Everything you need to know about TOEFL®

TOEFL® Test Preparation Tips

Step 1: Practice More on Your Weakest Skills.

  • Practice a lot of questions to help determine where your skills are the weakest by observing where you have the most difficulty. Focus on improving these skills first.
  • Practice with a simulated TOEFL test to help prepare you what to expect on test day.

Step 2: Use Proven Test-Taking Strategies.

  • Carefully follow directions in each section to avoid wasting time.
  • Click Help to review the directions only when absolutely necessary; because the clock does not stop when the Help function is being used.
  • Do not panic. Concentrate exclusively on the current question only. Do not think about how you answered other questions. (This is a habit that can be learned through practice.)
  • Avoid spending too much time on any one question. If you have given the question some thought and you still don't know the answer, eliminate as many choices as possible and then select the best choice. Although responses can be reviewed in the Reading section by clicking on View, it is best that test takers do this only after answering all the questions in a Reading subsection. Once test takers leave a subsection, they are not allowed to return to it.
  • Pace yourself so you have enough time to answer every question. Be aware of the time limit for each section and budget enough time for each question so you do not have to rush at the end. You can hide the time clock if you wish, but it is a good idea to check the clock periodically to monitor progress. The clock will automatically alert you when five minutes remain in the Listening and Reading sections, and in the independent and integrated tasks in the Writing section.

TOEFL® Speaking Tips

Academic Speaking Skills

Students should be able to speak successfully in and outside the classroom. The Speaking section measures the test taker’s ability to speak effectively in academic settings.

In classrooms, students must:
  • respond to questions
  • participate in academic discussions with other students
  • synthesize and summarize what they have read in their textbooks and heard in class
  • express their views on topics under discussion
Outside of the classroom, students must:
  • participate in casual conversations
  • express their opinions
  • communicate with people in such places as the bookstore, the library, and the housing office

Description

The Speaking section is approximately 20 minutes long and includes six tasks.

  • The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks on topics familiar to test takers. They ask test takers to draw upon their own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding. (However, test takers can respond with any idea, opinion, or experience relevant to completing the task.)
  • The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks where test takers must use more than one skill when responding. Test takers first read and listen, and then speak in response. They can take notes and use those notes when responding to the speaking tasks. At least one requires test takers to relate the information from the reading and the listening material.

Speak English

The best way to practice speaking is with native speakers of English. If you do not live in an English-speaking country, finding native speakers of English might be quite challenging. In some countries, there are English-speaking tutors or assistants who help students with conversation skills and overall communication skills. It is critical to find them and speak with them as often as possible. Another way to practice speaking is by joining an English club whose members converse in English about movies, music, and travel. If a club does not exist in your area, start one and invite native speakers to help you get started.

All Speaking Tasks

  • Increase vocabulary and learn to use idiomatic speech appropriately.
  • Learn grammatical structures and use them naturally when speaking.
  • Work on pronunciation, including word stress, intonation patterns, and pauses. (There are a number of products and websites that can help you develop pronunciation skills.)
  • When practicing for the TOEFL iBT using the tips above, take 15 seconds to think about what you’re going to say before you speak. Write down a few key words and ideas, but do not attempt to write down exactly what you are going to say. (Raters will be able to detect responses that are read and give them a lower rating.)
  • Use signal words and expressions to introduce new information or ideas, to connect ideas, and to mark important words or ideas. This will help the listener easily follow what you are saying. (For example, “on the one hand…,” “but on the other hand…,” “what that means is…,” “The first reason is…,” “another difference is…”)
  • Make recordings of the above activities and evaluate your effort by asking yourself these questions:
    • Did I complete the task?
    • Did I speak clearly?
    • Did I make grammatical errors?
    • Did I use words correctly?
    • Did I organize my ideas clearly and appropriately?
    • Did I use the time effectively?
    • Did I speak too fast or too slowly?
    • Did I pause too often?
  • Monitor your progress and ask an English teacher or tutor to evaluate your speech using the appropriate TOEFL iBT Speaking Rubrics.

TOEFL® Independent Speaking Task

Task Type Task Description Timing
1. Personal Preference This question asks the test taker to express and defend a personal choice from a given category—for example, important people, places, events or activities that the test taker enjoys. Preparation time:
15 seconds

Response time:
45 seconds
2. Choice This question asks the test taker to make and defend a personal choice between two contrasting behaviors or courses of action. Preparation time:
15 seconds

Response time:
45 seconds

Tips

  • Make a list of topics that are familiar, and practice speaking about them.
  • Describe a familiar place or recount a personal experience.
  • Later, state an opinion or a preference and present clear, detailed reasons for it.
  • Make a recommendation and explain why it is the best way to proceed.
  • Practice giving one-minute responses to topics

TOEFL® Integrated Speaking Task

Task Type Task Description Timing
3. Campus Situation Topic: Fit and Explain
  • A reading passage (75–100 words) presents a campus-related issue.
  • A listening passage (60–80 seconds, 150–180 words) comments on the issue in the reading passage.
  • The question asks the test taker to summarize the speaker’s opinion within the context of the reading passage.
Reading time:
45 seconds

Preparation time:
30 seconds

Response time:
60 seconds
4. Academic Course Topic: General/Specific
  • A reading passage (75–100 words) broadly defines a term, process, or idea from an academic subject.
  • An excerpt from a lecture (60–90 seconds; 150–220 words) provides examples and specific information to illustrate the term, process, or idea from the reading passage.
  • The question asks the test taker to combine and convey important information from the reading passage and the lecture excerpt.
Reading time:
45 seconds

Preparation time:
15 seconds

Response time:
60 seconds
5. Campus Situation Topic: Problem/Solution
  • The listening passage (60–90 seconds; 180–220 words) is a conversation about a student-related problem and two possible solutions.
  • The question asks the test taker to demonstrate an understanding of the problem and to express an opinion about solving the problem
Preparation time:
20 seconds

Response time:
60 seconds
6. Academic Course Topic: Summary
  • The listening passage is an excerpt from a lecture (90–120 seconds; 230–280 words) that explains a term or concept and gives concrete examples to illustrate that term or concept.
  • The question asks the test taker to summarize the lecture and demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the examples and the overall topic.
Preparation time:
20 seconds

Response time:
60 seconds

Tips

  • Find a textbook that includes questions about the material at the end of chapters, and practice answering the questions orally.
  • Read a short article (100–200 words). Make an outline that includes only the major points of the article. Use the outline to orally summarize the information.
  • Find listening and reading material on the same topic covered by the article. The material can contain similar or different views. (The Internet and the library are good places to find information.) Take notes or create outlines on the listening and reading material :
    • Orally summarize the information in both the written and spoken materials. Be sure to paraphrase using different words and grammatical structures.
    • Orally synthesize the material by combining the information from the reading and listening materials and explain how they relate.
    • State an opinion about the ideas and information presented in the reading and listening material and explain how they relate.
    • If the reading and/or listening material describes a problem, suggest and explain a solution to the problem.
  • Recognize the attitude of the speaker or the writer of the original material through intonation, stress, and word choice. This helps to understand their point of view and plan an appropriate response.

TOEFL® Listening Tips

Academic Listening Skills

The Listening section measures the test taker’s ability to understand spoken English. In academic settings, students must be able to listen to lectures and conversations. Academic listening is typically done for one of the three following purposes:

Listening for basic comprehension
  • comprehend the main idea, major points, and important details related to the main idea (Note: comprehension of all details is not necessary.)
Listening for pragmatic understanding
  • recognize a speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty
  • recognize a speaker’s function or purpose
Connecting and synthesizing information
  • recognize the organization of information presented
  • understand the relationships between ideas presented (for example, compare/ contrast, cause/effect, or steps in a process)
  • make inferences and draw conclusions based on what is implied in the material
  • make connections among pieces of information in a conversation or lecture
  • recognize topic changes (for example, digressions and aside statements) in lectures and conversations, and recognize introductions and conclusions in lectures

Description

Listening material in the new test includes academic lectures and long conversations in which the speech sounds very natural. Test takers can take notes on any listening material throughout the entire test.

Academic Lectures

The lectures in the TOEFL iBT reflect the kind of listening and speaking that occurs in the classroom. In some of the lectures, the professor does all or almost all of the talking, with an occasional comment by a student. In other lectures, the professor may engage the students in discussion by asking questions that are answered by the students. The pictures that accompany the lecture help the test taker know whether one or several people will be speaking.

Conversations in an Academic Setting

The conversations on the TOEFL iBT may take place during an office meeting with a professor or teaching assistant, or during a service encounter with university staff. The contents of the office conversations are generally academic in nature or related to course requirements. Service encounters could involve conversations about a housing payment, registering for a class, or requesting information at the library.

Listening Question Formats

There are four question formats in the Listening section:

  • traditional multiple-choice questions with four answer choices and a single correct answer
  • multiple-choice questions with more than one answer (e.g., two answers out of four or more choices)
  • questions that require test takers to order events or steps in a process
  • questions that require test takers to match objects or text to categories in a chart

What is Different?

  • Note taking is allowed. After testing, notes are collected and destroyed before the test takers leave the test center for test security purposes.
  • Conversations and lectures are longer, and the language sounds more natural.
  • A new multiple-choice question measures understanding of a speaker’s attitude, degree of certainty, or purpose. These questions require test takers to listen for voice tones and other cues, and determine how speakers feel about the topic they are discussing.
  • In some questions, a portion of the lecture or conversation is replayed so test takers do not need to rely on memory of what was said.

Listening Tips

Listening to the English language frequently and reading a wide variety of academic materials is the best way to improve listening skills.

Watching movies and television, and listening to the radio provide excellent opportunities to build listening skills. Audiotapes and CDs of lectures and presentations are equally valuable and are available at libraries and bookstores. Those with transcripts are particularly helpful. The Internet is also a great resource for listening material (e.g., www.npr.org or www.bbc.co.uk/radio or www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish).

Listening for Basic Comprehension

  • Increase vocabulary.
  • Focus on the content and flow of spoken material. Do not be distracted by the speaker’s style and delivery.
  • Anticipate what a person is going to say as a way to stay focused.
  • Stay active by asking yourself questions (e.g., What main idea is the professor communicating?).
  • Copy the words, “main idea, major points, and important details” on different lines of paper. Listen carefully, and write these down while listening. Continue listening until all important points and details are written down and then review them.
  • Listen to a portion of a lecture or talk and create an outline of important points. Use the outline to write a brief summary. Gradually increase the amount of the presentation you use to write the summary.

Listening for Pragmatic Understanding

  • Think about what each speaker hopes to accomplish: What is the purpose of the speech or conversation? Is the speaker apologizing, complaining, or making suggestions?
  • Notice each speaker’s style. Is the language formal or casual? How certain does each speaker sound? Is the speaker’s voice calm or emotional? What does the speaker’s tone of voice tell you?
  • Notice the speaker’s degree of certainty. How sure is the speaker about the information? Does the speaker’s tone of voice indicate something about his/her degree of certainty?
  • Listen for changes in topic or digressions.
  • Watch a recorded TV or movie comedy. Pay careful attention to the way stress and intonation patterns are used to convey meaning.

Listening to Connect and Synthesize Ideas

  • Think about how the lecture you’re hearing is organized. Listen for the signal words that indicate the introduction, major steps or ideas, examples, and the conclusion or summary.
  • Identify the relationships between ideas. Possible relationships include: cause/effect, compare/contrast, and steps in a process.
  • Listen for words that show connections and relationships between ideas.
  • Listen to recorded material and stop the recording at various points. Predict what information or idea will be expressed next.
  • Create an outline of the information discussed while listening or after listening.

TOEFL® Reading Tips

Academic Reading Skills

The Reading section measures the test taker’s ability to understand university-level academic texts and passages. In many academic settings around the world, students are expected to read and understand information from textbooks and other academic materials written in English. The following are three purposes for academic reading:

Reading to find information
  • effectively scanning text for key facts and important information
  • increasing reading fluency and rate
Basic comprehension
  • understanding the general topic or main idea, major points, important facts and details, vocabulary in context, and pronoun references1
  • making inferences about what is implied in a passage
Reading to learn
  • recognizing the organization and purpose of a passage
  • understanding relationships between ideas
  • organizing information into a category chart or a summary in order to recall major points and important details
  • inferring how ideas throughout the passage connect

Reading passages: The TOEFL iBT uses reading passages from university-level textbooks that introduce a discipline or topic. The excerpts are changed as little as possible so the TOEFL iBT can measure how well students can read academic material.

The passages cover a variety of different subjects. Test takers should not be concerned if they are unfamiliar with a topic. The passage contains all the information needed to answer the questions.

All passages are classified into three basic categories:

Often, passages present information about the topic from more than one perspective or point of view. This is something test takers should note as they read. Usually, they are asked at least one question that allows them to demonstrate that they understood the general organization of the passage. Common organization types that test takers should be able to recognize are:

  • classification
  • compare/contrast
  • cause/effect
  • problem/solution

Reading Question Formats

There are three question formats in the Reading section:

  • questions with four choices and a single answer in traditional multiple-choice format
  • questions with four choices and a single answer that ask test takers to “insert a sentence” where it fits best in a passage
  • new “reading to learn” questions with more than four choices and more than one possible correct answer. (See page 10.)

What is Different?

  • Reading to learn questions
    These questions test the student’s ability to recognize how the passage is organized and understand the relationships among facts and ideas in different parts of the passage. Test takers sort information and place the text options provided into a category chart or summary. The summary questions are worth up to 2 points each. The chart questions are worth up to 3 points if there are five options presented, and up to 4 points if there are seven options presented. Partial credit is given in this question format.
  • Paraphrase questions
    Questions in this category are in multiple-choice format. They test the student’s ability to select the answer choice that most accurately paraphrases a sentence from the passage.

Reading Tips

English-language learners can improve their reading skills by reading regularly, especially university textbooks or other materials that cover a variety of subject areas (e.g., sciences, social sciences, arts, business, etc.) and are written in an academic style. A wide variety of academic texts are available on the Internet as well as in magazines and journals.

Reading to Find Information
  • Scan passages to find and highlight key facts (dates, numbers, terms) and information.
  • Practice frequently to increase reading rate and fluency.
Reading for Basic Comprehension
  • Increase vocabulary. Flashcards can help.
  • Practice skimming a passage quickly to get a general impression of the main idea, instead of carefully reading each word and each sentence.
  • Develop the ability to skim quickly and identify major points.
  • After skimming a passage, read it again more carefully and write down the main idea, major points, and important facts.
  • Choose some unfamiliar words in the passage and guess the meaning from the context (surrounding sentences). Then, look them up to determine their meaning.
  • Underline all pronouns (e.g., he, him, they, them, etc.) and identify the nouns to which they refer in the passage.
  • Practice making inferences and drawing conclusions based on what is implied in the passage as a whole.
Reading to Learn
  • Identify the passage type (e.g., classification, cause/effect, compare/ contrast, problem/solution, description, narration, etc.) and its organization.
  • Organize the information in the passage:
    • Create an outline of the passage to distinguish between major and minor points.
    • If the passage categorizes information, create a chart and place the information in appropriate categories.
  • Create an oral or written summary of the passage using the charts and outlines.
  • Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage. Then, paraphrase entire paragraphs.
  • Create an oral or written summary of the passage using the charts and outlines.
  • Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage. Then, paraphrase entire paragraphs.

TOEFL® Writing Tips

All Writing Tasks

  • Increase vocabulary and knowledge of idiomatic speech so you can use it appropriately.
  • Learn grammatical structures so well that you can use them naturally when writing.
  • Learn the conventions of spelling, punctuation, and layout (e.g., paragraph creation).
  • Express information in an organized manner, displaying unity of thought and coherence.
  • Use signal words and phrases, such as “on the one hand” or “in conclusion,” to create a clear structure for your response.
  • As you practice ask yourself these questions:
    • Did I complete the task?
    • Did I write clearly?
    • Did I make grammatical errors?
    • Did I use words correctly?
    • Did I organize my ideas clearly and coherently?
    • Did I use the time effectively?
  • Monitor your own progress and ask an English teacher or tutor to evaluate the writing by using the appropriate TOEFL iBT Writing Rubrics.

TOEFL® Independent Writing Task

Tips

  • Make a list of familiar topics and practice writing about them.
  • For each topic state an opinion or a preference and then support it with evidence.
  • Practice planning and writing at least one essay for each topic. Be sure to take 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise each essay.
  • Think about and list all ideas related to a topic or task before writing. This is also called "pre-writing".
  • Identify one main idea and some major points to support that idea, and plan how to communicate them (by creating, for example, an outline to organize ideas).
  • Create a focused thesis statement and use it to develop the ideas presented in the essay.
  • Develop the essay by using appropriate explanation and detail.

TOEFL® Integrated Writing Task

Tips

  • Find a textbook that includes questions about the material at the end of chapters and practice writing answers to the questions.
  • Read an article that is about 300–400 words long. Make an outline that includes the major points and important details of the article. Use the outline to write a summary of the information and ideas. Summaries should be brief and clearly communicate only the major points and important details. Be sure to paraphrase using different words and grammatical structures.
  • Find listening and reading material on a single topic on the Internet or in the library. The material can provide similar or different views. Take notes on the written and spoken portions, and do the following:
  • Summarize the information and ideas in both the written and spoken portions.
  • Synthesize the information and discuss how the reading and listening materials relate. Explain how the ideas expressed are similar, how one idea expands upon another, or how the ideas are different or contradict each other.

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing involves restating something from the source material in one’s own words. On the TOEFL iBT, test takers receive a score of zero if all they do is copy words from the reading passage. Practice paraphrasing words, phrases, sentences, and entire paragraphs frequently using the following tips:

  • Learn to find synonyms with ease. Pick 10 to 15 words or phrases in a reading passage and quickly think of synonyms without looking them up in a dictionary or thesaurus.
  • Write a paraphrase of a reading passage using only your notes. If you haven’t taken notes, write the paraphrase without looking at the original text. Then check the paraphrase with the original passage to make sure that it is factually accurate and that you have used different words and grammatical structures.