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Beginning in March 2013 TOEFL students will be able to listen to Australian, New Zealand and UK accents in addition to American English. Don’t be discouraged if at first you struggle with these accents. Especially the UK accent is difficult. So it is good if possible to have teachers from different countries to practise with. Indeed many native speakers of English from America have difficulty with a British accent. And of course there are some differences between words of the two areas. You can go on the Internet for help with what is American English and what is British English.
The TOEFL test is full of tricks and traps to confuse you. Read carefully your questions but don’t read too long as time is limited. Practice with the TOEFL helps a lot. Often an unusual sentence will be correct and a sentence that seems correct is wrong. So don’t answer too fast. For example you must be careful with the semi-colon and other punctuation. But if you have good grammar skills you should be alright. Again, good vocabulary skills can help a lot in comprehension. If you know all the words you should be able to answer almost all the questions correctly. It is good if you are familiar with all types of art, science and business. Even if you are not interested in say, biology, you should learn the basic or intermediate vocabulary. Or even the advanced vocabulary.
Follow your dream and don’t let a bad score get you down. A score on the TOEFL can be improved upon once you realize your weaknesses. As many famous people have said “You need to follow your dreams.” Whatever your dream, working with a teacher on your weaknesses is a good step forward. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But it is important to keep actively studying to keep it sharp. Of course just prior to the TOEFL test you should cram as much vocabulary into your mind as possible and so peak at test time.
Set a goal. On TOEFL a score of 30 points on each of the four categories is near perfect. But you can’t expect to reach your goal the first time you write the test. The more times you write the test the better it will be in the long run. It is better to write the test for free if you are not rich, as it can be expensive. If you write the test a lot of times your score should improve every time if you are actively studying.
You need to go to a website where questions have answers so you can check your answers. This will help to prepare you for the TOEFL test. Grammar is important in all types of English questions and don’t be tempted to just learn words only. I know some advanced students who have basic grammar because they ignored it. For example in one sentence they might make 3 errors. Unfortunately English grammar is hard. If you can speak to a native speaker friend your grammar will automatically improve. So get friends or hang out where English speakers do e.g. club, charity organization, book club etc. Many students can speak English and be understood but make many basic grammar mistakes.
The BBC and other sites are good for grammar. But it is best to speak/write/read/listen all in grammatically correct English. A teacher can identify your basic and intermediate English grammar mistakes. Once the teacher corrects your grammar you should write down the mistakes so you can review them later. So that you don’t keep making the same mistakes. Many students make the same mistakes again and again without a teacher. English grammar is not easy. It takes work. Don’t be tempted to just learn vocabulary only. There are many grammar tests on the Net. If you have questions about grammar ask your teacher. It really is important to have a teacher to correct your grammar and with a few lessons you will notice a big improvement in your grammar.
English is full of idioms and old sayings. Idioms like, “Dog eat dog.” And old sayings like, “In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” Learn the top 1000 idioms and old sayings and you will do well… You can find such sites on the Net. Such as www.phrases.org.uk/meaning/index.html. Of course some idioms and old sayings are used too often and are cliché which means they are overused. “Early bird gets the worm,” is a cliché. Also some are rarely used. It is best to compare different websites to see which idioms appear on all of them.
Some say listening is the most difficult part of English and you need to practice it as much as possible. The BBC has a good website called Six Minute English which allows you to select from numerous topics to listen to again and again. It is also important to practice listening to a website that offers text along with listening such as an English movie (subtitles). Movies are good as you can pause them and listen again to certain phrases and words. So too with songs. Download the lyrics and then buy the song on iTunes. Read the lyrics as you listen. You can choose from difficult advanced lyrics or simple lyrics of a pop star. Also if you have high vocabulary you can understand more of everything. It is good to be familiar with every type of vocabulary for listening. Native speakers sing/speak English quickly so you need to know all the words well. And when you learn with your teacher you should let them speak at normal speed to see if you can understand it. If not they can speak slower for you. It takes time to learn to listen well.
Don’t let others put you down. Convince yourself that you will succeed eventually. Perseverance is what is necessary to succeed on the TOEFL. Think positively and have confidence. Studies have shown that those who think positively succeed far better than those who don’t. Write the test and do your best. Some people do not get the score they hoped and become depressed and give up on English. Let your motto be “never surrender.” Do whatever it takes to improve your score.
Studies have shown that those with a good night's sleep do much better than those who don’t get enough sleep. You need to be dressed well for the speaking portion of the TOEFL also. And you need to peak your English right at the time of the test. Here is a useful website: http://www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/about/content. This TOEFL website includes free sample test questions, test prep, what to expect on test day etc. You should familiarize yourself with this website.
Why not read a basic dictionary and learn all the words… especially a basic dictionary of a few thousand words… a small pocket dictionary. You could underline words you don’t know and go back and learn them after you are done reading. Basic dictionary words are all common words so are all useful. The Longman’s beginner’s dictionary is good (but maybe is too big) or a Webster’s simple dictionary. Some say if you know 10 000 words in English you are almost fluent as that is the number of words typical high school students know.
When reading the news or a book underline the words you don’t know and when you are finished look up all the words in an online dictionary such as Webster’s American dictionary and make a list that you can review several times.
For intermediate or advanced it is good to read the “International Herald Tribune” newspaper for American English. And the “Economist” magazine for British English. The TOEFL is mainly American English.
For beginners children’s books can be useful. Literature can be a fun way to learn English but it is best to read 20th century or 21st century books.
Older books have a lot of vocabulary that we don’t use anymore. Movies are more contemporary with subtitles… You can read English subtitles while watching the movie in English. Don’t just read books that are interesting to you, try to read all subjects. In particular topics from the news are important.
However it is good to read what you like even though it is not a perfect way. If you don’t like what you are reading then just try to get a basic understanding of the topic. It is good to get to the intermediate stage of reading so that you can understand most of what people are saying. For advanced students there are tens of thousands of new words but we don’t use them so often in conversation or reading. Some writers, like Earnest Hemingway, write in an easy to understand way. It is up to you to pick useful authors, that do not use too difficult vocabulary.
Like other types of English “practice makes perfect.” Also talking with a native speaker is key. You need to “Use it or lose it.” Some students study hard but have no time to practice speaking. But speaking is perhaps the most important type of English. Don’t underestimate the importance of speaking. To speak you need as much vocabulary as possible. But even with intermediate English you can often understand native speakers well.
Also it is good to join international service clubs which may speak in English. Or go to the American embassy. Or join a book club. It is good to read great speeches and then debate them with friends who are also students. But it is best to speak with native speakers. Don’t be cheap. Find a teacher that works for you and pay him/her. It is the best way to learn.
Practice tests are very useful especially to get used to the time you have to write the test. Write as many as you can and get the feel for the test. Even if you feel you are not ready to take the test, take it anyway and see what your weaknesses are. Then practice with a teacher your weaknesses. It is best to have talks with your teacher to work on your weaknesses. Take the test and learn your weaknesses so if you fail to get the grade you hoped for at least you know what you need to work on. There are numerous free tests you can take on the Internet, as already mentioned. For me the most difficult part of learning a language is the listening component. If you fail to reach your goal on the test, that’s OK. You can learn from your mistakes. Most students need to take the test a few times before they get the grade they want. But failure is the mother of success.
Thesauruses are books of synonyms. English has more synonyms than any other language. Roget’s “Thesaurus” is the most famous. Some words like “good” have dozens and dozens of synonyms. But many students don’t know how to use a thesaurus. There are subtle differences between words so you should look up the meaning of each new word. Longman’s dictionary tells you how often a word is used. But don’t use words on the test unless you are sure you are using them correctly. On the test it is more important to write correctly simple words than to use fancy, big words incorrectly. But thesauruses do color your writing and may even sound poetic if you are really good at it. Don’t use the same word again and again. Some poets use thesauruses to look for rhyming words.
If you write practice TOEFL tests you will get a feeling for how much time you need. Even if you feel you are not ready for the test, it is good to take it anyhow to get a feeling of the test. Typically on the test you have 60-80 minutes reading, 60-90 minutes listening, then 20 minutes speaking and 50 minutes writing. So about 3-4 hours total. That’s a long time to concentrate so it is good to do exercise before the test to help keep your mind clear.
You need a tutor to correct your grammar and enlarge your vocabulary. And only very few students succeed without a teacher. In particular a teacher can help you with your TOEFL weaknesses such as listening. If you study on your own you will not be good at listening or speaking. Some students are strong readers but can’t listen or speak well. Also a tutor can help you with writing since many students keep making the same mistakes again and again and if you write down your teacher’s corrections and review them, it will improve your ability significantly.
Power study the English words, by adding onto a list everyday. And then cover up the definitions with a piece of paper and then try to write the definitions on the piece of paper. Power studying of vocabulary is the best way to prepare for the TOEFL test. Learning words is the best way. You can make your list by writing down on paper words you don’t know such as a newspaper or book. Then when you are done reading look up the new words and use the lists of words to power study. It is good to note in your notebook words you don’t understand in reading or listening or writing in daily life for review later. Power studying vocabulary lists are a good way to prepare for the TOEFL. Just write them all on a list and write down the definitions and then review the next day and the next week and the next week after that and so on. It is good to cover the definition part of the vocabulary list and try to write the definitions on the paper. Having finished that, you can take the paper off and check your answers. When cramming for an exam such as the TOEFL power studying for a couple of weeks prior to the exam is probably the best way to do well on the test. Of course you need to review your vocabulary lists regularly to keep it sharp. Power studying verbs and nouns and adjectives are especially important.
Many students forget about writing and just concentrate on speaking and listening. But you need to know the words you are using in writing well. It is best to write a journal in English. And then have a native speaker correct it. Many errors occur again and again so if you can learn the right way to write basic and intermediate words it is good. Also one could write a article in English which involves creativity. If you can think creatively it is good. A lot of creative writing comes from just practice. Many students speak well using words they know but then when it comes to advanced words they often use them incorrectly. It is good advice to only use words you know well. When you study it is best to learn vocabulary but make sure you understand the word fully. And some words have numerous meanings and are part of many phrases. Webster’s American dictionary lists words according to the time they were invented.