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How to Score High Marks on the TOEFL?

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How to score high marks on the TOEFL test?
This is a question millions of test candidates seek an answer to every year. Now you are one of those people. Congratulations! You have made the decision to take the most widely used English language exam for academic purposes. Your TOEFL score will be an indicator of your linguistic proficiency as well as your capability of setting and achieving goals.

Doing well in the TOEFL test you can accomplish various objectives: You will boost your self-confidence, your friends, family and colleagues will look up to you and of course your career chances will increase. Research shows that your professional success -- no matter what industry you work in -- largely depends on your command of the English language. That's why your employer or university, your study grant organization or any other potential partner requires you to take the TOEFL test and have your language and communication skills assessed.

So, how do you get prepared for the TOEFL test? Let's examine this question and find the answers together. First of all, you should be aware of the fact that there is no short cut to a high TOEFL score -- you have to earn it. Also, it's important for you to focus on the bigger picture when you prepare for the TOEFL test -- you shouldn't just learn for the sake of the exam. Instead, make it your goal to gain a higher command of the English language because this is an asset you will benefit from throughout your life. When you aim at improving your communication skills on a regular basis you will be ready to take an English language test any time. As a matter of fact, every time you use your knowledge of English (listening to an audio tape, reading a newspaper article, writing an email or speaking English to another person) you pass a "mini-test" of the English language. Before you take the TOEFL or any other English language exam you have to prove to yourself that you are capable of learning English and that you know how to use the language effectively. There a lots of ways you can assess and improve your English yourself. Learning a language is a bit like practising a sport: The more you practise and train the better are your chances to gain a top position in a competition. Before we go into the details of your individual TOEFL test preparation program we should establish some fundamentals -- some basic facts that are essential to your success.

Let's be honest -- most people don't like examinations or tests. You probably remember how you used to feel when your teacher announced yet another English test paper and you had to cram all those grammar rules into head knowing that most the information was rather useless for your future career anyway. Getting poor grades in English at school reduced your level of self-confidence. You thought that English was very complicated language to learn and that because of your test paper results you came to the conclusion that you "probably have no talent in learning languages anyway". Now, you want to study medicine, law, architecture, computer engineering or any other subject at a university in an English speaking country. Chances are your parents are supporting you financially but they also want you to "do your homework" -- part of which is your preparation for the TOEFL test. When you approach this task properly you will benefit in various ways. Here is an important piece of advice for you: No matter what your grades were in English at school -- you have everything you need to excel in the language. You see, your school grades were not very objective to say the least.

You might have been the best English student in your class and still, if you took the TOEFL test right now your score could be way below average. On the other hand, your English grades might always have been rather MEDIOCRE but with a concentrated systematic training you can do brilliantly at the TOEFL exam. Forget about the notion that you must have "a talent for languages" to attain a high command of the English language. Do you speak your mother tongue fluently? If your answer is yes then you already know the basic principles of learning a language. All you have to do now is PUT them into practice in a more goal-oriented way. What does that mean in regards to the TOEFL test? As you know the TOEFL assesses and evaluates your ability to use English in an academic context. Here is another of the fundamental facts you have to understand when you want to prepare successfully for the TOEFL test: There is no such thing as "TOEFL vocabulary". When you search the Internet or browse your local book store you will come across hundreds of websites and at least a dozen books claiming they would teach you "essential TOEFL words" or "TOEFL phrases" etc.

Be careful when you encounter such products because they might trick you into thinking that is possible to learn the "TOEFL vocabulary" by heart. This is nonsense. As we've just established, "TOEFL vocabulary" doesn't exist. Do you remember the purpose of the TOEFL test? Exactly, the TOEFL assesses and evaluates your ability to use English in an academic context. The TOEFL doesn't assess and evaluate your ability to understand or memorize TOEFL vocabulary. Once you have grasped this basic concept it will be much easier for you to score high in the actual TOEFL test. If you agree I will remind you over and over again throughout our entire course that the idea of the TOEFL test is completely different from other tests such as the one you have to pass when you want to obtain your driver's licence. With a language exam there is an unlimited number of possible test questions so it doesn't make much sense to learn certain sentences by heart. Instead, we will analyse together which language items to focus on in our TOEFL preparation program and how to learn the appropriate vocabulary and information in the most effective way.

Let's take a look at what areas of the English language are covered in the TOEFL test. As you know the TOEFL is used as an entrance exam for people who want to study at a university in an English speaking country. So, when you enrol in an academic study course your English must be sufficient to follow the program, take notes and express the main ideas. As the TOEFL test is not intended for students of a particular subject or major we have to learn the basic vocabulary of a wide range of possible topics. The following is an overview of the sciences including a brief description. When you read through text you shouldn't translate any new words in a bi-lingual dictionary. Instead, you can focus on the words you already know and guess the meaning of any new vocabulary. If you find that are a too many new words for you to understand the general meaning of the text you should use an English-English dictionary to look up some of the main key words. When you are finished reading the definitions of the sciences we'll examine some techniques that help you absorb, comprehend and memorize new vocabulary. You can then apply those methods in your further TOEFL test preparation program.

Your first step toward acquiring a general academic English vocabulary is to define the term "Science". When you search reference books and dictionaries you will find various definitions for this word -- the following is taken from the Cambridge Online Dictionaries:

  1. Knowledge obtained from the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world, especially by observing, measuring and experimenting, and the development of theories to describe the results of these activities:
    • Pure/applied science
    • Recent developments in science and technology
    • [Space travel is one of the marvels/wonders of modern science.]
  2. A particular subject that is studied using scientific methods:
    • Physical sciences
    • Economics is not an exact science
    • Advances in medical science
  3. The study of science:
    • a science graduate/teacher
    • a science course/lesson

According to Napoleon Hill, "science is the art of classifying facts into categories". Now, what are these categories the facts can be classified into? Here is a concise structure of some of the sciences you can study at a modern university:

Category 1:
Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Category 2:
Applied Arts and Sciences

Category 3:
Social Sciences and Philosophy

As you can see there are four main categories all the sciences can be divided into. Which of them is your favourite one? Maybe, we should take a closer look to see what particular sciences there are in the main categories? Here is a more detailed view: [based on Wikipedia]

Category 1 -- Mathematical and Natural Sciences:
  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • Earth science
  • Ecology
  • Health science
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Statistics

Category 2 -- Applied Arts and Sciences:
  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Business
  • Communication
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Family and consumer science
  • Government
  • Law
  • Library and information science
  • Medicine
  • Politics
  • Public affairs
  • Software engineering
  • Technology
  • Transport

Category 3 -- Social Sciences and Philosophy:
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • History of science and technology
  • Language
  • Linguistics
  • Mythology
  • Philosophy
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

So, what do you think now? How many of the topics above do you know? Is your favourite subject on the list? Ir you want to prepare for the TOEFL it is vital that you take a keen interest in the themes you are familiarizing yourself with. Also, getting ready for taking the TOEFL test you can kill at least two birds with one stone: You improve your command of the English language and on top of that you obtain valuable knowledge for your further study at university or college. That's why we'll have a third go on the sciences -- this time you will read the definitions we mentioned earlier. Try to take in the vocabulary because this is good TOEFL practice. Maybe, you should read one definition at a time -- no need to rush yourself through these texts. Follow the "How-do-you-eat-an-elephant" principle absorbing and digesting the information and vocabulary in many small instalments rather than trying to "swallow" the entire chunk at once. You can refer to the following descriptions of the sciences often, as a matter of fact you might even use this glossary as some kind of dictionary that you use whenever you read a newspaper article or any kind of academic text.
Author: Torsten Daerr