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December 2017

R29 L28 S26 W28! Esteban Says Adios to TOEFL iBT!!!

By | Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT | No Comments


I guess now it is my turn to tell my story. I am still very excited after receiving my results and I can’t believe that my life doesn’t have TOEFL anymore.


First, let me tell you about me. My name is Esteban Yong Rodríguez. I am a pharmacist from Costa Rica. Since very early in University I wanted to have an international experience working in another country and perhaps following a clinical residency. I always thought it is important to travel and to study to be able to be a better professional and to have a broader knowledge. After writing e-mails for a couple of years I got my opportunity to follow a shadowing program in a Hospital in the US. I loved it and I wanted to be part of that system. Despite several family and working issues in my home country, I took the pharmacy exam in November 2012 and I passed, I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy. After that, I had to return home to continue working and to study for the TOEFL exam.

I was very confident because I felt my English was very good since I was an exchange student in Canada and US while I was in high school. I knew my limitations but I felt pretty sure of my skills. I studied for 2 months in Costa Rica taking some classes and I went to the US to take the Exam. I felt so insecure and nervous at that time. I knew I did awful and the results confirmed those feelings. I felt I needed more practice, so I took an internet class in one of those “popular sites”. I thought, this is perfect I only need to follow a formula and I’ll be ready to move on. Well…that didn’t work out. I felt very frustrated and I knew it was time to take bigger risks.

I quit my job and I moved to US for some time to study. I took TOEFL classes in an English school for foreigners. After two months, I was a little disappointed because the classes weren’t effective. I took the exam and I failed again. So, I started going to public libraries finding new books to study TOEFL by myself. I was feeling desperate because my savings were running out, I took TOEFL three times in a row and I kept failing and my baby was going to be born soon in CR. I knew no matter what I needed to return before she was born. I felt I was getting closer to reaching my target score of S26 but I was always failing at something. I found out about Jamie and English Success Academy  just days before my last exam. In a desperate attempt I contacted her but I only had one class with her before the exam. My time and money ran out and I had to come back.

I contacted Jaime again in January 2017, I felt this was my year and my last chance before my exam expired. Now I had new goals, to show my daughter that you need to be persistent in life and if I finished this process, I could offer her more options for her future. I was glad Jamie remembered me and she soon connected me with Sierra, one of the teachers who trained with her. I knew this time I needed to do things different and follow the advice of a professional.

Before meeting Sierra, my plan was to quit my job again and go back  the U.S. to study harder. I was convinced I needed to live in an English speaking country in order to get my scores. However, I was very surprised when Sierra said that I should stay in Costa Rica.  I hesitated and told her twice I was willing to take that risk, but she said that at this time, she didn’t believe it was necessary and actually it might just create more stress. So, I trusted her even though I had my doubts.  I had to arrange my life to be able to study, work (48 hours a week) and take care of my family, my dogs and exercise. I had to learn to get up at 3:30 or 4:00am to study. I studied almost every single morning, sometimes 30 minutes or sometimes 2 hours. I started going by bike to work 2 or 3 times a week to exercise during that time and to release stress. I stopped some of my family activities during the weekends.

Sierra was always very well organized, way more than me. I had to follow all her instructions and she helped me to arrange my schedule. We had to work on tiny but difficult details, like individual sounds, rhythm and intonation. I felt like a baby learning to talk again. I used to work and do all this funny sounds. I felt like I was the character Rocky Balboa sometimes, but instead of exercising my whole body, I was working out my mouth.

I took the first practice exam like 3 months after we started working, in May. The results weren’t great but I knew I still needed to improve some details like to learn how to manage my anxiety during test conditions and work on time management. So I kept working hard.

Sierra was always telling me, “you are making great progress, we beat one sound, we have another one to go. Let’s keep working hard.”

When August was approaching Sierra told me it was almost time to take another practice exam. I felt I wasn’t completely ready and I wasn’t aware of my progress but Sierra was and she knew it was the right time for another practice exam. Reminding myself that it was just practice, I took the exam and even though I felt I didn’t do so well, I felt relaxed and confident at the same time. For the first time I got a 26 on speaking. Even though it was just a practice exam I was extremely happy with those results; I felt I was finally getting very close to my goal and Sierra assured me that I was ready.

Finally, it was time to schedule my official exam. We knew a key point in my case was to feel relaxed and confident. I bought a plane ticket to Miami and I scheduled an exam in Miami and another one in Chicago. It was important for me to feel that I had more chances to take the exam again. I could not study as much as I wanted because I had a lot going on with my family and Sierra told me not to worry, she said,

“You are ready, you have been ready for weeks, your practice exam was not a matter of luck, there is no such thing as luck in TOEFL” Now I realized training for a TOEFL exam is like running a marathon, once you are able to run 42k, you can do it again, again and again as long as you keep training and stay positive.

So, my last exam came. I took pictures of the place and the airport as if I were a child. I tried to look for positive signs everywhere. I followed Sierra’s advice and went to the exam center the day before. I actually felt good there and I tried to picture myself the next day. Sierra was with me the whole trip asking for details, making a plan.  She was the one worried about all the logistics, like the one in control of the operations room and I focused on  just trying to enjoy my ride. So I took the exam, I followed all her rules, I smiled and said jokes to the people in the exam center, I wrote smiley faces on all the pages and later I found out I got: R29, L28, S26, W28 for a total of 111

R29, L28, S26, W28 Total: 111! Wow!!!

TOEFL has been a journey, when I got my results I was at work in Costa Rica. I was so happy, but no one could really understand me, I had to call my family and I wrote to Sierra.

I have never studied so hard for one exam, I never felt so disappointed in myself and so proud later. I definitely have a story to tell to my daughter one day.

I used to wish that I had passed TOEFL at the very beginning, but now I realized I learned so much on this journey. I learned how to be persistent, how to wake up very early and I proved to my family that I can reach my goals. Also, I found new friends, among which, there is Sierra, who is like the Yoda of TOEFL and now I am her Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, I wish you the best.