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TOEFL – Test experience

Please notice this was first posted in the period 2012-2014 and can be outdated

After a quick breakfast and shower at 6:15AM it is already time to get on a train to the TOEFL testing location. My appointment to take the test is at 10AM but unfortunately there are not that many locations where they take this test in Holland so I have to travel to the other side of the country. Including changing trains twice the total travel time was around 2 hours. Even though travelling is not really exciting, especially not when it is still dark outside and there is nothing to see, it did give me the opportunity to wake up slowly and prepare mentally for the test.

TOEFL preparation kit – 2 cans of Red Bull, and the Economist magazine.

As usual I arrived too early at the location. This is normal procedure for me because I always do my best to avoid stress before a test, and it is very impolite in Holland to be too late for an appointment. So after a quick round in the city (where all shops were still closed) I entered the test location and the first thing I noticed was the striking difference with the GMAT testing location: no nice waiting area here, no free soft drinks, and no relaxed atmosphere. 

After signing the confidentiality agreement it was time to start the test. As expected the computerized test format resembled the testing software I used from the Official Guide to the TOEFL test. No surprises here luckily. 

The original TOEFL test had the similar format as the practice tests from the CD-rom included with the Official Guide to the TOEFL test book by ETS.

The test starts with a reading section, as expected, followed by a listening section. After these two sections there will be a mandatory break of 10 minutes, which is just enough time to pee and stretch your back. The peeing was not necessary, the back stretching  was necessary though because the chair really sucked at the testing location (cheap-ass office furniture dating back to the 1980’s). 

Next part of the test is the speaking session. While I normally have no problems with talking in English, I did experience some trouble with this part. First of all there are many people sitting in the same room all trying to yell as loud as possible into their microphones. This is a huge distraction, especially when the person next to you is just answering the question you are supposed to answer next. Second, there is a time limit to how much you are allowed to speak. This limit is normally 30-60 seconds and it kept surprising me how short this is to really explain something (yeah, apparently I am a slow learner since it still surprises me over and over again). So in general I think I did not score too well on this part of the test. Finally there is the writing part. Not sure why, but I had the feeling this part went extremely well. It is a bit comparable to the AWA section of the GMAT, but then easier. You are asked to summarize a lecture you just listened to and there is an essay part where you can agree or disagree with a statement.

The beautiful Dutch countryside experienced from the train on the way back.

In conclusion I can say that the TOEFL test was a lot easier than the GMAT. In total I maybe spent 10 hours studying for the TOEFL test (reading the Official Guide and doing the practice tests), and I did not experience any issues during the test. Of course this test will be a lot harder when you have limited experience in the English language, in which case the test may require months of full-time preparation. 
One last point of advice for people who still need to make this test: practice the speaking session out loud with a timer. It is hard to stay within the time limits and make perfect sentences while having only 15-30 seconds to prepare your answer and experiencing the pressure of the test. 

Coming weeks I will focus on the other requirements for enrolling in an MBA; the essay part and the letters of recommendation.