your notes to the presented options.
4. Test your answer by reading it into the passage; check to ensure the same information is still being conveyed.

Watch out for:

* Answers that have added or subtracted key points of information from the highlighted passage.
* Answers that use similar words but change the meaning. Ex: the highlighted passage specifically mentions a Tsunami, but one of the answers merely mentioned ‘waves’. A tsunami is not simply a regular wave, it significantly larger and causes much more destruction!

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Coherence Questions

Coherence Questions

These questions, also called ‘insert the text’ provide you with sample sentences that can be inserted into your reading passage at various points. Your job is to find where the given sentence fits in with the passage. You’ll easily recognize these questions as the passage will be marked with black squares showing you where the sentences may be inserted. There will be no more then 1 question of this type per reading passage.

How to deal:

1. Be familiar with paragraph structure. Recognize what types of sentences belong in which area of paragraph, for example, if you’re given a description sentence, you’ll know it belong near the beginning of the paragraph somewhere after the opening sentence.
2. Find the overall sequence of ideas in the passage. What are the key ideas of your given sentence? Do they match some existing key ideas already in the paragraph?
3. Look for matching vocabulary. This can be another clue as to wear to put the new sentence.
4. Compare the Rhetoric structure of the given sentence and the existing passages. If the given sentence is a description of the physical characteristics of a specific bird, look for the sentence that names, or provides an example of a unique bird.
5. Ask yourself if the sentences can be separated to narrow your choices. Ex: An example of such a bird is the peacock. [black square] The peacock’s tail features have an eye pattern on them which serve as a defense mechanism, frightening away potential predators. Since the second sentence is a direct explanation of the first, they should not be separated. You would be able to rule this option out as a potential place to insert your new sentence.
6. Put the given sentence in the remaining options and reread them. Which makes the most logical sense?

Watch out for:

* Assume that because two sentences share the same vocabulary, they must belong together. As mentioned above, they can be used as clues, but do not necessarily indicate a correct answer.
* Inserting the answer next to the correct sentence, but on the wrong side. Remember the square indicates exactly where the new sentence will be inserted, so pay close attention.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Rhetorical Structure Questions

Rhetorical Structure Questions

These questions will be about how the author of the passage supports key points of the passage through the use of details, specifically, description, examples, definitions and explanation. Before you can answer these questions you will have to know what details are being used and why they are being used. So take a moment to ask yourself, am I reading a description or an explanation? Why is the author presenting this description?

You will be faced with two types of Rhetorical Structure Questions. The first asks you to identify a particular idea, or ideas and questions you on the purpose. Ex: Why does the writer mention X? To emphasis Y. The second type of question presents a type of rhetorical structure and asks you how the writer accomplishes it. Ex: How does the author explain A? By comparing B and C. There will be no more then 2 question of this type per reading passage.

How to deal:

1. Recognize types of details and other Rhetorical Structure. Are you looking at a description, a definition, an example, or an explanation? Is the author attempting to demonstrate, clarify, distinguish, expand, emphasize prove or refute something?
2. Identify the key ideas of the questions, locate them in the passage and reread the surround area carefully.
3. Get ready to infer meaning. You may be require to connect multiple phrases to form the complete answer.

Watch out for:

* Answers that refer to another part of the passage
* Answers that provide similar, but unmentioned or altered ideas.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Inference Questions

Inference Questions

These questions will be asking you to find the implicit, inferred, or implied meaning of a passage - to understand ideas that have not be directly stated by the author. Answering these questions will require you to pay attention to the details that are mentioned and use logic to fid the implied meaning. These questions can be recognized relatively easily as they most often include the words infer, suggest, or imply. There will be no more then 2 question of this type per reading passage, and there may not be any at all.

How to deal:

1. Identify the key idea(s) or theme in question. Make sure you’re looking for the idea and not the word since you’re attempting to infer something you won’t find in the text. Ex: If the questions is asking ‘Which of the following can be inferred about Jim’s time as a student’ look for the paragraph that discusses Jim’s time at school.
2. Once you locate the key idea/theme, read the relevant sentences carefully to make sure you completely understand the information
3. Look for cohesive devices (which may be adverbs, adjectives, transitions, repetition, etc) that connect various ideas in the text.
4. Check your final choice against the given passage and ask yourself, does this make logical sense?

Watch out for:

* Wrong answers that list information that isn’t correct. Inferred information must still be correct.
* Facts/details choices. The question is asking you to infer something, meaning the answer won’t be stated in the passage.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Vocabulary Questions

Vocabulary Questions

These questions will test your understand of specific words that have been presented in the passage. There will be 3 to 5 questions for each reading passage. Remember, these questions are not about analyzing the passage so you aren’t likely to find any clues in the reading passage. These questions can be spotted because they ask you do identify or explain the meaning of. Ex: X is closest in meaning to … When stating Y, the author means….

The best way of scoring will on this section is to define the word to yourself before looking at the available options. Pick the choice that most resembles what you know the word to mean.

How to deal:

1. Locate the word you are being asked to define and reread the surround sentences carefully. You maybe able to find some clues by studying the context of the sentence, or discover some examples of the word you need to define.
2. Know your prefixes, suffixes and roots. Deconstruct the word to help you understand what it may mean. For example: you may not recognize the word demote, but if you break down the word you find “de” a prefix that means remove, take away or lower. Now that you know this, look for a definition or synonym that means to remove, take away or lower. Or use your powers of deduction to compare words that share roots and suffixes.
3. Use word clues to eliminate choices. Take the word you are being asked to define and replace it with your available options. For example: We used to laugh at their (antics). If you have the choice of pain, or behavior, replace antic with each word and decide which one fits the context better.

Watch out for:

* Words that share the same prefix, root, or suffix but means different things. Ex: mislead - to trick and misplace - to lose.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions

TOEFL Reading Section - Referent Questions

Referent Questions

As the name suggest, these questions involve your ability to connect the referent pronoun to another word, clause, or phrase. For example: Bob’s face always goes red when he is angry. “Bob” is referred to by “he” later in the sentence. There will be at most 2 referent questions on each passage, but some may not even have any.

How to deal:

1. Know your grammar! Get yourself familiar with pronouns and adjective clauses. Remember: “it” refers to an animal, thing or place - not a person. “They” can refer to people, animals, places, or things, and is always plural. Other referents include “he” “she” “we” “them”.
2. Once you have located the referent, read the surrounding sentences carefully to find what the word is referring to. Pay special attention to the context surround the sentence your referent is in, specially the sentence directly before, you may find the antecedent in them.
3. Recognize that the antecedent will only appear after the referent in very specific cases - when the sentence begins with an adverb clause. In these cases the referent and antecedent are almost always in the same sentence - a second independent clause. These sentences look like this: adverb clause which includes the referent*,* independent clause which includes the antecedent. For example: Once he arrived at the school, Billy went directly to the Principal’s office.
4. Pay attention to things like number, gender, and category (ie, person or thing) to help you rule out answers. For example, if the referent is “it” we know it must be singular, and a thing - not a person.
5. After eliminating as many options as possible, replace the referent with each remaining option and read them to yourself. Do they make sense in that context?

Watch out for:

* Wrong answers that fit all of the characteristics, but makes no sense in the context.
* Wrong answers that seem like the “best” option yet don’t fit the grammatical structure of the sentence.

Types of questions you can except.

1) Fact/Detail Questions
2) Not/Except Questions
3) Referent Questions
4) Vocabulary Questions
5) Inference Questions
6) Rhetorical Structure Questions
7) Coherence Questions
8) Paraphrasing Questions
9) Table Completion Questions
10) Prose Summary Questions