A resident of Madrid, Spain, Javier needed the take the TOEFL exam in order to become a physical therapist, but the subtotal of 26/30 on the speaking section proved a formidable obstacle. He had prepared for the TOEFL using the Barron’s TOEFL Preparation Manual, but his score of 21/30 suggested that Javier consult a TOEFL iBT speaking specialist so that he could get the practice he needed to overcome his language use and topic development problems.
First of all, Javier started posting independent and integrated speaking practice tests so that his TOEFL iBT speaking mentor could become more familiar with the language-use problems that he was having. When answering the speaking prompt of whether or not it would be beneficial to build a movie theater in his neighborhood, Javier said, “If there was a movie theater in my neighborhood, it will create entertainment opportunities for residents.” However, his TOEFL iBT speaking mentor advised him that he not use the past with the future tense. Javier was informed that he had two possible ways to frame the sentence.
1) If Javier wanted to discuss the idea as a present impossible condition, he would need to use past tense verbs to communicate that meaning: “If there were a movie theater in my neighborhood, it would create entertainment opportunities for residents.”
2) Javier could also convey the idea as a present possible condition, in which case he would frame the sentence with the simple present tense and the future: “If there is a movie theater in my neighborhood, it will create entertainment opportunities for residents.”
In addition, Javier was told that he could simplify the sentence by using a gerund as a subject and by changing the sentence from a complex sentence to a simple one: “Having a movie theater in my neighborhood will create entertainment opportunities for residents.” However Javier wanted to express his ideas, he would need to be consistent with his verb tense use and to try to be a concise as possible when completing TOEFL iBT independent and integrated speaking practice tests.
Second of all, Javier continued to post speaking practice tests and discovered that he had development problems. In one of his speaking prompts, Javier was asked whether he thought reducing crime or improving the environment would have a larger impact.
Javier choose to discuss the crime problems in his city, so he framed his topic sentence to say, “I think reducing crime will have a bigger impact on my city. I have two reasons to support my point of view.”
After he finished the response, his TOEFL iBT speaking specialist told him that the way Javier had framed his response was unoriginal and contrived. In other words, ” I have two reasons to support my point of view.” is a predicable response that many test-takers use. In fact, according to his iBT speaking specialist, Javier’s response appears to be a memorized one. In order to create a more sharply-focused topic statement, Javier was asked to take the two main points of his response and include them in his topic statement. For example, suppose that Javier believes that reducing crime in his town will improve the economy and make neighborhoods safer for children; he could reframe his topic sentence: “Reducing crime will impact my community more by improving the economy and by making children safer.”
This change, said his TOEFL iBT speaking specialist, creates a more sharply-focused topic statement and doesn’t sound like it was contrived.
Finally, now that Javier had gotten feedback while posting independent and integrated speaking practice tests at his Online TOEFL Course, he felt much more confident in terms of the vocabulary and grammar that he would use during the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT. In addition, armed with a new strategy to create more sharply-focused topic statements, Javier felt prepared to coherently organized his ideas. Javier was now ready to tackle the official TOEFL iBT exam, and a score of 26/30 points was becoming more and more of a reality.