Lesson 7 of 10 - Learn How to Make Better Notes
Perfect TOEFL Speaking 10-Day Challenge
My Speaking Score’s Perfect TOEFL Speaking Challenge is a 10-day task-based course that shows you how to combine a foolproof approach called the Grid, with My Speaking Score’s automated scoring tool to earn a perfect score on the TOEFL Speaking section. In the wrong place? Go to lesson 6.
Lesson 7 - Make Notes
If you are here, that means you have recorded, submitted, and analyzed your Question 3 response(s). Nice work. By the way, it's normal to struggle with Question 3, so don’t get down on yourself if you are not immediately seeing the results you need. The data will tell you what to do.
Please share your experience in the comments so we can learn from you!
Next challenge: note making. Notice I’m not saying note-taking. In TOEFL Speaking, we make notes.
One of the biggest problems students have (especially with the integrated questions) is with note-making. For example, if you are trying to write down too much, your notes become unwieldy. Obsessing over every detail of a conversation or lecture will actually interfere with your comprehension of the “big picture” information that you need to structure a high-scoring response. By getting lost in the bushes, you lose sight of the forest. Indeed, a study has shown that 80% of your notes are probably garbage.
So, let’s improve upon your horrible TOEFL Speaking note-making skills (I’m sure your classroom notes are great). When we’re finished, you’ll listen more attentively, manage your time more effectively, and deliver much stronger responses.
Are you ready to eliminate all this unneeded stress by improving how you think about - and take - notes?
Note-making principles: how to leverage the Grid to take fewer notes
How to take useful notes
Organize your Grid to serve your response needs
Analyze a high-scoring response that uses notes well
» To get the most out of this lesson, consult page 22 of Perfect TOEFL Speaking.
How to take useful notes
Use the Grid to organize - and minimize - your note-making.
Making notes is a technique to force you to engage with and structure the most important information you hear - so you can reproduce it.
Making notes is not to help you write down every detail of a lecture or a conversation. Making notes is not to help you with your memory (your short term memory is fine). Let’s repeat that:
You take notes to help you actively listen for key information so you can assemble that information inside the Grid and repeat it during your response.
Combine concentrated listening and relaxed, strategic note-making and you will have all the material you need to deliver a great response to any integrated Speaking question.
Here’s how to take useful notes:
For Q2 and Q3, use the left column to record notes about the reading. For example, in the Q3 Grid below, divide your reading notes into two parts: the concept definition and the 2 main features used to support the concept. Each Grid is slightly different (e.g. there is no reading in Q4, so use the left column to jot down the main idea of the lecture.
When the listening part of the task starts, wait until you understand what the speaker’s main idea is. In conversations (Q2), there is always (and only) one speaker with an opinion (mostly in opposition to the reading). In the lectures (Q3, Q4), sometimes it will take 15 seconds before you know for sure what the professor is talking about. Wait until you hear the speaker establish the main idea, then begin making notes by jotting the first “point” in the top cell of the middle column.
Tip: in TOEFL lectures, often a signal word like “Ok” or “So” precedes the main idea at the start of the lecture, and often indicates a change from one point to another
Continue following the listening. As you gain experience, you’ll start to notice that all listening tasks in TOEFL Speaking follow a predictable “3 act” sequence (that’s why we use 3 columns). It might not always be totally clear where to put information into your Grid, but remember the purpose of the Grid is to force you to think sequentially and structurally about your response.
At the end of each listening, use your preparation time to go back over the your Grid notes and “fill in” information to correctly sequence your response.
Many farmers keep animals and raise crops at the same time. While some farmers treat the cultivation of their animals and plants as two separate activities, others integrate the two so that they work together. This is called integrated farming. Integrated farming uses the natural behavior of animals in a way that helps to keep both animals and crops healthy and thriving. By integrating a particular animal with a specific crop, farmers create a system in which both animals and plants provide for each others' needs.
OK, so an example of this is when chickens are used to prepare a field for planting. Farmers who do this have a special kind of little house that they keep their chickens in. This little house has four walls and a roof, but it doesn't have any floor. And it has wheels attached to it, so it can easily be moved from one location to another.
So, farmers move this little house to a field where something is going to be planted, say bean plants, and then the chickens are placed inside the house. Now remember there's no floor in this house, and what the chickens do is they walk around inside the house and peck at the soil, and eat any weeds or wild plants that they find. And then when the chickens are done eating the weeds in that location, the farmers move the house to the next section of the field. And again the chickens peck at the soil and eat the weeds. So the chickens get to eat lots of weeds, which are good for them.
Now this activity is also good for the bean plants that'll be growing in the field. Because when the chickens eat the weeds, they're improving the quality of the soil. Thanks to the chickens, when the bean plants start to grow, there won't be any weeds there to compete with them for crucial resources, like sunlight and water.
Be careful when you take notes. It’s a common desire to want to write down everything you hear. That’s a mistake. After you jot key points from the reading, wait for the lecture to start and then let the prof speak for 15-20 seconds. Then jot the key ideas inside the grid. Here are my “polished” notes for this task:
My real notes look like this:
Yeah, these notes are only useful to me. I don’t need help remembering information from the lecture - I need a way to actively listen, to intensify my engagement with the information the professor is presenting. That’s why I take notes. I use the prep time to make my notes even better. And now I can use them to guide my response.
Notice how I will do whatever it takes to capture the information I need quickly - in a way that makes sense to me. I’m a visual person, so for me, doodling a chicken head is easier and faster than jotting “chick”.
For you, it may be some other form of shorthand. You could even jot notes in your first language.
Note-making takes practice.
There is a simple way to evaluate how useful your notes are: did you use them to guide your response? If not, you need to work on your (TOEFL Speaking) note-making skills.
Tip: be frugal with your note-making - when you get too involved in making notes, you stop listening effectively
Tip: if you can’t fit all your notes inside the Grid, you’re writing too muchNote: I’ve written my notes out in full so you can see how to structure the essential information from this integrated task.
Homework - Assignment 7
Work on your note-making skills.
Recommended Test Mode: Practice Mode
login to your account on My Speaking Score
go to the test library in your Dashboard
use Practice Mode
choose a Q3 from any test and show transcripts
use a blank Grid to take notes
work on your note-making skills
compare your notes to the transcript - did you capture the correct info?
do not write too much in the Grid (and use doodles or even words from your first language)
*** END OF LESSON 7