HomeEnglish LanguageTOEFLBusting the "magic" myth: the TOEFL test, The Beatles, and you

Busting the “magic” myth: the TOEFL test, The Beatles, and you


When you go on YouTube, you see a lot of titles with “Magic” and “Secrets” in the title. These annoy me. I do not mind “Tips” but as my father used to always say, “Kathy, there is no such thing as magic in the world.” I remember him fondly.

But what about the Beatles?
The Beatles are the best Rock n’ Roll group that ever existed. I love them so much, I used to use their songs to teach grammar when I was an English as a Second Language teacher.  Even if you do not personally like their music, you know they have performed in front of millions of screaming fans over the course of their careers, and had hit after hit. They are responsible for a historical moment called “Beatlemania.” The two surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, still draw huge crowds to their shows. Today, they have a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas called “Love.”  You get the point. They were GOOD. 
Here is a list of their accomplishments.
But how did that happen? What magic formula did the Beatles have? How is this related to TOEFL?

Simple. They did not have magic. They PRACTICED a lot when they started their career. Read on:

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers tells the story of how The Beatles became successful by practicing for at least 10,000 hours as a band before gaining fame in the US. They honed their skills by playing at small, poorly paying clubs in Hamburg, Germany, where they played for up to eight hours a day. Gladwell used this story to suggest that the 10,000-hour rule is a good way to build expertise in any area. However, Anders Ericsson, the original researcher on this topic, later clarified that practice should not just be about the number of hours spent, but also about being deliberate and purposeful. This means setting specific goals, being focused, seeking feedback, and stepping outside one’s comfort zone.  

So how is this related to TOEFL?
This is related to TOEFL because the formula– the “magic,”  is DELIBERATE AND PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE. You must practice many hours a day and FOCUS on what you are doing.

Many test takers do not know how to practice. When I say practice, it could be learning to sing along with a popular song in English (I learned a lot of Spanish this way.) It could be watching TV or movies in English. It could be joining a hiking group with Americans where people chat in English. You get the idea. The point is to immerse yourself in the language and not rely on your mother tongue. If you practice for a few hours and then go back to your mother tongue, a lot of what you learned will be lost.

Also, note that it says you must step outside your comfort zone. A lot of my students hate the timer, especially in the speaking section. I suggest you learn to use it. You cannot avoid it in the test, and you should not avoid it when you practice.

It also says you should seek feedback. That means hiring a TOEFL expert to work with you to point out your weaknesses. A lot of my students complain that native speakers do not correct them. Keep in mind Americans are busy, especially at work, and do not have time to stop and correct another person’s grammar errors. They are probably focused on their own tasks. In addition, it is considered rude in American culture to correct someone.

It’s also about getting outside your comfort zone. To be more specific, I mean having the bravery to speak to Americans without the fear of making mistakes. America is a land of immigrants, and we are accustomed to hearing many grammar mistakes from immigrants. My mother-in-law makes a great number of mistakes when she speaks (I do not correct her because she is scary and she has never asked me to do so).

One final point, but it is important: If someone had a real “secret” to the test, they would guard it carefully and sell it to each test-taker for thousands of dollars. But they do not do that, because they know the secret is practice or they are a scammer. I see this a lot with spam on my website in which people post “Inbox me for test secrets.” I try to delete these quickly, but they are everywhere and they post often. Do not contact them. 

Good luck on your test everyone, and here is a link to more reading.
The 10,000 Hour Rule and What it Means for Language Teaching – THINK.IAFOR.ORG

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