Module 3

Study Strategies

Learn the best study strategies for TOEFL preparation.

The previous module was designed to motivate and prepare you for the e-course’s essential part. Before moving on to the core module (part 4), you must complete part 3 to ensure that you follow a daily program and achieve an impressive grade without losing your enthusiasm and focus.

Many books and courses disregard all the preliminary steps one should follow while preparing for the TOEFL exam. However, this e-course’s main goal is to push the student in the right direction. Therefore, the course simplifies the process into four parts.

This module will help you create a study plan for your exam. It will also teach you the four essential skills you need to complete the exam’s reading, listening, speaking, and writing components. You will receive tips for creating a study plan that lasts from the day you start studying until the date you take the exam.

After creating your TOEFL plan, you will want to learn the four key TOEFL skills and strategies. These skills will help you tackle the different types of questions that might appear on your exam.

  1. What is a study plan?
  2. Dividing your study plan
  3. The prioritization process
  4. Determining your study goals
  5. A step-by-step summary of actionable points
  6. Four key academic skills and strategies
  7. Study smarter, not harder

1. What is a study plan?

A study plan is a schedule that outlines your study times and goals. Study plans keep you organized, self-disciplined, and motivated.

A study plan ensures that you remember key points and helps you avoid having to “cram.” Without a study plan, you may wait until the last minute to study. For the TOEFL exam, you must prepare a study plan many months before the exam date. A study plan’s length depends on the amount of time you need to prepare for the exam.

In part 3 of this e-course, you will learn tips for creating the perfect study plan. Everyone works at a different pace and has different responsibilities. Therefore, you must create a plan based on your own pace and the free time you have available.

2. Dividing your study plan

A study plan is a schedule that outlines your study times and goals. Study plans keep you organized, self-disciplined, and motivated.

A study plan ensures that you remember key points and helps you avoid having to “cram.” Without a study plan, you may wait until the last minute to study. For the TOEFL exam, you must prepare a study plan many months before the exam date. A study plan’s length depends on the amount of time you need to prepare for the exam.

In part 3 of this e-course, you will learn tips for creating the perfect study plan. Everyone works at a different pace and has different responsibilities. Therefore, you must create a plan based on your own pace and the free time you have available.

3. The prioritization process

Prioritize what you find hardest. For example, if you find the reading and writing sections to be most difficult, don’t spend two weeks on your speaking skills. Practice what you find most challenging.

Here is an example:

My Weaknesses

  • Cannot organize my ideas while speaking
  • Stutter a lot while speaking
  • Cannot remember details from the listening excerpts

My Strengths

  • Able to write a good integrated essay
  • Score high on the reading section

4. Determining your study goals

A study plan is a schedule that outlines your study times and goals. Study plans keep you organized, self-disciplined, and motivated.

A study plan ensures that you remember key points and helps you avoid having to “cram.” Without a study plan, you may wait until the last minute to study. For the TOEFL exam, you must prepare a study plan many months before the exam date. A study plan’s length depends on the amount of time you need to prepare for the exam.

In part 3 of this e-course, you will learn tips for creating the perfect study plan. Everyone works at a different pace and has different responsibilities. Therefore, you must create a plan based on your own pace and the free time you have available.

Warning: Don’t be disappointed if you can’t stick to your plan.

You don’t have to follow your plan dutifully. Sometimes you might get busy with family or friends. Sometimes you might fall behind. The important thing is to not give up. Instead, re-schedule what you missed for the closest possible date. If you miss a week, try to fit your studies into the upcoming weeks. Just make sure that, before the exam date, you finish everything you planned.

Create your own plan by doing the following:

  1. Use a calendar with the number of months you’ll spend preparing for the TOEFL exam. You might want to download a calendar from the internet. In the Google search bar, type the name of the month and the word “calendar.” You will get thousands of free downloadable templates. Look for one with plenty of space so you can write what you want in the box for each day.
  2. For each day, write down the task you want to complete. Make the task clear but short; for example, “Practice question 1 of the writing section.”
  3. In a notebook, record the details of your TOEFL plan, including which pages of the book you plan to study on a certain day, which articles you want to read, or which recordings you want to listen to.
  4. In your notebook, divide the weeks into major tasks, such as “Week 7 – Grammar,” “Week 8 – Writing section part 1,” “Week 10 – Vocabulary,” etc. For an even more effective plan, break these weekly tasks into subtasks for each day of that week. For example, the major task for week 8 could be studying the exam’s writing portion. The subtasks would be what you will do on each day of week 8.

Hang the calendar on a wall or glue/staple it to the first page of your notebook. This way, you will remain focused and organized as you prepare.

5. A step-by-step summary of actionable instructions:

NOTICE: Before following these instructions, buy a notebook or folder, or staple all the papers together.

Step 1: General Goal Plan

The general goal plan contains the most essential goals to accomplish when studying for the TOEFL. It should include everything this e-course mentions, plus anything else you think is essential.

This plan will serve as an outline for the other study plans you will create.

Use the first page/s of your notebook to outline a general plan.

Step 2: Monthly Plan

The monthly plan contains a simple calendar with lots of space to fill with the tasks you will complete.

Let’s say you want to spend 10 days improving your speaking. In your calendar, color in the days you need to spend on that task.

If you want to be more detailed, outline the tasks you’ll complete each day. For example, during those 10 days, you can complete more specific tasks related to your speaking skills. Those tasks could be “learning the listening question types” for four days, then moving on to “practicing for the listening section” for six days, and so on.

Step 3: Study Hours

This step involves establishing special study hours throughout the day. List the seven days of the week plus the hours of the day, then shade in the hours during which you will study for the TOEFL exam.

This study schedule is not specific to your TOEFL preparation; you can use it for other things as well, including your work hours, days off, etc. Sometimes unexpected events occur; when they do, you might want to change your schedule depending on whether the unexpected event will affect you in the long term (change of job, travel, etc.) or short term (a family event, a doctor’s appointment, etc.).

The most important thing to do is follow through on your schedule. If you fall behind, simply adjust your schedule to the situation.

Here is an example:

Step 4: Detailed checklist

Use the rest of your notebook to outline more detailed tasks for the TOEFL and other areas of your life. Write down anything you plan to do during the week, and check it off when you have completed it.

You can approach this in two ways:

  1. Create a detailed checklist every week and cross off the task when you’ve completed it.
  2. Create a daily checklist according to your plans for that day. After completing a task, cross it off.

We recommend that you choose the second option because your checklist will be more specific.

6. Four key academic skills and strategies

After creating your TOEFL plan, you will want to learn the four key TOEFL skills and strategies. These skills will help you tackle the different types of questions that might appear on your exam. Later, you will discover that the reading, writing, speaking, and listening components of the e-course are integrated. This means you can apply the skills you learn in this module to the four sections of the exam.

1. Note taking

Notes help you organize your thoughts, add information, or create a plan. For notes to be effective, they must include all the main ideas and important facts. Therefore, you must learn to prioritize and identify important information and, likewise, disregard less important information.

Structure your notes in the following manner:

Clearly structure and differentiate the major and minor points; the minor points support the major ones. Practice these note-taking techniques throughout your TOEFL preparation process.

Pay attention to keywords while looking for the following:

  • Definitions use phrases such as “it is known as,” “it is called,” “referred to,” “means,” and any other synonyms for the words “defined as.”
  • Descriptions and examples use phrases such as “it consists of,” “for example,”
  • Classification keywords use phrases such as “different kinds of,” “classified as,” “groups of,” “varieties of,”
  • Sequences use keywords such as first, second, third, next, last, after, eventually,
  • Comparing and contrasting uses such phrases as “compared to,” “similarly,” “in the same way,” “by contrast,” “however,” “on the other hand,”
  • Cause and effect uses such phrase as “as a consequence of,” “therefore,” “as a result,” “for this reason,”

Notice cues in speech and writing:

Understand the cues that alert you to important information. Such cues include: “pay particular attention to,” “be sure of,” “especially…,” and “these important key points are.” When you see or hear these types of prompts, have your pen and scrap paper ready to take notes in the manner we have outlined.

Take short notes

To take short notes, use the same layout and proper sequence we outlined for the main points and details. Use symbols and abbreviations, especially for repeated keywords. Skip unnecessary explanations and avoid repeating points you have made before.

This is an art you must continually work on, so keep practicing. The more you perfect these tips now, the more efficient your note taking and use of time will be during the exam.

Take notes in pencil

In most circumstances, you can take notes using whatever you feel comfortable with – pencil, pen, marker, etc. However, for the TOEFL exam, take notes in pencil only. This is because you have only seconds to write down important information.

2. Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is rewording an author’s original text. In the TOEFL exam, you will use this skill to rephrase information from the reading passages for inclusion in your essay.

Why is paraphrasing so important in the TOEFL exam?

You cannot state anything from a reading passage without citing it. Otherwise, you will be accused of copying!

If you copy other sources on the TOEFL exam, you will likely be accused of plagiarism.

You cannot use a thesaurus in the exam, so you must expand your vocabulary now. Create a personal synonym bank which you can draw upon during your exam. Create lists of commonly used words and their synonyms so you can review them regularly.

If you must quote something, credit your sources.

Many students think that copying and pasting is an acceptable practice, but it will land them in hot water. To effectively paraphrase, follow these tips:

Paraphrasing is easy. Here is how to do it.

Introduce the source before you quote it; for example, state “according to the passage…,” “as (so and so) said,” “as the words of this passage state,” etc. If you must mention the quote more than once, do not introduce the source each time. Use quotation marks at the beginning and end of what you have quoted. If you are quoting directly from the passage, use the exact wording.

If an idea is expressed in a couple of words you would like to comment on or use as support for your argument, use quotation marks to show that you have used the exact same words in your writing task.

Mention the source before the quote. You can use one of several phrases:

  • Famed dietician David Frost said, “It is the multi-million-dollar funding of food corporations that has come to convince us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
  • According to famed dietician David Frost, “It is the multi-million-dollar funding of food corporations that has come to convince us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
  • To quote the words of famed dietician David Frost, “It is the multi-million-dollar funding of food corporations that has come to convince us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
  • In the words of famed dietician David Frost, “It is the multi-million-dollar funding of food corporations that has come to convince us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
  • As famed dietician David Frost puts it, “It is the multi-million-dollar funding of food corporations that has come to convince us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Verbs to use when reporting ideas from the passage:

Avoid the mistakes students make while paraphrasing:

  • Do not fill your essay with paraphrased sentences. You must understand how to use them.
  • Paraphrasing requires understanding. Paraphrase only if you are trying to make a specific point found in the essay.
  • If you are unsure about the meaning of the sentence you want to paraphrase, leave it as-is. You do not want to risk changing the meaning.
  • Be specific. If you paraphrase a sentence in your writing task, elaborate on what you have just explained to show the examiner you understand what you have paraphrased.

In other words, do not paraphrase without adding something of value. If you can elaborate effectively on what you have paraphrased, you will score a higher mark.

 3. Summarizing

Summarizing is a strategy in which readers sort through a large selection of text and reduce the information to its essentials. It requires readers to pull out the passage’s most relevant factors, such as the gist and the main points.

This skill is important for the writing section of the TOEFL exam. While writing your essay, make your ideas as short as possible. Omit explanations, examples, etc.

Your writing section will contain two tasks. The first question will require that you summarize the information in the reading passage. You will not state your opinion of the topic. Instead, you will summarize the point of view of the passage’s author. You will find additional details about the first question (called the integrated writing task) later in this course.

Condense the ideas by forming complex sentences to convey as much information as possible. Be brief! Make it as short as you can without omitting major points. Transitions will help you condense several ideas into a couple of well-framed sentences.

Here are examples of transitions:

In addition to, moreover, however, although, since, on the contrary, in spite of, which is, who is, even though, whereas, while, during, therefore, thus.

In step 4 of this e-course, you will find a list of transition words you might find useful while practicing for your writing task.

Here is a summarized checklist for your exam:

4. Synthesizing

Synthesizing tests your ability to think critically while writing. You must understand two or more sources and find the possible connection between them. The listening, speaking, and writing tasks will contain integrated questions that test your ability to synthesize information. You must not rely on only one source, even if it appears to contain all the information. For example, the integrated writing task will ask you to integrate a reading passage and a recorded conversation or speech. You will have to identify a connection between the two sources. That could involve synthesizing a listening excerpt into a speaking question, a reading passage into a writing essay, and so on.

Ask yourself whether the sources support/agree with or contradict each other. Do not rely on one source (such as the reading passage) without relating it to the other source in some way.

Here are some words to use while synthesizing information in the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections.

7. Study smarter, not harder

Hard work is a good thing, but we sometimes work too hard without seeing results. If your progress is slow, read this section to discover the faults in your study habits.

Focused and diffused mode

Many students study for hours nonstop. The human brain cannot take in every bit of information at once. This is called “cramming.”

Scientists have discovered that the brain works better using a combination of the “diffused mode” and “focused mode.” The word “diffused” means something is spread over a wide area. In this case, we are describing the brain. Essentially, your brain must switch from a pressurized mode to a relaxed mode.

This method of studying is effective because the brain needs a break from receiving and sending information. When you start studying, you feel fresh; however, after the clock has ticked for 30 minutes, your attention span decreases.

The brain needs time to relax. Likely, you will need a five-minute break every half hour. Studies have shown that some students are more effective when they take a 10-minute break for every 40 to 50 minutes of concentrated studying.

In the focused mode, the brain pays attention to the thing on which you are concentrating. In the diffused mode, your brain is usually resting. Sleeping, napping, daydreaming, or staring at something without a clear cognitive pattern are all diffused modes of thought.

You must move effectively between these two cognitive modes. Therefore, study with complete focus for approximately 50 minutes so that you efficiently use the focused cognitive mode; then allow the diffused mode to kick in during your break times.

Procrastination

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something, and it is the cause of many mistakes. However, you can limit this tendency by choosing the correct time to focus on a task.

As mentioned earlier, choosing the incorrect time to carry out a task contributes to procrastination. Usually, your brain is fresh in the morning. If you can’t perform your duties in the morning, you are likely suffering from a lack of sleep. In that case, change your sleeping habits so you can make use of the mornings. Stimulate your senses with a cup of coffee or a workout to begin your day.

Set a timer for 20 to 25 minutes. This will allow your brain to work in a focused mode for that length of time. Keep a planner beside you so you can navigate your daily tasks and avoid last-minute rush jobs.

Divide your journal into two parts: a general part that outlines your tasks for the week or month, and a second part in which you list the tasks you want to complete the next day. This will help you avoid frustration if you can’t complete your tasks as predicted, as it will help you create a backup plan.

Sometimes you might feel bored, possibly because you are studying in the same place every day. If this happens, change your study environment.

Having confidence in your program’s success will help you avoid procrastination. However, while confidence is essential to success, overconfidence can result in failure.

Practice makes perfect

Repetition is an essential part of studying. In the working memory, your brain stores things you have encountered at least twice. When something is repeated many times, it is transferred from your working memory to your long-term memory, where the brain will not easily forget it.

Exercise

Exercise helps you study. It sharpens your brain and improves your memory. Your body becomes more active because your blood circulation improves. Blood rushes through your brain, keeping you healthy and active.

Recall by making mind maps

When you are done studying, take a couple of minutes to draw a mind map with charts to recall what you have learned. Mind maps help you connect concepts and grasp the bigger picture. Recalling what you have studied ensures that the concepts “hook” to your brain’s neurons. This is the last step you will take to test yourself before the exam.

Importance of sleep

Many students assume that staying up all night will help them get better scores. However, it is important that you get sufficient sleep during your study process and before the exam, as sleep removes toxins from the brain.

Do not study on your bed

Medical research has explored the effects of bad study habits, such as studying on a bed as opposed to a table or desk. This research has found that studying on a bed puts the brain in a “cozier” environment, allowing one to drift off easily. A bed is a good place for relaxing, not for studying.