Ask a Nerd!

Q: I need to take the TOEFL. What do I need to know before taking the exam?

Brief: Every student who wants to attend university in the US must take and pass the TOEFL prior to acceptance. There are several things that you need to focus on and learn before taking the exam (READ: “Navigating the Basics of the College Application Process“).



You need to focus on many aspects of the English language (listening, writing, reading, and speaking) at the college level.

Facts that you need to know:

1. You can take and retake the TOEFL as many times as you need to as long as you wait at least 12 days in between exam dates.

2. It is highly recommended that students who are planning to take the TOEFL get a practice test booklet and take a minimum of one practice test prior to the real test date.

3. It costs about $160-$250 to take the TOEFL exam so it is a good idea to pass the exam in the first try if possible.

Things that you will need to study:

1. Listening

Because the TOEFL is aimed at students who are preparing to study in an English-speaking country, it is important that students learn how to listen very well to English speakers. The best way to do this is to join an English speaking club where students get together each week and practice listening to each other in English. It is important that the leader of the club is a native English speaker so that s/he can correct any mispronunciations.

Students can also work with a private tutor or with an English language speaking partner over Skype – our Irvine ESL tutors are here to help. Skype is a great tool for students who may be living in China, South Korea, Japan or any other country. It allows students to have a speaking partner who is currently living in the US.

Many ESL students can also get used to listening to English by watching television. However, be sure to watch shows that feature actors who don’t have thick regional accents as this may lead to more confusion. I recommend watching a national news program or a one-hour drama or half-hour situation comedy that aired no more than five years ago.

Students preparing for the TOEFL should listen to English speakers for a minimum of 5 hours per week.

2. Speaking

The biggest issue with practicing speech is the fear of making a mistake or being embarrassed. If the people around you (probably other students and teachers) know that you a currently learning English, they shouldn’t be making fun of you. Ask the people around you to correct you when you make a mistake but in a nice, respectful way. This may help you get over any shyness. Practice makes perfect.

3. Writing

Writing is something that students can do alone or with a tutor. Because most native speakers write when they are on their own, there is no reason for a TOEFL prep student to have to be in a group. However, many students are more motivated to complete writing tasks in a timely manner if they are in a class or if they have a private Irvine English tutor (READ: “5 Reasons Students Should Blog“).

Irvine-test-prep-tutorI suggest keeping a journal every day and writing for 30 minutes. You can write about whatever you want as long as it is 100% in English. It is also a good idea to use a reputable test prep book and follow any activities or prompts that you are given.

The written English language can be very formal and very casual. The most important thing to keep in mind is that Americans don’t write in the same way that they talk (or, at least, they shouldn’t).

4. Reading

Reading is incredibly important for students who are planning to attend university in the US. ESL students can hire editors and proofreaders to help them with their written work but reading must be achieved by you and you only. Ideally, TOEFL students should read 100 books in the English language prior to taking the exam. For most students this is not realistic so start with a minimum of 10 novels and then start reading the newspaper, magazines and other short articles. TOEFL students should be reading something written in the English language for at least 30 minutes per day while studying for the exam.

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