Monday, October 09, 2006

TOEFL iBT experience

I gave my TOEFL exam yesterday (Oct 8th). I would like to share my experience with all of you and help those who want to write this exam in future. My experience should help you specially because, there is not much material published on iBT as yet and my experience is just fresh, so it's more likely I give relevant details. In a way, I would also remove assumptions that one usually makes about iBT.

Difference between iBT and CBT:

For those of you who want to know what iBT is and how it differs from previously conducted exam-CBT here is the explanation. TOEFL was available as Computer Based Test (CBT) till this September in India. But ETS, the organization that conducts exams like GRE, TOEFL etc, has decided to introduce iBT, which is more comprehensive test of English language. Differences:
  • The iBT (which stands for internet Based Test) has 4 sections - Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing; perhaps there could be no other language skill that can be tested! CBT had no speaking section, but had grammar section. In iBT grammar is tested throughout the test!
  • Other sections in iBT differ considerably from CBT. Consider reading: passage length has increased. Writing: 2 tasks to do compared to one in CBT. Listening: I think there are more tasks now.
  • I personally feel iBT is more difficult than CBT -based on what I felt when interacting with friends who had written CBT. But do not panic! iBT is still easy!
  • In CBT, you were allowed to know your approximate score when exam got over, in iBT, this's not the case. You will know nothing about your performance.
In India, you don't have an option to choose between the two formats now. You have to write iBT if you want to take TOEFL! When I was registering I had an option to choose, even then I chose iBT because of two reasons: one, In ETS-FAQs, for a question: "will universities still accept previous scores?" answer was "it depends on university". I did not want to take risk of losing chance in any university. Second, iBT had speaking section, so I need not take TSE (Test for Spoken English) in future, if I want to apply for TA.

Do not assume that, since this is Internet based you can write this test in your house in front of your PC! You have to register for this test in ETS site and you will be allowed to write it on a particular day at a particular location. I wrote in Manipal center, Bangalore. You need to pay $150 for the test.

When you are registering, you need to give 4 score recipient names. I mean you should give address of the 4 university departments, which will receive your score for free. If you want to send scorecards to more universities then you have to pay $15 per card. Let's talk about the 4 free cards. You will have a profile created for you when you register. In the registration process, after selecting the dates, you will get an option to select 4 university names. Search them state wise, one at time. Under the university name, you have to select concerned dept 'type'. For engineering it's "physical sciences". Under that, you will get to select dept name, say "comp. engg". After doing this you have to repeat this for 3 more universities. I give so much importance here, because, when I did these things I came only up to dept 'type' step, seeing only 4 options, I thought my dept is not listed there. But later I came to know that first we have to select dept type as Physical sciences and then dept name! I would have wasted all my scorecards (4*$15 = Rs. 3000!), had I not been informed of this! So take care that if you are going to do engg choose physical sciences after selecting university name.

When booking the dates (in a hurry!), you might not know which universities to name. Do not worry. In your profile, you are allowed to change the university names until 10PM of the day before the exam. So you can easily book the dates one or two months ahead with arbitrary university names and later change them to the ones that you are interested. But do not forget to do this!

Remember not much study material is available, since iBT just began an year back. We have Barrons, but there is no CD coming along with it. We have Princeton's book that comes with a CD. The CD has some audio clips in US accent, to help us practice Listening section and integrated tasks in writing and speaking. I had purchased this book. It's bit costly, around Rs. 500. One thing about this book is, it looks voluminous, but take it from me, you can finish it off in less than 5 days, daily 2 to 3 hours! (For an average person like me). If you are buying Barrons, problem is you will not have any audio passage to practice! This is really going to make it difficult, as you ought to practice with real audio clips. Not only that you need to practice hearing their accent, you also need to practice to concentrate listening for hours! I bet it's terrible, if you do not practice with real audios, to concentrate in the actual test. One idea would be to ask one of your friends to record the audio and give you, so that you can practice concentrating, though accent difference will appear. It will be better if you have American/UK/Australian friend!

After doing section-wise preparation, you might want to take full-length mock tests. If you can afford you will get lot of such tests. But very few 'free' tests are available. I got only 2! One from Princeton book and another from Free-English (online test). I was not satisfied, basically, with both of them. Princeton's is on book-does not simulate the test. And free-english's is ok, but for the fact that I observed some technical snags while taking it, which distracted me and also I could not get my final score. Hopefully, you will not face this problem.

Some Tips:
  • How much preparation is required?
I feel 2 to 3 weeks is more than enough with 2-3 hours daily. If you are quite confidence one and a half week is just enough. Actually, you don't have much material to practice!
  • Do you need to be strong at your vocabulary?
Not at all. TOEFL tests your Basic English. If you want to compare with GRE, then this is nothing! Only familiar words will be asked for synonyms.

  • Which is better? To give TOEFL first and then GRE or GRE first and then TOEFL?
Each has its advantages.
    • GRE first: GRE covers Reading and writing sections. So you need not practice these sections again for TOEFL. GRE passages and essay topics are much tougher than TOEFL's. So invariably, if you have written GRE, TOEFL tasks will be easier for you. But pattern of questions will be different, so you need to prepare for that.
    • TOEFL first: TOEFL is an easy test compared to GRE. So you can say TOEFL is like a preliminary exam for GRE If you want to climb a mountain of 8 km height, then you better practice with 2km ones first!
  • Try to improve concentration esp. for longer durations. That's the key to score. There will be 20-30 students sitting in a hall. Each computer has a cabin, but it's very congested. You sit only a foot away from next guy. You hear what he says, you see what he does and all that, but your time keeps running. You might sit first and others are still entering the test hall, they push their chair, make a sound, they ask the invigilator a question. All that keeps happening. But your time is precious and you have to concentrate. It's not like our usual paper based exams, where we can distribute time between difficult and easy questions and where we are just writing. In TOEFL you have reading and listening, which need more concentration than writing. Another difficulty is that Listening follows Reading, so you will have to continuously focus for 2 hours approximately! Make sure that you prepare for such a torture! In my case, I felt as though I should get up and come out! Especially, the listening section, where you cannot pause also, you either listen or miss it and lose your marks!

My Experience on the day of exam:

I had test in New Horizon in Manipal center. Test started at 1 o' clock in the afternoon. I was the first to enter the hall. I was kind of surprised to see small cabins there. They are very congested. Luckily they had AC. So it was comfortable, though congested. In full josh, I started attempting the reading section. Initially, I struggled to develop concentration. I could here others occupying their seats, asking questions to invigilator etc.

Usually, there will be 3 passages to be answered in an hour (say 20 mins for each passage). Even I had 3 passages, but trick was first passage was difficult and was separately timed. I mean I was supposed to complete the first passage in 20 mins. Had they given 3 passages together for an hour, it would have been much easier as I could have taken less time for easier one and more for the tougher one. Somehow, I completed it within time; I think I made mistakes in last questions; since time was running and creating stress!Next two passages were easy. I completed them in 35 mins. Took rest for 5 mins! Then started Listening test.

Listening test is supposed to have 6-9 audios. I had an impression (from my practice) that only 6 audio tasks will be asked. I could concentrate on first 3-4 passages properly. Later, I was listening with great difficulty. If I was ever concentrating it was because of the hope that after two more audios, whole section would end! I was ready to take the break after the 6th audio. To my shock and desperation appeared an instruction: " Next section has 1 conversation and 2 lectures. You have 10 minutes to answer the questions". What the hell!!! Helplessly, I prepared myself to endure the punishment! Struggling, I completed 8 tasks, 9th audio was running. On the screen appeared a message 'iBT error- test aborted!' I did not know what happened to my test till that time, but I moved out of the cabin and informed the invigilator. He took 5-6 minutes to correct that. Thank god, I got some time to relax. Then test resumed and I completed Listening test.

After refreshing myself for 5-7 minutes (you have 10 min break now), I sat for next two sections. Both were easy. Speaking which I was bit afraid about, went very well and writing too. For speaking sections, you have 15-20 seconds to prepare your response. You might think that this is really short time to prepare. Never worry. This is long enough for you to prepare for 45-60 seconds.

Typical questions for some sections:

Speaking section personal preference question: Very familiar questions will be asked.
  • Describe your best friend.
  • Favorite holiday spot/ Hobby/Subject/teacher in school/animal (pet)/Icon/author/book/sport/Movie/Food/color.
  • Given one-month time to do whatever you like to do, what would you like to do?
  • Most cherished moment at school
  • Which country/city would you like to visit?
  • Toughest challenge faced by you
  • If you could know your future, what would you like to know?
  • What would you send to an international exhibition? Your object should represent your country.
  • Your strangest dream.
  • What do you miss when you are away from your home?

Writing section (Agree/disagree question):
  • Purpose of education should be to teach skills not values. Agree/Disagree?
  • Students should take regular standardized test to show that they are learning.Best way to teach is with details or examples.Do u think teachers should allow students to question everything?
  • Should teachers present controversial views and theories in classroom?
  • Small discussion based classes are better than large lecture based ones.
  • Boys and girls should be educated in separate classrooms using different teaching techniques.
  • Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship
  • Parents are best teachers
  • Sports activities should be supported in universities or not?
  • Home food/outside which is better?
  • Classes should be compulsory or optional.
  • People should sometimes do things that they do not enjoy doing.
  • Television, newspapers, magazines, and other media pay too much attention to the personal lives famous people such as public figures and celebrities.
  • Important aspect of a job is the money a person earns.
  • Number of cars used in future will decrease.

Hope my experience helps you. Please leave a comment if you have any doubts. I will try to clarify that.

Best of luck to all of you.
Score well!

Sachin, Thanks for your help!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Loading my photo to Blogger...