Application #1b: TOEFL

The requisites for English Language testing are my only complaint about the MBA application process. The rules simply do not make sense to me. For most schools, an applicant is exempt from taking the TOEFL (or IELTS, or PTE) if and only if he/she has an undergraduate/graduate degree from a university that provided instruction entirely in English. Technically, someone with a British passport who is working in the UK but pursued her undergraduate studies in a non-English-speaking country, for whatever reason, must still take the TOEFL. Bizarre!   [Side note: how you should interpret this series of posts on the application process.]

My situation was not dissimilar. I pursued my MSc in Finance at Bocconi University: the course was 100% taught in English, but the school provides education in Italian in other courses, so does not quality. I worked 6.5 years in London before applying to the MBA. Yet, I had to prepare for the TOEFL, pay $185 and sit for the exam, in order to prove that I could speak English. If that were not the case, I am not exactly sure how I could have managed to progress through my career in an English-speaking corporation. Therefore, kudos to MIT Sloan and Tuck, the only two business schools in the Top 10 (based on US News ranking) which have more flexible requirements.

Anyway, end of my rant. Once I understood I had no way out of the TOEFL, I took it as seriously as any other element of the application. In particular, I decided to take this exam after the GMAT. It would feel significantly more simple, and I would re-use my preparation for the Reading Comprehension and Analytical Writing Assessment. After having taken both tests, I confirm that this was my ideal running order. Indeed, I scored a flawless 120 out of 120 in the TOEFL.

As for the GMAT, I mostly prepared with the Official Guide to the TOEFL. It has almost everything you need, including four practice tests on the CD. I say “almTOEFLost”, because for the Speaking and Writing parts I also relied on some extremely useful online resources, which I will share below. Here are all my considerations.

  • Reading & Listening. Not much to say on these two sections. Very predictable, and even easier after taking the GMAT, since the passages are more accessible than the ones in the Reading Comprehension. I consistently had a 100% hit rate whilst practicing, almost effortlessly.
  • Speaking. This section is by far the one requiring the most accurate preparation. Not because a TOEFL test-taker cannot speak English, but because each of the six questions requires you to make a complete point in a finite amount of time. I first learnt the specifics of each question, then learnt by heart the templates I will post below, and finally practised as much as I could.
  • Writing. The first question is peculiar, asking to compare two opposite arguments (usually with two or three key points), one in a reading passage and the other in an audio excerpt from a lecture. As for the speaking section, I learnt the template and practised it. It was a very predictable exercise in the end. The second question is very similar to the AWA section in the GMAT. I also used a template, but kept a more flexible approach, depending on the precise question on the real exam.

Here are the templates I used. I hope they will help you if you are about to start your TOEFL preparation. Please note these are not my creation. I put them together based on several sources I found online (a mix of YouTube videos and GMATClub posts), but a year later I cannot precisely recall these sources. Please let me know if I should reference any name!

Templates for the Speaking section

Speaking Q1: Own Opinion
Prepare (15 seconds) + Speak (45 seconds)
Describe something personal (person, place, object, even) and explain the reasons why.

In my view… for a few reasons
First… for example…
Second… for instance…
And that’s why…

Speaking Q2: Own Opinion
Prepare (15 seconds) + Speak (45 seconds)
Choose an action/opinion and explain the reasons why.

Personally speaking, I am more inclined to choose… rather than…
Now, one of my main reasons is that… for example…

Speaking Q3: Summary
Read + Listen + Prepare (30 seconds) + Speak (60 seconds)
Read/listen on a campus issue, and summarize the opinion of a speaker.

According to the announcement… (take 3 seconds for this sentence)
The man/woman completely endorses/disagree with this announcement, because although…(what the university thinks) he/she believes that …. (take 15-20 seconds for this part)
In addition, the man/woman emphasizes that…
That’s way the man/woman supports/disagrees with the announcement.

Speaking Q4: Summary
Read + Listen + Prepare (30 seconds) + Speak (60 seconds)
Read/listen on an academic subject, and summarize the content.

The article is about [Title], which the passage defines as [Definition].
The professor provides an example of [example] to illustrate [Title].
He/she states that…
And so this example illustrates [Title].

Speaking Q6: Own Opinion
Listen + Prepare (20 seconds) + Speak (60 seconds)
Listen on a campus issue, summarize the situation on a give your opinion about a solution to the problem.

The man’s problem is that…
The students discuss 2 solutions. First…. (finish when you have 35 seconds left)
Second… (Finish when you have 30 seconds left)
If I were in the man’s shoes, I would choose…
The first/second solution is not recommended because…
The first/second solution is better because…
That’s why I would have chosen…

Speaking Q6: Summary
Listen + Prepare (20 seconds) + Speak (60 seconds)
Listen on an academic subject, and summarize the content.

In the lecture, the professor talks about…
He/she describes 2 ways to demonstrate it.
The first way is through…
The professor gives an example to illustrate this by….
The second way in which the professor exemplifies the subject is through….
The professor illustrates this through…

Templates for the Writing section

Writing Q1: Professor vs Article
20 minutes

The article states that…. and provides three reasons for support. However, the professor explains that… and refutes each if the author’s reasons.

First, the reading claims that… The professor refutes this point by saying that… He further states that…

Second, the article posits that… However, the professor says that… According to the professor…

Third, the reading says that…The professor opposes this point by explaining that… We also learn that…

Writing Q2: Own Opinion
30 minutes

The question of […] is highly subjective. On the one hand, […]. On the other hand, […]. However, I ultimately agree/disagree with the statement that … because [paragraph 2 overview] and [paragraph 3 overview].

First, [statement of point]. [Example]. [Relate the example].

Second, [statement of point]. [Example]. [Relate the example].

In conclusion, [recap of thesis statement]. [Summary of outline].


Any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s