Imagine yourself as the grader – by James Giguere

Hello, and thanks for visiting the instructor blog! Are you enjoying the autumn foliage (紅葉)? I recently took a quick trip to Gujo in Gifu-ken, and the leaves were already starting to turn red and yellow. I definitely recommend visiting there if you can find the time.

My name is Jim, and I teach TOEFL and SAT here at AGOS. I want to write a little bit about a trick that I use whenever I take a standardized test, especially a language test: just imagine that you are the grader.

This applies to both TOEFL and IELTS, and can be used for all sections, but let’s take the TOEFL Speaking test as an example. Imagine yourself grading a similar speaking test in Japanese. What features would prove to you that a speaker is comfortable and confident speaking Japanese? Would you be listening for their vocabulary and grammar, their ideas, or their delivery? What kinds of common mistakes do you think test takers might make?

Thinking about the TOEFL speaking test from this perspective will help you realize what’s most important to graders. The skills that you’re focusing on while you study may be different from what the graders will be paying attention to. There are some common themes, though. Here are a few points that will always catch a grader’s attention:

• Basic grammatical errors. As you’re practicing your speaking and writing, try to catch yourself every time you make a subject/verb agreement error (“she go” instead of “she goes”), singular/plural error (“I bought two book”), or other common error. One or two of these mistakes may not affect your TOEFL speaking score, but making too many will show the grader that you aren’t comfortable with English grammar. Think about a foreign person speaking Japanese – a couple of mistakes wouldn’t be too bad, right? But mistakes in every sentence would probably make you doubt their language ability. Overcoming this takes practice, practice, and more practice.
• Nervousness. Everybody gets a little bit anxious during a test, and the TOEFL speaking test can definitely make you nervous, but do your best not to think about it. Imagine that you’re talking to a friend, colleague, or classmate rather than a computer. As a grader, wouldn’t you give a higher score to someone who seems comfortable and calm while speaking Japanese?
• Memorized lines. Remember: TOEFL speaking graders often listen to dozens of responses per day, and they can usually tell when a line is memorized. If you memorize a line, make sure that your delivery sounds natural and not too different from the rest of your response. Otherwise, the memorized lines may actually hurt your score rather than help it. Try to imagine what it would sound like listening to someone robotically repeating obviously memorized lines of Japanese, rather than natural, fluent Japanese. Which would you give a higher grade to?

These are just a few of the things that TOEFL graders listen for, but spend a few minutes thinking of what you would pay attention to as a grader, and I’m sure you’ll come up with some more!