Spring break or TOEFL break?

Usually, students spend their spring break traveling back home to have fun with their family. They take the break as an opportunity to reduce their pressure, to relax and calm down. But, me, as an international student, I was not able to go back to my country for two main reasons: first, the travel would be too expensive, and second, I had my TOEFL to prepare. Thus, my break was not an opportunity to decompress, but an opportunity to reach the fullness of my potential and get over of this test that is haunting my spirit since almost 7 months. Dear readers, I want to share with you how I live these so called “break” days that turned out to be a nightmare.

The first day was a Saturday. In the morning, I went to Illinois bookstore and buy Barron’s TOEFL book. This book contains 8 real TOEFL Tests plus a CD software. It was exciting as I sat up my agenda to have one test per day until my exam which was scheduled for the following Saturday. Afterwards, I went to a restaurant to eat something and then go back home. This first day, I’ve made one integral test. I even recorded myself for the speaking section. I was totally satisfied because I did not procrastinate on anything. This was a very good beginning for personal planning that boost my motivation up.

The next 5 days, I stay focus in my room trying to follow my own plan. Fortunately, I was motivated enough to do all I have planned except some of the listening section that I did not do. I was becoming more confident about this annoying Test. “I will finally score more than 100”, I kept whispering this all time to keep myself enthusiastic and focused.

Although it was not like the traditional break that I used to have,  this Spring break was nevertheless interesting because it was particular. It was not a break to relieve from stress but one to relieve from bad TOEFL scores. I think it was worth because at that moment, my TOEFL anxiety was higher than any other form of pressure.

Surprisingly, Friday morning when I woke up, I had a headache. I was not able to focus nor to do anything relevant to the test. It was burnout symptoms. Instantly, I realized that spending 6 following days studying is not a good idea. I became a little depressed because I knew that would affect my score. To make matters worse, the campus was almost empty. I could find anything during this boring Friday to relax myself. Eventually, I hardly fall asleep maybe around 1:00 AM.

Saturday at 7:00 AM, I woke up and went to the test center. I knew that I was not in good shape. Anyway, I had to take the test. It was hard for me to stay focus, mostly for the listening section. I was not able to reach the fullness of potential for it. I scrored 90 and I was very disappointed.

Nevertheless, I am happy about my “TOEFL Spring Break” because I have learned a lesson from it that can inspire me and others in the future. My new principle is the following: “Never set unrealistic goal, never exaggerate and always be open for compromises”.


My learning experience in Illinois

Being well-educated is becoming more and more important in today’s world. Due to innovation and invention in technology, only high-skilled people will be able to afford a satisfying life in the coming decades. Some experts even predict the disappearance of the middle class. Thus, learning is becoming mandatory and not optional. While it is important, the pedagogy chosen is more important. Choosing a bad method to learn is almost the same as learning nothing, because it will require too much endeavor. Therefore, people should choose the right method to optimize their learning. That’s one of the best things that I’ve learned throughout my learning journey in Illinois. I would qualify it awesome, and I want to share with you why this new compelling pedagogy has impressed me.


First of all, I have been taught about short-term and long-term memory. One can use the first to store information or new knowledge rapidly but just for a short amount of time. For example, if I study 10 vocabularies, I can retrieve and recall all of them in 5 or 10 minutes later, but after that, I may forget them. If I don’t want this to happen, I will have to rehearse and review those vocabularies many times. By doing this, the information will be transferred to my long-term memory. Once it is there, I can recall it anytime I want. And that’s the main purpose of school and learning. If I can’t recall the information when I need it, it is like I’ve never learned it. By having this simple information, I am able to improve better and quicker.

Second, I’ve learned some interesting tips to improve my English skills. As there are a variety of languages in the world, English is the common one that allow us to communicate to each other. I’ve learned that vocabularies are an important factor for English proficiency. It affects reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Thus, learning vocabularies is very important. Does it mean to study all the vocabularies in the English dictionary? Of course not,  I’ve learned two main lists of vocabulary to study to be able to understand over 90 % of academic texts. These lists are AWL and GSL.  I find it motivating to know how much I have to learn to expect improvement in my English skill.

Third, I’ve learned some good techniques to improve by learning from mistakes. I was very impressed when our teacher give us homework with the answer key and ask us to correct ourselves. I think this method is universally good and also matches perfectly with the goals of learning. Improvement comes by making fewer and fewer mistakes. Another evidence that I can give for learning from mistakes is when they video tape my oral presentation and then I was asked to evaluate myself. From the very beginning, I felt very uneasy and uncomfortable to do that kind of exercise, but at the end I found it very beneficial.  That gave me the opportunity to see myself performing. Even though I judged myself sometimes awkward, but when I acknowledged how horrible I am, only improvement can come after.

To sum up, my experience in Illinois is pretty exciting. It was an opportunity for me to master my English skill as well as my overall understanding of the world. If you are already a student in the University of Illinois, I wish you a good continuation, but if you are not, why don’t you think about it.