“Michael, my TOEFL score is 76, but I need 80 to get a PhD in US.”

Hi Dilli,

I got your e-mail a few days ago, and I have thought about your situation and your goals. Let me briefly restate your situation, after which I will recommend what you need to do.

Last week you took the TOEFL exam and scored 76/120, with subtotals scores of 22, 17, 18, and 19 on the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the exam. Four months ago you took the TOEFL exam and scored 56/120, with subtotal scores of 21, 7, 7, and 21 on the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections. Therefore, although you have made an improvement of 20 points total over a four month period (which is steady, significant improvement!), you have still not reached your goal of getting 80, which is a requirement to get a PhD in the United States. In your e-mail, you stated a concern that you feel is keeping you from reaching your goal: “Still I have big problem to use vocabulary in appropriate way.”

First of all, to help you so that you can use vocabulary more appropriately, revisit my reading and listening practice tests and take notes as read and listen to those passages. Then use your notes to speak and write about the passages.  For speaking, practice giving 6-8 60 second oral responses of those reading and listening passages and record your voice so that you can listen to the recording after to check for delivery, language use, and topic development issues.  Similarly, for writing, use your reading and lecture notes to write 4-6 250 word summaries of those passages. Make sure your summaries are accurate, unbiased, and focus on the most important points from the passages. Finally, combine this practice with vocabulary practice by revisiting Vocabulary Lesson 4-6, all of which contain the same vocabulary words you are seeing and hearing in the reading and listening parts of my course. Make sure that you write the words in the vocabulary lessons onto note-cards so that you can study each word individually with its respective definition, sample sentence, and part of speech. Do NOT translate these words into your first language. I sincerely believe that, if you follow the suggestions outlined in this paragraph, that you will be able to use many more words appropriately. In addition, you will have also improved your reading, listening, integrated speaking, and integrated writing proficiency.

Second of all, to help you get past the 80/120 point threshold on the TOEFL exam, you should also do some speaking and writing practice.  As you practice your speaking, spend 50% of your speaking practice focusing on your pronunciation problems by going through all my pronunciation lessons and reading out loud all the practice exercises in the 58 videos. Then, you can send me some of your voice recordings so that I can give you feedback in terms of whether or not you have mastered the goals of the lessons. In addition, you should spend the other half of your speaking practice by completing and e-mailing me your responses to the independent and integrated speaking practice tests from my Online TOEFL Course, from your TOEFL book, or from other Internet sources, and I will guide you to help you improve your delivery, language use, and topic development. Make sure that you keep a speaking journal so that you can write down the suggestions that I give you. As you practice your writing, send me 3-5 independent and integrated writing practice tests weekly, and consider using my error correction service for at least two of your writing practice tests so that I can read, diagnose, analyze, and correct the grammatical, sentence structure, punctuation, organizational, and developmental problems that you are having. Then, using these new insights to your writing, you will be able to avoid certain writing pitfalls that will help you to score higher.

Overall, to help you reach your goal of 80/120, spend 2-3 hours daily for the next 30 days following this outline. In fact, read this article out loud every week to yourself to remind yourself of what you need to do. I am very confident that following these steps will give you the practice that you need to reach your goal. After 30 days, go to my partner web site ScoreNexus to complete a full-length five hour TOEFL iBT practice test. If your score on that practice test is more than 80/120, then you should register for the official TOEFL exam again. Be sure to let me know how you score on the iBT practice test.

Good luck to you!

Michael Buckhoff


Michael is the founder, owner, and materials writer for an Online TOEFL Course called “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.”  If you want to improve your TOEFL score, e-mail him at mbuckhoff@aol.com to tell him about your target scores. Begin your TOEFL conversation today!