Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
As you know during 3/4 of this test you will have to take notes. You will be doing this during The Listening Section, The Speaking Section, and The Writing Section. However, you must be aware that this is not an easy skill to master here is a shortlist of things that I have compiled and applied with my students to help them improve their writing skills as fast as they can.
Here is the breakdown.
If you wish to skip some, just click on your selection to go straight to it.
Let`s start right away!
1. Know what section you are in.
As I stated before this is a very important skill that you will have to apply through 75% of the test. However, after some practice, you will notice that you cannot apply the same strategy for every single section or every individual task. I am going to go very quickly over the differences in each section.
1.1. The Listening Section: in this section, you will be listening mostly to conversations and lectures and taking notes for both tasks is quite different.
When you are listening to our conversation the information will usually flow from one person to another making it easier to follow one person`s question or comment. But if you are not able to understand, you could deduce some of the missing information by the response the other speaker gives.
Here you must try to pay attention to the purpose of the meeting and other details. In this section, you can also hear some lectures and classes that may be a bit trickier as we will have to pay attention to what the teacher or lecturer is speaking of and write down the information he or she is stating making sure to find the main ideas and what supports they give.
Additionally, you can find images here or there sketch well so you have to pay attention to the screen while you listen and write.
1.2. The Speaking Section: in this section, you will have to take notes of very short audios and then you will have some time to organize your information afterward.
This section can be quite complicated at times because it puts the students into a lot of pressure by literally showing the clock ticking against you.
They will focus on academic topics where you will have to compare or contrast ideas. Notes will tend to be more similar to a brainstorm organigram here, as the pieces of information are shorter. Audios will not exceed the 2-minute band, so notes can generally be more scattered.
1.3. The Writing Section: here you will have to combine more efficiently your note-taking skills. On one task you will be asked to read a text listen to a lecture which can be in favor or against text and you must pay attention to the arguments that are given by both sources to be able to effectively contrast them.
2. Do NOT write every word.
A common mistake from a lot of students is knowing what to write down. of course, it is impossible to write down every bit of information we are tossed because the speaker or speakers will be talking at a standard pace which is much faster than what most of us can write. So how do we surpass this challenge? Simple, we don’t write every word in every single task.
We have to be able to identify the main idea and synthesizing or paraphrasing it into a much shorter format we need to be able to listen to the core that is given to us so that we can write down only the essential, this way we will be able to reduce dramatically the volume that we must put in our notes. This, of course, is not something that is easily done within a few minutes it requires lots and lots of practice.
3. Know what to pay attention to.
Identifying main ideas and support always represents a challenge as it is part of a more general section of comprehension. This is strongly influenced by the student’s current level of English. It can be developed rather slowly while working in your reading comprehension skill and your critical thinking. Once you mastered it you can switch to listening comprehension and critical thinking.
In a text of academic writing, typical in the TOEFL, we will find a very common structure where the main idea of a paragraph will usually be placed in the first sentence of the paragraph. The following sentences are usually considered supporting arguments. This does not always apply to the listenings we get in the TOEFL or other standardized tests so at times we must listen to a little more information to be able to decipher the main idea.
Once we have this idea it becomes relatively easy to capture the supporting argument. We may at times be confused by very technical words or specific details, but keep in mind that they will be planted there to deviate our attention.
As I mentioned before, in the listening section we will have to adapt the multitasking more than in the rest of the test. In this section when we are listening to a class or a lecture it is very possible that we will get a few sketches of the topic that the teacher is speaking of.
For example let’s say we are listening to an architecture class and the teacher talks about different types of houses: “firstly we have the cubic house” and the teacher continues to talk about the characteristics of this cubic house and while we listen and take notes of what we hear a small sketch of a cube with a window and a door will pop up on the screen. We have to be able to see this little sketch and to simulate it in our notes as it will help us to identify the characteristics, The house can be shaped like a cube and the teacher can go on explaining how all or most of the sides are almost identical in length and so on.
So developing these abilities will help us plenty in this test. Keep in mind that these sketches shown will be intentionally simple to draw, that way you can recreate them with a fair degree of accuracy on your notes with just a few strokes of your pencil. Their intention is not to hurt you, but to challenge you.
5. Symbols instead of words
As you may know if we want to shorten the amount text we put in our paper we have to omit specific pieces of information yet sometimes this is still not enough. The speaker in the listening may use a very long word, so, we can apply some simple techniques, for example, abbreviation.
Now I know this may sound obsessive, but just think of how long it takes you to write the word abbreviation and contrast how long it takes you to write the letters abr.
You will notice there is a significant difference. Aside from this when the speaker is contrasting two items declaring that one is better than the other or faster than the other or more expensive than the other. We will waste a lot of time writing that, where we could write in different symbols to hasten our note-taking process so we can reduce the expression “more expensive than” to a few characters such as “↑$”… Just think of how much time I have saved by writing two little symbols instead of all those long words.
Personally I don’t like to give a list little symbols or abbreviations for students to use because the good part of this is that you can create your own set of little standard and common symbols and abbreviations for your personal use but the hardest part of these symbols is adapting to them as if it were part of a second language.
Pop culture has provided us with a few examples such as: lol, btw, brb and many more, however, these are not the ones that we will most likely find in standardized tests or academic content so familiarize yourself with the material of the test and figure out on your own a unique shorthand language.
6. Practice and adapt
Developing these skills is by far something that you cannot do in a short time. This is way different from a game because these are designed with a very steep learning curve to hook gamers.
But the life skills that I am writing about here take longer to learn and master. I always recommend my students to prepare for the TOEFL test with a minimum of two months’ time. This because I understand that in that amount of time students will have developed their skills much further.
It is not something that you can rush into if you are short on time so the best thing to do is have plenty of time of preparation but practice in that time and not to let your guard down and postpone.
These little tricks can really help us be way, way, way more efficient when we have to take our notes, whether it be for a standardized test such as the TOEFL or IELTS but developing this skill before those tasks and help us drastically when it comes time to study at college University at work or in life. The trick here is to continue practicing until you feel more fluid and comfortable.