Words From Your Peers

The TOEFL - How I Prepared

Posted by Yoon Seon Lee on July 01, 2014

A key part of being an effective dentist is based on communication with patients. Dentists must process a large of amount of patient files each day and be able to create understanding relationships with their patients. Because of this, applicants to dental schools are heavily assessed on their language skills during the admissions process.

Most institutions require international students to submit a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score. When it comes to the DAT (Dental Admissions Test), many international students struggle with the Reading Comprehension section.

As an international student myself, I’d like to share how I prepared for the TOEFL and the DAT Reading Comprehension section: by reading articles.

You may have experience reading different materials but have not found it beneficial to your English skills. I will give you specific strategies that helped me improve my English skills and will hopefully help you as well.

What Type of Articles Should I Read?

Read articles on a topic that interests you most. Reading regularly is important for developing your English skills. A consistent and engaging topic helps you make a habit out of reading.

In my case, I read three dentistry-related articles every day. Because I am so fascinated with current issues in dentistry, it was not difficult to make reading these articles a habit. You do not have to limit your reading to academic articles, but try to include them in your reading list. TOEFL and DAT RC passages cover various topics in science, history, economics, etc. You must read and process the material quickly so that you can solve up to 15 questions in 20 minutes. By reading academic articles, you can exercise assimilating a large amount of new and technical information at a fast pace.

Where do I find the articles?

Most standardized tests today are computer-based. Reading text on a computer screen is often more challenging than reading words on paper. For instance, you often cannot underline a sentence or make a mark on a specific spot in an online passage. You need to depend solely on your instant concentration and memory to keep the flow of reading. Therefore, online articles are good practice materials for the format of the tests you will be taking.

Things to Do while Reading:

Utilize a Thesaurus.

At least one question per TOEFL passage asks you to choose a substitute word for a given word in the text. When you encounter a new word in an article, try not to look it up in a dictionary of your own language. Instead, search for its synonyms in a thesaurus. Practice inferring its definition from the synonyms given, and re-read the original sentence after replacing the word with a familiar synonym.

This way, the newly acquired word stays in your memory longer than when you simply memorize its definition. You will begin to make connections between several synonymous words, which will diversify your word choices when writing essays.

Take Note of Common Expressions.

Use of colorful expressions enriches your essay writing. These phrases are often not self-explanatory, so you need to know their exact definitions and usages to accurately interpret a passage. Whenever I read creative expressions, I write them down in a notebook.

I read the following sentence in an article a few weeks ago:

‘That decision is music to the ears of dental professionals’ (Whittaker, 2002).

If I were the author, I would have used ‘That decision was good news for dental professionals’ instead of using the idiom, ‘music to the ears.’ These phrases convey the same meaning, but the latter sounds more engaging.

Pay Attention to Sentence Structures.

International students tend to form wordy sentences. A long sentence is sometimes okay but extra words can easily cloud the original meaning.

Articles are the works of professional writers. Pay attention to how they organize their words and form sentences. I try to read long sentences out loud and memorize them. This helps me learn complex grammar usages and teaches me how to process information-heavy sentences.

Have Fun!

Reading articles does not have to be a stressful experience. Try to avoid putting yourself in exam-mode while reading. Making this an enriching and enjoyable experience is your first priority; improvements in your English skills will naturally follow. Think of reading articles as a chance to communicate with the world around you while learning what is happening outside your door.

About Yoon Seon Lee :

Yoon Seon Lee Yoon Seon Lee is the 2013 GoDental Intern and a regular reader of dental literature. She was part of the 7-year joint dental program at the New York University College of Dentistry, but recently decided not to continue with the graduate portion of the program. She has instead applied to other dental schools where she can better pursue her career as a dental educator and administrator.