20 TOEFL Tips
- Familiarize yourself with the TOEFL format
Most countries now offer the Internet based TOEFL (iBT). A few offer only the paper-based test (PBT). Make sure you find out which test you will be taking before you start studying for the TOEFL. You cannot choose to take the paper based test if your country offers the iBT. One reason people experience exam stress is because they don’t know what to expect before a test. Prevent stress on exam day by studying the format of the test in detail. ETS has very clear standards about the format of their test. This is why it is called a “standardized” test.
- Research TOEFL score requirements
The TOEFL is required for any non-native English student who wants to go to a post-secondary school in the United States. Most people take the TOEFL in order to apply to a specific school or program. Before you begin studying, find out what the requirements are for the schools you are interested in going to. Remember that the scores for the paper based test are different than the scores for the iBT. Some schools will look at your scores from different sections. Each iBT section is scored out of 30. Many universities expect you to achieve higher writing skills than speaking skills. TOEFL scores are only valid for two years.
- Learn academic English
TOEFL is used for a different purpose than other ESL tests. The TOEFL measures your ability to succeed in an American university or college. Other English-speaking countries also require TOEFL scores as a prerequisite for admission. You don’t have to know about the business world as you do in the TOEIC test. Instead, you should concentrate on studying language that you would hear and see on campus and in the classroom. In other words, you should read textbooks, encyclopaedias, journals and research articles rather than advertisements and resumes. You won’t need to know any background information about certain subjects, but it will help you to become familiar with the presentation and language used in academic material. You should also watch modern television and movies. If you have a friend who goes to an English university, go to class with him as often as you can. Borrow his books and hang out with his friends.
- Use practice tests
The best way to prepare for the TOEFL is to practise doing the tests. If you are taking a TOEFL class, your teacher will provide you with plenty of material. If you are studying for the TOEFL on your own, you will have to purchase a few key resources. Find a textbook that has exercises, vocabulary, practice tests, CDs, and explanatory answers. You might not want to work through a book from front to back. Work on the sections that you find most challenging. Don’t just rely on one book. You might have a book that is much easier than the official TOEFL. Look for free samples on the Internet to supplement your textbook. Make sure the question types are up to date.
- Find a mentor
A reliable native English teacher who knows a lot about the TOEFL is one of the best resources a student can have. You will have many questions that your textbook can’t answer for you. Frustrated students often give up. It is important that you have someone who will answer your questions and encourage you when you feel down. If you cannot afford a teacher or a tutor, find a student who has studied for the test before. Sometimes other students can give you excellent hints and help you with grammar questions. You might be able to help other students with their questions too. Teaching another person is a great way to learn. If you use Twitter, search for “TOEFL”. You will find teachers and students to follow and network with. Join the TOEFL Group on MyEC. Provide support to others and share tips on finding free practice tests.
- Build up your stamina
The TOEFL test takes a long time to write. If you are taking the paper based test it will take you about 2.5 hours. The iBT is much longer. You can expect to be at the computer for 4 hours. Many students have an attention span of about two hours. This is the maximum length of most classes. After this amount of time performance starts to weaken. If you keep your study sessions to one or two hours, your brain will not be prepared to work for four. Start off with short study sessions, and work up to longer ones. It is absolutely necessary that you get a good night’s sleep before this test. You cannot afford to be tired.
- Arrive prepared
If you arrive at the test centre with all of the things you need, you will feel calm and ready. When you are nervous, your memory does not work as well. Make sure you know exactly how to get to the test centre and where you can park. Bring the correct amount of money for parking. If you are writing the paper based test, you should have a number of pencils, a pencil sharpener and a few erasers that don’t smudge. It is also important that your identification looks valid. If you have had problems with your ID before, make sure to bring a backup photo. Don’t forget any paper work that ETS sends you to prove that you have registered.
- Pace yourself
Plan to arrive at the test centre at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Wear a watch. This is especially important if you are taking the paper based test. Some exam rooms do not have clocks. The iBT has a clock on the screen, however, you should still wear a watch to make sure that you arrive on time! During the exam, watch your time very closely. Many students do poorly on the TOEFL because they spend too much time on difficult questions. There is no break between the Reading and Listening section. You will get a ten minute break after the first half before the Speaking section. You will only have a short time to write the essay. Spend some time planning and checking your writing.
- Improve your typing skills
You will have to fill out your answers on the computer and type your essay. If you rely on a few fingers to type, consider improving your typing skills before taking the TOEFL. Make sure that you are confident typing on a QWERTY keyboard. If you aren’t, search for typing practice drills online. Even if your typing skills are strong, try doing practice tests on other computers. Some students get so used to their own computer that they get nervous when they have to type on a new keyboard or use a different mouse on test day.
- Become an expert note taker
You will be able to take notes in each section as you take the TOEFL iBT. Note taking is allowed because it is an important skill you need for taking university or college courses. As you study, practise taking notes on the main idea of what you read and hear as well as on the main details. Do this throughout your day as you listen to news reports, read websites, and watch TV. Create your own shorthand for frequently used words and phrases.
- Answer every question
Never leave a question blank. Eliminate all of the answers you know are wrong and then make an educated guess. You have a 25% chance of getting the correct answer. When you finish a section or question, try to put it out of your mind. Whether you are reading, listening, or answering a question, put all of your concentration on the task at hand.
- Secrets for the Reading section
The iBT does not test grammar separately as previous TOEFL tests did. You will still need to prove that you have a strong grasp of grammar in the speaking and writing sections. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with key academic vocabulary. There are helpful textbooks for this purpose. Keep in mind that you don’t need to know every word in a reading passage to answer the questions. Practise reading without a dictionary close by. When it comes to the questions, concentrate on the areas that the questions pertain to. Skim through the passage, read the questions, then read for more detail. The questions usually come in the order they appear in the passage. Anticipate the type of questions you will be asked in this section. Many of the readings have a main idea question. You will be asked at least two vocabulary questions from each reading. You will also be asked some detailed questions and some inference questions. You will not have time to reread a whole passage. Share your own secrets for the TOEFL Reading section here.
- Secrets for the Listening section
When you are practising for the listening sections, don’t play the tape or CD more than once. On the real test you will only hear everything once. You have to train your ears to listen fully the first time. During the real exam, don’t look back at a listening question after you have decided on an answer. You cannot change it. The clock will not start running until you start the answers. Learn to listen for main ideas, presentation (compare/contrast etc.), and key details. Share your own secrets for TOEFL listening section here.
- Secrets for the Speaking section
It is okay to hesitate for a moment or two when it is time to respond. However, it is best to fill as much of the time as possible with your response. If you have a few extra seconds you can sum things up in a short conclusion. You will lose marks for poor pronunciation, so don’t try to use big words that you can’t say properly. You will also lose marks for improper use of vocabulary and idioms. Make sure you know how to use an expression properly before you try to use it on the exam. Share your own secrets for the TOEFL Speaking section here.
- Secrets for the Writing section
Don’t forget that you will have to make connections in the first part of the Writing section. Memorize phrases from practice tests that show you how to do this. The most important thing is to keep your writing simple and clear. You will not have access to a spell check function. Don’t use vocabulary and punctuation that you are unsure of. Spend some time planning your essay before you write it. Your outline will save you time in the long run. When you practise for the essay, find a format that you are comfortable with. Use this format every time. For example, your thesis might always be in the third sentence of your introduction. You might always end your conclusion with a question. Make sure to use lots of examples to support your essay. Transitional words and phrases will make your writing easier to read. Memorize a list of these and practise typing them. Always leave time to review what you have written. Read your essay silently in your head as you check it. Share your own secrets for the TOEFL Writing section here.
- Strengthen all 4 skills
Some people make the mistake of taking the test too soon. Perhaps your reading, listening, and writing skills are ready, but your speaking skills still need work. If you do very poorly on one section of the test, you will have to retake the entire test. You can’t redo one section. Make sure that you are ready to take the whole test when you register.
- Dress in comfortable clothing
Dress in comfortable layers on test day. You never know whether or not the test room will be cold or warm. Wear your favourite shirt. When you feel comfortable you perform better! Don’t wear tight clothing. You have to sit in one place for a long time. Though you want to be comfortable, do take time to look your best on test day. In other words, dress for success.
- Make sure to eat before the test
Four hours is a long time to go without a snack. You will not be allowed to bring any food or drinks into the test room with you. Eat a sensible meal before you take the test. Avoid too much caffeine as it will give you the shakes. Don’t consume large amounts of sugar right before the test. You will get tired very quickly. Make sure that you have had plenty of water (but not too much as you will not want to waste time in the washroom).
- Refer to the official TOEFL website
The official TOEFL website (www.toefl.com) has a number of helpful things that you can download for free. They will supply you with a list of writing topics for the essay. You can also find important information about test centres and test updates. Many of your questions can be answered here. You will also get hints about which resources are worth buying.
- Reward yourself
After you take the exam, reward yourself for all of the time and effort you put into learning a second language! Treat yourself to a gift or a night out. No matter how well you did on the exam, you deserve a reward. Write down what your reward will be before you take the exam. It is always helpful to have something to look forward to.