- Familiarize yourself with the three TOEFL formats
Most countries now offer the Internet based TOEFL (iBT). Make sure you find out which test you will be taking before you start studying for the TOEFL. If your country uses the CBT you have to take this test. You cannot choose to take the paper based test. Most of the types of questions are similar, although there are a few new questions that can only be answered on a computer. The iBT and CBT use visual stimuli and have a written portion.
- 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 CBT and iBT. The average minimum score required is approximately 550 (paper test) or 215 (CBT) or 70 (iBT). A prestigious university such as Harvard has much higher expectations. 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. 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 on campus and terms that you would hear in the classroom. 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 this type of material. 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 practice 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.
- 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 them with questions too. Teaching another person is a great way to learn.
- 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 and CBT are 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. Remind yourself that it is a long test a few days before test day. 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. You will also need a pen to write the essay on the CBT if you choose not to type it. 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
Wear a watch. This is especially important if you are taking the paper based test. Some exam rooms do not have clocks. The CBT has a clock on the screen, however, you should still wear a watch to make sure that you arrive on time! Watch your time very closely. Many students do poorly on the TOEFL because they spend too much time on difficult questions. You should never spend longer than a minute on one question. You will only have 30 minutes to write the essay at the end of the CBT. Spend at least 5 minutes planning your essay. Save at least 5 minutes to check your work.
- Use the tutorials
On the CBT there are tutorials to help you understand how to answer the questions properly. Don't skip the tutorials. You get extra time to use them. They will help you to feel comfortable. You will also become familiar with the keyboard and mouse. They might feel slightly different to your own computer or the ones at your school.
- Learn about the CAT (computer adaptive testing)
The first two sections of the CBT are computer adaptive. That means that you will be given a few questions that are of medium difficulty. After you answer those questions, the computer will determine which questions to give you next. The first 10-15 questions in each part are extremely important. If you answer these correctly, your score will be much higher. The questions that come later are important, but do not count as much towards your score. Don't guess wrong in order to get easier questions!
- Answer every question
Never leave a question blank. Eliminate all of the answers you know are wrong and then make an educated guess. On the CBT, you cannot skip a question and go back to it. You have to answer a question and confirm that you are happy with your answer. You cannot change your answers, so double check to be sure. The reading section is not computer adaptive. You can skip or change questions, but only if you have extra time. You can always go back and change questions on the paper test, but students rarely have time to do this.
- Secrets for the Listening section
Don't look back at a listening question after you have decided on an answer. You should always try to read ahead. If you know the questions before you hear the passage you will have a head start. In the TOEFL iBT you are allowed to take notes. This in not permitted for the paper and computer based TOEFL. 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 right the first time.
- Secrets for the Structure section
This section has been eliminated for the TOEFL iBT. You do not need to study for this section unless you are taking an old version of the TOEFL. Many students say that this is the most difficult part of the TOEFL test. Don't get distracted by the difficult words. Many native speakers do not know the scientific terms in these sentences. The important thing is that you can identify the parts of the sentence. Simplify a sentence that has many terms you don't understand by using simple words of the same form. Your job is to make a sentence correct. Always make sure that every sentence has a subject and a verb. Look at the punctuation in the sentence. You should be able to recognize the structure (for example, prepositional phrase or noun clause) even if you don't understand what the sentence means. Don't choose the first letter that looks wrong until you try every choice. You might find two that look wrong. Then you have to make an educated guess.
- Secrets for the Reading section
Just like in the structure section, it is not important that you know every word in the reading section. 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. At least 60 percent of the readings will 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.
- Secrets for the Writing section
You will have 30 minutes to write the essay on the CBT. The paper based tests is sometimes accompanied by the TWE (Test of Written English). You will not have access to a spell check function on the CBT. The most important thing is to keep your writing simple and clear. Don't use vocabulary and punctuation that you are unsure of. You will not impress the reader. When you practice for this section, 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 essay read smoothly. Memorize a list of these and practice using them. Always leave time to review what you have written. Read your essay silently in your head.
- Make your corrections clear
If you are taking the paper test, remember that a machine will be marking your test. Only one circle must be filled in. Fill it in all the way using a sharp dark pencil. Do not use pen! If you erase something, make sure it is completely erased. Many students lose points for being sloppy with their pencils and erasers.
- 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.
- 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.
Scores for the iBT are available online 15 days after you take the test. For paper based and computer based TOEFL contact the test centre and ask for a Score Report Request Form. You can choose four institutions where you want your score to be sent to free of charge. You should bring this information with you on test day. If you are taking the CBT you will know your Listening and Reading score. You won't find out your Structure/Writing score until you get this information in the mail. If you wait until after test day, you will be charged approximately 12 US dollars for each institution that you wish to receive your score.