TOEFL iBT Prep: Asking the Right Questions

Getting the right advice about how to effectively prepare for the TOEFL exam may largely be determined on how you frame your questions when you are seeking advice from tutors, teachers, or other students on the information super highway known as Internet. The more specific you frame your question, the better it will be. Therefore, keep in mind the following questions you should be asking your TOEFL mentors.

What is your current English proficiency abilities?

If you have taken the TOEFL iBT exam, you received a score report so that you can understand your overall academic English proficiency and your specific strengths and weaknesses in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Therefore, this is the most important information you have that you can share with others when you are trying to decide on a personalized learning path suitable to your needs.

If you have not taken the official TOEFL iBT exam, you will need to take a full-length TOEFL iBT practice test so you can get information about your current level. Costing a lot less than $200, these full-length practice tests should be realistic to the TOEFL exam, and you should make sure that the speaking and writing tasks are graded by TOEFL speaking and writing specialists who will score these tasks using the official iBT rubrics. In addition, to get realistic results, these practice tests should take you about 4 hours to complete them. Once you get this practice test graded, you can share the results with a TOEFL specialist who will be able to interpret theses results accurately.

What is the target score that you need, including subtotals in the reading, listening, speaking, and writing areas?

Many students claim that they need to “pass” the TOEFL exam. However, passing the TOEFL exam has different meanings to different students, and saying that you want to pass the TOEFL exam is about as clear as mud. Therefore, do not ever tell anyone that you have to pass the TOEFL exam. Instead, explain to the TOEFL specialist what your specific target overall TOEFL score is and do not forget to mention any subtotal requirements that the university or professional program may be requiring. For example, consider Janice, a aspiring nurse at Loma Linda University in California, who needs to get an overall TOEFL score of 104 with minimum requirements of 26 in the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections. She has taken the TOEFL exam 7 times, but her score right now is right around 100.

How much time do you have to prepare for the TOEFL exam?

In many cases, how much time you have may not realistically coincide with how much practice you will have to do before improving your English sufficiently to reach your desired target score. Learning academic English goes beyond just taking a bunch of practice tests at TOEFL Practice Online (TPO). Improving your English to improve your TOEFL score may involve, for example, improving your delivery so that you score higher on the speaking section.

Moreover, improving your delivery means that you may need to improve your pronunciation of vowel and consonant sounds; syllable division and grammatical word endings; word stress; sentence rhythm; intonation; and thought groups and blending. Making improvements in these areas takes extensive practice completing pre-tests and pronunciation exercises. You cannot put a specific time line on how quickly or slowly you can reduce your accent, and in some cases, phonological and phonetic differences in languages may make it harder for some learners to improve their intelligibility of American English than others. For example, Vietnamese and Thai English speakers are not used to pronouncing consonant sounds at the end of their words in their native language so they tend not to pronounce them in English in similar parts of the words that they utter. It takes time for these learners to overcome these difficulties.

For the most part, you can assume the following to be true even if you do not want to confront this reality: If you are spending several hours a day preparing for the TOEFL, it may take you up to 30 days before you can improve your TOEFL a mere 5-10 points overall. Furthermore, it is not unusual for students to spend 45 hours of study just to increase their speaking subtotal score 1 point. This type of slow improvement is also similar in the writing section of the TOEFL iBT exam. You can spend your whole day doing TPO, but it will not change this sad reality. Your score will not improve just because you are taking a lot of practice tests. You must meaningfully improve your academic English if you want to score higher.

TOEFL Prep is a marathon not a sprint

The key to your success is having patience knowing that your TOEFL prep is a marathon not a sprint, meaning that it may take you a lot more time to reach your target score than you think. Nonetheless, following a personalized learning path daily, completing the lessons in that path, and getting appropriate feedback from pronunciation, speaking, and writing specialists will eventually lead you to getting your desired target overall and subtotal scores. During your TOEFL journey, you will meet a lot of bumps, curves, and other sorts of setbacks, but all of this is normal, but, if you stay the course, you will reach your desired target TOEFL score.

Template to get the right advice

Based on what you are reading in this post, here is an example template that you can use so that can give a TOEFL specialist the right information so that you can get a personalized learning path to help you reach your goals in the shortest amount of time possible:

Dear TOEFL specialist,

My current TOEFL score is 80/120, with subtotals of 20 in the reading, 20 in the listening, 20 in the speaking, and 20 in the writing sections.

My goal is to score higher than 93/120 on the exam, with minimum subtotals of 22 in reading, 21 in listening, 26 in speaking, and 24 in writing sections.

I have approximately 2-3 months to prepare for the exam. Can you recommend a personalized learning path that will help me reach my target score?

Thank you!

Hirohito Santo

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,