Monday, June 2

I Took the TOEFL iBT Test

This was where I signed up for my test.
A few weeks ago, I took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). I took the TOEFL test because it is a prerequisite for a graduate study grant I'm applying for.
I'm not going to explain what TOEFL is. There are plenty of websites about it. I'm going to share my experience registering for the test & sitting for it so that you have some idea of what to expect should you choose to do the same.


Registration

First, find out the location of the tests & the dates here. Tests are usually on Saturdays & Sundays. There are test centres in KL, PJ, Johore, Penang & Kedah. Different centres will have different dates. TIP #1: Make sure that you choose the right centre & date. This is especially important if, like me, you are travelling from far away.
You can change it later but it'll cost you US$60 to reschedule. If you cancel, you will only get a refund of half the fee (US$90).

Once you have decided on a place & date, sign up for TOEFL online at this website. First, you will have to create an ETS user account. This is where you register for a test, check your test score & have it sent to a 3rd party. The TOEFL test costs US$180 in Malaysia. TIP #2: Make sure you check your passport & register with the same name as your passport. They are very particular about names so make sure you are careful. US$180 & lost time is a big price to pay for a typo.


The Mock Test

I purchased the mock test (US$27) but I did not take it. What a waste. I cannot tell you what it is like or if it actually reflects the actual test.
TIP #3: I recommend that you purchase it & take the mock test to get a feel of the test.

Pre-Test Phone Call

I signed up for the testing centre in KL. One thing I really appreciate from them is they gave me a phone call during the week to remind me of my test. Without this phone call, I would have made a really big blunder & would not be able to take my test. I don't know if this is the SOP for all testing centres but I really appreciate this from the centre & they have my gratitude. TIP #4: LISTEN to what this person has to say lest you be DENIED from taking your test.


Test Day

TIP #5: BRING YOUR PASSPORT!!!! I saw a person come without his passport & he had to leave. Fortunately, he managed to get back in time. The TOEFL test requires identification with a photo, name & signature. Only our Malaysian passport has all three. Our IC is not accepted.
I was in KL for a meeting when I found out about this. I would be taking the test that Sunday & my passport was in Kuching. Fortunately, I received the pre-test phone call on Tuesday & was able to get my passport couriered to me at my hotel.

TIP #6: You want to be early. I arrived at 7.00 am & was #5. You get called in for your test in the order you arrive. You don't want to be doing the Reading test when those who came before you start babbling away loudly for their Speaking test. Imagine if you were #10. You'd have 9 different people yapping away in that confined room while you are trying to read a challenging article.

Before you take the test, you will have to put everything into a locker. EVERYTHING. Watches, pens, wallet, etc. Pockets must be empty. They will scan you with a metal detector before they let you in. You will only bring in your passport & locker key. Pencils & scratch paper are provided next to your computer. The test room resembles a computer lab at a school with cubicles to separate candidates.


Test #1: Reading

The reading test was challenging. NOT a walk in the park. Esp if compared to the Cambridge Placement Test which all teachers in Malaysia were required to take recently. If you have not been reading academic writing regularly, you might want to practise before the test.

It's mostly National Geographic stuff related to cultures & animals. However, I didn't need to study for it. All that I need to know to answer the questions were in the passage. The sentences were challenging because they were written in academic vocabulary & the sentences were long & complex. It was a real test of whether you could survive tertiary reading.

There were multiple choice questions asking for meanings of words/phrases but most were questions which require higher order thinking skills. I was also required to choose the correct sentences to place into a summary of the passage.
4 Passages: 1 hour. I could review my answers. I paced myself & was able to double check all my answers.


Test #2: Listening

Listening test was not that hard. I had 6 listening passages. 3 discussions between a student & a lecturer/student. 3 lectures/talks. The discussions were not difficult because they used simple communicative language + a little bit of topic discussion. Lectures were not challenging too. They mostly spoke about National Geographic stuff too. You might want to practise listening & taking notes from American news channels or the National Geographic channel.

TIP #7: TAKE NOTES while listening!!!! The questions can sometimes be the about the most mundane things so try to take note of as much as you can. The speed will be quite fast because it's natural talking. It was an excellent test of whether you will be able to understand lectures & discussions with peers.
6 Passages: 10 mins each. Timer only starts when you're answering questions. I was not able to review my answers. I was able to answer all the questions before time so you can take your time.

There will be a short 10 minutes break after the listening test where you can go to the loo or get some air.


Test #3: Speaking

Speaking was tough. Being nervous didn't help. If you can, don't be nervous. lol! The point is to be clear & coherent. You might want to do some speaking practice with a trusted friend before the test.

The first 2 questions were short recordings of my speech about everyday things. I remember I had to compare & contrast.
The next 2 questions involved reading a short passage & listening to a talk on the topic. Remember to take notes while reading & listening!!! My task was to list the key points. No need to add my own ideas.
The final 2 questions involved listening to talks & then listing the key points.

For every speaking task, I was given a short period of time to prepare before recording began. I can't remember exactly how much. I used the preparation time to calm myself & list down the main points in my head. Make sure you describe all the key points before your time runs out!!


Test #4: Writing

Writing was easy. However, the time limit was tight. I managed to finish my essays right on the dot! The timer only began when I had to write.

For the first task, I read a short passage & listened to a talk related to the passage. Remember to take notes for the talk. No need to take notes for the passage because you can see it later as you write. All I had to do was list the key points from the passage & compare it to the points from the talk.
For the last task, I was given a question & was told to state my opinion. There was a minimum word length. I think it was 150 words.

Typing during the TOEFL test was not the same as typing in Microsoft Windows. Some shortcut keys were disabled; i.e. 'Ctrl' & 'Shift'. This made it time consuming to proofread & make corrections. You could only use 'Backspace' to delete 1 character at a time instead of an entire word with 'Ctrl+Backspace'. Also, you could not use the arrow keys to move the cursor vertically. The cursor could only move horizontally so be sure to use the mouse esp when selecting large bodies of text for deletion.
Because the timing is so tight, I recommend you practice writing with a keyboard before the test.


***NOTE: Follow this link to read about the different sections in more detail.***



Conclusion

After taking the test, I can say right away that the TOEFL test actually tests what it is supposed to test. It will most definitely show whether a person has the English language proficiency to survive tertiary education in the US.
How did I do? Well, I need to wait 14 days for my results. They're not out yet.
What are my expectations? Well, I'll do well. But, I'm not sure how well. I didn't adequately prepare for the test so I don't expect to score.

Don't be like me. Now that you've read this, prepare before you take your test.
All the best!!!

***Added 15:00 6 June 2014***
My score: 119/120
I thank God for this!!! If I didn't do well, I might actually lose my job!
Want to do as well as I did? Well, read my tips above!!!

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