TOEFL preparation: Where to start
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TOEFL preparation: Where to start

TOEFL preparation: Where to start

Over 10,000 colleges, universities, and other institutions globally require applicants to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language); an exam designed the measure the proficiency of non-native English speakers. Your score will determine the level of English classes you will need to take when you’re an official university student.

Although TOEFL is mainly accepted in the US, some immigration departments and agencies in other countries will accept TOEFL scores to issue work visas and professional certifications. Click here to see more information about institutions that accept TOEFL scores.

The TOEFL is available as a paper-based test or internet-based test (iBT). The TOEFL iBT is the most popular, and the paper-based test is used mainly in countries with limited Internet access. The test is divided into four sections: reading, speaking, writing and listening.

So how do you start preparing for TOEFL? No matter your level of English, this guide will point you in the right direction as you prepare.

Set a goal

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First of all, you should set a goal for your scores. Having this in mind will motivate you to achieve your target as you prepare for the test. It’s also a good measure to have on hand so you can determine whether you’ll need to take the test again if you scored lower than you aimed the first time. Find out the minimum scores for the universities you plan to apply to to help you find your goal.

Improve vocabulary

A great way to improve your English is to increase your vocabulary knowledge. A sure-fire way to do this? Read, read, read! It will also be good practice for the reading component of the test. Read a mix of academic and non-academic texts every day to improve your vocabulary. Keep a dictionary (or app) on hand so you can check each word you don’t know.

Other ways you can improve your vocabulary includes playing word games such as Scrabble or crossword puzzles, or checking out websites that offer words of the day, such as Dictionary.com or Merriam Webster.


To get the ball rolling, check out this handy list of 327 TOEFL words you need to know.

Find your resources

There are so many resources out there for those taking the TOEFL, both free and paid. Take advantage of these as they will help you prepare mentally for the test as well. The ETS website (where you register for the test), offers several practice tests, online guides and so on to help you prepare.

Other companies which offer both free and paid test preparation services include Kaplan and Magoosh. Magoosh focuses on teaching test strategies to reduce students’ test-taking anxieties. Knowing the format and what to expect during the test plays a big part when it comes to test day.

Choose your resource after determining what kind of learner you are, or what your level of English is. For example, some students tend to learn better with video, so they might want to check out YouTube for video tutorials. But you might benefit more from a personal tutor, available via Skype sessions or in person, depending on your location.

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Source: Shutterstock

Practice tests

Many students wait until the day before the test to take a practice test. Last minute isn’t ideal! You should really be taking practice tests for the duration of your study prep. This will prepare you for the actual test-taking day so you know what to expect, and you can also measure the success of your preparation and determine whether your study methods are working.

This will also help you catch the sections you’re weakest in so you can tailor your study preparation accordingly. So before you begin preparing for the test, take a free one for starters.

Use your voice

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Source: Shutterstock

You’ll need to speak out loud during the speaking section of the test, which can be very daunting to those who are still new to the English language. You will be speaking through a microphone and your answers will be recorded to be evaluated later, so you won’t be speaking to an actual person.

Even if you speak English well, nerves can come into play during this section. It’s known as the most difficult section of the test as there is a time limit, and there isn’t a lot of time to prepare your answers, since this section is only allocated 20 minutes. So even if you’re already confident about your English speaking skills, make sure you’re prepared for this section.

During your study prep, read out loud and try using your voice as much as possible. Practise speaking to native English speakers, so they can correct you if you make a mistake. Practising will help prepare you for ‘performance pressure‘ so you don’t get thrown off guard on the day of your test.

click here for some examples and practise tests for the speaking section.

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