Part 1 – “The Problem”
Traditional TOEFL Preparation Courses May Be A Waste Of Your Time And Money
I‘m sure that this post won’t win me any new friends in the “traditional” language instruction community, but frankly speaking… I don’t give a damn.
The reasons that make taking TOEFL preparation courses at a “traditional” language school a POTENTIALLY bad idea, are some of the same reasons that make taking ANY course at a “traditional” school a POTENTIAL waste of your money – and, consequently, are the main reasons for me leaving that world of “instruction” behind.
Teacher: “Nope, sorry, no independent thinking allowed. I’m the teacher, so I’m right.”
Student: “Screw this, I’m going to GiveMeSomeEnglish!!!“
I do not deny that some traditional instruction methods and text-books are excellent for many people. And that is great… for them. (Those people know who they are, and probably do not make up a huge percentage of GiveMeSomeEnglish!!! readers.)
But for those who struggle in traditional class-room settings, or who become frustrated by the extreme differences in the levels of each individual in the class (which either slows the class down or leaves others behind), the traditional class-room setting – along with the text-books and teaching methods – definitely leave much to be desired. If you are – or think you may be – one of those people, read on… This message if for you! 🙂
Q: So Why Are They A “Bad” Idea?
A: Language Schools Are Businesses Whose #1 Focus Is On Making Money
This (making money) is not a bad thing. Of course they need to make money in order to pay the teachers and keep the business running. However, in every institution, there are a great many other expenses which come before the teachers’ salary. The money is made on the quantity of students coming in every few months to take a new class. Therefore, whether or not the student has been properly prepared for the exam is of little concern to the business.
If the student does not achieve the needed score, he or she can take the course again, as the school can always say that the student didn’t properly apply him or herself. Or, since it is common that a student may miss a session, the school administrators can say that the fault lies with the student (which is sometimes true, but not usually.) Additionally, the way that most language schools structure their courses is based upon that of the traditional school systems. Therefore, teachers are forced to rush through material in order to finish the course in time for the next round of classes. This is at the detriment to the student who may need more time on a particular topic (not to mention wasting time on things which are not helpful for the student in regard to achieving the necessary score on the exam.)
How It May Feel Taking A Course At A Traditional Language School
Finally, the schools often accept students into the preparation courses who are not yet ready. By this, I mean that even if they were to learn everything that they need to know about the exam and how to achieve the necessary score – their language skills are not yet high-enough to do so. It is a common practice for language schools to rush students through their sets of courses regardless of whether the student has actually accomplished the necessary requirements to make it to the “next level”.
A TOEFL preparation course should be focused on nothing but that… preparing one for The TOEFL Exam. There is often not enough time in the standard course-length (usually 3 months) to: teach about the exam, provide sufficient practice on each section & question-type, AND learn the necessary English skills if one does not already possess them. If the student needs more practice with grammar, vocabulary, and/or pronunciation, then he or she will need to do that, in addition to the regular practice. And if the teacher tries to include this into the course, it will almost definitely hinder the progress of the other students in the class. Unfortunately for the students, this happens quite often because many traditional language schools will typically put students of vastly different levels in the same class. This is done, mostly, as a way of filling the class with the necessary amount of students in order to make it worth paying the teacher – and then it is rationalized as being a “new” form of language instruction where-in the “strong” students help the “weak” ones…
…However, I don’t believe that this is what the “strong” students originally paid for.
A: Many Teachers’ Main Focus Is On Simply Making It Through The Class
It is no secret that teachers (no matter what the type of teaching institution) are over-worked and under-paid. Because of this, they are often forced to take on many more classes than they “should” in order to pay their bills. (Meaning that: To do so, is detrimental to the maintenance of their own health and well-being, which in-turn affects their work-performance.) And… In their classes are all manner of different students. And not all of them are very pleasant. This causes a great deal of stress for the teacher. Being under stress usually amounts to one working far below his or her potential, and quite often causes them to become “jaded” by their work. This, consequently, leads to the student receiving a poor level of service for his or her money.
A: Many Teachers Do Not Actually Know Anything About The Exam
(Beyond What They Read In The Particular Text-Book That The School Administration Has Chosen For The Course)
I realize that this may sound like a terrible thing to say about other teachers – but amazingly, this is VERY common. I know this from my own personal experience.
Based upon the same philosophy as the previously mentioned problem, many teachers (either on their own, or at the urging of the school’s administration) are pushed to take on classes which they, themselves, may not be prepared for…
(And often-times the administration knows this.)
The TOEFL Exam is a very specific type of exam which, is very different from many of the other proficiency English exams. Therefore the exam, itself, needs to be studied by the teacher. This includes – not only what is in the exam, but also – the philosophy behind it, and how the test-taker needs to approach each individual question-type; in addition to the whole experience of actually taking the exam.
Unfortunately, this may not become clear to the teacher until after having gone through an entire preparation course (if it even happens at all.) So what happens to the students of that course where-in the teacher was “fumbling” his or her way through each class?…
…I think that you can probably guess.
A: School Administrators Chose Text-Books Based Upon Deals They Have With Publishing Companies
(Rather Than Whether Or Not The Text-Book Is Actually A Good One)
Nearly every language school has some sort of a deal with a publishing company to get discounts on the text-books as long as they only use text-books by that publishing company. This is nothing new, and is not always a bad thing. There are a few text-books out there which are very good.
What makes this a potentially “bad” thing for the student is that – like any other segment of the business world – the language instruction text-book market is dominated by a very small number of text-book publishers. There are basically two at the very top, with a small handful of others at “the next level down” which are all clamoring for market share.
Once again, this is nothing new in the business world. The thing that makes this a potentially “bad” thing, is that most of the text-book publishers simply “copy” the style and format of each other. If the text-book that they are copying is good, well then… no problem. But the most popular TOEFL preparation text-book on the market would:
1. take the average student nearly a year to work through
2. is not formatted for class-room work
3. is very expensive
4. contains a great deal of general information not directly related to the exam
5. has not been updated in over five years
I have also been through a great many text-books which contain an incredible amount of information which is completely useless to the test-taker when it comes to actually achieving the score which he or she needs to achieve on The TOEFL Exam…
…And shouldn’t that be the most important thing?
This, consequently leads to the last major problems of Traditional TOEFL Preparation Courses
A: Many Teachers Use Materials And Assign Practices Which Are A Complete Waste Of The Test-Taker’s Time
(Meaning: There Is A Lot Of Information Which Is Not Directly Related To Achieving The Needed Score)
This particular problem is a result of a combination of the above factors. What’s more, this problem may even come out of an authentic, (yet mis-guided) desire to actually help the student.
If the teacher is given a poor text-book with which he or she is required to teach from, often-times, the teacher will utilize other materials that he or she finds on the internet. Some common examples are “books” with titles sounding something like:
“500 Essential Words You Need To Know For The TOEFL”
(Which you actually don’t)
“Answers To Every Essay Question On The TOEFL”
(Which implies that one merely needs to study these “answers” and write something similar – only to find that there is nothing even remotely related to these topics on the exam)
“TOEFL Grammar Builder”
(It certainly isn’t a bad idea to “brush up on” one’s grammar skills, but this implies that there is a grammar section on the exam – which there isn’t – and therefore, books like these waste the test-taker’s time because they never actually say WHY a person would need to study them)
And there are a great many other materials out there for the test-taker to waste his or her time on. This includes books which are out-dated and do a dis-service to the test-taker by preparing him or her for questions which will NOT be on the exam. Thus, doing nothing to prepare the person for the ACTUAL question-types which WILL be on the exam.
Additionally, nearly every TOEFL “text-book”, available for sale or pirated down-load, has an incredible amount of information and a vast array of exercises at the beginning of the book which do nothing for the test-taker as far as ACTUALLY preparing him or her for the exam…
Nearly all of the text-books contain examples of question-types which are completely in-authentic examples of what the test-taker will actually encounter on the day of the exam.
The first 50 pages of a 250-page text-book which I was forced to teach from had nothing that even remotely related to the TOEFL exam, except for that it talked a lot about:
1. The Company Who Created The Exam
2. Why A Student Would Need To Take The Exam
3. What The Test-Taker Can Use His Or Her Exam Score For After Finally Taking The Exam
The first item, is completely useless to the test-taker, and the second two items are things that the test-taker would already know before EVER spending money on a preparation course.
So now, I hope that now you are beginning to see that it might not be a good idea to simply go into a language school and say…
“I want to take the TOEFL exam! Here… Take my money!”
Nor should anyone think that simply buying (or down-loading) a text-book on the subject will provide a reliable source of information necessary to achieving the score which he or she needs, for whatever reason that that person happens to be taking The TOEFL Exam in the first place.
So Now What?
First of all, one needs to know at least the most basic information about the exam. This includes: The Format of The Exam – How Much Time They Will Need To Prepare – and at least a Brief Overview Of What Is In The Exam.In another post (on this subject) I will offer a number of solutions for how to alleviate the potential problems, listed above. Like: How To Tell If Your Teacher Know What He or She Is Doing – How To Tell If Your Teacher Is Wasting Your Time – How To Tell If You Even Need A Preparation Course Or Not.
…It is quite possible that you do not even need to take a full preparation course,
but only need to know HOW to answer each question and fulfill each task on the exam…
(thus saving you a lot of money.)
Stay Tuned! – More Coming Soon!
Have An Excellent Day!
If You Would Like Help Preparing For The TOEFL Exam….