Liyi is a PhD computer science student from Illinois. His native language is Chinese. After a long, long TOEFL journey with a lot of setbacks, he finally achieved his target scores in March 2018.   

Liyi's TOEFL Story


My university requires every PhD student to have a TOEFL speaking score of 24 or higher. I had 17 in my first TOEFL exam. After that, I hired several tutors and got better and better speaking scores. After I tried TOEFL exams for 15 times, I got my first 23 in the speaking.

However, after I got that score in my speaking 4 years ago, my TOEFL speaking score became very stable. In the next 25 exams, I got 22 or 23 constantly. I was frustrated at that point because I did not know what was going on and why my score was pinned at 23. I thought my English speaking ability was getting better and better but the outcome from TOEFL exams seemed to suggest that my English speaking ability was about the same.

I think your lessons helped me a lot. The key point is that they helped me to identify my weakness in my speaking and gave me a plan to practice. In order to solve a problem, one must know what the problem is first. Certainly TOEFL tests someone's English ability, but more importantly, TOEFL is an exam. The key idea in passing an exam is that one should know about why they fail an exam and what they can do about it.

I hired several tutors before. Some focused on improving my English speaking ability and others told me about some tips to take TOEFL exams. My speaking score improved to 23 but no more. Jaime was the first tutor telling me that my grammar mistakes were the major problem preventing me getting 24 in my speaking test. Jane helped me have a plan to improve my speech with more precise English grammar and advanced vocabulary use.

Now feel very calm and happy. I got rid of one of my biggest nightmares in these few years. Now, I do not need to worry about being expelled by my university because i did not fulfil my English requirement. I do not need to worry about my funding situation because i am able to have a TA job in the university and I can have more time to deal with my research and keep fit.


Liyi's Advice and Encouraging Words for other TOEFL Students‍

First, be patient and keep working.

Improving English is not like solving a math problem where the change can happen overnight. I think the TOEFL exam is intensive. Putting a time-limit on questions is the biggest enemy.

Last year, after Jane helped me identify my problems and made a plan, I tried hard to practice. Then, I went to take a TOEFL exam and still got 23. It happened several times. A lot of the time, I knew what I was missing and I tried to control my brain and mouth by telling myself that I was not going to say more things and should focus on my weak parts. However, when I was in the exam situation, I couldn't control my mouth and still said something that was error-prone and was definitely not relevant to the questions.

After practicing almost a year, I am able to control my brain and mouth to say some elegant answers which show that I have a decent English speech ability.

Second, think of different ways to practice.

The preparation process for TOEFL is painful. A lot of the time, I knew that I needed to practice my TOEFL and I knew that I had more work to do, but it was hard for me to practice those TOEFL speaking questions. It was just too boring. Having different ways of practice is an effective way to go.

I would spend some time working on my TOEFL practice questions, but I also spent time reading newspaper articles as well as watching late night shows. Learning a foreign language through something you can enjoy in the other culture is a lot easier than learning a boring language all alone.

Liyi's Challenges with Studying for TOEFL