Tag: standardized testing

The Tests Don’t Mean Shit

The Tests Don’t Mean Shit

Back in 2012, I briefly considered doing grad school. But after working as a teacher, I had a real hard time convincing myself it’d be worthwhile to be on the other side of the classroom again.

I thought renewing my personal trainer certification would be the extent of having to deal with standardized testing, but tomorrow afternoon I’ll be tackling another beast in the form of the JLPT N2.

And honestly, my chances of passing are slim to none. It’s just too many concepts to have tried to cram in 3 months. That’s kind of what I get for not really touching Japanese study in any substantial way for 6 years. Sure, it makes me wish I had more time, but I’m okay with that.

For one, I’ve been in a study rhythm that’s been consistent. If I would’ve signed up for the summer or winter exam in 2019– a plan that makes way more sense– I know I would’ve continued to put off actually studying.

The other thing that keeps the stakes low for taking this test? There’s not exactly a real good reason for me to be taking it. (Major props to my friend Jo for calling me out on this.)

Oh sure, it’s useful for working in Japan, but I’m not going down that route. I mean, it could help my with my own coaching business. Maybe. You know, by… finding better Japanese clients or something.

In other words, the JLPT isn’t a barrier that’s blocking me from achieving my goals.

For some, the TOEFL or TOEIC is a “necessary” evil. They need to pass that in order to enter a university. They need the certification in order to get a job. And sometimes you have people who have legitimate language skill who fail, while you have people who can pass the paper despite being completely unable to use the language.

The last time I took this JLPT level, I failed miserably. Anybody who’s never studied Japanese had an easy shot of scoring better that me– that’s how poorly the final tally came out.

And yeah, it was pretty soul crushing.

Back then, I didn’t prep for standardized testing. I didn’t drill things specifically for test taking skills. I naively thought I could brush by with my subconscious learning gleaned from, you know, living and breathing in Japan and Japanese.

But the test doesn’t mean shit.

If I pass from dumb luck, nothing is proven. If I fail despite knowing how to use all the concepts overall, nothing is proven.

If I can pass and know how to use the concepts? Well, that’s the idealistic hope and dream for the people who came up with this test in the first place, huh?


Stupid TOEFL Tips

Stupid TOEFL Tips

TOEFL is stupid. TOEFL is stupid because standardized testing is stupid. It’s not an accurate way to gauge a person’s English ability, but for now and many years to come it will remain a necessary evil.

If you’re going to be taking the TOEFL soon (hopefully, you’re giving yourself at least 2 months to prep), here are some tips:

Take Practice Tests

If you’ve never taken the TOEFL before, it’s going to feel overwhelming. It takes a long ass time, and each section is designed to wear you out.

A lot of people will mistake their everyday English ability to be sufficient for the test, but no. The way you talk to your friends isn’t the way you talk on the test. The way you post a Facebook status isn’t the way you write on the test. The material that you read and listen to aren’t the same as checking Twitter and hearing the audio on a YouTube clip.

This is a different kind of beast. Be sure you familiarize yourself with each section: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Time Yourself

You have to keep your eyes on the clock like a hawk. Some people will practice each section diligently, but they keep the time frame open-ended. On the test, you don’t have that kind of leisure.

It’s 20 minutes to write an essay. It’s only 15-30 seconds to think of a response before speaking. You have to get used to that time crunch.

Otherwise, if you only practice in ideal circumstances, you’re going to be left in the dust.

Identify Key Points

During the TOEFL, you’ll have to deal with hybrid questions. They’re the ones where you have to read an article, listen to a related piece of audio, and summarize.

Sometimes the summary is verbal. Sometimes it’s written. Either way, you’ll want to jot down the gist as you go.

Often, this material will be real dense and loaded with information to distract your focus. You usually won’t have to recall specific numbers and dates. You will need to figure out if the two materials support or argue against each other.

Read and Listen A Lot

Most of the people who get screwed on the reading and listening sections are people who don’t read or listen on a regular basis. Sure, they read texts. Yeah, they listen to a conversation. But both of those aren’t substantial enough to prep your focus for the test.

We’re talking about 3 minutes or less to read a 2 page article. We’re talking about being able to handle a 5 minute monologue that you can follow along and understand in one shot.

When practicing, you should be reading longer articles. You should be listening to longer piece of audio.

Sound Comfortable Speaking

The people grading the exam don’t know you, so that means they can’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

When you’re speaking, if you’re too focused on what the “right answer” is, you’ll lose. Instead, you need to focus on what you “sound” like.

No matter how terrified or unsure you feel on the inside, you need to speak where it sounds like you’re comfortable speaking English. That’ll go a long way.

On the flipside, you can have the right answer, have the right grammar and vocab, yet sound weak without attention to the delivery. You need to sound human.


And there you have it! These are the exact steps I use to drill the TOEFL. Remember that when you’re tackling the TOEFL, you’re not working on real English skills. So when you do pass the TOEFL, don’t think you’ve developed and achieved real English skills.