Since I originally posted this in September, I have waited for three and a half months to find out WHEN my student would finally get her minimum Speaking score of 27.
Today, today her chapter of TOEFL ends… and her “real life” is starting.
If you must score 26/30 on TOEFL iBT Speaking, then I hope you will read the story below. It documents a true story with one of my students.
TOEFL iBT Speaking will test you in ways that have nothing to do with English. You’ll learn the depths of your patience, the strength of your resilience, the amount of trust that you have in other people.
Good News: February 5, 2019
I saw Ai’s email come in: “Good news.”
I clicked and scanned quickly… “… I took the test on January 26… scored 27… Feel free to call me anytime!”
I grabbed my phone.
Ai answered on the third ring.
“Tell me again!” I practically shouted into the phone, not bothering to say hello. “What was your score?”
“I got 27 on TOEFL Speaking,” Ai glowed.
It isn’t easy to stay confident in the nearly-constant “bad news” environment of TOEFL iBT. These moments of joys come few and far between.
By the time we got off the phone, my face literally hurt from smiling so much.
“Before TOEFL iBT, I never doubted my intelligence,” Ai told me in our free consultation. I wasn’t surprised. I have heard exactly the same thing from women who graduated in the top 1 to 5% of their university classes. TOEFL iBT kills people’s self-confidence at an alarming rate.
Ai started studying for TOEFL in 2015 and taken the test quite a few times — long before she found me on Google and registered for lessons. Without me, her Reading, Listening and Writing were consistently strong — always at least 25, and often higher.
However, in Speaking, her score was always 22, 23 or 24. It fluctuated between those 3 scores. She had never scored 26 before. She was always frustrated because the information on the TOEFL iBT score report was so vague!
Ai got her degree in pharmacy back in her home country. Here in America, she already has a job at a research facility. She works in a team with Americans and helps conduct important research. Obviously, she is smart because she got a job! Her kids are at school in America. She can speak English… So why was her Speaking score on TOEFL stuck between 22 and 24?
“I got really confused about how to study for TOEFL Speaking,” she told me.
Ai felt that she could trust me and she enrolled in The ESA Method.
March 10, 2018
My student, Ai, and I were looking at her Score Analysis document. She just started lessons with me to reach her target score of 26 on TOEFL iBT.
We were just beginning my unique process — “The ESA Method” — and the initial Score Analysis is so important because we can identify what we need to focus on. Students are similar, but each student needs their own unique combination of improvements.
TOEFL iBT graders pay attention to the following categories:
- Topic Development
- Language Use
In our first Score Analysis, I counted that Ai was making 177 mistakes in all 6 tasks. Yes. 177. In some tasks, she had more errors than others. Total, there were 177. Some of them were Topic Development, others were Language Use, and others were Delivery. We looked at the results and we discussed how to fix the mistakes.
“How do you feel?” I asked her.
Ai took a deep breath. “There are a lot of mistakes.”
“It’s true. There are a lot of mistakes. But I’m actually very optimistic about your ability. You can do this! The most important thing is to stay positive. It’s going to take us months. ”
“But, the thing is that I know a lot of these are mistakes. It’s frustrating. I know many of these are wrong. How do I change them when I speak at TOEFL? How do I improve in the moment?”
“I have ways! We’re going to follow a specific process. We’re not going to randomly approach your score from different directions. We’ll follow The ESA Method. I’ve spent years developing this. I’ve worked with so many students like you before. I’m not worried. I know what to do.”
“Ok.” Ai said. “But Jaime… I already did all the TOEFL practice. I finished all the activities and it didn’t work. What are we going to do?”
“That isn’t a problem,” I told her. “We’re going to practice in such a different way that it won’t matter.”
She looked relieved.
“The most important thing,” I told her, “Is that you need to stay energized and positive. I’m never going to tell you, ‘I don’t know why you’re not getting Speaking 26.’ I’m always going to find something with Topic Development, Language Use and Delivery that we can focus on to get results. So, you need to bring the energy and the commitment. If you stick with me, you’ll get the results. I can’t guarantee when, but if you keep working on it, if you keep doing the activities I assign, and if you keep coming back to me for help, then you’ll eventually develop the English that gets Speaking 26.”
She nodded. “Ok.”
“Are you ready to start?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she said.
So we did. That was back in March…
July 21, 2018
As a busy mom with a young kid and a full-time job, Ai had a lot to do. She kept her commitment to me. She did all her homework. She didn’t cancel or make excuses about how life was too busy or crazy. Week after week, Ai made time and showed up.
I could tell that her spontaneous English was getting better. When she spoke, there were significantly fewer mistakes. Her Topic Development and Language Use and Delivery were all improving.
It was time to do another Score Analysis to measure the change from our first one a few months earlier.
This time, in her Score Analysis, there were 77 mistakes. I was right! She had reduced her spontaneous errors with Topic Development, Language Use and Delivery by 57%.
“Good job, Ai!” I told her. “I’m really proud of you. I hope you’re proud of yourself! You’re doing great and you’re a pleasure to work with!”
“Am I ready?” she asked me. “How much further to 26 on Speaking?”
“You’re not ready yet. But you’re definitely getting closer. We were making good progress. I’m happy with the results of this.”
Ai was quiet.
“I know you can do this. We just have to keep doing. Are you ready to get back to it?”
And again, she nodded. And again, we continued.
September 10, 2018
Ai was the best kind of persistent. She just kept going. When she got stressed out, she took a deep breath. She focused. She tried again.
She did every activity the way I asked her to do it. The result was that I could hear a new level of accuracy shining through her “first recordings” of her TOEFL responses.
Her spontaneous speaking was undoubtedly significantly better. I had finally encouraged her to start scheduling TOEFL tests.
“Am I really ready?” she asked me.
“Depending on the topics and the vocabulary that you need, yeah — you’re either already there — or you’re super close.”
She smiled. She had been working so hard. She glowed when she heard that after all these months, she was so close to being done.
“Look,” I said. “I’m going to be honest with you. You might need to take the test a few more times to get the Speaking score of 26. You can focus so easily at home, by yourself. When you are in the exam center, when you’re surrounded by other students and distracted or feeling self-conscious, are you going to be so focused? We won’t know until we see the test results.”
I continued: “It’s possible that your performance level might slip. It’s been a long time since you took a real TOEFL test. Also, you have to focus and be accurate with a lot of things. If your score is 24, I need you to be resilient. Don’t get depressed and fall apart on me. We’re just going to try again. ”
“Ok,” she agreed.
So she registered for October 13.
September 27, 2018
It was time for another Score Analysis.
This time, there was a total of only 20 mistakes in her “first recordings.”
In March, she made 33 grammar mistakes. She “knew” almost all of them were mistakes, but despite that, she struggled to fix them. By following The ESA Method, Ai made just 1 grammar mistake on September 27.
In March, she made 19 vocabulary mistakes. On September 27, there was just 1 mistake.
In March, Ai made 121 pronunciation errors. On September 27, there were just 18.
Although she had years of English grammar classes back in her home country, Ai never had accent or pronunciation classes before studying with me.
“You’re doing an amazing job! Honestly, you’re incredible! Keep it up, Ai!”
The final push… from October 2018 to January 2019
One day, in late September, early October, I had “the feeling.”
“The feeling” is when I consistently begin hearing the combination of qualities that characterize Speaking 26 on TOEFL iBT. The feeling is based on strong performance with Topic Development, Language Use andDelivery… all at the same time
As soon as I get “the feeling” for a student, I let him or her know.
“Ai,” I told her one day. “You’re serving what TOEFL graders want to hear. You’re really showing me that you can put the pronunciation, accent, grammar, vocabulary and Topic Development together all at the same time. It may take more than once to get your final scores. But, if you feel readyI want you to start considering taking the test.”
Like everyone, Ai wanted to be done with TOEFL iBT as soon as humanly possible, so she registered in October. Unfortunately, she got nervous at the test center. I totally understand. I took TOEFL too, and I get nervous (even when I score 30/30 on Speaking, I’m nervous so I don’t judge my students for feeling nervous).
So as you can see from the progression of her score, things didn’t go so well with Speaking for the next 3 months…
The most important thing — literally the most important thing — is that Ai and I continued to communicate with each other, and keep studying together through October, November and December.
She didn’t give up on the program.
She didn’t stop trusting me.
She didn’t stop emailing me.
She didn’t abandon our goal.
She. Just. Kept. Going.
She. Just. Kept. Doing. The. Homework. I. Assigned.
All. Of. It.
Ai found faith and trust from somewhere deep in herself, and… even when she felt like Margo Hayes (that’s the woman rock climber in the photo below, breaking a world medal) from finishing homework activities…
… even on those days, Ai kept reaching for more.
And then one day… January 26, 2019 to be exact… When she least expected it (because she had a sore throat and was sick), she showed up at a TOEFL test center and served TOEFL graders exactly what they needed to hear.
And 10 days later, February 5, 2019, we found out that it was the performance of her life.
If you’ve been stuck with TOEFL iBT, you still have a chance to get your target scores.
It will require your trust in me, but if you are ready to let me lead you…