Here’s the transcript for my video interview with Mary – an Egyptian student who scored S28 and W27 on her TOEFL iBT in June after working with me on and off for over 9 months. Click below to watch and listen to the video!
Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4Kg4nqTUx4&feature=youtu.be
Sierra: Here we go, alright Mary… it’s good to see you. So, basically we’re meeting just to talk a little bit about what your experience has been since you passed TOEFL. We don’t say “passed” but since you got your Speaking score of 28. Bravo! And um one of the things I just want to share with some of the other students I’m working with is just your path, how you got there, I know that you know, you and I had lessons together on and off for 9 months. So, maybe we could start talking about what that was like because we didn’t see each other all the time, we had some breaks in between. So, what was that like?
Mary: Yeah, we started on the writing package at the beginning and that took around 1.5 months. And I remember we jumped into the speaking package and at the middle I felt overwhelmed and asked you for a break, and it took around 1.5 months also as a break, it was at Christmas time, and then we started again. I think we need time, sometimes we need to take a break to digest and absorb everything that I got because you know just you give me a lot of information and I didn’t get all of that at the same time. I’m working and I have a family, so I can’t you know gather all this together, so I needed to take a break 2 or 3 times a break. So, it wasn’t full 9 months, we took 3 breaks.
Sierra: Exactly, you did some self-study and we stayed in touch… And you like absorbed everything, we talked about it.
Mary: Yes, we need that.
Sierra: I remember when you said to me, “Sierra, is it OK if I take a little break?” And I said, “Of course it’s OK!” I want encourage other students to do that and also to understand that you can’t rush this you know, I mean we talked a little bit about TOEFL, obviously, it’s an exam and our purpose is to get a certain score but it’s a language exam.
Mary: To learn a language, you have to build it as layers. You can’t learn a language in one day or two days, you have to work on it and to be patient. You have to have a good foundation at the beginning and have a good grammar and good vocabulary, and then finally you can work on your delivery. So, you need time, you need to be patient. And one good thing about TOEFL is that it’s all related to each other, all of them are about English. When you practice Reading and Listening, you will benefit of course from these two sections on the Writing and the Speaking. Like you can find some passages at the Reading, and then you might find it at task 6 at the Speaking, so you’ll be familiar with these terms.
Sierra: Exactly! We were talking about how you did a lot of outside reading and listening, even though we didn’t actually practice that in class together, we talked about building your foundation and how important it is also for stamina to be able to last and to feel relaxed during the exam. Part of it is just… You know, raising your reading score is not just about getting a number. It’s because if you do well in Reading, you feel a lot more relaxed through the whole exam. And you did that a lot! I know you went to a library and you did sort of exam-style practice where you would go through the whole 4 hours, and that was really useful for you, right?
Mary: Yeah, and I did that 2 months before the exam. I used to go to a library at 9 o’clock, and move from there at 2 o’clock. From 9 to 12, I worked under timed condition, on the time restrictions for the test. And I remember around 1 to 2, I usually reserved a study room at the library to be able to practice the Speaking. And you know, at the day of the test, it was kind of normal, like I was used to that, I wasn’t exhausted or overwhelmed. It’s 4.5 hours, it’s overwhelming, it’s stressful, so when you are used to it, it’s kind of a normal day. Like it was one of the days when I used to go to the library. It was very helpful!
Sierra: You were totally prepared, like physically too, cause we say it’s like a marathon you know. And also, like you said, some of the topics recycle. I remember you telling me when we were practicing, “Oh, I’m so glad I read about this because I saw the same topic in task 4 when I was doing a speaking response”, or it’s the same thing as task 6, so… And discovering that on your own is great. I was actually telling another student of mine this morning. We were working on the Listening section and we were looking at the transcript and she said, “Oh, if this was a Reading passage, it would be a lot easier for me.” And I said, “It will be!”
Mary: Like task 1 and 2 at the Speaking, you can find them at the Independent Writing. It’s kind of the same, it’s all about English.
Sierra: Totally. And then I just wanna talk a little bit about what it was like for you when you got back to work because part of what we talked about your drive to accomplish, to achieve the scores that you wanted, it’s not just about passing TOEFL. You know, you’re a pharmacist and you want to help people, and you were already working at a pharmacy. And you had some experiences that were kind of disappointing for you… Talk to me a little bit about that.
Mary: You know, as a pharmacy technician it’s not only about how to pronounce the name of the medications, sometimes you get a lot of phone calls. So, when you cannot understand people or they cannot understand me, the most important part was that they couldn’t understand me a lot. And I’ve been working there for 3 years, and all these past three years, I didn’t feel any difference. I wasn’t working on improving myself but when I started working on the pronunciation, and you told me like there’s some key points like in English there’s some syllable that we have to stress more to be fully understood. Like the word “insurance”, we used to say it in a different way for Arabic speakers, so when I knew that we have to stress the last syllable, I was fully understood, so I don’t fear this word anymore. I used to hear “Sorry, could you repeat it again? Could you repeat that again, I don’t understand you.” I felt embarrassed and I felt down a lot of time but now I think I’m more confident, I know how to pronounce the words exactly right and they can understand me, it’s a huge difference.
Sierra: That’s the thing! A lot of the students that come to me, they have this… It’s like tunnel vision, it’s like “I have to pass TOEFL, I have to pass TOEFL.” And I know you do, and I know it’s important but sometimes the strength that you find from imagining what you life is going to be like after TOEFL, and how you’re going to help people, and the fact that learning or improving in a language, getting better at English is not just going help you get a 26, it’s going to help you communicate better, and you’re going to feel more confident. And I think that confidence that you gain while you and I were working on your pronunciation made you feel like “You know, I can say this right. I’m going to be confident at work, I’m going to talk to the people that I work with and to my patients, and the clients that are there. And I’m so glad that you’ve seen that, a positive improvement there, because the exam is over, you got the scores that you need.
Mary: Yeah, I didn’t just want pass the TOEFL, I just wanted to be confident about myself. I’ll be standing in a pharmacy sometimes by myself, so if I struggle or the people can’t understand me, how can I deliver a good customer service? How could I help the people?
Sierra: Now you feel more confident.
Mary: A lot.
Sierra: So glad, I’m so glad! I think the only other thing we talked about, we mentioned we were going to discuss… The experience of someone we refer to as “serial test-takers,” or the advice that sometimes you hear, or you see that on the Internet, or a friend will tell you, “Just keep taking the exam, you just have to keep taking it. The more you take it, the closer you will get. That’s how you get the score you need.” How do you feel about that?
Mary: Like when I took my first test, it wasn’t a bad result, I got 24 at the Speaking and a lot of my friends told me, “You have to keep taking the exam, you’ll get it, one time you’ll get it.” But I wasn’t totally convinced about that. I thought that I need to work on my English, I work at a pharmacy and I know the challenges, I work with a lot of foreigners, a lot of African and Indian people, and sometimes I can feel how they feel embarrassed. I know they passed the TOEFL a long time ago, and they didn’t require this score, but I didn’t want to be like them to be honest. I want to be totally confident, so I thought that I should work on my language first to be able to pass. And it’s not only about passing the TOEFL. And you know and why spending all this money on taking the test over and over and feeling bad about yourself without recognizing your problems and difficulties. I wanted to know what are my problems, that’s why I didn’t do that.
Sierra: Plus it’s like… Taking TOEFL is stressful, not doing well on TOEFL, or not getting the score you want is stressful, and stress creates a situation when sometimes it kind of blocks you and you’re not able to learn. And so students I have that continue to take the exam, I tell them, “Take a break. Wait. Let’s see how you are when you are outside of that element.” And that’s often what allows them to be able to take in new information and to make progress because when they’re under stress, you know, you just can’t. Plus, it’s expensive!
Mary: And you have to know… To get a diagnosis – what you problem is to be able to work on it. Sometimes people get Reading high and the Listening low, and they keep messing around with these scores and…
Sierra: Yeah, you don’t know why! ETS Score Report doesn’t tell you!
Mary: Yes, you have to know your problems and start to work on them, and focus on them more. Yeah, I didn’t like that idea about taking the test, it’s not a practice, that experience is not a practice. You can practice at home, you can work on your problems more…
Sierra: And how did you know what your problems were? How did you figure out what you needed to work on?
Mary: When I got a Score Analysis.
Sierra: Yeah, that’s one of the things… It’s eye-opening for a lot of students when someone tells them, “Look, these are the sounds that you need to work on, this is how we are going to do that, these are the steps we’re going to take to fix the errors that you’re making.”
Mary: Having a plan.
Sierra: Yeah, exactly! And being organized. And I congratulate you, you are wonderfully organized and I loved when you would send me pictures of your study corner and all the flashcards you put up and everything. I’ve used that with a lot of other students as inspiration.
Mary: Thank you Sierra. Thanks to you.
Sierra: I won’t keep you too much longer, thank you so much for everything and obviously we’ve already said this but we’ll stay in touch. And I’m looking forward to hearing about your life after TOEFL.
Mary: Yeah, it will be changed, of course.
Sierra: I will talk to you soon, ok? Have a great day.
Mary: Thank you so much, Thank you Sierra.
Sierra: Thank you
Mary: Thank you
To learn more, see my recent post where I share a letter she wrote about our experience together: http://sierra-forest.com/my-student-mary-scored-a-28-in-speaking-and-a-27-in-writing-on-toefl/
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