Jane Birkenhead, April 18 2023

Beware of 'Magic' and 'Secrets'

I’ve seen a few posts recently talking about the ‘magic’ and ‘secrets’ of TOEFL. Please be aware that there is no magic, and there are no secrets in TOEFL exam preparation.

These Posts are Misleading

On one level, these posts about ‘magic’ and ‘secrets’ are simply click bait. Content creators use them to draw attention to their services. It’s an age old marketing formula. Write a nice catchy title and of course people will click on the post and read it. It’s how the whole of the internet and social media works.

On another level, these kinds of posts are much more dangerous and give exam candidates false hope. They imply that the ‘magic’ or the ‘secret’ is the only thing missing from your exam preparation and once you know them, you’ll be successful. Like everything else in life, it’s not that simple.

TOEFL and IELTS Measure English Proficiency

TOEFL is an English proficiency exam - as is IELTS. If you need an advanced score in either exam, then you need to demonstrate a high level of English proficiency. This means, in your exam, you need to show the examiners your command of English. 

If you are nervous or lose focus then that can negatively impact your score. Practice tests and estimated scores are only an indication of how you might score. It is your performance in the exam that determines your final score.

In my role as a TOEFL and IELTS teacher, I’ve worked with hundreds of students and I’ve taught thousands of hours of lessons. In every single case I know why my students have been successful or why they have struggled.

Different Students have Different Needs

From my years of teaching experience I can say that my exam students fall into two groups: 

GROUP 1 consists of high proficiency English speakers who have received years of exposure to high level English (either in education or at work). 

They may not know much about the exam or even have attempted it before, but their high level of proficiency means that with a little practice and some knowledge of exam strategies they will achieve a high score. 

These are the students who are likely to achieve their target scores quickly - another source of click bait posts from some teachers.

GROUP 2 consists of students who have a lot of exam experience and know exactly what to do, but their level of proficiency is lower than their target scores require. 

I spend most of my time working with Group 2 students. These are the students who are often so desperate and frustrated that they want to believe that ‘magic’ and ‘secrets’ will help them. They are up against deadlines, struggling to juggle work and family life, and they just want to get through the exam so they can work at the level they are qualified for. 

These are the students who need really good supportive teachers to help them to build language proficiency, understand strategies and keep practicing over and over again.

How Teachers Help

For both groups of students, I do everything I can to help my students to succeed. I don’t just give feedback and hope they understand it. I make sure they put it into practice and we repeat each step many times over because that’s how language teaching works. There isn’t ‘magic’ and there aren’t ‘secrets’ involved. Just a huge amount of hard work.

So when you see these posts promising ‘magic’ and ‘secrets’, please understand them for what they are. They don’t give you the full story. They don’t tell you about the individual feedback, support and motivation you’ll get from a qualified, experienced teacher - a teacher who actually wants to work with you and be with you on your journey, rather than one who prefers to sprinkle a little bit of so called ‘magic’ and then start writing their next blog post.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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