Except for TOEFL 100+ scorers, many students forget this one important strategy.

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Note-taking, note-taking, and note-taking for the TOEFL iBT exam: That pretty much sums of one of the most important strategies for the TOEFL iBT. Yes, during the listening and reading sections of the exam, you should be taking notes on the main and most important points of the passages. Using your notes as a mind map, you can refer to them as you are answering the questions on those two sections of the exam–without having to repeatedly re-read the passages and making sure that you have captured the main and most important points of the lectures and academic discussions.

In addition, you should be taking notes on the reading and listening passages during the integrated speaking and writing sections of the exam in such a way that you can effectively show the required connections. In short, without an effective note-taking strategy, you will be like a boat without a compass lost in the middle of the ocean.

I’ve interviewed more than 22 TOEFL students, all of whom scored higher than 100/120 on the TOEFL exam, and every one of them told me that they took notes on ALL sections of the exam. Remember, if you develop a sound system of note-taking now and practice it often BEFORE taking the TOEFL iBT, you will increase your likelihood of scoring higher than 100 on the official TOEFL iBT exam. Therefore, it is time for you to do some analysis of your current note-taking strategies.

How can I increase my speed in taking notes?

Do not try to write everything down. In most TOEFL lectures, the speakers can talk as many as 250 words a minute, and the average note-taker can write down only 20-50 words in a minute.  Therefore, you should focus on key words, concepts, and terms, and do not try to write these ideas down into complete sentences. Instead, focus on the main points from the TOEFL reading passages.

Develop a system to symbols that you will use so that you can remind yourself of the information in the reading and listening passages.  Remember only you need to understand what your symbols mean, but you should practice using them many times before taking the official TOEFL exam. Follow the link to get used to some of the common symbols that students can use when note-taking during the TOEFL exam: https://www.cayuga-cc.edu/students/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2015/04/symbols_shortcuts.pdf

Keep your hand moving by staying focused on taking notes as you read and listen to the passages. If you feel like you are falling behind with the lecture, stop and move on to the next idea. The important thing is that you do not miss new information.

Develop a note-taking system that works for you and one that can be modified to capture the most important information during the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the exam.  To illustrate, some students like to make an outline of the information, whereas others prefer to using mind maps or diagrams to represent the information visually.

Practice as much as you can so you get comfortable using notes. Whatever method you choose, you should use the note-taking system regularly as practice taking notes on the main and most important support points of reading passage.

What is the best way to organize my notes to show cause-effect relationships?

Some reading and listening passages may show a cause-effect relationship so you should practice your notes showing relationships with these type of ideas. One way to do this is to use boxes and symbols to visually show the cause-effect relationship which will make it easier for you to answer reading or listening comprehension questions.  Follow the link to see how you can visually represent this type of note-taking: http://www.study-skills-for-all-ages.com/cause-and-effect-organizers.html

In my note-taking, how do I show comparisons and contrasts?

Practicing this type of note-taking will be especially useful since during the integrated writing task you will be asked to show how the information in the listening passage contradicts the information in the reading passage.  In this case, you can draw a line down the middle of your page so that you can jot down the main idea and most important support points of the reading and listening passages in the right and left-hand margins.

Reading Main Idea: Businesses + 3 strategies = success Listening Main Idea: Disagrees with points in read’g passage
1. Wrkrs shld rd all dcmnts


2. Wrkrs shld go all meetings entire time



3. Wrkrs shld skip writing process steps (takes too much time)

1.  Read dcmnts wastes time; skim dcmnts instead

2. Wrkrs go some short meetings < 60mins; instead of meetings sometimes use phone or email = higher productivity


3. Follow writing process to save time + more accurate and polished writing

Once you have organized your notes, you can combine the main idea of the reading and listening passages to create the introductory paragraph. Then you can combine reading point 1 with listening point 1 in the second paragraph, you can combine reading point 2 with listening point 2 in the third paragraph, and you can combine reading point 3 with listening point 3 in the fourth paragraph.

How I use jot down notes to show the reasoning for and against an argument?

In other cases, you may read or listen to a passage which introduces an issue and then explains reasons for and against this issue.  In order to organize your notes, you should state the issue at the top of your paper and then draw line down the middle of the page. On the left side of your paper, you can list reasons in support of the issue being explained. Then, on the right side of the paper, you can list the reasons opposing the issue in the passage.

Building a border wall = good immigration solution


1. Lower drugs com’g into US

2. Stop bad guys from entering US

3. Eliminate illegal immigration


1. Costs $$$$$$; electronic fencing works better

2. Will not stop all illegal immigration (some overstay visa)

3. Bad guys can dig tunnels under wall

However you choose to organize your notes, make sure that you can identify the issue and the reasons for and against the issue and organize them in a logical way.

If you practice these note-taking suggestions now before taking a TOEFL exam, you will find that you will perform much better on test day as you complete the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the exam.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff, mbuckhoff@aol.com


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