You have decided to study abroad and embark on a learning experience, one which enables you to live and learn in a completely different environment from the one you're used to. It's an exciting time - figuring out where you want to go and which classes to take.
Each university has its own set of requirements, so you should check their websites or call the admission offices directly to find out exactly what is required. One thing that most English-speaking universities have in common: you'll need to prove your ability to use and understand English as it is read, written, heard and spoken in the university classroom. The TOEFL test, which is designed to measure your ability to actually communicate in English, can help you realise your dreams.
Whether you are just beginning to learn English or you've been learning since you were younger, there are tips and study habits that will help you prepare for the test day and beyond. It's important to understand that there are many factors that affect an individual's language learning and mastery, such as the amount of time spent practicing, motivation to learn, attitude and exposure to the English language. And while the trend to teach foreign language to children at younger ages is growing, there is enough evidence that learners who start older can achieve advanced levels of proficiency in vocabulary, grammar, organisation and coherence.
So where do you begin? First, you familiarise yourself with the format of the test. The TOEFL iBT test, administered via the Internet, is composed of four sections: Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing. During the roughly four hours of test time, which includes four sections and a break, students are asked to perform tasks that combine more than one skill. For example, you may be asked to read, listen and then speak in response to a question.
Combining these skills helps assess real-life communication skills that are used in an academic environment. ETS (Educational Testing Service), the creator of the TOEFL test, has a bouquet of free and priced study resources to help you prepare for the test. Students have access to a number of useful preparation materials on the TOEFL Go Anywhere site. The key to successfully using the preparation materials is to build your English skills and focus on the comprehension of the passages and questions.
You don't need to understand every single word or topic in a passage, but you should focus on being able to connect the right answer based on what the passage is trying to communicate. The best way to improve your comprehension is to read and listen to as much English material as possible.
There are also several ways to incorporate English-language studying in your everyday life. Set aside time each day to communicate only in English.
Write an email to a friend and jot down your to-do list in English. Try and use a new word and expression each day to help with your sentence structure and vocabulary. The more you listen, the more you will understand vocabulary and expressions. Music helps you acquire the rhythm and stress patterns of spoken English, and online broadcasts, radio, televisions and movies are great tools for building real-life English skills. Reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary.
Newspapers, magazines, books and websites are great resources for improving your reading skills.
Speaking is often the most intimidating part of learning English, but the more you practice out loud, the better you will get.
Concentrate on speaking loudly and clearly with good pronunciation and intonation. One tip many students have success with is practicing a speech in your own language and then trying to match the same gestures and feelings when you use English. If you have a friend who is studying for the TOEFL test, create a study group and practice talking through different topics. Students can visit the TOEFL blog for more language lessons and tips for the test day.
As you can see, the list of tips and tactics to help you prepare is long. The one thing they all have in common is making sure you can actually communicate in English because those are the skills you will need to use once you get to your study abroad destination.
ETS has TOEFL test centres in several cities throughout India, while the TOEFL iBT Resource Centres will help you with information about the test and preparation; the toll-free customer support centre answers questions about their TOEFL iBT accounts, scores and score reporting.
For more details log on to www.ets.org/TOEFL.
(The writer is vice-president & COO of Global Education, ETS)