How to Study for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
English is the standard language in various fields, including international business and higher education. Non-native English speakers wishing to migrate, study, or work in an English-speaking country must prove their proficiency in the language. Obtaining a high score in the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), designed and managed by the Educational Testing Services (ETS), is one way to achieve it. This guide helps you learn how to study for TOEFL and understand its requirements.
Table of Contents
Study the Test Format and Structure
Types of Test
There are two types of TOEFL tests that you can take: TOEFL iBT Test and TOEFL Essentials Test. The former helps people to be more confident in using English. It measures the basic academic English skills, such as writing, speaking, listening, and reading, as employed in the classroom.
The Essentials Test also focuses on primary language skills. However, this test is friendlier and shorter, with tasks relating to everyday life and academic situations.
Format and Structure of the Test
The TOEFL exam format has four sections—reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The ETS designed the exams to assess the exam takers’ ability to use English in the four sections in a university setting.
The test structure abides by a specific schedule and order, as follows:
- The Reading Test includes three academic reading passages and ten multiple-choice questions for each passage.
- The Listening Test has five passages. There are three academic lectures with six questions for each one and two campus conversations, each with five questions. Additionally, there is a ten-minute break after these two tests.
- The Speaking Test includes four tasks, and you must use a microphone when providing your answers.
- The Writing Test includes two essays.
TOEFL is a timed exam. You have 60 to 80 minutes for Reading, 60 to 90 minutes for Listening, 20 minutes for Speaking, and 50 minutes for Writing. Overall, the entire test lasts about four hours.
Set Goals and Make a Schedule
The TOEFL tests measure your English skills at the university level. Thus, aim to have a college-level vocabulary of at least 2,000 words. Practice reading 200 to 250-word passages with minimal hesitations and pauses within one minute or less. Set a goal to watch various English-language programs for 20-30 minutes at least twice a week. Take notes, write 150-word summaries for these programs, and read your work aloud.
Set a Target Score
TOEFL’s total aggregate score is 120. However, several colleges and universities accept scores between 90 and 100. The score you should aim for should be based on the school or program you want to get into. Remember that many schools or degree programs require a score of more than 100.
Make a Study Plan
A six-month study plan is enough for most TOEFL candidates to prepare for the exams. You can assign a target each month. Start with building your fundamental skills in the language before starting the TOEFL exercises and taking practice and simulated tests for the first four months. Do a comprehensive review in the fifth month and another learning, reviewing, and testing round in the final month.
Build Your Vocabulary
You need an extensive, university-level vocabulary of more than 1,200 words to ensure good scores in all TOEFL sections. Visit the ETS website for resources to improve vocabulary or search online for TOEFL-related resources.
Build your vocabulary by writing down new words you encounter. Find their meanings and usage, and familiarize yourself with the words by saying them often. Use the words in sentences during practice tests.
Take Advantage of TOEFL Resources
Available Official TOEFL Resources
You can purchase the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT Test (e-book or paperback) and the Official TOEFL iBT Tests, Volumes 1 & 2, from the ETS.org website. These books include tips, practice tests, samples, audio files, and scoring criteria.
TOEFL Study Guides and Free Resources
The ETS also provides a free, downloadable study guide from their website. The TOEFL iBT Test Prep Planner contains information about the test sections, activities to build your skill, sample test questions, tips, and scoring information.
Another free resource that could aid your preparation is the ETS-created TOEFL iBT Interactive Sampler. This will help you become familiar with the online test format. You can do practice tests from previous TOEFL tests using the TOEFL iBT Test Questions. The TOEFL Quick Prep provides four mini-tests and audio files to familiarize you with the test’s listening section.
ETS developed these official guides and free resources to give TOEFL test-takers the best chance to achieve higher test scores. Read or listen carefully to the instructions to learn properly and in the right order.
Consume Helpful Media
You can access several English-language shows and programs that could help you improve your language skills online and offline. Choose the programs that interest you, so you can stay motivated. However, it is also important to brush up on all topics.
Read daily to sharpen your skills based on the TOEFL’s four sections. Classic books are good choices. For other reading materials, choose those that focus on English and those where you can get tips on how to master the language.
Master the Art of Note-Taking
During the test for the writing, speaking, and listening sections, you can write your notes on the scratch paper they provide. Make sure that you practice note-taking while studying for the exam.
Also, learn how to maximize the use of available space on your scratch paper. Practice writing clearly and neatly. Write the question numbers, so you easily know which notes match the specific questions. Moreover, use lists to track progress in the passage. Learn to pick vital details and key points, use abbreviations and symbols, and write your notes in English.
Practice Typing and Writing Essays
The TOEFL iBT test is on a computer with a standard keyboard; thus, it is vital to practice typing on it. Learn to type better and faster because you will be writing long essays. You should type these quickly and accurately within the given time. Get familiar with the keyboard, learn the correct typing position, and practice. Speed will come naturally through practice.
Your writing skills are important in TOEFL, so ensure you read and listen to the passages well. Take short, precise notes, and paraphrase each passage. Use transitional words and phrases, have a definite opinion, and make a clear conclusion. Manage your time so you can edit your essay later. Ensure you have enough time to practice writing before taking the exam.
Time Your Writing
You only have between 20 and 30 minutes for essay writing. Thus, time your writing, so you can learn to avoid being under pressure and feeling nervous.
Hire a tutor to help you study for the TOEFL. Choose one with years of experience that fits your budget. Ensure that the tutor is willing to have a ten- to fifteen-minute phone consultation, which will help the tutor gauge your English-speaking abilities and find out more about your goals while you learn about the tutor’s style of teaching.
Form a study group with other students who are also preparing for the TOEFL. Limit the group to about three or four members. Studying and practicing are easier with people who are in the same situation. Ensure that the members are committed to studying and learning. They should come to your weekly meeting fully prepared.
Improve Your English Language Proficiency
TOEFL can be demanding and complex for an international student because the test’s design is for the university setting. You can have better chances of success by giving yourself time to prepare for the tests. Use the ETS-developed study plan and follow it strictly.
Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.