How to Start Studying for the TOEFL

The TOEFL iBT can be a scary test. It’s long, difficult, and extremely important. Without a high TOEFL score, you might not be accepted into universities you apply to, or it could even affect your visa eligibility. And in order to reach a high score, you need to be confident in all four major English skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) as well as comfortable taking the test under time pressure.

It’s not just taking the test that can be intimidating. It’s also a bit scary just to study for it—with such a large test, how do you even start? There’s no list of vocabulary words that you need to know and no list of grammar topics you need to learn. It’s very different from most English tests, because the TOEFL is designed to measure how well you communicate in general.

Of course, there are plenty of TOEFL books that can help to guide you. That’s the best place to start: find good material to learn the test and practice with. Official material from ETS is very important (that’s the company that makes the TOEFL) because it’s the most similar to a real test. But students will usually use more than just the official material, because ETS doesn’t explain strategy very well and doesn’t really help to build basic skills, such as note-taking.

So you’ll want more than just the Official Guide. You’ll also want training and guidance on how to take the test. There are many places you can get that guidance. Other books can help, as can teachers, tutors, or online lessons. This part of studying the test takes time, though. If you only have a week, then the official guide alone is probably enough for you.

And finally, once you have that guidance, you’ll want more opportunities to practice your English communication. Because the TOEFL is a test of your academic English experience in general, you should surround yourself with English. There are many useful, free TOEFL resources which can help you improve your score by giving you opportunities to practice your English, not just learn the test.

Those three aspects will bring you to a higher score:

  1. Official practice material
  2. Explanations and guidance
  3. Lots of English experience

So try to get all three!

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