Conquer TOEFL by yourself! Part III


[LISTENING (Part 2)]

This time I will teach you how to go about everyday practice if you do not attend cram school.

1. Everyday acuity and focus in listening comprehension 

Think about the time we have spent studying English in the past. We have probably all attended English classes since junior high school or even elementary school! If every word is disassembled or written out, most people would surely understand their meaning; then why is it that the sound  of spoken words often makes our thoughts wander, rendering us unable to comprehend?

When our ears are not accustomed to hearing certain words, we will not actively identify these words the first time we hear them. I suggest that you listen to some TED talkvideos that are short but require a high degree of focus, such as TED Talks, which cover different specific fields, to try to identify those words that you already know. Trust me, the parts you do not understand will definitely not exceed 50% of the entire talk and for those of you who possess a solid foundation, perhaps only a few vocabulary words will present difficulty. Your brain has the knowledge, you just need to let your ears adapt, because otherwise you will be stuck in a situation of no comprehension ability.

A simple example is the iPhone function Siri; there is a multitude of built-in Siri responses in an iPhone—Siri can even search relevant information on the Internet—but when Siri hears you speak, she doesn’t necessarily comprehend what is being said and is thus unable to respond accurately. This doesn’t mean that Siri cannot solve our problem, only that she does not know what we are expressing and is unable to produce the appropriate response as a consequence. Siri’s database is analogous to our brain; we actually understand a lot but the voice recognition system is just like the ears, it is not necessarily able to perfectly identify the meaning that each sound represented, and thus it fails to clearly grasp the meaning. Therefore, this type of practice is increasing the acuity of our own voice recognition system! At the same time, you can choose fields that are of interest to you to keep up your motivation and enthusiasm to practice every day.

2. Ability to take notes and see the big picture 

take notesIn the listening comprehension test, you will be given a piece of paper to write down the things you hear. This will not be difficult for those who usually take notes in their professors’ lectures, however, you should remember that the time to take notes will be limited. Therefore, you should organize the way you are accustomed to taking notes and the abbreviations you know, as this can greatly increase your note-taking speed! (e.g., tomorrow – tmrw; message – msg.. . etc.)

So what does seeing the big picture mean? It means extracting the overall summary; when you have finished listening, can you point out the main important points? I trust that everyone could easily grasp these tips and now you need to acquire this ability yourself! I suggest that you practice by using your notes to retell the content of the video you just listened to, be it short or long. When you can state the content clearly, this is an indication that you have understood. (This is somewhat similar to the speaking practice, which will be mentioned later on).

What if it’s really too hard and I can’t see the big picture? Don’t worry if what you don’t understand in the TOEFL listening comprehension test are the difficult terminologies (here, reiterating again the importance of improving your acuity in listening comprehension!); don’t let that terminology scare you! Most test questions will include times, places, or other significant information, and these words you will certainly know! So, keep up with the rhythm and be sure to write down information that has “content”! Otherwise, you will easily forget it.

3. Interactive and in-depth critical thinking

Do you know how to be flexible? You cannot always be in a state of tension, or you will slack; conversely, a lack of stimulation will gradually make you rust.

Many people have asked me, isn’t turning on CNN or tuning in English-speaking radio programs enough to practice my listening skills? I once visited the home of my graduate school senior, whose television was always turned on CNN. As he was sweeping the floor, I heard a news report about Iraq and asked for his thoughts. It turned out that he actually wasn’t listening very carefully and I had to wait a while for him to finish listening before he could discuss the matter with me.


This is the mistake that most people often make; if you choose news or other information-dense material, please focus, or you will get nothing. This type of in-depth listening exercise is necessary because you need to reflect at the same time as you listen; if you can understand the speaker’s perspective as well as reflect and provide different views, this means that you really possess in-depth listening skills! However, like I said, very deep contents can easily make you feel fatigued and you will not be able to keep practicing for a long time. Therefore, you can combine these exercises with light and funny series such as 2 Broke Girls or music that you enjoy to improve your acuity for everyday language!

If you have friends near you who are relatively good at speaking, or if you have foreign friends (there will be many exchange students at every university), both everyday chatting and discussions on particular subjects (one deep and one shallow) will help you improve substantially! After all, this is just like muscle training in fitness, simply doing intensive training will not produce great results and neither will excessively light training; instead, the two must be combined.


4. Familiarize yourself with the question type and catch the errors

I think I am already familiar with the test questions and I am bound to succeed! When you practice using TPO you will feel like you know which parts of the test topics that the questions will be selected from and you will naturally pay special attention to those parts. However, you may also encounter blind spots and be unable to identify the problem.

When you finish the listening comprehension exercises and revise the results and look at what information you missed, here are a couple of reasons of why you might not have initially been able to answer the questions correctly.

A) You didn’t see the big picture: If the question you were unable to answer was a conceptual question, like the main meaning or conclusion of the speech, you may need to improve your summarization skills and your ability to see the big picture. After you have finished listening to an English lecture or a spoken passage in a video, remember to force yourself to summarize it and retell the main contents to yourself. This will help you acquire the skill of organizing the main points.

B) You didn’t memorize a particular detail: A speech will typically contain numerous details, and although you may remember them all at first you may soon discover that you can’t remember everything, and you may even miss the very detail that is asked for in the question. As I mentioned previously, use the practice questions to get the hang of it; people, events, times, places, things as well as “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” reason and cause, are details that will help you catch the meaning and they are also the most frequent test questions.

C) You misunderstood the question or the speaker’s meaning: When you listen, you may think that you remember your notes clearly and also understood the question, so why did you still get it wrong? Most of the people I have met failed to hear co-articulated words that convey the meaning “not” (e.g. can’t/can) or were unsure of the meaning of transition words (e.g. yet, nonetheless, unless, etc.). Identifying the words or semantics that you are unfamiliar with or that you find unclear will enable you to resolve them easily next time you come across them!

If you put in regular effort and master the techniques for answering questions, your listening comprehension performance will become better and better! I hope that none of you will be afraid of listening comprehension anymore, everybody do your best!

do your best

Conquer TOEFL by yourself! Part II


TOEFL Deciphered

TOEFL is divided into four major parts: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Because of the education system and the environment in Asia, Asian kids usually score relatively higher in reading, but have a disadvantage in listening and writing. Therefore, finding your own strength to complement the weaknesses is critical for this type of tests.

Mere imagination is useless, if you are not sure what is your strength (in fact, I think most people only have a vague concept, but is unclear about what their strengths are), then I suggest that you take a TPO simulation exam. Use the actual exam time to calculate the range of your abilities as well as analyze your strengths and weaknesses. That way, you can make better use of your time to improve the score you need in a short period.


Because reading is what most people do best, please be reminded that unless your English reading speed is fast, do not read every word from start to finish. Read the questionsreading
first, and think about what the questions focuses on to increase reading efficiency! Do not be frightened of the words you don’t know, testing you for difficult words is often not the objective of the test.

Keep in mind that the objective of the TOEFL examination is to determine whether you have the ability to study in English-speaking countries. So the primary goal is to master the key points and understand the meanings instead of focusing on your vocabulary volume or whether you have become an encyclopedia.


The writing section is divided into two parts: (1) “based on reading and listening” and (2) “based on knowledge and experience.”

I think that for most people, writing based on knowledge and experiences is not hard. Just remember that English writing is a more direct and clear style. Just make sure the Topic sentences, supporting ideas, and a conclusion are written in a simple and clear manner. If you follow this major structure, don’t deviate from it, and do not try to deliberately and excessively use difficult vocabulary words to flaunt. Then, it shouldn’t be a problem for you to obtain a great score.

taking toefl

The based on reading and listening part is usually more difficult. The speech you listened to may talk about the A perspective, but the article you read may raise the contradicting B perspective. So listen carefully to what the speaker said, and respond to the comparison areas mentioned in the article. List the relevant points, draw up an appropriate conclusion, and then you are good to go.

A few tips on how you can score higher points are listed below:

1. Clear structure!

This is being repeated again because it really is the top priority You can have a weak argument, even fail to understand what the speaker said or what the article meant, and forget a lot of the details; however, as long as your framework is there, you will get the basic points.

2. Commonly used examples

Although the words “for example” is a pretty boring method to introduce supporting ideas, it is simple and practical. As long as the example is good or the example was raised by the speaker or article, it can demonstrate your clear logic and understanding of the subject again.

3. Strong supporting references

You may be thinking, there is no Internet access during the test, so where is the data? However, the “based on knowledge and experience” writing section usually revolves around topics familiar everyone. When a person writes down straightforward facts, doesn’t it appear more convincing than “according to a survey from National XX Center”?

A person may suddenly be unsure of how to use authoritative references. In addition to using vague terms such as “according to survey/investigation,” maybe you can write something like, “The recent survey from Peking University revealed the fact that…”. Quoting well known schools to present an academic knowledge actually works pretty well, however, remember not to write about facts that you are not too familiar with, or the errors would become obvious and it would do more harm than good.

4. Use a good rhetoric and remember to provide a good ending.

Make use of some parallelisms and analogies to enrich the article. However, one thing is important. Try to finish off with ending sentences that links back to the main topic. The last sentences are usually the most impressive. The examiner has to read so many essays. So if the ending is strong and the grammar, sentence structure, or word choices are appropriate, the overall points will improve significantly as well.

[LISTENING (Part 1)]

TOEFL-listening-hubThe TOEFL Listening section is divided into two parts. Each part has a conversation and two lectures. Listening time for each section is approximately 20 minutes, and the answer time is 10 minutes. Therefore, each part takes approximately 30 minutes overall.
Because the TOEFL test is designed to test non-native English speakers or those who have not studied in English-speaking countries and determine whether they have sufficient English proficiency to live inside the campus, most of the dialogues will revolve around campus related topics such as questions related to registration matters, how to do homework issued by a professor, how to argue your own ideas with professors, etc. 90% of the dialogues are about daily life activities. So just relax, and you will soon know that the questions are actually pretty easy to answer.

What is worth noting is that the lecture parts instead may be discussing more specialized topics such as “Marine Ecology,” “Abstract Art History,” etc. You may encounter many technical terms that you are not aware of, or hopefully be fortunate enough to come across a field that you are familiar with during university studies. If that is the case, how do you prepare?

TOEFL is mostly testing for general English fluency abilities, so cramming school is really needed. The key is knowing how to improve yourselves. Please stay tuned as we will provide answers in the next part~

Conquer TOEFL by yourself! Part I



TOEFL is an English aptitude test designed by the American nonprofit educational institution ETS, and it is an ability test especially targeted for those who are non-English native speakers and have not attained a degree in a classroom where English was the primary language of instruction. Initially, TOEFL was separated into three distinct types, including the PBT (paper based test), CBT (computer based test), and the iBT (Internet-based test). Presently, most universities accept the iBT, and in most countries, test takers can only take the iBT, in which the test is given online, and the total score is 120 points.

In a general sense, a score of 80 in the iBT is the minimum requirement for exchanging or applying to an overseas university, and 100 is the lowest entry requirement for graduate studies (nevertheless, better schools will have higher requirements). However, what is worth mentioning is that the results of this test are only valid for 2 years, and the duration begins on the test date (for instance, if your test was on March 10, 2015, your scores would be valid until March 10, 2017). Hence, when deciding when you will be needing the TOEFL and scores, you need to decide whether you will be in line with the expiration date (and also remember that this test is not something that you take once, and you’re done with for life!).

Furthermore, since in recent years the local online forums and cram schools have gotten more and more skilled, and they strategically answer and systematically crack the test questions, there have been more and more students who receive very high scores. This has prompted the US institutions to raise their TOEFL requirement for entry on an annually basis. This is what we call an unsustainable effect that hurts those that come after us.

Registration method

Since iBT is Internet-based, registration for test is done online. First, you need to register for the TOEFL test on the Ministry of Education’s website (

The online registration process contains the following four steps:

    1. Register to become a member, and construct your personal file (just as you would for other account setups).

Attention to name (Chinese and English), gender, personal ID number, document number, and date of birth. Please double-check to make sure they are correct, as these basic important information cannot be changed later on. As for the other needed information, I believe that those who have established an account would understand, and so I will not repeat.

2. Pay for your test fee online. 

There are many forms of payment accepted for your iBT test which includes: Credit card, e-checks, Paypal and e-checks. The forms of payment NOT accepted are: cash or demand drafts, post-dated checks, receipts of bank checks, and UNESCO coupons. Also please pay special attention that only the British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Japanese Yen and Euro currencies are accepted. In addition, here’s a list of important fees related to the test:



3. Register for a test. 

Normal registration period is up until 7 days prior to the test date, and if you register within 7 days from the test, you will need to pay an additional fee for late registration. What’s worth pointing out is that, you need to be very selective about your testing spot at this stage. However, January and July through September are the hottest time for testing, and in a big city, it is difficult to find an ideal testing spot if you don’t register four to six months prior to the test. At this point, you may choose to take the test in a different city (or if you have a chance to participate in exchange program abroad, you may also take the test there).

Often times, there are several different ways for testing spots to be released:
A) NEEA will release a large bundle of testing spots several months before the test, which may include spots in the upcoming six months. (Mostly before October)
B) Several days prior to the test, there will also be a release of testing spots in different provinces and cities. But whether a particular city will release a number of spots on which date and time remains unclear.
C) To cater to the large number of test-takers, NEEA may spontaneously decide to host more test sessions. But this also remains undecided.

Therefore, the most important thing would be, to plan for your test date early after you have established the score you need, and to schedule a testing spot six months before you take the test!

4. Fill out background information questionnaire. 

After you finish this part, you will have just made an important first step toward taking the TOEFL test! In my own experience, most people are plagued with laziness, and although we know that we must take the test, it is hard to focus until we actually have to do it. Usually, it isn’t until a test-taker has finished registering that he/she becomes motivated and starts planning out a schedule for studying. Hence, why not register early and make up your mind early so that you can attain the best date and testing spot, and have sufficient time to study toward getting a good score!