How to Prepare for the TOEFL® iBT & Strategies to Improve Scores

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Before taking the official test, it is important to practice with test materials, but it is also important to prepare in other ways for the different sections of the test. Here is some advice on how to get ready for the test by improving a variety of skills that are related to success:

1. Reading Section

Preparing for The Reading Section

Read materials that focus on specific, academic subjects. This will increase your understanding and recognition of terminology
 and vocabulary on the test.

Read unfamiliar material. For example, if you do not have much interest in economics, then read a website or magazine
 on this subject to learn about common topics and become comfortable with terminology that is used in the subject.


Strategies on The Reading Section

Read before starting the questions. It is hard to understand questions and answers without being familiar with the topic.
 Read for around 3 minutes, and skim the tops and/or bottoms of paragraphs to understand the main ideas of the reading passage.

Manage time and keep moving. Do not spend too much time on any of the questions.
 Do not use more than 18 minutes per passage unless it is the final passage of the reading section.

Make sure to have time for the final question. Because it is worth more than 1 point, the final question of each reading passage
 is important. Get to the final question at a time of around 13 minutes and have at least 3 minutes to complete the question.

The order of questions might matter. Most of the questions go in the same order as the information in the reading passage.
 Use this to focus on specific areas of the reading passage that might have information related to questions.

2. Listening Section

Preparing for The Listening Section

Look at some websites, brochures, or catalogs related to a college. Make sure that you have a good understanding of
 the topics that are mentioned and the terminology that is used. This will help you with conversations on campus situations,
 which are on the test.

Watch or listen to documentaries or presentations on academic topics. Choose topics that are similar to exercises that
 might be on the test. Make sure that there is a script of the material, which will make it easier to review terminology and


Strategies on The Listening Section

Take notes in an efficient way. It does not matter what language you use. Take notes in a way that does not waste time.
 Use acronyms, abbreviations, and symbols to write down information as fast as possible.

Do not pay attention to small, minor details. Focus on the main points and the details related to these points.
 This will help you limit your notes and focus more on listening.

Listen for points of emphasis. For example, a professor might say that something is important to remember or
 that a topic is confusing for some students. These kinds of moments show that information might be important.

Pay attention to the organization of the listening exercise. Listen for signal words, phrases, rhetorical questions,
 or student questions that show a change in topic.

The order of questions might matter. Most of the questions go in the same order as the information in the listening
 exercise. It is helpful to focus on answers to the questions based on the time in the listening exercise.

3. Speaking Section

Preparing for The Speaking Section

Listen to speeches or presentations on academic topics. Choose a speaker that is easy to understand but also has
 a natural speed and rhythm when speaking. Try to copy the way that this person speaks to sound more fluent and understandable.

Write responses to TOEFL® speaking exercises as practice for the speaking section. This gives you time to think about
 the grammar, parts of speech, transitions, and word choice that you want to use in the future. 

Use applications or programs that transcribe spoken English into written English. If your pronunciation is accurate,
 then these applications or programs should be able to transcribe your speech in the correct way. If not, then try again,
 and focus on the words that were not correct.


Strategies on The Speaking Section

Do not worry about finishing the exercise. It is hard to finish speaking in the exact amount of time based on the exercise.
 Focus on being close to finishing and do not rush or speak too quickly.

Do not worry about having perfect pronunciation. If a word is too hard to pronounce, then choose an easier word to explain
 something. For pronunciation to affect the score, the pronunciation must be very poor and hard to understand.

Speak at a reasonable, comfortable volume. Speak at the volume that gives you confidence. If you are nervous about speaking
 too fast, then speaking at a higher volume will help you control your speed. If you are nervous about other people hearing you,
 then speaking at a lower volume will help you manage stress. 

Stay organized with transitions. Use transitional phrases to help the evaluator understand the purpose of each part of your
 speaking sample. For example, if doing speaking exercise 2, then make sure to say “according to the reading” and
 “according to the listening” so it is clear where the information is coming from when you are speaking.

Explain information. Do not speak to repeat information. Pretend that the evaluator is not familiar with the information
 that is in the exercise. Explain the information in a direct and simple way, step by step, and help the evaluator understand
 what is in the exercise.


4. Writing Section

Preparing for The Writing Section

Use online applications or games to improve typing speed and accuracy.

・Read opinion-based forms of writing. For example, on websites, and in newspapers and magazines, you can find editorials.
 In these forms of writing, journalists express their opinions on various topics. These materials will help you express
 your own views in an academic way.

Memorize various synonyms for common words and various forms of grammar. For example, memorize synonyms
 for the word “use”, such as “utilize” and “make use of”. Memorize other forms of conjunctions like “because”,
 such as “as”, “for”, and “since.”

Focus on the grammar and punctuation when studying English material. Why are specific forms of grammar being used?
 How are specific forms of punctuation being used? If you do not understand these kinds of things, then it is harder to use them
 in the correct way when writing.

For Study and Review
Keep two notebooks of vocabulary. One notebook should be focused on common terminology for specific, academic subjects.
The other notebook should be focused on more general vocabulary with useful, academic synonyms and antonyms.

 Strategies on Writing Exercise 1

Focus on the listening portion of the writing exercise. The listening portion of the exercise is more valuable and
 affects your score a lot. When writing, have some information from the reading passage but have a lot more information
 from the listening portion of the exercise.

Use clear and direct language. The writing does not have to have the same level of English as the reading passage and
 the listening portion of the exercise to get a high score. Do not be casual but also do not feel pressure to use advanced words or
 advanced grammar.

If information is important, then include it. If there is something in the listening portion of the exercise that is hard but you know
 that it is important, then include it in the writing. It is better to be incorrect than to skip an important point in the listening portion.
 It is possible to get partial credit for information.


 Strategies on Writing Exercise 2

Plan before writing. Use around 3 minutes to choose the easiest answer possible, think of basic and clear reasons, and think of
 how you will explain each example step by step.

Do not focus on the introduction paragraph and conclusion paragraph. It is important to have them in the writing
 but do not make these paragraphs too long. It is more important to focus on the reasons and examples that support your opinion,
 which are in the middle of the writing.

Write less about the reasons and more about the examples. Do not explain the reasons too much. If you do,
 then you will not have much to write about the examples. In the body paragraphs, each reason should have a well-developed,
 step-by-step example. Make sure that each example has details and is not repetitive.

Variety and formality affect the score. In the writing, vocabulary, grammar, and the examples need to have variety
 and need to be formal or academic. Do not be casual, and do not use the same words or grammar forms in a repetitive way.

Have time to review. The number of mistakes that you make with spelling, grammar, and punctuation will decrease the score
 on the writing. It is important to have around 5 minutes to look at the writing and fix as many mistakes as possible.


Kyle Hanano has been an English teacher since 2005. He has experience teaching students of all ages and skill levels. However, he has the most teaching experience in test preparation, especially in regards to the TOEFL examination. He has been a part of Mentor Language Institute since 2008. Prior to that, he was an assistant language teacher in Japan with the JET Programme for three years. He holds a B.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Japanese Language and Culture from the University of California at Los Angeles, and he graduated in 2005.