How to Study for the TOEFL and Other English Language Proficiency Tests
Most U.S. colleges and universities require international students to demonstrate that they are capable of reading, writing, speaking and understanding English as part of the college admissions process. This usually involves achieving at or above a specified minimum score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or another English language proficiency test.
International students can improve their scores on the TOEFL, IELTS and other English language proficiency tests by studying for these tests. These tips will help you study more effectively.
Create a Plan for Studying
- Studying for an English language proficiency test works better when the studying occurs over a long period of time, instead of trying the cram in the days or weeks before the test.
- Create a schedule that requires you to study every day, instead of just once a week.
- Study in a quiet room, without distractions. If it is too noisy at home, study at a library.
- Study with a friend. You can quiz each other on vocabulary and talk with each other in English.
- Create flash cards to help you learn new words. Put the word on one side of the card and the definition on the other. Magoosh offers free flash cards for the top 200 TOEFL words.
Study by Using English
- Hire a native English speaker as a tutor. Having a conversation in English with a fluent English speaker will help you learn the nuances of the language.
- Read at least the main section of an English language newspaper, such as the New York Times, every day.
- Read a few books in English, for fun. Read the English language version of a popular book that you’ve already read and enjoyed in your own language.
- Listen to radio and television programs, podcasts and movies in English. It is helpful if you can pause and rewind the programs. Turn off the captions, to force yourself to understand the English.
- Record yourself speaking English and then listen to the recording.
- Write a one-page essay in English about a topic of interest to you. Then, ask someone who is fluent in English to read and comment on your essay.
- Practice thinking in English.
Take Practice Tests
Take a full-length practice test. This will help you become more familiar with the test format. Some practice tests will identify your strengths and weaknesses, so you can learn where you need to study more.
- Time how long it takes you to complete each section while taking a practice test. This will help you avoid getting bogged down in any one section of the test. If any question is too difficult, skip it and continue with the next question. You can return to it later, if you have enough time.
- In your rush to finish the test, don’t read the questions too quickly. It is easy to skip over important words that affect the meaning of the text. For example, modifiers like “not” and “but” can negate the meaning of a sentence.
- Take a practice test that provides a realistic score, so you can benchmark your performance. Compare this score with the minimum scores required by the colleges you are considering. You can find a college’s minimum scores on its web site and on the ETS TOEFL Go Anywhere web site. Of course, your goal should be to get a score that is better than the minimum.
Sources of Practice Tests and Test-Prep Tools
- Buy a TOEFL test-preparation book (also known as a test prep book) and use it to prepare for the test. Test-prep books often include one or two full-length practice tests.
- There are several free online practice tests offered by services that also sell test prep books and other paid services. Examples include free practice tests from ETS, Kaplan, Magoosh, 4tests, Test Den, Test Guide and Exam English. Beware of advertisements on these web sites, as the difference between an advertisement and free materials might not be clear.
- Although the SAT is not the same as the TOEFL and IELTS examinations, there are some similarities. Khan Academy provides free SAT test prep tools, including SAT Reading and Writing practice tutorials and a full-length practice SAT test.
Learn Important Details of the English Language
- Learn about the English parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, articles, pronouns, conjunctions and prepositions. International students have a tendency to omit certain parts of speech, such as articles and prepositions.
- Learn how to break a word into its parts, such as prefix-root-suffix. Understanding the meaning of each part can help you understand the meaning of new words.
- Learn some of the many English idiomatic phrases. You can find a collection of English idioms in the Wiktionary.