The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) measures your proficiency in the language to ensure you can handle the linguistic challenges of an English-based academic program. Over roughly four hours, the TOEFL assesses your skills in four areas: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
The exam is divided into four parts, each corresponding to one of these areas. Each section is worth 30 points, making the entire test worth 120 points. A “good” score on the test depends on your purpose for taking it, as each school and program has its own score requirements.
If you’re looking to pursue any academic, professional, or personal goals in an English-speaking country, it’s crucial to do well on the TOEFL. Like other standardized tests, this means you’ll have to spend time preparing and studying for the exam. Luckily, there are many tools, resources, and even games you can use to improve your English and get ready for the TOEFL.
Studying for the TOEFL
Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you start to get ready for the TOEFL:
Set a clear, achievable goal: Consider the reason why you’re taking the test and determine the minimum score you need to achieve that outcome. You can then formulate a plan that works specifically toward meeting that goal. This is also a useful baseline you can use to measure your progress.
Work out logistics: With your goal in mind, you can work out the logistics of test prep. This includes creating a study schedule, making sure you have a space where you can study, and gathering the tools and materials you need.
Start early: You should start studying for the TOEFL several weeks, if not months, in advance. The exact amount of time you need will depend heavily on your existing proficiency in English; if you’re fairly proficient already, you may not need as much time to prepare as someone who’s just starting. It’s also a good idea to give yourself time to retake the test, just in case you don’t meet your goal the first time around.
Learn the format: Spend at least part of your time getting comfortable with the format of the test. While you shouldn’t study just to pass the test, it’s important to be familiar with it so you aren’t surprised when it’s time to take the exam.
Practice all four areas: Diversify your study plan so you practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking. You will be tested on all of these areas, so you should spend at least some time working on each one. You don’t have to divide your studying evenly between the skills, but you should still touch on them all. For example, if you’re already a strong reader, it makes sense to practice that briefly so you can then devote more time to listening, writing, and speaking.
Get additional support: Whether you’re struggling with your studies or you simply do better in a group setting, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it. Consider hiring a tutor or teacher, as they may have developed additional language study materials. You can also form a study group with other TOEFL takers or connect with a native speaker. Working with another person may simplify this process and make it easier for you to remember the material.
Take care of yourself: Don’t forget to take care of yourself while studying. Take breaks when you need them, spend time relaxing and playing Wordle, and don’t neglect your other studies or responsibilities. The TOEFL may be important, but it isn’t the only important thing in your life. Ultimately, you shouldn’t prepare for this exam at the expense of your overall well-being.
Ultimately, study in a way that works well for you. Do your best to review the required material, but don’t get so caught up in the test that you forget to learn it. After all, you’ll need to know as much of the language as possible to succeed in an English-based program at the university level.
Apps, Games, and Websites to Help You Study
As you begin prepping for the TOEFL, it’s a good idea to brush up on your English skills more generally. The more comfortable you are with the language as a whole, the easier it will be to prepare for the specifics of the exam.
Some of the most popular language apps include:
Babbel: Babbel provides videos, podcasts, a magazine, courses, games, and lessons to assist with language learning.
Drops: Drops is a game-based app that offers visuals, pronunciations, and lessons to make language learning both fun and effective.
Duolingo: Duolingo makes language learning simple, accessible, and fun, allowing you to progress at a pace that feels right to you.
Memrise: Memrise uses memory techniques and examples from native speakers to help you gain real-world language skills.
Rosetta Stone: Rosetta Stone has a storied history as a go-to resource for learning another language.
Using these programs won’t make you fluent in English and they shouldn’t be your only tools. Consider them a fun supplement to your other language learning efforts.
Practicing Pronunciation, Conversation, and Listening
Two of the main areas you’ll need to focus on are listening and speaking. The listening portion of the exam has four different exercises: listen and reply, listening to a conversation, academic announcements, and academic talks. You have to answer questions based on these tasks.
In the speaking section, you have to do both independent and integrated speaking assignments. The independent speaking task requires you to use your own ideas and words to respond to a question. The integrated tasks require you to combine speaking with other language skills to answer a question.
Listening and speaking make up half of the TOEFL, so you should devote a fair amount of time working on them. Try using the following tips, especially if you aren’t sure where to start:
Listen and repeat: Before anything else, listen to how English is spoken. In addition to trying to understand what message the speaker is trying to convey, pay close attention to their pronunciation. Then, repeat what you’ve heard, mimicking the sounds as accurately as you can. You may find it helpful to break down individual sounds or syllables, then work your way up to entire words and phrases.
Consume media in English: As part of your listening exercises, watch and listen to English language videos, TV shows, music, and movies. This is a simple and fun way to find out how native speakers talk. Listen to this media in addition to any materials designed specifically for language learners.
Watch yourself: Part of learning how to speak another language is simply learning the right way to move your mouth and tongue. Watch yourself in the mirror or record yourself when you speak. Look at how your mouth moves, as it must move in different ways to pronounce English words properly. With practice, it will feel more natural to shape your mouth and move your tongue in that way.
Listen to multiple dialects: Listen to more than one English dialect. The TOEFL is given in American English, but you will encounter more than one dialect in the listening portion of the exam, such as British English or Australian English. Keep in mind that, though the test is in American English, you can use any dialect you want when taking the exam. Just be sure to use the same dialect throughout the test.
Speak: Speak English frequently, both to understand the correct pronunciation and improve your ability to communicate. Talk to yourself, repeat phrases or sentences you hear, sing songs, try to answer questions, narrate the things you see and do throughout the day, and read aloud — all in English. You may feel silly at first, but try to move past those feelings so you can practice.
Converse: In addition to speaking, spend time talking with other people. Practice with other students and native speakers whenever possible. This is a great chance to enhance your listening and speaking at the same time.
Even if you’re already comfortable with listening to and speaking in English, it doesn’t hurt to ensure your skills are in good enough shape for the TOEFL.
Apps, Games, and Websites to Help You Practice
Unless you have the advantage of immersion or talking with a native speaker, you’ll probably have to rely on digital resources to work on your listening and speaking abilities. Here are a few you may find useful:
FluentU: FluentU is a video-based language learning app, offering music videos, movie trailers, news stories, and everything in between.
Forvo: Forvo is a pronunciation dictionary. Simply search for a word, select the language you want to hear it in, and find out how to say it correctly.
HelloTalk: HelloTalk is a global community that lets you exercise your writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills with native speakers.
Pronuncian: With podcasts, videos, and lesson plans, Pronuncian has many ways you can familiarize yourself with the pronunciation of American English words.
Podcastsinenglish.com: As the name suggests, this website has hundreds of free podcasts designed for English language learners.
Sounds of English: Sounds of English is a collection of resources to help students improve their pronunciation, spelling, and reading.
TalkEnglish.com: This website provides lessons in reading and listening, with the ultimate goal of helping you become a better speaker.
Tandem: Tandem connects with you other language learners so you can practice your listening and speaking with real people instead of a computer.
Without the opportunity to use English in the real world, it can be difficult to effectively practice your speaking and listening skills. Use other resources, like the language learning apps listed above, to your advantage. It may take some extra time, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.
Improving Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension
Reading comprises another quarter of the TOEFL. This portion of the exam will ask multiple-choice questions, as well as questions that require you to insert a sentence into an existing paragraph and summarize the main points of a passage.
Some tips that can help you develop your ability to read include:
Read frequently: Read in English frequently. Even 20 to 30 minutes per day can make a big difference in your reading comprehension and vocabulary. Read a mix of different kinds of materials. You’ll need to get familiar with academic writing on several different subjects, as this will certainly be on the TOEFL. You should also look over non-academic texts, like news sources or creative writing, to round out your reading skills.
Engage with the material: Don’t just read passively; engage with the material you’re consuming. Take notes on the reading, highlight or underline important points, and write down any questions you have. Try to fully understand the content, to the point that you can communicate the main ideas of the material you’re reading.
Look up new words: If you encounter any words you don’t understand, write them down. Even 5 letter words can be tricky. Do your best to look at the sentence and surrounding context for clues to its meaning. If you’re stumped, look the word up in an English dictionary. If you still can’t figure out the meaning, go ahead and translate it into your native language.
Read for fun: Spend some time reading for fun, too! Look for something that interests you, such as an article about your favorite hobby or the English version of your favorite book. Don’t worry about taking notes or looking up unfamiliar words. Use this time to familiarize yourself with and enjoy written English, rather than study it.
As a bonus, reading can enhance your speaking, listening, and writing skills, too. You can apply the knowledge you’ve gained from reading — including a bigger vocabulary and a better understanding of grammar — to these other areas.
Apps, Games, and Websites to Improve Your Vocabulary
Consider using the following tools to brush up on your reading skills and add new words to your vocabulary:
Beelinguapp: Beelinguapp uses the parallel texts method to teach language through reading and vocabulary building.
Breaking News English: This website builds English lessons on current news and real-world events.
EnglishClub Vocabulary Quizzes: In addition to their other resources, EnglishClub has dozens of vocabulary quizzes for ESL students on many different topics, ranging from animals and food to business and sports.
LearnThatWord: LearnThatWord is a great resource for growing your vocabulary, as well as enhancing your spelling.
Readlang: Readlang is a digital translation tool that facilitates language learning through reading the materials you’re most comfortable with.
Scrabble: Scrabble is a popular spelling and word game that may help with vocabulary development and increase your confidence with English words.
Jumble: In partnership with the Chicago Tribune, Jumble offers several tricky word scramble games that will tease your brain, challenge your spelling skills, and help grow your vocabulary.
Some of these games can help train your brain and test your vocabulary skills, but as you advance, they may prove challenging. Don’t get discouraged or give up if you get stuck; these challenging moments often present valuable learning opportunities. Try using a word finder or unscrambler to solve the problem and discover patterns in spelling and word formation in the English alphabet. These finders may even unscramble other words that you haven’t heard of before, further helping you expand your vocabulary.
Perfecting Grammar and Writing
Writing is the last component of the TOEFL. You’ll encounter both integrated and independent writing. In the integrated writing section, you have to respond to a short passage and lecture. In the independent writing section, you have to share your personal thoughts in response to a prompt or question.
Use the following tips to get ready for both of these writing tasks:
Look for follow-up questions: When practicing your listening and reading, use materials that come with follow-up questions. Respond to those questions by writing your answers down. Review your answers and look for any errors. Rewrite your responses, correcting any mistakes you made.
Take notes: Take notes on what you read and hear when studying. Do this to get familiar with writing in English; don’t worry about making your notes perfect at first. As you progress in your studies, you can start correcting your notes for spelling and grammatical errors.
Summarize: Learn how to summarize and paraphrase what other people write or say. Don’t copy their words directly — that’s plagiarism, and it will hurt your test score. Instead, try to convey those ideas in your own words while still giving credit to the original author.
Focus on grammar: English grammar is complicated and irregular. To make it easier to understand, focus on one aspect of grammar at a time. For example, spend one week learning about transitions, then the next learning about comparing and contrasting words. As you get closer to the test, you can begin to tie these lessons together.
Learn paragraph structure: Familiarize yourself with paragraph structure. Start with small paragraphs then work your way up to larger ones. Eventually, try your hand at multi-paragraph writing. Just as each paragraph has its own structure, there should be a logical connection and flow between each paragraph in your writing.
Prioritize quality: Above all else, prioritize the quality of your writing over the quantity. In other words, it’s better to have a short but well-written response than a lengthy but poor one. You don’t want your test answers to be too short, but you shouldn’t worry about writing more just to make your response seem longer.
Remember, writing is highly subjective. Unlike a multiple-choice question, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. Instead of trying to “get it right,” try to showcase your writing and rhetoric skills. Demonstrating that you know how to write well in English is the ultimate goal of this section of the TOEFL.
Apps, Games, and Websites for Grammar and Writing
Try using the following resources to progress in your writing skills:
English Forward Forum: This forum is an English learning community, where you can engage with other students and work on your writing.
English Grammar Rules & Usage: This resource page from YourDictionary has hundreds of different resources related to grammar, spelling, and writing.
Grammarly: Grammarly is a proofreading and spell-checking tool that detects common errors in your writing.
Hemingway Editor: The Hemingway App points out common spelling errors, grammar issues, and helps you simplify your writing.
WordReference: WordReference is a translation dictionary, conjugation tool, and language forum that contains thousands of questions and answers about the English language.
These tools are useful for practice and studying, but you should still ask another person to review your writing — especially as you get closer to your exam date. If possible, ask a native speaker or other TOEFL student to look over your writing. Combining all of your available resources will help you
Utilizing Practice Tests and Study Guides
Finally, incorporate TOEFL practice tests into your study routine. ETS, the company that creates and distributes the TOEFL, has free test and practice resources on its website. You can also look at the ETS store to purchase additional tests, practice books, and other materials.
It’s best to stick to official resources to ensure they are high-quality and accurate to the test. However, there are many other digital and physical tests that you can use to diversify your studying. Some will be better than others, so take your time to find good materials from a reputable source.
Take practice tests periodically, so you can measure your progress. To make the most of your efforts, tailor your studying to the areas where you don’t do as well on your practice tests. Further, do your best to time yourself and simulate an exam environment so you’re as prepared for the TOEFL as possible.
Additional Language Learning and TOEFL Prep Resources
Check out the following resources if you need more help learning English and preparing for the TOEFL:
BBC Learning English: BBC Learning English is a long-standing haven for language learners, providing multimedia materials and customizable courses so you can study in a way that works well for you.
ESL Articles & Resources: Provided by YourDictionary, this page contains a detailed list of resources for ESL students, their parents, and educators.
ETS TOEFL iBT Test Resources: In addition to practice tests, ETS hosts many other resources you can use to prepare for the TOEFL, including guides, an app, and webinars.
Interesting Things for ESL Students: This website is designed to help ESL students develop their language skills through games, puzzles, and quizzes.
Kaplan TOEFL Test Prep: Kaplan provides a comprehensive, three-month TOEFL prep course that includes lessons, practice tests, and a coursebook.
Magoosh TOEFL Community: In addition to their practice tests and exam prep resources, Magoosh has created an online community where you can connect with other TOEFL students.
Voice of America’s (VOA) Learning English: VOA provides beginner, intermediate, and advanced English language resources to support students at all levels of proficiency.
Passing the TOEFL
With enough preparation and access to the right tools, you stand to do well on the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Take advantage of the variety of study guides, practice tests, apps, games, and websites at your disposal. Indulge your curiosity by reading what interests you. Master the meanings of words by searching a comprehensive English dictionary. As you practice reading, writing, and speaking the language, you’ll become more comfortable and better prepared to pass the TOEFL.