How to prepare for the TOEFL Test

The TOEFL Test is designed to measure the English skills of non-English speaking people by testing their writing, reading, listening and speaking abilities. It may sound terrifying but as an English Language Teacher, I feel that that the test uses real English in a real-life setting. It is not about complex grammar and difficult vocabulary that one would never use in real life. So when you begin to study for the TOEFL test, you are also preparing yourself for using English in the real life-like at a University.

The first step towards taking the test successfully will be to become aware of the Format and probable Contents of the test. Getting oneself ready to be able to take the test online, for example getting familiar with reading and writing on the computer will be the next skill practice.

 

The Internet-based test (iBT) looks like this:

Reading section: 60-80 minutes | 36-56 questions

Listening section: 60-90 minutes | 34-51 questions

Short break: 10 minutes

Speaking section: 20 minutes | 6 tasks

Writing section: 50 minutes | 2 essays

 

Make sure your ideal score is realistic. This means to choose a score you could likely receive, not a score that’s too high. To make sure you could receive your ideal score, take a practice test and check where you are now. How many more points do you need to reach your minimum and ideal scores? How much time can you spend each week studying? Your answers to these questions will help you choose a realistic ideal score.

Clear your mind. Exercise and do some meditation or relaxation exercises for a positive mind set. Taking three slow, deep breaths can also be very beneficial.

In the TOEFL test’s reading section, you will read some passages and answer questions related to them. The topics are all in non-technical English that everyone can understand.

Read for at least 30 minutes every day. Stop after every few paragraphs and ask yourself some questions. For example, What did you read about?, What was the main idea?, What was the conflict?, Who are the main characters?, etc. Read the story again to check back for answers. In the end of your reading, summarize what you’ve read about. You can do your summary in writing or by speaking to practice for the writing or speaking sections at the same time. This helps you prepare for writing and speaking also. When doing this reading practice, be sure to underline new words. Look up their meanings in a dictionary and write them down in a notebook or on flashcards. Use these new words in sentences throughout the day, and during your speaking and writing practice.

In the listening section, you’ll hear different people speaking, both in monologues (one person speaking alone) and dialogues (two or more people conversing). You’ll then answer questions based on what you’ve heard. Before you begin listening, decide what your focus will be.  For example-

What is the main topic? Why is the speaker talking? To educate? To give an opinion? To complain? Etc. How does the speaker change from one idea to the next? Where does the speaker place stresses within sentences? When does the pitch of their voice get higher and lower?Learn to take notes in point form as you listen. It is an art to be able to take notes even as you are listening. These notes help you get your answers right.

To prepare for the writing section, practice timed writing.

During the real exam you will have 50 minutes for two essays. This gives you 25 minutes for each topic, including review. When practicing writing about a specific topic, time yourself.

First, choose a topic (here are many options), and then set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes. Write for about 15-20 minutes, then leave 5 minutes for review and corrections.

In the integrated Essay, connecting words like Conjunctions and Prepositions have to be used with finesse to be able to present contrasting views of the text and the lecture. The Independent essay will require more imagination and justification with real time examples or hypothetical situations that support and justify the cause mentioned in the essay.

The speaking section of the TOEFL is broken down into small tasks. It may feel strange to speak to a computer, but don’t worry about it. To prepare, you’ll want to speak both alone and with others.

Practice speaking even if you are alone. Be loud and clear. Here are some more ideas when you’re alone. Mad as it may sound, talk to your pets or even house plants in English.  Speak in front of a mirror. This works as regular practice. If you have trouble with a particular word, practice it until you get it right. Repeat the same word or phrase in English over and over again until you get comfortable. Check the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for pronunciation guidance. Don’t forget that most online English dictionaries will have a button that says the word aloud, too.  Record yourself speaking. Then, listen to the recording for errors. Practice speaking with teachers, other students or friends. Ask them for feedback on your pronunciation, clarity and grammar. Take notes on your common mistakes so you can keep practicing when you’re alone.

On a last note, practice , practice and more practice will get you your desired score. Best wishes!