Ask 4 Questions Before Retaking the TOEFL

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Prospective international students should analyze their weak sections before they retake the TOEFL.

I remember when I saw my first TOEFL score. As a prospective international student, I knew I needed to take it again.

It's not a good feeling to spend a lot of time studying for the test, trying your best to master the material and have the score not turn out as you wanted.

Now that you've received your score, think about the sections where you had trouble. What was happening at those points during the test? Thinking about some of those factors can help you prepare for next time.

If you have to take the TOEFL more than once, ask yourself the following questions to identify the reasons you may not have aced the test.

[Get additional advice on how to prepare for the TOEFL.]

1. What are your weak sections? You might receive the same score again if you do not quickly and firmly confront and tackle your weaknesses.

Your total TOEFL score is made up of your scores on the four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing. After receiving your score, take a look at it and evaluate how you can do better on the sections in which you were weakest.

I spent two weeks just trying to improve my listening skills. I practiced all the TOEFL listening sections that I found, paid attention to English-language TV shows during dinner and asked myself the kinds of questions that could be asked during the test. Answering those questions out loud helped me practice for the speaking section.

Find your own ways to refocus and strengthen your test-taking skills so you can be prepared and confident on your test day.

2. Were you distracted by other people? The person next to you typing, coughing or murmuring or the collective sounds of a room full of test-takers are just some of the noises that can distract you on test day. Do not underestimate how much noise can affect your concentration if you do not know how to handle it.

If you found this was a problem during your first exam, don't practice for your second test in a quiet room at home. Work on it with your door open or in your living room.

Let other family members know that you are taking a practice test and training your concentration. You'll get used to the noises and distraction and will develop better mental focus.

[Check out three tips to master the TOEFL.]

3. Did you use your test time wisely? The restricted time for each section of the TOEFL test might terrify you during your first test. Not having enough time to complete the tasks seems to be a common mistake. On the other hand, rushing through many questions or even skipping them just to meet the time also won't lead you to a good score.

I made the latter mistake in my listening section. Right after finishing it, I realized that I should have given myself a little more time on each question to think more clearly, instead of being threatened by the countdown clock.

To avoid any of these mistakes, be familiar with the TOEFL's format and structure. Practice the test at home as many times as you can to have a sense of how to use your test time wisely.

My TOEFL teacher suggested that I divide the total time given at each section into small portions. That allowed me to know the approximate time to work on each reading passage and question section. Practice makes your timing perfect.

[Find tips for international students on the SAT and ACT.]

4. Did stress affect your concentration? A little stress could have a positive effect on your test-day concentration, but too much could make your experience horrendous.

For instance, you might end up wasting time in the reading section because your eyes see the words but your mind does not read and comprehend them.

You might freak out when you miss a keyword in your listening section and then lose your concentration in the later passages or questions. Many other things could happen because you put too much pressure on yourself.

Before you come into the testing room, relax. Have a healthy breakfast. Talk to your mom or your best friends and let them build up your courage. Take a deep breath and get started. You have prepared well and you deserve an impeccable performance.

The TOEFL does not have to be a terrifying test at all. It is designed simply to measure your language skills. Be sure to practice, have good time management skills and remain focused on the test.

Show the computer in front of you how well you can bounce back from your last TOEFL performance.

Mai-Linh Bui, from Vietnam, is pursuing a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in communications, culture and media at Drexel University. Her minors are French and International Area Studies.

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