Because important parts of the TOEFL exam involve an understanding of social and academic life at university, it can be an advantage to cover some of these questions so you can better and more quickly grasp the context of the situations and thus focus more completely on the content, especially in the listening and speaking sections.
Of course you’re nervous. If you weren’t, you’d have a problem. The question is: what are you going to do with your nervous energy? Will you be able to use it to increase your focus? Or will it overwhelm you and disperse your concentration? As the day of the exam approaches, you need to be able to take that nervous energy and focus it on large, fundamental ideas, not the thousands of mini-details that are running around your head. So what I’d like to do in this blog entry is review the key ideas that you need to focus on in each section of the test so you will be able to use your energy productively. Let’s start with the Reading section.
The best way I can communicate the importance of note-taking for the exam is to make a distinction between listening skills and memory ability. You must understand that it is quite possible for a student to completely understand information at the moment it was spoken and not be able to recall this information when asked about it a mere 3 minutes later. Is this a case of poor listening skills or poor memory? I would argue that the problem is a faulty memory and that the ability to take effective notes is the only way to ensure that your listening abilities translate to more correct answers and more complete information on the exam. Thus, if we can establish that success on every part of the exam that has a listening component depends on taking effective notes, let’s look at the different kinds of strategies needed to perform this task, starting with some general comments and recommendations, and then moving on to more specific advice for the academic lectures and conversations in the listening section.
Let’s take a break from our focus on Reading and start thinking about the Listening section of the exam. Before getting into the particulars of the types of listening and the questions that appear on the exam, I’d like to begin by framing the issue of listening in terms of training. Many of you may only have a more or less solid plan to do the exam in the coming months. However, it’s never too early to begin training yourself to listen regularly to advanced, informationally dense material, increasing the time and frequency of your listening as the exam date approaches. What I will present below then is the outlines of a listening training program that should have your listening skills in optimum condition before starting the focused TOEFL preparation.