TOEFL preparation is crucial for getting a desired score in the exam. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is an English proficiency test widely accepted by universities and other organizations for admission and immigration purposes. With ample TOEFL preparation, test takers can become familiar with the test pattern and practice the exam sufficiently to get the score they need.
In this article, we shall look at how test takers can optimize their TOEFL preparation by becoming familiar with the test pattern and syllabus, and use specific preparation tips for each section of the TOEFL test to improve their score.
TOEFL Preparation – Knowing the Test Format
To be thorough with your TOEFL preparation, the first thing that test takers need to cover is understanding the ins-and-outs of the format of the test. The TOEFL iBT (Internet-based test) is the most popular and widely taken format of the test. The newly revised TOEFL Paper-based Test is also closely aligned with the TOEFL iBT. The key difference between the two is the Speaking section, which – owing to the limitations of the technology – is not available in the paper-based format. 98% of test takers use the iBT format, considering it is preferred by universities for covering all aspects of the English language.
Below table is a breakdown of the different sections of the test, followed by a detailed description for each section:
|TOEFL Preparation: Format of TOEFL iBT|
|Order||Section||Time Limit (in mins)||Questions||Tasks|
|1||Reading||60-80||36-56 Questions||3 to 4 passages from academic texts are presented. Test takers need to read them carefully and answer questions based on the passages.|
|2||Listening||60-90||34-51 Questions||Test takers listen to recordings of 4 to 6 lectures and classroom discussions, and 2 to 3 conversations, before answering questions based on these|
|4||Speaking||20||6 Tasks||Test takers get the tasks through written passages or recordings, and must speak into a microphone to record their response|
|5||Writing||50||2 Tasks||Test takers must respond to two tasks: an independent essay, and an integrated response based on reading and listening given content|
The TOEFL listening section measures the ability to understand spoken English as it is used in university classrooms. It contains 4 to 6 lectures with 6 questions each, and 2 or 3 conversations with 5 questions each. The lectures can come from any academic discipline. The conversations are either conversation between a student and a professor during office hours, or conversations between a student and some member of support staff/university administration.
An important thing to note is that the listening section is designed to mimic natural speech, and hence, the speakers in the recording may pause, change sentences or topics abruptly, and occasionally say something incorrect or forget what they were talking about. No part of the listening test will ever be transcribed.
After a recording is finished, the test takers are presented with questions on that recording – five for conversations, six for lectures and classroom discussions. Test takers will not know the questions while listening, and will not be able to listen again to the full recording to check the answer. It, thus, becomes important to take notes while listening. Unlike the IELTS, test takers cannot change their answers after submitting. Only once they submit the answer, they can go forward to the next question. There may be an occasion where a small audio clip is replayed for a particular question for certain question types.
The TOEFL reading section measures the ability to understand non-technical reading material written in English. Test takers are required to answer a number of questions based on the content in each passage. The TOEFL reading section does not test memory or knowledge of the reading material; it only tests the English comprehension ability of test takers. Thus, test takers need only to ensure that their English is good enough to understand what they are reading and answer the questions accordingly.
The reading section of the TOEFL exam contains between 3-4 passages with 12-14 questions per passage, making a total of between 36-56 questions. The test is 60-80 minutes in length. There are two main question types in this section: Multiple Choice, and Drag & Drop. The aspirants can plan their TOEFL preparation accordingly.
The TOEFL writing section measures the ability to write in English in an academic setting. The TOEFL writing section includes an integrated task and an independent task, which work together to test the ability of a candidate to communicate through writing in an academic environment. The integrated writing task combines listening, reading, and writing skills. It requires candidates to read a passage, listen to a lecture, and then write an essay using information from both of these sources. The independent task is more standard and requires test takers to use personal experience and explain an opinion they hold.
The writing section is the last section of the test, and takes about an hour to complete. The section is scored by two trained graders, each giving scores on a scale of 1-5. To ensure fairness, in case both scorers give vastly different scores, a third grader is required to review the essay in order to decide the final score. To get a high score in the essay, candidates need to make sure the essay is well-organized, gives clear arguments with supporting examples, and in case of the integrated task, includes all the important information from the given sources. A few minor language errors are not a major problem in getting a good score as long as the errors do not interfere with communication.
The TOEFL speaking section measures the ability to speak and converse in English in an academic setting. As stated earlier, this is only available for TOEFL iBT. Test takers must be able to demonstrate their ability to read, listen and understand recordings by native English speakers, pronounce words correctly, and use appropriate grammar.
Unlike the IELTS test, in the TOEFL speaking test, test takers are not required to speak directly with another person. Instead, they have to speak out loud into a microphone. No one listens to them at the moment, but their recordings are graded at a later date. For those who may get nervous in the presence of other people while speaking, this may be in fact preferable. Since the test is conducted in front of a computer with no human interaction, test takers must also manage their time wisely and take brief notes while listening or reading the questions. Knowing these small details surely help the students to ensure effective TOEFL preparation.
TOEFL Preparation – Tips for taking the test
The best method of TOEFL preparation is, without doubt, continuing to practice your English skills in all aspects – whether it is speaking, listening, reading, or writing. In addition, there are many tips that can be followed to make the best of your TOEFL preparation. Listed below are tips for each section that may help to optimize your preparation:
Tips for Listening Section
- Increase your vocabulary by reading books, newspapers, and academic material in English, or watching and listening to English television programmes, films, news, or music.
- Learn to recognize important elements of the content while listening during practice.
- Outlining or taking notes of the information while listening is a good practice.
- Learn to recognize and anticipate when major ideas or information may be heard.
- The intonation of a voice can tell you a lot about its content. Learn to recognize the emotion or purpose by the speaker’s tone of voice.
- Do not be distracted with any digressions from the main topic.
Tips for Reading Section
- Practice, practice, and practice! The more you read – whether it is your coursebooks, or even long-form content on the internet – the more prepared you shall feel.
- To be able to manage time effectively, it is important to be able to speed-read or skim a passage quickly to recognize its main idea.
- Make notes and highlight to focus on the main idea, major points, and important facts.
- Make it a habit to learn five new words every day, and increase your vocabulary, especially in the academic context.
- Underline all pronouns (e.g., he, him, they, them, etc.) and identify the nouns to which they refer in the passage.
- An important skill to be used in this section is paraphrasing, or rewriting a certain portion of the passage.
Tips for Writing Section
- Increase your knowledge of idiomatic speech to be able to use it accurately.
- Ensure you make proper paragraphs in your text, and at appropriate points.
- Learn to use connecting phrases between your arguments to see they flow naturally in the text.
- Knowing synonyms of common words will work to your benefit, and you would not sound repetitive in your writing.
- A good way to paraphrase a text is to rewrite it from memory or by depending solely on short notes.
- Make a list of familiar topics and practice writing about them. Concentrate on forming your own opinions and arguments in their favour, with elaborate examples or illustrations.
Tips for Speaking Section
- Practice by recording your speech, or by talking to a partner.
- Work on your pronunciation, including word stress, intonation patterns, and pauses.
- Before you begin speaking, formulate your ideas in your head, or by outlining them on paper.
- Be natural while speaking rather than sounding rehearsed.
- Read aloud in front of a mirror to become comfortable with speaking clearly.