1. Make sure you understand the TOEFL!
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an English proficiency test produced by an American company called ETS. It is a test that measures your English reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills, and your ability to succeed at an English-speaking university.
Each section has a score of 30, for a total overall score of 120.
2. Be prepared!
You should give yourself 6 months – 1 year to be fully prepared for the test, especially if you have never taken the test before.
- When you sit down at the computer to take the test, nothing should be a surprise. You should know every reading question, every listening question, every speaking task, and every writing task on the test. You should know exactly what you have to do to answer every question properly.
- You should also know the exact score you need to achieve for each university you want to apply to. (Some schools require just an overall TOEFL score, but some schools require specific scores in each section.) You should know exactly what you need to do get the required score.
- Do not try to prepare for the test alone. At the very least, you need a textbook.
- Even if you use a textbook, it’s really important to work with a teacher, either in a course or in private lessons. You need someone to help you with your pronunciation, and to assess how you’re doing in the speaking and writing sections.
3. Read Everything. Listen to Everything.
When you are preparing for the TOEFL, it is not good enough to just listen to and read things that you enjoy and are interested in. You need to read widely to build your vocabulary. On the TOEFL you will read passages or listen to lectures on everything from astronomy and American history to psychology and biology!
- The TOEFL has teamed up with a company called Lexile to help you find books at your reading level. If you have taken a TOEFL practice test or the actual TOEFL and you know your reading score, you can type in your score and Lexile will suggest books in the topic of your choice at your reading level.
- Three excellent resources on the Internet are BBC News, NPR, and VOANews. Many of the articles on the VOA and NPR websites also have .mp3 files, so you can also use the articles as listening lectures.
Science, Health, and the Environment:
NPR – Science
BBC – Nature
BBC – Science and Environment
BBC – Health
VOA News – Science and Technology
VOA News – Environment
VOA News – Health
- If you have just started studying for the TOEFL and you are not yet able to read (or listen to) some of the articles above without great difficulty, that’s OK! There are still lots of resources available to you:
ESLPod – This is a great podcast that all English learners should be listening to! The podcasts are dialogues on a variety of topics. In one podcast there is a slow dialogue, a discussion of vocabulary, and a fast dialogue. The transcript is also provided on the website.
VOA Learning English – This section of the website has articles similar to the news section, but they are easier to read and the listening clips are much slower.
Listen a Minute– If you are still struggling with listening or vocabulary, this website will help you build up your skills.
4. Learn how to take good notes.
This is an essential skill you will need for the listening, speaking and writing sections of the test – AND a skill you will need later on at an English-speaking university.
In each section where listening is required, you can only listen to the clip ONCE! You cannot go back and listen to it again and again. You will then have to answer questions on what you heard (listening section), speak about what you heard (speaking section), or write an essay based on what you heard (writing section). Therefore you will need to take good notes! People who take good notes get higher scores on the TOEFL.
This is a skill that takes a lot of practice.
- Don’t try to write down anything and everything you hear. Don’t just write down words that you understand. Write down the essential information that you will need to understand the lecture later
- Use symbols and shorthand. Everybody develops their own system for this, but here are some suggestions: http://english-zone.com/study/symbols.html
- In tip #3 you learnedabout the resources available on the NPR and VOA websites. Those are great websites to use to practice note-taking as well. When you have finished listening, you can go back and compare your notes to the transcript.
- Another great resource you can use to practice listening and note-talking is Ted Talks. These are talks given on wide variety of topics from a wide range of speakers. They last anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes.
- If NPR, VOA and TED Talks are too long for you, practice note-taking with the shorter clips from Listen a Minute.
When you sit down to take the test, you will get 3 sheets of paper. Every time you put up your hand, the proctors are supposed to give you 3 more sheets of paper, but that doesn’t always happen. It may take a while for a proctor to see your hand, if they are paying attention at all. Use your 3 sheets of paper wisely! Don’t use all 3 pages on a single lecture or conversation.
5. Make sure your pronunciation is clear.
On the TOEFL, it’s OK to speak English with an accent. Your pronunciation doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need to speak clearly and be understood.
The speaking section measures three things:
- How well you answer the question and complete the task
- The grammar and vocabulary you use
- How you sound
This is one area where it is important to work with a teacher or instructor. You need someone to tell you what you’re doing right and what you can do better.
When you are practicing the speaking task on your own, record yourself (most laptops and computers come with recording software). This is important for two reasons:
- You can hear yourself speak and evaluate your response
- You can get used to speaking to a computer! If you prepare for the test in a classroom or from a book, it may feel a bit strange talking to a computer.