TOEFL ibt: MY ROAD FROM ZERO TO 105
Firstly, I want to share with you that I started working on Toefl from the beginning; 3 years ago I could not write a complete sentence in English, and I have no idea about the test. Last April, I get a score of 105 (reading: 30/30, writing: 27/30, listening: 26/30, speaking: 22/30). I do not consider it a high score since many others do better, but it is really a miracle to me. This results from a giant effort during 3 years. How could I make it? I am about to share with you now.
To get a high score in every examination, there are two factors: your real ability and your tip/ strategy. For people who are in the initial stage, you need to improve your real ability. In fact, what you need to do is to improve all of the skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
TO LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE: LISTEN, LISTEN, AND LISTEN.
I realize that the most important skill is listening. You can not do anything when you are bad at this skill. Choose every clips or programs that you are interested in, and watch them. Everyday, I watch clips on Discovery, CNN and BBC with subtitles in both English and Vietnamese. With TED talk, you would be exposed to various accents from many people. It is vital to have the subtitles since it helps you learn new vocabularies and get familiar with the pronunciation. What if you are bored of these clips? You can watch movies, obviously. However, remember that you watch movies not to enjoy them, but to improve your listening. Do not watch cinema movies, choose TV series drama. Do not choose action movies, watch ones with the theme about daily life, family, or love. The reason is simple: choose the movies that have as much communication as possible, it would be way more beneficial. My recommendation is “The desperate housewives”, the best movies for an English acquisition purpose. Besides, there are many other series like Gossip girls, Friends, etc. Choose your favorite one!
When it comes to vocabulary, many people consider it a nightmare. My approach to learn new vocabularies is different from traditional method. I often look for a paragraph which is easy to understand, but it has an amount of new words (the book Lecture ready is a good choice). Then set up in your laptop a dictionary program that allow you to translate just by clicking on the words (for time saving). You read the whole paragraph and stop at new words. Use the dictionary, find the meaning, highlight the words and then forget them. You may surprise, right? Then you read the paragraph again, notice at the highlighted words. This time it is much easier to remember the words. You find another paragraph, and do that way. This approach has three advantages: You do not make effort to remember new words, every thing go to your memory due to the repetition. Secondly, you would be able to learn words that are used with high frequency in English. Finally, when you remember the words, you will be able to picture the whole context, as you learn them in a paragraph. I have succeeded in vocabularies acquisition with this method, so I hope it is helpful for others.
When it comes to how to improve your speaking when you do not have an English-speaking environment, there is one effective solution to the problem: learning by heart. Find paragraphs that are easy to understand, then learn them by heart. By so doing, my brain gradually analyze information faster and that is the reason why I am able to speak fluently even though I do not have any native partner to communicate with. Each day, choose 3 questions to practice and write down the main ideas. You will need them when you prepare for the test.
About writing, I rarely use the writing section in books to practice since they are not close to the actual test. Rather, you should download 180 questions in independent writing of ETS. The test would be around these topics. Pick up a question you like and write an essay. You can use any source to collect ideas and use them in your essay. Do not concern about time when you are at the beginning stage, you will reduce time later. The most important point is that your essay has a clear structure and no sufficient grammar error. Therefore, it is vital to have someone check the grammar for you.