TOEFL Success Story: How Olek Stabilized Months of Fluctuating Scores

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Below is another real-life story from Olek, a pharmacist who passed TOEFL iBT with final scores of 107 (R28 L28 S27 W24) in early September, 2019. This post was prepared from a spoken interview between Olek and Jaime Miller. It has been lightly edited. These are his words.

“Before coming to the US, I was the head of the business unit for Gulf Countries in one of the leading pharmaceutical companies. I had a very good position with very good income, but for many reasons, I had to move to America. And I started from below zero here, you know? Studying, taking exams, getting my Master’s, working entry-level job positions to have an American professional experience and… Because I had to. 

My Master’s degree is in pharmaceutical sciences, and I contributed to six of the best journals in chemistry and microbiology about my research on carbon nanoparticles.

I wanted to have a very prestigious resume, an American degree, and a lot of different experiences in research.

I passed the FPGEE in October 2016. A couple months later, I started looking for a TOEFL tutor to teach me how to pass the TOEFL iBT exam and get the required score. At that time, I was still completing my Master’s degree. To apply for my Master’s degree, I took the IELTS test, not the TOEFL iBT. I did this when I was in Kuwait and IELTS is much easier (in my opinion). When you do the exams outside the United States, they have different standards and protocols for the testing centers.

I tried tens of TOEFL teachers before I found two who could really help me. It was too hard to find someone who could teach me how to get high scores like Speaking 26 and Writing 24 on TOEFL iBT. I joined classes here in the local community college and I asked that teacher to give me private lessons. Their classes were fine if you want to get a maximum of 80 points on TOEFL—but above that level, their classes don’t work.

So I also took online classes. It was tough because teachers would write in their biography that they are experts in TOEFL. Especially in WyzAnt.com. I joined their classes for one or two lessons. They said, ‘Bring your TOEFL book,’ and we started reading from this TOEFL book. Teachers will tell you that they are experts in TOEFL, and they are experts in English of course, but they have no idea about TOEFL, you know? Despite what is written in their biography.

I spent a lot of time, energy and money passing TOEFL iBT. I didn’t calculate it, but I can tell you roughly that in these past 3 years, I spent more than $15,000. And this is only registering for TOEFL iBT, because for a certain period or time, especially last year, I was having some days two classes on the same day with different teachers. Someone from Michigan and another one from Texas. I was actively looking for a TOEFL teacher who could help me. 

Since I took the exam dozens of times, you know, and I have all the materials, I could feel immediately whether the teachers were aware or if they had experience with TOEFL or not. I changed teachers a lot because all of the teachers were the same. They are very good English teachers, but I needed someone to prepare me for TOEFL iBT. The average number of lessons I would take with a teacher was 4 or 5 before I moved to another teacher.

Through the end of 2018, my total TOEFL score was never above 85.

At work, I was working in rotating night shift in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry. I would leave for work around  7 PM at night and come back at 7 AM. I would sleep during the day. It was difficult because I have a family. They completely forgot about me because I could not be around them, you know? I wasn’t able to join their activities.

I started to think about joining a pharmacist school in the United States so I would not have to deal with TOEFL. I did actually send my application documents to certain pharmacy schools, but I found out I would have to study for 4 years (even though I already had my Master’s degree in pharmacy). I decided it wouldn’t be worth it to go back to school.

I thought about going back to Kuwait. I had many ideas because I was so disappointed with, even sometimes depressed with TOEFL iBT. When I moved here to the States, I left a very good job. Actually, when I left, people were surprised and asked me, ‘Why are you moving?’ you know? They said, ‘You will not get what you’re leaving here.’ So I took a big risk, I took on a huge challenge by coming here.

Despite everything, getting my TOEFL scores was the only good option for me.  And so I kept trying and kept trying. We moved over the ocean to follow our dreams to live here in America. What could I do but keep trying?

The real difference happened when I started with Laura Woods. She guided me from January 2019 until I started with Jaime Miller in July, 2019. She used English Success Academy materials and she followed the basic curriculum framework of The ESA Method because she took a teacher training from Jaime in 2016. I took months of lessons from her. With Laura’s help, I studied The Advanced Speaking Guide for Scores of 26+ at TOEFL iBT  and The 24+ Writing Tutorial.

With her help, I got the following scores…

The main problem was that my score were still fluctuating.  You know, I had to get the National Board of Pharmacy’s required scores all on the same test, on the same day: at least 22 on Reading, at least 21 on Listening, at least 26 on Speaking and at least 24 on Writing.

Eventually one day, Laura said to me, ‘There are a few tips you need that I am not able to give to you. We need an expert here in order to make your scores in Writing and Speaking consistent.’

Laura contacted Jaime Miller directly and coordinated a consultation for me to meet with and talk to Jaime. You might be surprised, but I did not have any hesitations about studying with Jaime. On the contrary, I had very good signs, because I had already learned the basic templates in The 24+ Writing Tutorial and The Advanced Speaking Guide. And just studying with Laura significantly increased my scores. Plus, Laura told me that English Success Academy trained her for how to teach TOEFL iBT, so I was excited to start with Jaime, too. Because I got very positive signs, I was looking forward to Jaime’s lessons.

After speaking with Jaime, I registered for a coaching package.  I studied directly with Jaime Miller from early July for the next 10 weeks. She gave me week-by-week study schedules, we had meetings and lessons. I finished homework activities and I submitted them to her. I got feedback from her. If I was confused about her feedback in email, I would ask her questions in our meetings and lessons.

The first thing I learned from Jaime was how to permanently recover my Writing scores, and we stopped the fluctuation. That was a pretty quick process. Then she showed me how to recover my Speaking score. Speaking is the most complicated part of TOEFL, so that took the longest. And again, we regained and stabilized my Speaking scores. The last obstacle was to stop the fluctuation in my Reading. 

Here are my score results for this time period…

What’s life like after TOEFL? Really, I can’t believe it, you know, I’m not studying English anymore. I’ve been studying English for three years, so it was a nightmare for me, yeah, and as I told you, I was really thinking about changing my whole life or leaving the States, or changing careers—just because of this struggle with TOEFL.

Lessons with Jaime were the shortcut to stabilizing my scores!”

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