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TOEFL iBT Study Tips

Ananda Muhammad was awarded Fulbright MA degree scholarship in 2015 to study TESL at Iowa State University.

The above article is lightly edited from her blog related with her Fulbright journey  http://comatosed-thoughts.blogspot.co.id/

If you’re considering to study for the TOEFL iBT test (which is a very smart move!), the most important thing to have is strategy. You will be tested on your English language skills (Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing) in a very limited amount of time. Thus, coming up with a strategy to use the time given in the most efficient way in order to give your best answers is of great importance.

Of course, you would need different strategies for the different skills tested. Below are some of my strategies and study tips for each skill which helped me obtain an overall score of 117 on my TOEFL iBT test 🙂

1. Reading

The reading passages that you will find will be quite long and of a variety of topics. Familiarize yourself with the different types of questions that you will encounter – get to know all the different types of questions such as true-false, paraphrase and vocabulary synonym questions. I think it’s important to know this so you wouldn’t panic during the real test.

When doing the practice and real tests, I suggest you read the whole passage once without skipping or stopping and then start answering the questions. This is just to get a general idea of what the passage is about. It will help save time too, because once you read the questions you can identify the keyword(s) in the question then immediately identify in which paragraph have you read the keyword(s).

2. Listening

For me, the most important part of the listening test is your notes. If you don’t have good notes, it will be hard for you to answer the questions. Remember, the questions will not show on the computer screen while you listen to the recording. You will listen to the recording first and then answer all the questions related to that particular listening section.

Never ever rely on your memory. Yes, there are some listening sections that are quite short and easy to remember, but most of the recordings are long and full of details which you will certainly miss when relying on your memory alone. You must practice your note-taking skills and maybe come up with symbols to represent words so that you can take notes faster. Like the reading test, it is also good to familiarize yourself with the different types of questions that you will encounter.

3. Speaking

For those of you who have taken the IELTS test, the speaking section in the TOEFL iBT test is quite different from the one in the IELTS test. Apart from the fact that you will be speaking to the computer, you will also need to take notes while you listen to conversations and lectures. The speaking test will have six sections and except for the first section, the questions for each section will be based on a conversation or lecture. Again, note-taking is a very important skill in this test. I can even say that no matter how good you think your speaking is, but if you don’t take good notes you might not be able to deliver a good response.

Unlike the listening test, you can actually come up with a certain outline/template for your notes for each section. I was very fortunate to have come across a link with several Youtube videos showing you some ways in which you could structure your note-taking. This could be done because usually the type of question is the same and only the content is different. Here’s the link: http://gmatclub.com/forum/toefl-instructional-videos-speaking-writing-very-useful-100611.html

I suggest that you use those outlines every time you practice, so during the real test it would feel more natural for you to speak while reading your notes. Also during the real test, don’t skip the introduction to the tests even if you already know what the directions are, especially during the intro of the speaking test. You could use this valuable time to write down the outline of each section on your paper so that when you finally hear the conversation or lecture you can just fill in the information that you hear onto the outline.

Specifically for section one, it is highly possible that you ‘prepare’ an answer beforehand because the questions are usually “What is your favorite…” type of questions or questions asking about your preference in accordance with a certain topic. You could make a list of your own questions and answer them.

When practicing for the speaking section it would be a good idea to record your response and replay it to yourself or other people to see how well you did.

4. Writing

Like the IELTS test, the writing section of the TOEFL iBT test consists of two tasks. In the TOEFL iBT the first task is called the ‘Integrated Essay’ and the second task is the ‘Independent Essay’. You should have a plan on how you’re going to structure your essays and you will use this plan during your preparation so it would all be automatic once you take the real test. You can use the same link above to watch the Youtube video showing you the best outline/template for both essays. While the following link will lead you to the pdf of the outlines that I used for my essays taken from the Youtube video with some additions: Writing Task 1 & 2 Outline/Template.

For the Integrated Essay, you will first read a passage on your computer screen which will disappear after 3 minutes and you will then listen to a lecture. The passage will then appear again, but you will not be able to listen to the lecture a second time. The most important thing in this essay is that you include both the information from the reading passage and the lecture. There is no need for a conclusion.

Meanwhile for the Independent Essay, you can prepare by answering the questions found in the following link: TOEFL iBT Independent Essay Topics. These questions are provided by ETS and the question types are similar to what you will find in the real test. I suggest that you at least do 2-3 questions each day.

Every time you finish an essay, you should show them to a friend or lecturer, or anyone who can help proofread your essay. This is an excellent way to see your mistakes.
Another thing that you should consider for the writing test is your typing speed. If you are slow in typing, it would be good practice for you to type your practice essays rather than writing it down so that you can emulate real testing conditions.

In general, you must practice doing the tests, if possible each day up until the day of the test. This will help with your vocabulary and getting familiar with the test timing. Always time yourself when you take the practice tests to make sure you know how to time yourself during the real test because you will not have the luxury to pause the testing program once you have started the real test. Practicing regularly also helps you to identify your areas of weakness and try to do better in those areas. For example I was a very poor note taker. At the beginning I always managed to lose chunks of information because I took notes so slowly. But then I came up with symbols and gave a bigger percentage of time to practice for the listening section so I could get used to using the symbols and to write faster without losing the important information.

To practice, you can find TOEFL iBT preparation books in your local bookstore but also download for free the following TOEFL iBT program samples from ETS which can give you an idea on how the real test would be like.



As for study schedule, personally my study schedule was one week for reading and listening and another week for speaking and writing. I would not recommend this tight schedule. I think it would be best to at least study a month before the test, so you have one week to prepare for each skill. Or you could identify the skill that you are most weak in and dedicate a bigger amount of time for it. But your study schedule is all up to you and you should try what’s most comfortable for yourself. One thing though, once you have drawn up a schedule, commit to it.

I sincerely hope that this article will be able to help you in your preparations for the TOEFL iBT test. I would like to end this article with one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Good luck to all of you!

Last Updated: Mar 31, 2024 @ 1:22 pm
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