TOEFL Preparation Guide

 
TOEFL tests English fluency as needed to make sense of everyday classroom lectures, readings, and discussions.

Universities require TOEFL scores to make sure that their international student recruits don’t face an added disadvantage in a learning environment.

The test, however, presents a challenge to non-native English speakers who have to shoulder this requirement with a respectable score well over the cut-off mentioned in most schools.

So, preparing for this test is a crucial element in most admission success stories.

How do you prepare for the TOEFL? When do you prepare for the TOEFL? What do you prepare for the TOEFL?

In this article, we summarize some essential tips and suggestions concerning the test.
 

How and when to prepare for the TOEFL Test?

Preparation begins at the same time you begin your school search. The ETS TOEFL planner suggests you begin with a target score as your goal.

The number should be certainly more than the highest minimum required TOEFL score for application in your list of chosen schools.

Ideally, a reasonable number (out of 120) that represents your aspirations but not too unrealistic to manage, is a good idea.

Most good universities require a minimum of 100 for graduate programs. So, if your target university seeks at least a 100, to be well in the green zone, choose goal score of at least a 105.

Read TOEFL scores and results.

With a target score at hand, the next step is to decide when to rigorously start your prep and register for a test date.

Do you spend 6 months setting up your English skills or 1 week would suffice?

It all depends on your ability to comprehend the language in an academic setting. Academic specifically refers to instruction style.

Your ability to sing along Ed Sheeran’s Shape of you may help a bit, to show your anglo-prowess, but not so much in recognizing grammar, vocabulary, etc.

The best way to judge your starting level is attempting the practice test to get your baseline. There are a few free tests available online.

Or, you can attempt to purchase one of the many preparatory books that come with complimentary practice tests.

If you score close to your target goal score, you should be able to cruise through the preparation in relatively less time.

If not, set aside enough time to get comfortable with the pattern and format of the test, along with the content development.
 

What do you prepare for the TOEFL?

The test is divided into four independent sections – Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking (iBT). For details, we suggest you click through to get to our Guide to TOEFL in India article.

To summarize, each section is worth 30 points and lasts between 1 hour to an hour and half. The speaking section only lasts for 20 minutes.

We have summarized some of the ideas suggested by ETS, and other ETS sources, to create an effective study plan for you TOEFL test.
 

Studying for TOEFL Reading

Reading tests your ability to read to find information and understanding of the main idea of a general topic, facts, contextual vocabulary, and grammar.

It also sees how well you will be able to read to learn, inferring the motivation of the passage, understanding relationships between ideas, and charting information.

Thus, your main goal is to become familiar with reading and its associated activities. Here’s how.

– Read extensively. Not just the passages given in your preparatory TOEFL book but also academic texts. Newspapers, magazines, and any of those formal substantial reading materials are a great resource to practice the art of reading for comprehension.

– A good part of reading habit is the ability to understand the meaning of words in the context of the passage. Building vocabulary is thus integral to it. Whenever you come across new words, pick a flashcard and write it down. Focus on learning n number of new words in a day, or week. If it starts getting easier to recall, increase your limit.

– Practice reading for understanding and taking notes. Take general academic texts or newspapers and take notes on why, who, what, where, when and how, whichever is pertinent.

– Follow the organization of thoughts in a complete reading material. How do authors introduce a topic, discuss, contradict, and conclude, a given material?

– Time yourself on your reading speed. Learn how to read to gather keywords and capture the essence of a passage.

Of course, practice reading sections on any one of the preparation books you see fit by setting a time aside for it, every day.
 

Studying for TOEFL Listening

Listening tests your ability to follow and understand the main idea, organization of the information, relationship between ideas, speaker’s intent, and the content of conversations.

ETS suggests listening to engaging content on radio or television to develop an ear for spoken English. Since there are two parts to the listening section, academic lecture type recordings are just as helpful as casual conversational material.

A little bit of passive learning while you relax and watch a movie or show can also thus help. So, key in your Netflix subscription and spend your weekends, at least a few, on a marathon of some wordy show (they say lawyer speak is full of words!). Turn on subtitles to verify.

As for academic type lectures, you will find many open classes on some general topic on youtube. If you want transcripts of recordings as well, try www.cnn/services/podcasting, NPR or BBC radio, Youth radio, BBC Learning English, etc.

Learn to concentrate on the idea and take notes if you need. Repeat the recording to check your understanding.

Similar to reading, look for the context – the relations, the cause, the consequence, etc.

Note the intonations in speech. Try to decipher the intent behind the change in voice tone.

Also in the same way as in reading practice, create a habit to write down new words on flashcards. Learn their meanings and practice regularly.
 

Studying for TOEFL Writing

Writing measures your ability to write in a formal academic setting, presenting ideas in a clear flow given the information you are provided.

ETS has a clear motivation in the writing section. How well do you project your intent in the essay?

First, understand the structure of essays. They begin with an introduction, followed by the body where you should discuss one idea per paragraph, and end with a well-summed up conclusion.

Each paragraph should have its own introduction to its main idea.

Practice essay writing on some general topics or from sample test questions.

To practice independent writing as well, think about some general topics and make rough notes on all the points that need discussion. Create an outline around each point and expand them into paragraphs with the idea and details supporting said idea.

Check to see how well you have followed the rules of English grammar – verb tenses, punctuations, spelling, etc.

Also check the quality of words used. Do they reflect a good grip on the English vocabulary?

Re-read your content for common mistakes like long sentences. Polish it through your reads.

Your reading practice should enable you to recognize a solid piece of writing that conveys an idea without digression. ETS also suggests practicing typing on the computer to get a decent speed.
 

Studying for TOEFL Speaking

Speaking tests two scenarios – the ability to participate in an academic discussion and communication in more casual settings with peers.

For both the integrated and independent speaking tasks, what you need is training to speak clearly, conveying your thoughts on the topic within a prescribed amount of time.

Practicing speaking and watching yourself in the act are great ways of feedback. Read an academic piece or a discussion in a news article.

Take notes and create an outline describing or stating an opinion on the topic. Talk to the mirror or record yourself to hear yourself speak.

Mind your grammar, pronunciation, connecting or relating words, tenses, and the inflection of your voice while speaking.

Of course, practice conversing in English with your friends to become comfortable thinking and speaking in the language, on the go, without prior notes.
 

What material should you use to prepare for TOEFL?

We have listed a set of preparatory books with all sorts of sample practice questions and tests.

Strategies and answer keys will help you recognize what’s lacking and where you can add a bit of development.

Check in with a scored test at intervals to monitor your progress. A feel for the actual format on computer helps secure confidence for the test day.

Read Best Books for TOEFL Preparation.
 

What should you prepare on the test day?

The test lasts for several hours. Sleep well the night before.

You will need a clear head to think through the questions.

Have a hearty meal before the test and remember to carry your passport.

Good luck and may you be well within your goal score.
 
Also read,
ETS TOEFL iBT Test Format and Preparation

TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE – which is better?

TOEFL scores for MBA in top business schools

TOEFL IELTS waiver for the top universities

Average TOEFL scores, Minimum TOEFL scores for MS MBA

Best TOEFL Books