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!


Blogger Raveesh Kumar said...


Nice Post. Very informative.

I wonder how you could remember all those questions asked in Speaking/Writing sections after the test.

You have covered everything from the registration to the test.Since you have told about your experiences too it is much more useful.

2:00 AM  
Blogger Nrbhat said...

Hey those were not the questions asked to me..
Only one from each of those, that I mentioned wil be asked..
I just gave the pool of questions to practice!

Thanks for ur comments..

2:04 AM  
Blogger sambit mohapatra said...

hey its really nice of u to post ur experience...its a gr8 step infact....wish u all the bests for gettin a good score..hey i would like to tell u now the barrons book is available with cd rom,,n more ever i have acquired a DELTA study material book n set of 10 cds..its gr8 n sufficient for practice...for just 300 bucks.aspirants can acquire it from NEW AGE PUBLISHERS..

7:50 AM  
Blogger Nrbhat said...

Great you have mentioned about new books..
I was not aware of those. Thanks for telling..

11:25 PM  
Blogger Totally spaced out me said...

hey there..
I stumbled upon your blog from the good ol' orkut! I am writing my TOEFL on nov 3rd and I'm not at all prepared for it! But yes, trying my level best to cover up and slog for the remaining days that are still with me. Your blog is AWESOME and I think its gonna help me alot in my preps. I atleast have an idea about how this whole 'iBT' thing is going to be now..doesnt matter however vague it is! lol..Adding this post to my memories so I can browse through it every now and then and keep myself in check. very informative, indeed. But I hav barrons and it has some odd 8 practice tests I guess and I gather from one of your comments that DELTA has some 10 cds? how's kaplans? but i dont think its a wise idea to go through all possible books that are available for TOEFL right?!! which one would you prefer out of all of them? is barrons enough or should I consider princetons too?

1:33 AM  
Blogger Nrbhat said...

hey Ashlesha,
I had no option to read Barrons or Kaplans..
Princeton was good enough..
Only suggestion I can make is
post a thread in orkut :), and find out whether Barrons is sufficient.

Thanks for your appreciation.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Totally spaced out me said...

I am planning on getting Kaplans tomo morning..ppl say its more than enough! though its slightly expensive but its worth it I guess. I am going right ahead and getting kaplans tomorrow and ofcourse barrons to brush up abit and ofcourse your valuable post!! :) should work out well eh?? lets see..btw, is your score out?? how much are you expecting? and oh btw, I will be trying for under-grad so univ thingie is gonna be totally different! :P will get back to you on that one once im done with my iBT! thanks ya again!

10:51 AM  
Blogger sudhir.damojivarapu said...

AWESOME Blog thanks for sharing yor experiences with us

8:56 PM  
Blogger arun said...

Thats really great mann.

your experience what you shared will surely help us.

What is the book to follow for iBT-TOEFL other than Barron's and Princeton's which will really help in getting a good score.

But really covered every thing,thanx for sharing your experience.

God Bless You.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Bhargav said...

Great Blog!!!! I'll rate it "Gold"...

Comprehensive info for any person who wants to take up the exam...
Great going... And keep posting more Bhatta....

1:31 AM  
Blogger sachin said...


This is something outstanding u have come up with.I am sure each guy who has a sketchy knowledge of IBT will appreciate the pains u have taken and once he reads ur blog,all the pieces in the jigzaw puzzle will fit perfectly.

It could have done with a lil more editing though.

But thats a small problem thats more than compensated by your resounding thanks to me in the last line.

Bhatrige jayavagali :)

1:16 AM  
Blogger Nanditha Vijayaraghavan said...

I gave my Toefl this morning at the manipal center. It went on pretty smooth though the reading section had 5 passages as opposed to the regular 3 passages on the IBT. I was actually stunned when this happened. Any clue why it was so? Are those extra 2 just for sample or will they also be evaluated for the total sectional score......

4:05 AM  
Blogger my quest said...

dear friend,
i am taking toefl in this month, but i am not having too much stuff to practice speaking portion.
i want to ask that do i need an accented english to answer the speaking question, or the normal way will be enough?
help me .....

11:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That was an awesome blog!..Something which anyone who is about to write TOEFEL would want to know.Its really thoughtful of you to share ur experiences. I myself was wondering if I should take a cbt or an ibt as all options are available even now. But I'm quite clear after reading ur writeup that I neednt think twice on that now!.
Great attempt!

8:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i wonder how to take toefl in i wanna prepare and apply that

7:57 AM  
Blogger Madhwa said...

Thanks for the info. I have my toefl at the same centre: New Horizon, Manipal. I heard that prometric is the best for toefl. Any comments about the test centre.

Also will the sections appear in the same order for all: reading then listening, then break then speaking and wriiting.
If this is so, I can be sure that I will not have much disturbance during reading and listening section.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Madhwa said...

Thanks for the info. I have my toefl at the same centre: New Horizon, Manipal. I heard that prometric is the best for toefl. Any comments about the test centre.

Also will the sections appear in the same order for all: reading then listening, then break then speaking and wriiting.
If this is so, I can be sure that I will not have much disturbance during reading and listening section.

3:04 AM  

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