Taking the TOEFL test can be an extremely challenging experience. Most universities have a minimum entrance score of 550. The range of grammar, reading and listening skills required to do well is enormous. One of the biggest challenges for teachers and students is identifying the correct areas to focus on in the limited amount of time available for preparation. In this feature, it is my pleasure to review an online course that specifically addresses this need.
TestDEN TOEFL Trainer is an online TOEFL course which invites you to,
"Join Meg and Max in the TOEFL Trainer. These two, upbeat and friendly personalities will find the areas you need to improve the most and create a special study program just for you! Your virtual trainers will also give you focused practice tests to strengthen your TOEFL skills, and send you daily test-taking tips."
The course costs $69 for a 60 day entrance period to the site. During this 60 day period you can take advantage of:
- personalized study guides
- full-length practice exams
- 16 hours of audio
- over 7,000 questions
- full explanations
- e-mail test tips
TestDEN's TOEFL Trainer credentials are also quite impressive:
"TestDEN TOEFL Trainer is produced by ACT360 Media, a leading provider of education content. Since 1994, this innovative Vancouver company has been producing quality CD-ROM titles and Internet sites to enhance learning. Among these is the award-winning Digital Education Network and online tutorials for Microsoft Corporation."
The only flaw seems to be that: "This program has not been reviewed or endorsed by ETS." .
During my test period, I found all of the above claims to be true. Most importantly, the course is extremely well-planned and helps test takers pinpoint exactly those areas which cause them the most difficulties.
The course begins by requiring test takers to take an entire TOEFL examination called the "Pre-test Station". This examination is followed by another section entitled "Evaluation Station", which requires participants to take further sections of the examination. Both of these steps are required for the test taker to reach the heart of the program. While some people might become impatient with these steps, they are required to help the program asses problem areas. One reservation is that the test is not timed as in an actual TOEFL test. This is a rather minor point, as students can time themselves. The listening sections are presented using RealAudio. If the Internet connection is slow it can take quite a while to finish sections that require the opening of each listening exercise separately.
Once both of the above sections have been finished, the test taker arrives at the "Practice Station". This section is by far the most impressive and important section of the program. The "Practice Station" takes the information gathered in the first two sections and prioritizes a learning program for the individual. The program is divided into three categories: Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3. This section includes exercises as well as explanations and tips for the current task. In this manner, the student can focus on exactly what he/she needs to do well on the exam.
The final section is a "Post-test Station" which gives the participant a final test of his/her improvement over the course of the program. Once this section of the program has been taken there is no going back to the practice section.
Let's face it, taking the TOEFL test and doing well can be a long, hard process. The test itself often seems to have little to do with actually being able to communicate in the language. Instead, it can seem like a test that only measures the ability to perform well in an extremely academic setting using very dry and formal English. TestDEN's layout does a wonderful job of preparing test takers for the task, while keeping the preparation rather enjoyable by its user interface.
I would highly recommend TestDEN TOEFL Trainer to any student wanting to take the TOEFL. In fact, to be completely honest, I think this program may do a better job of addressing individual needs than many teachers can! Why is this? Based on in-depth pre-testing and statistical information, the program uses computer technology to find exactly those areas that need to be covered. Unfortunately, teachers are often not able to access student needs so quickly. This program is probably quite sufficient for any high level English student preparing for the exam. The best solution for lower level students would be a combination of this program and a private teacher. TestDen can help identify and provide practice at home, and a private teacher can go into more detail when working on weak areas.
Further TOEFL Links
TOEFL resource page provided by your About.com guide to ESL.