TOEFL iBT Preparation Tips

TOEFL iBT stands for the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test. Students whose first language is not English need to take this exam for admission into English-speaking universities.  In addition, student who complete their studies may decide to work here in the United States. In many cases, these would-be workers will need to demonstrate academic proficiency in industries such as healthcare.  To illustrate, an international student who wants to work as a pharmacist, doctor, or nurse, will need to achieve 26 and 24 points on the speaking and writing section.

The TOEFL iBT can take up to four hours to complete the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the exam. Because it is so academic in nature, there are a few things that you need to be able to do before you will be ready to take this exam.  Think of these things as a checklist. One you complete each item, you are one step closer to being ready to take the TOEFL iBT exam.


TOEFL iBT Vocabulary Preparation

First of all, you need to acquire 1500-2000 vocabulary words since the TOEFL exam is academic.  Without vocabulary preparation, you are likely to see and hear too many unfamiliar words during all sections of the exam. Not knowing these words will slow down your reading speed and making it difficult to concentrate.  Not having a good foundation in English vocabulary will make it harder for you to understand. You might not understand, for example, the main and most important points in TOEFL listening passages.

Take 1-3 months to learn the vocabulary words through several steps:

  1. Write each word onto a 4 inch x 6 inch note card. Put the vocabulary word on one side. On the other side, put the definition, a sample sentence, parts of speech, and synonyms and antonyms.
  2. Make audio recording of all the words on your list. Record yourself saying each word and giving a sample sentence.
  3. Begin reviewing the note cards, and listen to the words on your smartphone.

TOEFL iBT Pronunciation Preparation

Second of all, no matter how organized, complete, and accurate your TOEFL speaking tasks are, if the TOEFL iBT human raters cannot understand what you are saying, you will never score high. Therefore, you need to work on reducing your non-native speaker accent.  At least, you should focus on making sure you are speaking clearly enough so that your accent does not block meaning. Most students, however, are unable to correct their pronunciation problems on their own, so you should seriously consider joining my TOEFL Speaking Boot Camp Course.

Work very hard on the Speak Clearly part of the course by completing both pre-tests. Finally, take the pronunciation post-test and aim to score 5.1+/7.0 or higher according to the intelligibility scale.

TOEFL iBT Grammar Preparation

Third of all, to prepare for the TOEFL iBT, you need to have a good knowledge of both basic and advanced grammar:

  • Sentence types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Be comfortable using all of the sentence types in both speaking and writing.
  • Adjective, noun, and adverb clause structures: Make sure you know how to use these dependent clauses in both speaking and writing.
  • Reduced adjective, noun, and adverb clauses: Know when and if you can reduce these dependent clauses with active and passive meanings.
  • Verb Tenses: Make sure that you have good control of your verb tenses and that you are consistent in your verb tenses during the independent and integrated verb tenses. In fact, spend 1-3 days reading the following article I wrote:
  • Gerunds and infinitives: Make sure you know how to use these in both speaking and writing.
  • Punctuation marks such as the comma, semi-colon, hyphen, dash, period, question mark, and quotation marks

TOEFL iBT Listening Preparation

Fourth of all, make it a goal to practice listening to news, documentary, history, and science news segments. Each segment should be at least 5-10 minutes long.  As you practice listening to the segments for about 45 minutes daily, complete the following activities:

  • Develop a note-taking system to capture the main and most support points
  • Use your notes to orally summarize the passages; record yourself making 60-second oral summaries of the passages
  • Use your notes to write 150 word summaries of the passages

Spend time learning the TOEFL listening question types so that you know what to expect when you register to take the TOEFL exam.

TOEFL iBT Reading Preparation

Fifth of all, you will need to increase your reading speed to at least 300 words per minute with 60-80% comprehension.  Having a faster reading speed has several advantages:

  • Finish reading passages faster so that you have more time to answer the reading, speaking, and writing questions.
  • Have better comprehension of what you read. In fact, studies show that faster readers have better comprehension and fewer distractions than slower readers.
  • Read more books and magazines for pleasure, academic, and professional purposes. Knowledge is power!  The more books you read, the more you will learn.

TOEFL iBT Reading Preparation: Prioritize your reading practice

In addition, you will need to become familiar with the reading question types and the strategies for answering them. As you take realistic, full length TOEFL-level reading practice tests, pay particular attention to the questions you missed.  Make an effort to understand why the answer you chose is incorrect and the correct answer is the better option. Practice taking reading practice tests. However, make sure you prioritize what is most or least important in your study:

  1. Spend time reading books, magazines, and newspapers for about 45 minutes every day for at least 2-3 months. Develop an effective note-taking system so you can record the main and important details.  Spend time weekly giving 60-second oral responses and writing 150 word summaries of the passages.
  2. Acquire more vocabulary. Like I said before, you must increase your vocabulary to about 1500-2000 words. Do NOT shortcut this step.
  3. Increase your reading speed to at least 300 words per minute with 60-80 comprehension.
  4. Become familiar with the TOEFL reading question types and the strategies for answering them.
  5. Complete TOEFL-level full length practice tests so that develop the  mental strength and stamina you need.  Having this mental strength will help you get through all the reading passages during the reading, speaking, and writing sections of the TOEFL exam.

Spend 80% of your reading practice completing steps 1-3 and 20% of your time completing steps 4-5.

TOEFL iBT Writing Preparation

Sixth of all, you can watch all the You Tube videos you want about the independent and integrated writing task on the TOEFL iBT exam. However, if you do not complete practice tests, you will not be able to improve. The purpose of your writing practice is to help you get used to writing 350-450 word responses for the TOEFL independent writing task.  In addition, you need to practice writing 250-350 word responses for the integrated writing responses. Most likely you will not be able to diagnose your own writing issues so you should consider joining a TOEFL writing course.  As a result, you will be able to get meaningful feedback from a TOEFL writing specialist so that you can see how you are scoring on the practice tests. In addition, a writing specialist will also help you to understand what problems you are having and how to overcome them.

TOEFL iBT Writing Preparation: Practice makes perfect, right?

To illustrate, I had a student last year who had scored 21/30 points on the writing section of the TOEFL iBT.  While he was enrolled in my course for two and a half months, he completed 21 independent and  15 integrated writing practice tests. After each practice test, I evaluated and scored his writing. I gave him some helpful but brief suggestions each time. However, I did not error correct any of his essays.  After completing my course, he re-took the TOEFL exam, this time scoring 29/30 on the writing section. I figure that he wrote approximately 12,250 words and spent 140 hours studying the vocabulary, grammar, and writing lessons in my course.  Because of his hard word

TOEFL iBT Speaking Preparation

Seventh of all, you will need to practice recording 45 second and 60 second responses for independent and integrated speaking practice tests. If you are on a tight budget, I recommend that you enroll in a TOEFL speaking course.  A speaking course will allow you to complete practice tests and to get audio and video feedback inexpensively. You will not have to pay a TOEFL tutor $25-40 an hour. For example, you can enroll in my TOEFL speaking course and complete practice with feedback. This costs only $99 monthly. And you can complete and get feedback daily on the practice tests you submit.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,