Chinese Language Learning – The TOCFL and the Home Edition

There’s not a ton of information on the TOCFL out there, let alone info about the home test, so I’d like to share my experience in the hopes that it helps the next person looking for more info about it!

# The TOCFL in General

This is Taiwan’s proficiency test, so unlike the HSK, **the test is given primarily in traditional characters** [though you can specially request simplified characters], and it tests a more Taiwanese style of grammar/vocab.

I took the computerized B Band home test—that means Level 3 and Level 4, or B1/B2 in the CEFR framework. All three bands (A, B, and C, ie levels 1-6) are available for the home test, but only the listening/reading test.

The computerized test was two hours long: a little under an hour of the listening section, plus a full hour of the reading section.

The listening section has 50 questions: the first 20 or so were very short dialogues, the following 15 were long dialogues, and the final 15 were monologue style. **You can’t pause or go back during this section.**

The reading section also has 50 questions: the first 18 were fill-in-the-blanks where the test offered multiple choices of vocab/grammar points to complete the blanks in the paragraph, and the rest were a mix of reading comprehension questions (with the occasional question involving chengyu). **During this section, you can jump around the questions and answer them in any order.**

# Key Points About The TOCFL Home Edition

There are a lot of important things to know about the home test, some of which are different from the in-person tests.

1. **The home test is available more often during the year, but it’s a single person test, and it must be taken in Taiwan time.** Unlike the in-person test, which is only held a couple times per year, the home test is currently available most months. You can view the available slots for the upcoming month [here](https://eapi.sc-top.org.tw/calendar/). Also unlike the in-person test, you’ll be the only one in the test! Furthermore, whatever date or time you select, you’ll be taking the test in Taiwan time. For me, since I’m in the US, my test was scheduled on Monday morning Taiwan time, which means I took the test Sunday night in my time zone. But the test is available for folks inside Taiwan, too!
2. **You have to fill out a separate application for the home test, and there’s a flat fee of 3000NTD** (which is more expensive than the in-person test in some locations, but cheaper in others). Also, **the fee does not include shipping for your certificate/results from Taiwan to your country** (which for me was approximately 2500NTD). To apply for the home test, you need to first make an account on [the official TOCFl website](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/home/index), then choose the time slot you want from the calendar above. With that info, you need to then fill out the home test application form, and a form agreeing with the rules of the home test (you can find those documents [here](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/sign_up/entire/list/3)). If your application is approved, the test committee will let you know if your chosen slot is still available, and they’ll ask for some documents and extra information. Then they’ll open the portal for you to pay the testing fee, and your test proctor (who supervises you during the test) will contact you via either LINE, facebook messenger, or skype to confirm details with you.
3. **Your testing environment has to meet their rules!** You have to have a webcam that can be rotated or moved around the room, because the proctor will ask to see the entire room, including what’s on your desk, what’s behind you, and what’s on the floor. You can’t have pencils/pens or paper with you, only markers & a whiteboard (which the proctor will ask you to show them so they can make sure everything is erased before and after the test). You can’t wear earrings, watches, bracelets, necklaces, or other jewelry (they even told me to take out my nose rings for the test, lol) and they will check all of that plus your headphones and your glasses (if you wear them) before the test starts. The room also must have a desk & chair, and you must wear headphones for the listening section. *No one is allowed to enter the room except you*, or you automatically fail, so they require you to take the test in a room with a closed door.
4. **If something goes wrong with your internet, you have a limited window of time (5 minutes I believe?) to message the proctor over LINE.** If you message them right away, you can reschedule for a makeup test. If you wait too long, the test is an automatic fail.
5. **The proctor will have remote control of your computer, camera, and microphone during the test.** They make changes to some computer/internet settings, but they’ll change it back for you after the test. They will also close any other apps/programs on your computer before the test and delete the day’s browser history after the test.
6. **If you take the home test, you cannot take the same level of home test for one year.** For example, if you take the B Band test but you only pass level 3, you have to wait a year before you can apply to take it again & try to pass level 4.
7. This is true of some in-person tests, too, but **you’ll know your score right away.** As soon as the test is done, you get to see your score/whether or not you passed!

# General Thoughts

The practice tests online are *much* easier than the actual test. I’ve only taken the TOCFL in-person for Band A so I don’t know how comparable the home test for Band B is, but even knowing the practice tests were easier, I was surprised *how* much harder the actual test was. Here’s why:

* **The listening section is grueling. You can’t stop or pause, and you have very little time to think about your answer.** You listen to the dialogue, then they read the answers out loud to you, and you only have 5 seconds to make your choice before the test moves to the next question. Also, the dialogues on the actual test are spoken much much faster than the dialogues in the practice tests!
* **The reading section requires you to read quickly and decide quickly.** Even though you can jump around between questions, you only have an hour for 50 questions. If you leave time for yourself to review your answers/answer the ones you left blank before (**and you** ***should*** **leave extra time for this**), that means you have to average about two minutes per paragraph, or around a minute per question.
* **Both parts of the test use a lot of vocab and grammar from the higher end of the band, or from outside the suggest vocab lists.** For example, I was preparing for B Band Level 3, and studied a good chunk of the Level 4 vocab just in case. It’s a good thing I did! The test had a lot of Level 4 vocab in it, and also quite a few chengyu that I had straight up never seen/studied before.

# Advice & Resources

Here are the resources suggested by the TOCFL testing committee:

* [Updated vocab lists from 2021](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/download) | [Old vocab lists](https://www.tw.org/tocfl/) (scroll down, they’re listed by level in the left sidebar)
* [A group of very useful websites for learners of Chinese](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/resources) (primarily for traditional Chinese)
* [A list of good textbooks to help you study](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/materials/list/1), listed by level
* Mock tests: [physical copy for purchase](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/test/page/29) | [free mock tests in PDF format](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/test/page/2) | [online test](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/test/page/20) (this is how the home test is done, so it’s good practice for anyone doing that)

These are resources that I used and/or also found useful:

* Quizlet (there are a lot of Mandarin teachers on there who post well-curated flashcard sets for the TOCFL, just search your level)
* [books.tw](https://books.tw) is a great place to find books in traditional Chinese to help you practice your reading, as well as test prep books; it does ship outside of Taiwan, it just takes longer & you have to be able to read the website which is in Chinese
* For B Band, there are two test prep books that teach you vocab through mock tests — [here’s the book for level 3](https://www.books.com.tw/products/0010771224?loc=P_br_r0vq68ygz_D_2aabd0_B_2) and [here’s the book for level 4](https://www.books.com.tw/products/0010772982?loc=P_br_r0vq68ygz_D_2aabd0_B_2)
* For Band A and Band B, there are a couple of useful grammar review/practice books — one for [basic grammar](https://www.books.com.tw/products/0010692851?loc=P_br_r0vq68ygz_D_2aabd0_B_1) and one for [advanced grammar](https://www.books.com.tw/products/0010734781?gclid=Cj0KCQiAmL-ABhDFARIsAKywVafsl4yeZYRiKtV_I2DMjdeEXXarsoDLDMpMFekmJEdNzW__hJA9xMIaAi9CEALw_wcB)
* [Rulin Mandarin](https://www.rulinmandarin.com/tocfl/) has a page on the TOCFL; their vocab lists aren’t always correct (there are mistakes here or there with the pinyin or the meanings) but they’re easy to copy/paste somewhere else if you want to just import the data & tweak them to make a flashcard set the way you want
* [the official TOCFL e-paper,](https://tocfl.edu.tw/index.php/exam/epaper) which is released every other month — it’s like a little newspaper/pamphlet with some short readings, a vocab spotlight, etc.; not very useful for Levels 4–6 but very useful for levels 1–3
* Pleco (always) can not only be set to Taiwanese characters, but you can also change the dictionary into Chinese (ie no English) and you can set it to tell you Taiwanese usage/pronunciations in addition to Chinese ones
* Podcasts by Taiwanese podcasters — specifically I really liked [Talk Taiwanese Mandarin with Abby](https://open.spotify.com/show/3pP2teY82i2htZisVofBSt?si=d39c25d195314d04) (she monologues about different topics, very useful for training your ear to hear Taiwanese pronunciation/speed and also learning useful phrases/vocab) and [借問一下 | 台灣人的 FAQ](https://open.spotify.com/show/7idttHSidpZKEE50GoqSjz?si=6c7bc30a5de24a51) (sort of a grab bag of topics, but there’s a lot of conversational language and good sentence patterns to learn)
* [This very helpful breakdown of the TOCFL](https://www.reddit.com/r/ChineseLanguage/comments/5kqc82/comment/dbpvclx/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3) by u/vigernere1 , which not only summarizes each part of the test but has lots of succint & important advice

And finally, some general advice:

The TOCFL is not like the HSK, in that you most likely can’t just memorize and do okay. The questions they ask you are not only testing your comprehension of the words, they also test your thinking about the ideas. Some of the test questions may involve math, or they ask you *why* someone said something in the dialogue, or which chengyu applies to xyz situation better than the others, or who might be the target audience for an ad. It’s not often that you can look back in the reading passage & spot the exact same phrasing that’s in the answers. Also, the test will offer you close synonyms in certain sections, so you really have to understand the differences between similar words. **Simply memorizing vocab off a list will probably not help you pass the TOCFL, you need to practice your reading skills and your listening skills too.**

The listening section is hard because it’s so long. Don’t just practice your listening, **practice active listening for longer periods of time.** The longer you can keep your focus, the easier the listening section will be.

**Practice your reading as much as you can.** To answer all the questions, you need to read ***fast.*** Ideally pick something that’s not a textbook and just slightly harder than your level (ie you don’t need to look up half the words), but even reading textbook passages will help. Try to push yourself to read faster, and then summarize what you’ve read in each paragraph or page. The goal is to increase your reading speed!

**Pay attention to the grammatical role of each vocab word when you’re studying.** Make sure you know whether it can be used like a noun, a stative verb, an action verb, a preposition, etc. During the fill-in-the-blank section, this can really make the difference between knowing the answer or guessing between three similar choices.

**Practice guessing the meaning of words through context before looking them up.** This helps a lot during the longer reading and listening passages, when there will almost definitely be words you haven’t learned.

Lastly, **leaving a blank is so much worse than guessing the answer**. This is true of any test but especially the TOCFL because of its weird scoring system. I cannot stress this enough for the listening section, where you only have five seconds to pick an answer. Even if you have no idea, **guess/do not leave anything blank.**



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4 Comments

  1. thesuperlee June 6, 2022
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