Jane Birkenhead, January 25 2024

Choose TOEFL Resources Carefully

At the start of any new year, everyone is full of enthusiasm about studying. I’m sure you’ve noticed the number of new resources being shared, and the increase in posts everywhere. I think that having access to all this information is great. Anything that you find to help you to get your target scores is a good thing. And it makes my job as a teacher a little easier too 😊

But...a word of caution... Please be discerning about the resources that you use. 

Discerning =  showing insight and understanding

That means, don’t go ahead and start using a resource (or following advice) without considering it carefully first.

For example, I’ve recently seen some TOEFL task 1 speaking responses that are more than 170 words long. This is madness! I scored 30/30 for TOEFL speaking and I couldn’t even read these responses out loud in 45 seconds (I tried).

These kinds of responses are created as sample ‘perfect’ responses. They have been written, not spoken and then transcribed. Of course they answer the question, sure they contain complex grammar and lovely vocabulary, but they are not realistic of what TOEFL students can expect to achieve in 45 seconds. 

I teach my students to aim for around 125 words for a 45 second response. That works out at about 167 wpm - which is perfect for an advanced speaking score. I also teach my students exactly what the raters are looking for, and how to create responses that fit their speech patterns. None of their T1 responses are 170 words long!

I've noticed a similar pattern in some resources that have been shared for TOEFL writing. I've seen sample responses for the academic discussion question (T2) that are more than 180 words long. I can easily type that much for a T2 response because I’m used to writing, English is my native language, and I’ve practiced these kinds of questions a lot. But I know that this is not realistic for most of my students.

So I advise my students to aim for around 140 words. In lessons, we practice writing responses that have a good structure, complex grammar, and varied vocabulary. And we make those 140 words as good as they can be. This is achievable and realistic for most TOEFL students who require advanced scores in writing. 

So, please don’t use these mad samples as models for your own responses. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying. Be discerning and find realistic resources to use instead. 

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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