Creating a TOEFL Learning Environment

Creating a TOEFL learning environment will help you to reach your target score much faster.  Therefore, using some notepaper, write down your answers to the specific questions on this web page.

Creating a TOEFL Learning Environment
Creating a TOEFL Learning Environment

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: What times of the day are you most mentally alert?

During your TOEFL study, you will be completing reading and listening practice tests.  In addition, in your speaking practice, you will record 45 and 60 second responses.  Furthermore, you will be writing 250-350 and 350-450 words in the integrated and independent responses. Even more challenging will be your vocabulary practice in which you will develop a note-card system to practice and learn the words.  All of these activities take a lot of concentration.  As a result, you must discover a time each day that works best with your brain. 

Are you a morning person?  Do you like to go to bed early around 8:00 or 9:00 pm nightly? Do you like to get up around 6:00-7:00 am? In your previous ESL, undergraduate, or graduate study, did you find that you learned best in the morning? Do you feel that your brain is more mentally alert in the morning?  If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you should plan your TOEFL studies in the morning from 7:00-11:00 am when you brain is most mentally alert.

Are you an afternoon person?  Are you more energized in your mind and  body after lunch?  Do you feel that you get more study done if you study in the afternoon?  When you prepared for examinations, completed projects, read textbooks, and wrote papers, did you do most of these assignment in the afternoon?  If most of these situations seem to fit your learning environment, you should plan your TOEFL studies in the afternoon between 1:00-5:00 pm.

Are you a night person?  Do you like to stay up really late at night? Do you like sleeping in to 9:00 or even 10:00 am? Does it take 3-4 cups of coffee and 3 monster drinks before you feel you are awake in the morning?  Do you feel more mentally active from 6:00-12:00 PM?  In the past, when you practiced your English or when you took high school or university classes, were you most productive at night? If these descriptions fit you, then you are a night person.

Whether you are a morning, afternoon, or night person, make sure you plan your TOEFL studies during the time of the day in which you are the most mentally alert. Think about what I am about to say:  30 minutes of mentally alert, focused study is more productive than 2 hours of mentally tired, distracted study. 

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: How do I deal with distractions?

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: Another important part in creating a TOEFL learning environment relates to how you deal with distractions. Knowing that certain people will be calling on you at certain times to pull you away from your studies. For example, a lot of college students like to hang out at night.  Therefore, you may choose you are a morning person when you study so long as you are going to bed at a reasonable hour.

Being able to deal with distractions is important during the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT. This will also help you in creating a TOEFL learning environment.  For instance, at the TOEFL testing center, up to 25-30 students will also be completing their speaking tasks when you are. As a result, there will be a lot of noise during the exam.  Consequently, you will need to block out those distractions. It may even be a good study strategy on your part to do your own speaking practice with a television on in the background. Hiroko, who was one of my STEALTH students, used to record her speaking responses at a Starbucks restaurant when there were other patrons taking in the background.

If you do not deal with distractions well, you may have to choose to study in a library.  Libraries are typically quiet places as long as you are away from the reference desks.  In many cases, you can find an area where there are few students to bother you.  On the other hand, some students prefer to study in their dorm or apartment.  Choose a learning environment that suits you best, and get in the habit of studying there every day. 

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: What can I do to create a learning environment that works best for me?

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: You have now thought about when you get the most out of your TOEFL study.  Moreover, you have also contemplated where you should study so that you have minimal distractions.  Now how do you create this ideal learning environment? For instance, if you are studying at home, many people may distract you by asking you to do things. Maybe some of these people just want to catch up with what is going on in your life. Whatever the reason, your attempted 30 minutes of study ends up taking you more than three hours. If this happens to you when you study, then you need to change the location of your study.  Here are some considerations, all of which will help you improve your learning environment:

TOEFL study distractions
TOEFL study distractions

Turn your SmartPhone off. Your TOEFL study needs to be uninterrupted. Do not think about what’s going on at Face Book, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, and so on.

If you are studying TOEFL online,  only open I tab in your browser on your laptop computer. Discipline yourself to stay away from random social media articles. One minute you are taking a vocabulary quiz in your course, and the next minute you are reading about what Taylor Swift said to Katy Perry in a Twitter feed.  Do not read those articles during your TOEFL study. 

Social media is designed to trap you into spending excessive amounts of time reading articles about popular people or things.  For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was checking e-mail on my laptop computer when I saw a link leading to the “25 worst presidents of the United States.”  I got distracted and instead of grading one of my student’s  TOEFL speaking practice tests, I clicked on the link.  What was even worse is that the article started with number 25. Then I had to click “Next” to go to number 24.  All in all, I clicked the “Next” icon 25 different times to go to 25 different web pages to learn about who was the absolute worst president. I wasted a total of 27 minutes reading one social media article.

TOEFL social media distractions
TOEFL social media distractions

Try to schedule your TOEFL study during the time in which you learn the best. 

Creating a TOEFL learning environment: How do I schedule daily study time?

Everyone has 24 hours in a day. We all have 7 days in a week. However, some of us make better use of  the time that they have. Here are some good habits that you can consider to make the best use of your daily schedule. 

Schedule your TOEFL study at the same time every day if possible.  Prioritize this study above other less important things. For example, as much as you like to check your phone to make status updates at social media, spend less time daily doing this. The average person touches or swipes his/her phone over 2100 times in one day. Make your phone obsessions less of a priority until you reach your target TOEFL score.

Find opportunities to use English when you are doing something else. For example, suppose you have to drive 15 minutes to work and back daily. Case in point, during your drive, you can practice listening.  Practice listening to news, podcasts, or other types of academic lectures. Listen to a short listening segment, pause the recording, and re-explain what you just listened to.  Or, let’s say you live in California, and you want to change your international driving license to a California one.  Therefore, you will need to take a written and driving test.  This means you will need to go to the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in which the average wait for customers is almost two hours. What will you do during the two hour wait to take the written DMV test?  Well, you can study your vocabulary flash cards.  You can probably review or study at least 200 vocabulary words during this time frame.  Do you get my point? Be creative how and when you study TOEFL.

Make sure that you are scheduling time to study vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Each week you should schedule time to study at least hours in each of these English skill areas. Allocate more time to study your weak points. For example, if your speaking score is 23/30 points right now and if you need to score 26/30, you are likely having pronunciation issues.  Maybe you already have scored 29/30 points on the reading section. Based on this information, you can spend less time studying reading and spend more time studying pronunciation.  Use your time wisely: “Study smarter, not harder.”

Make sure you schedule some time to exercise each day and during this 30 to 60 minutes, do NOT do any TOEFL practice.  To help you in creating a TOEFL learning environment, it is important to clear your mind from study while you exercise.  You can walk, run, or ride a bike. You can swim. You can go to the gym to lift weights.  Exercising every day will keep your body and your mind healthy. Regular exercise will help you to reduce some of your stress.  You must schedule time daily to exercise for 30-60 minutes.

Schedule your sleep so that you get at least 8 hours a day.  Getting 8 hours of sleep every day will help to reset your mind and body so that it is fresh and ready.  Exercising daily and getting regular sleep will help your mind to be mentally alert during your TOEFL study. Your TOEFL study will be more productive, consequently.

Schedule 2-3 hours of TOEFL study daily, but do NOT go beyond that.  If you still have time, you do other “fun” things such as watching a movie in English or talking to friends in English.  There are many other ways to help you practice your English other than a TOEFL book or an Online TOEFL Course. If you try to study too much TOEFL each day, you could psychologically burn out your brain. Hence, too much studying can cause depression, anxiety, headaches, and other problems.  

Schedule a 15 minute nap each day after 11:00 am and not later than 1:00 pm.  A short 15 minute nap during the middle of the day can rejuvenate your brain so it is more fresh for your TOEFL study. However, never take a nap on a bed or any other flat surface because you will end up sleeping for 1 or 2 hours. However, your body does not need a two hour nap.  In addition, napping for two hours is a colossal waste of time. You  should take a 15 minute a power nap:

TOEFL relaxation tip
TOEFL relaxation tip
  • Lay flat on a floor and pull a chair close.
  • With your back flat on the floor, elevate your legs so that they rest on the seat of the chair.
  • Put something soft like a pillow or some clothes behind your head.
  • Set your timer for 15 minutes. As you rest, your goal is not to get into a deep sleep but to get into a semi-conscious sleep.
  • After your alarm goes off, immediately stand up and throw water on your face to wake yourself up. You will be a little bit groggy at first and even frustrated that you did not fall into a deep sleep. 
  • Incredibly, a 15 minute power nap = 2-3 hours of sleep in a bed. And you only wasted 15 minutes of your day.

Creating a TOEFL learning environment:  Putting all of this together

In addition to creating a TOEFL learning environment, you need to have a space online in which you can practice your English and prepare for the TOEFL iBT.   You need to be able to complete pronunciation, speaking, and writing practice.  You should then send these practice tests to a TOEFL speaking or writing mentor for evaluation so you can monitor your progress.  You can all of the things at STEALTH, “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.”

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,

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