Some students come to me a few weeks before their test and expect to get a high score (100 plus). I honestly believe that students need to study for at least a few months if they want a high score, even if they have been studying English for several years. This is because of the complexity of the test. I recommend three months of studying as a minimum.
10. The TOEFL is easier in some countries.
Many of my students think if they go to another country to take the TOEFL, they will be given an easier test or the grader will be more generous in their scoring. This simply is not true. The TOEFL is a standardized test, which means it is the same anywhere you take it. In addition, all your responses are sent to the ETS center in New Jersey. From there, the responses are sent to graders all over North America, and even some who are abroad. This means that it does not matter where you take the test.
9. I do not have to worry about grammar on the TOEFL test.
I hear this a lot from students. They think grammar isn’t important, or they do not have to study it very carefully. However, if you look at the scoring rubric for the writing and the speaking, it is very clear that grammar is important on the TOEFL.
8. Practice is boring and not helpful.
Many students find practice “boring” or they think that it isn’t going to help their score very much. This is absolutely untrue. If your child wanted to learn a musical instrument, of course you would understand that in order to improve the child must practice often. It’s the same with a language, but the English language is much more difficult than an instrument and requires more practice.
7. Native speakers would pass the TOEFL easily.
If you took a random English-speaking person off the street and asked them to take the TOEFL, they would probably not get a very good score. The TOEFL is a unique test. Many of the questions, especially in the reading, are tricky, difficult, and confusing. Even a native speaker would need some preparation and understanding about question types and the tricks used to score well.
6. My score is a true reflection of my English skills.
Just like #7, you must remember that many of the questions on the TOEFL are designed to be tricky and confusing. In addition, keep in mind that the speaking section is NOT a natural conversation. Many factors might impact your score, especially if you are very nervous or suffer from test anxiety. Do not be too hard on yourself or think you will never pass if you do not get the score you expect. It’s very normal for people to try the test several times before they get their required score.
5. I will do very well on the speaking section because I speak to my co-workers every day.
It’s very common for native English speakers to be able to communicate easily with non-native speakers, especially in the United States where there are many immigrants and people with accents. Most native speakers will politely ignore grammar errors or pronunciation mistakes in non-native speakers, especially if the goal is just to communicate. For instance, if you work as a pharmacy technician or dental assistant, you may speak to native speakers every day with no problems. This is because it’s considered very impolite to correct someone else’s grammar. However, the ETS is not concerned about your feelings! Therefore, you should work with a tutor or teacher who will be honest with you about your mistakes.
4. Once I pass a section once, I do not have to study it anymore and should focus on the section I did not pass.
Unfortunately, I have seen students make this mistake many times. You must keep in mind past scores are not a guarantee of future scores. Please study and practice all sections, even if you passed one section with a high score on a previous test. Again: Past scores do not guarantee future scores.
3. If I make a mistake in the speaking, I should not correct it.
It’s common for native speakers to make little mistakes and correct them, and the ETS expects this to happen during the TOEFL. Correct your mistakes quickly. You can simply say, “I meant…” or “I mean….” For example: “Yesterday, I go to the store... I mean, I went to the store.” This is acceptable on the TOEFL.
2. Templates will save me!
Templates, templates, templates. Students are always asking about them. I have no problem with templates, but they are not a magical solution! I prefer the term “useful phrases.” There are some useful phrases you can have ready to say during the speaking, but the graders are not interested in your template. They are interested in the content of your response that makes YOUR response DIFFERENT from everyone else’s.
1. AND THE NUMBER ONE MISUNDERSTANDING: “I WILL NEVER GET MY GOAL SCORE. IT’S HOPELESS.”
A lot of students, especially pharmacists, want to give up. I understand. It’s frustrating, expensive, and a long process. But I truly believe anything worthwhile is worth putting a lot of effort into achieving. You spent a lot of time studying pharmacy, dentistry, physical therapy, etc. in your home country. Do not waste all that education because of an English test. You may just need to study harder or find the right tutor. I always tell my students, “It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up.”