Tips & Strategies You Need to Know for the TOEFL Test

General strategies to help you prepare for the TOEFL test

Find out which version of the TOEFL you will take
Depending on where and when you take the TOEFL test, you will encounter either the Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT) or the TOEFL Paper-based Test (TOEFL PBT). Be sure of which format you will use. Your TOEFL score from either test will be accepted by the colleges you choose, but the differences in the test formats will influence some of your TOEFL preparation.

Approach the TOEFL test with a plan
Spend enough time in TOEFL preparation so that you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Having this kind of understanding can help you decide where to focus your energies as you prepare for the test. If you will be taking the Paper-based Test (PBT), work through some practice tests and then concentrate your TOEFL preparation on any weak areas. Take time to review your strong areas, but invest your time to build up your weaknesses. If your exam will be the Internet-based test (iBT), be sure to visit the TOEFL iBT Web site ( and examine the information presented there. In addition, get your teacher’s opinion on where you can best spend your preparation time. ETS provides sample questions for both the PBT and iBT on its Web site.

To maximize your TOEFL score, be ready for test conditions and be well-rehearsed
Practice makes permanence! If you set aside time in a quiet place to take some practice exams, you’ll be ready for the rigors of sitting in a chair and focusing on the TOEFL test material. The PBT is a 3-and-a-half hour test, and the iBT takes about 4-and-a-half hours. It’s a good idea to dress in layers and bring a sweater or sweatshirt because the temperature in the testing room may be warmer or colder than you anticipated. You want to be able to show everything you know on the test. English-language tests can be hard enough on their own—you don’t need to be dealing with hot or cold temperatures during the test too.

Become familiar with the directions and questions before the TOEFL test
Each of the test sections has a time limit, and you want to make the most of the time you are given. Use a portion of your preparation to become familiar with the directions for each section and how the questions are set up. Then you can use all you time in answering the questions instead of reviewing the directions.

Paper-based TOEFL tips and strategies

Reading Comprehension
Skim the passage first to get a sense of the main idea. You can always go back and look up specifics. Answer the questions that ask about vocabulary words and details first. Then work on questions that ask you about the main idea or require you to make inferences. You will answer 50 questions in 55 minutes.

Structure and Written Expression
Think about the simplest, clearest way to express an idea. If an answer choice sounds awkward or overly complicated, chances are good that it’s wrong. Brush up on your English grammar for this part of the test. You will have 25 minutes to complete 40 questions.

Listening Comprehension
Become as familiar with the English language as you can, including learning vocabulary words and idioms. Practice working with the language in everyday life; this will help you become more comfortable with it and understand it better. These 50 questions will take 30 to 40 minutes to complete.

Planning for a few minutes before writing will help you to write a more focused and organized essay. It is important to develop your ideas and express them clearly, using examples to back them up. Although the essay doesn’t need to be grammatically perfect, try to make as few errors as possible. Always save a few minutes at the end to proofread. You will have 30 minutes to organize and write on your topic.

TOEFL iBT tips and strategies

Note taking
Just like in a college classroom, you will be allowed to take notes on what you hear and read during the test and then use your notes when answering the questions.

On the iBT, the Writing test is 50 minutes and consists of two tasks. For one task, you write independently for 30 minutes to support an opinion on a topic. For the other task, you write for 20 minutes in response to things you hear and read. You need to be able to type on a keyboard to enter your written responses.

During the Listening test, which runs from 60 to 90 minutes, you answer sets of 5 or 6 questions that are based on lectures and conversations, each of which lasts from three to five minutes. You will hear more than one native English accent.

During the Speaking test, you will spend 20 minutes responding to six tasks. With each task, you will have a short time to organize your thoughts before responding. Two tasks will require you to talk about a familiar topic. Four other tasks will be “integrated,” asking you to speak in response to things you have heard and read.

You will receive a glossary that will define certain key words in the Reading test. The test lasts for 60 to 100 minutes. You will be presented with three, four, or five passages from academic books and will answer 12 to 14 questions that are based on each of the passages.

Make your TOEFL preparation pay off

Make the most of the time you have to prepare for your TOEFL test. Whether you take the Paper-based Test or the TOEFL iBT, careful and thoughtful preparation will be reflected in the TOEFL score you receive. Make the most of your opportunity and show your chosen college how well you can use and understand the English language.