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Friday, 19 September 2008

20 Practical Tips of Taking TOEFL

1. Familiarize yourself with the three TOEFL formats (Internet-based, Computer-based, Paper-based)

Make sure you find out which test you will be taking before you start studying for the TOEFL. 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.

2. Research TOEFL score requirements

If you take the TOEFL in order to apply to a specific school or program, 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). Many universities expect you to achieve higher writing skills than speaking skills. TOEFL scores are only valid for two years.

3. 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.

4. Use practice tests

The best way to prepare for the TOEFL is to practice doing the tests. Find a textbook that has exercises, vocabulary, practice tests, CDs, and explanatory answers. 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.

5. 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. If you cannot afford a teacher or a tutor, find a student who has studied for the test before.

6. 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. 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.

7. Arrive prepared

If you arrive at the test center with all of the things you need, you will feel calm and ready. 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.

8. 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. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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. On the real test you will only hear everything once. You have to train your ears to listen right the first time.

13. 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. The important thing is that you can identify the parts of the sentence. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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. Always leave time to review what you have written. Read your essay silently in your head.

16. 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. If you erase something, make sure it is completely erased. Many students lose points for being sloppy with their pencils and erasers.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. Refer to the official TOEFL website

The official TOEFL website ( 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 centers and test updates. Many of your questions can be answered here. You will also get hints about which resources are worth buying.

20. Scores

Scores for the iBT are available online 15 days after you take the test. For paper based and computer based TOEFL contact the test center 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.

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Raghu S said...

Very informative article.

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Cz-Training said...

Great tips! Here's another good site for practicing TOEFL writing: