5 Score Boosting TOEIC Teaching Strategies for Your ESL Class
There’s no denying the importance of the TOEIC.
It’s the standard by which company employees’ English skills are measured in many countries.
The TOEFL and IELTS have definitely risen to prominence, but that doesn’t mean the TOEIC is out of the picture.
If you’re teaching ESL abroad – particularly in an Asian country – chances are you’ve already taught a TOEIC test preparation course or two. If you haven’t, it’s just a matter of time.
On the surface, teaching for the TOEIC looks pretty easy.
Most test preparation coursebooks these days are clear, well-structured and present easy-to-follow strategies for helping students boost their scores.
But if your students wanted to just go through a textbook point by point, they’d do that at home by themselves.
They come to you because they want something more.
What that more is, and how you can provide it, can be the tricky part. Here, I aim to provide you with the tools you’ll need to deliver effective and supportive TOEIC lessons with confidence.
What’s the TOEIC?
First, let’s take a very brief flyover of the TOEIC.
The TOEIC – Test of English for International Communication – is a seven-part English proficiency test.
There are four Listening parts and three Reading parts. The Listening section takes 45 minutes in total. 75 minutes are allotted for the Reading section.
Many Asian schools, companies and organizations set between 600 and 850 as the minimum score required for admission or hiring. And even after that, they often make the TOEIC a yearly requirement.
That means employees must achieve certain (high) scores in order to qualify for promotions, departmental transfers or overseas business assignments.
Depending where you’re at with your English – and your TOEIC familiarity — reaching these scores can be a daunting task. Hence, the demand for TOEIC preparation courses: both individuals and organizations invest millions of dollars in these courses hoping they’ll result in stronger and faster improvements than self-study methods.
Keep in mind that serious students will be looking for a teacher or tutor with the right training and experience—even a TEFL certification alone might not cut it.
To prepare yourself and attract more paying students, you’ll want to take a targeted TOEIC course and obtain certification. You'll find excellent—not to mention convenient and affordable—TOEIC options on the Premier TEFL site.
Where Do TOEIC Takers Typically Struggle?
There are some major areas that students struggle with when taking the TOEIC. Target these specific issues with your teaching methods, and your students will be that much closer to TOEIC success.
1. Lack of TOEIC knowledge.
I’ve taught many TOEIC prep courses to many students over the years, and these students have all had different strengths and opportunities for improvement. But one thing that has bound many of them together is a general lack of knowledge about the TOEIC itself.
Even fairly experienced test-takers, when quizzed, are often unable to describe what kinds of questions are found in which parts of the test and how much time is given for each part.
This is the first step towards doing better on the TOEIC. If your students have a good understanding of the test structure, what skills are required for each part and which parts are easier for them than others, then they can focus their energies on the more challenging sections.
2. Time management.
This applies to the TOEIC’s Reading section. Examinees are given 75 minutes to go through its three parts at their own pace. They should be trying to allot as much time as possible for the final part – Reading Comprehension – as it involves making sense of reading passages (and some double passages) and contains difficultly-worded questions.
However, many examinees spend too much time on the first two parts – even though they’re far less complex than Reading Comprehension – and find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to blitz through the final part without really taking the necessary time. This has a big effect on their reading score.
Parts 1 and 2 of the TOEIC, for instance, feature a lot of synonyms. Conversely, they actively use “distractors” such as similar-sounding words – or the same word, but used within a different context. Many test-takers don’t have the broad knowledge of synonyms needed for really excelling in these sections and, as a result, have a tendency to get fooled by the trick questions.
4. Inability to infer meaning from context.
When encountering a new word in the TOEIC reading section, many examinees freeze up. “What does that word mean? I’ve never seen it before. I wish I could check my dictionary…”
The instinct is often to panic rather than to try and pick the word apart by looking at the topic, the sentence in which the word is contained and the other sentences around it.
Now you have some reasons why your students’ TOEIC scores are what they are. So, what can you do to help them improve? What’s that something more you can give them to help them achieve their goals?
5 Score Boosting TOEIC Teaching Strategies for Your ESL Class
These teaching strategies are targeted to the problematic areas described above. They’ll help you get your students totally prepared to succeed on the exam and get a better score than last time — or, perhaps, get an outstanding score on their very first try.
1. Get them to think like the TOEIC does.
Sun Tzu said that “if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
Getting your students to “know their enemy” means, first and foremost, making sure that they’re familiar with the TOEIC itself.
It also entails getting them to understand how it thinks on top of that: how questions are worded, what structures are typically used in which sections and how it uses distractors.
One activity that works really well for this is getting your students to make their own mini-tests. Give them an example and then have them write their own questions and answer choices. Encourage them to be creative and make their tests challenging.
Then, break them into groups and let them work cooperatively. Having your pupils share their mini-tests with each other is a great way for them to build communication and learn from one another’s TOEIC knowledge and experience.
2. Time activities.
This is important when preparing for the Reading section.
Examinees should be thinking about how long to spend on each question. If they go over, they should be moving on.
This mindset will ensure that they’ll have enough time to complete Part 7 thoroughly and perhaps even go back and double-check some of the more challenging questions before they have to hand in their tests.
Ideally, examinees should be aiming to spend 30 minutes or less on Parts 5 & 6. With these two parts comprising 60 questions total, examinees are left with 30 seconds or less per question. They should then be trying to complete the 40-question Part 7 in 40 minutes – one minute per question.
When practicing these parts in class, set time limits based on the guideline above. This will help train your students to manage their time better. Also, encourage them not to get trapped by difficult questions. Have them read the questions and answer the easier ones first – and quickly – leaving a little more time for the harder ones down the line.
3. Do vocabulary-building activities.
As stated above, the TOEIC is heavy on vocabulary, particularly synonyms. Whenever possible, get your students to think about vocabulary related to a theme or topic presented in their TOEIC course.
For instance, if you’re preparing for Part 1 – Photographs – give them two minutes to brainstorm as many sentences as they can think of to describe a picture in their book.
If it’s Part 7 and there’s a reading about a class barbecue, have them mind-map vocabulary related to barbecue parties.
FluentU also offers a wide variety of interactive videos, which are a great resource to build specific vocabulary words.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Word families are also important for the TOEIC. If your students come across an unfamiliar word in class, elicit its other forms – noun, verb, adjective, adverb. Then, your students will be fully prepared should the word appear on their next test.
4. Go over mistakes in detail.
All of the above tips are helpful for boosting your students’ TOEIC scores, but nothing beats getting them to examine their mistakes.
After doing a practice test in class, don’t just correct answers — go over them in detail. Why is (A) not possible? What is the distractor in (C)?
Helping your students to understand this will help them avoid mistakes and also make them better able to achieve Strategy #1 outlined here – thinking like the TOEIC does.
5. Train your students to infer meaning from context.
The thing about this is, your students already know how to do it. Why? Because they do it every day in their native language!
Every time they encounter a new word, they look at the situation and what’s around it to get the gist of it.
The key here is to bring out this ability and have them apply it to their second language — English.
First, set a ground rule that your students aren’t permitted to use dictionaries during TOEIC practice time. They can’t use them on the TOEIC, so they can’t use them in class.
Now your students know they have to fend for themselves.
Then, if they come across unfamiliar vocabulary in TOEIC Reading practice, ask questions to help them draw out the meaning. Write the questions on the board as you ask them.
Once they’ve figured out the meaning of the word, show your students the questions you asked, and tell them that these are the types of questions they should be asking themselves whenever they meet words they don’t know, whether on the TOEIC or in daily life.
Coach them to do it over and over again, and watch their speed – and vocabulary – improve! Their confidence will also skyrocket as they become more self-sufficient and less dependent on their dictionaries.