Study Abroad

How to Prepare for the TOEFL at Home

Prepare for TOEFL

If you‘re thinking to study abroad, then you’ve probably found out that TOEFL is one of the mandatory requirements for the majority of applications, especially in the US. TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is used to show your English language proficiency. You can prepare for the TOEFL by yourself. Although it may sound cumbersome, it’s still definitely possible to score well as long as you put decent effort into it.

The time required for TOEFL preparation depends on your proficiency in English. If you’ve got a strong command of the English language, you may not require a chunk of your time. Conversely, if you’re not good at English, then you may need some weeks for the preparation. This blog will help you learn how to prepare for the TOEFL at home. We’ll be discussing the internet-based test (iBT) and not the paper-based test as both of them have different scores and have different formats.

Difference between IELTS and TOEFL

The IELTS test is shorter than the TOEFL exam. The IELTS is 2 hours and 40 minutes long whereas the TOEFL is 4 hours long. In TOEFL, the reading and listening questions are multiple-choice questions. The IELTS however, consists of different types of questions such as short answer, fill-in-the-blank, and short essay tasks. Generally, either IELTS or TOEFL can be used to show your language proficiency but some universities might specifically ask for TOEFL.

Do I need to take the TOEFL test?

Some study abroad applicants might not require a TOEFL score. For instance, if you’re a native English speaker, your former education was English, you’re applying for a semester abroad or a summer program; chances are you may not need to take the TOEFL test. However, if you’re applying for a bachelors, a masters, or a PhD, you’ll most probably have to take the TOEFL. Even if some universities don’t require it, we highly recommend taking the TOEFL, so that you don’t have to limit yourself to the universities that don’t require the TOEFL. So, let’s see how you can prepare for the TOELF at your own.

Take a TOEFL practice test

The purpose of taking a TOEFL iBT practice test is to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Take an online practice test while keeping your desired score in mind. Based on the score you achieve, you can make a plan to prepare for the TOEFL accordingly. For example, if you score well, perhaps a week or two should get you ready. If you scored pretty low, which is OK, then you may have to invest more time and effort in preparing for the TOEFL at home. While you plan your preparation, it’s recommended to set a target score that is higher than the minimum score required by the universities you’re applying at.

Understand the TOEFL test format

Familiarize yourself with the TOEFL test format. The TOEFL iBT is 4 hours long. There are four sections in the test: reading, listening, speaking and writing.

Reading section of TOEFL

This section tests your reading skills and how well you process the information provided. It can have either 3 or 4 reading passages, each roughly 700 words long, with 10 multiple-choice questions for each passage. You have 54 to 72 minutes to complete the section. For this section, you just need to understand the overall message of the passage, even if some words aren’t part of your everyday vocabulary.

To prepare for the reading section of the TOELF at home, you should read as much as possible. Read articles on diverse topics with different difficulty levels. Since passages in the test are extracts from university-level textbooks, you should search for research articles or case studies.

While you read articles, make sure you’re able to understand the meaning. If you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up in an online dictionary. This will help you enhance your vocab. Also, concentrate on improving your reading speed and try to recall the details of the articles after reading. This will help you prepare for answering questions related to passages.

Listening section of TOEFL

The listening section of the TOEFL tests your ability to understand conversations and lectures. It can have 3-4 lectures, each being 3-5 minutes long, with 6 multiple choice questions for each lecture. There are also 2-3 conversations with 2 speakers, each 3 minutes long, with 5 multiple choice questions per conversation. You’ll have 41 to 57 minutes to complete this section.

To prepare for this section, start listening to podcasts, Ted Talks, or audiobooks as they are helpful sources. You can search on YouTube or download them on your smartphone. Listen to a wide range of topics and then try to recall the important details after listening. During the section, you’re allowed to make quick notes while listening so do write down details and then listen to the topic again. See if you’ve missed any important details.

Speaking section of TOEFL

The speaking section measures your ability to speak English effectively. You’ll be presented with 4 tasks that resemble real-life scenarios you might face both inside and outside of a classroom. The first task is called the “independent speaking task” as it asks for your ideas, opinions, and experiences in your response. The rest are called “integrated speaking tasks” as you have to combine your English language skills – listening, reading, and speaking. You’ll have 15-30 seconds of prep time before each response, and your response should be between 45 to 60 seconds long.

To prepare for the speaking section of the TOEFL, try to find a face-to-face or an online speaking partner. If you can’t find anyone, then watch YouTube videos of students taking the TOEFL speaking section. Try to find sample questions and answer them in front of a mirror, while recording yourself. Once you’re done, you can watch the video and work on possible improvements.

Writing section of TOEFL

This is the final section of the TOEFL test. It tests your skill in writing English and your ability to present your ideas clearly in an organized manner. There are two tasks: integrated writing task and independent writing task. The first task is 20 minutes long and you’re to read a short passage and listen to a short lecture. Then, you’ve to write in response to what you’ve read and listened to. The second task is 30 minutes long and you’re to write an essay based on personal experience or opinion in response to a writing topic.

Perhaps the best approach in preparing for the first task is to write about the topics you read during your preparation for the reading section. Do the same thing for the lectures you listened to during your preparation for the listening section. Try to write essays on a wide range of topics while keeping the time limit in mind. As for the second task, try to get access to practice tests and answer the integrated writing task questions there.

All in all

We hope this blog post helped you understand the TOEFL test format and how to prepare for the TOEFL at home. Good luck with your TOEFL preparation and admission applications.

If you’re preparing for the GRE or the GMAT as well, read our blog posts for preparation tips.

For tips on preparing the admission documents such as CV, Letter of Motivation (LOM), Letter of Recommendation (LOR) etc., check out how to study abroad.


Author: Adil Ilyas

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