TOEFL Reading Tasks | Common Question Types Answered

Don’t be intimidated by the TOEFL reading tasks! They’re straight forward if you know what you’re doing. 

This article will prepare you for the most common TOEFL reading question types, including Summarizing Information and Make Inferences.

TOEFL reading
TOEFL reading requires comprehension and understanding of what is being tested of you. Build your skills around the common TOEFL reading question types.

Introduction to TOEFL reading

In the TOEFL reading section, you’ll get three to four reading passages, each with 12-14 questions.

They’re extracts from university textbooks or academic articles on a wide range of topics. These will be similar to the types of texts you’d find in college.

Although you don’t need to be familiar with the topics, the more you read during your preparation, the more you will understand.

You’ll have 20 minutes to read each passage, and answer its associated questions. Depending on how many passages you get, the reading section will last between 60-80 minutes.

TOEFL reading question types

There are 10 different question types you might encounter, each requiring a different skill. These are:

  • Summarize Information in a passage
  • Guess vocabulary from context
  • Make Inferences about what the author means
  • Identify a reference
  • Identify a fact
  • Understand rhetorical Purpose – why the writer included particular information
  • Identify a negative fact (a fact that was NOT included in the passage)
  • Insert a word or sentence into the appropriate place in a paragraph
  • Simplify information by identifying the correct paraphrase
  • Complete a table by dragging and dropping sentences

Common TOEFL reading question types

Below are some tips for how you can build specific skills for some of the most common question types. It’s very important to build up these skills.

To do so, you’ll need to read daily, especially university level books and articles covering a wide range of topics related to the arts, humanities, nature or social science.

TOEFL reading
Topical newspaper articles are an excellent way to practice your reading comprehension.
Summarizing Information

This type of question requires you to complete a summary of a reading passage by choosing three out of six sentences provided.

You’ll need to drag and drop the correct three sentences into boxes provided on the screen and identify main ideas (which belong in a summary) from details (which don’t).

To build this skill, read an article a day and write a short summary by paraphrasing important ideas from the article.

Take notice of main ideas – these are general, and details – which are specific. A summary should only include main ideas.

Guess Vocabulary from Context

For this question, a word in the passage will be highlighted. The question asks you which word from a list of four best matches the meaning of the highlighted word. Here, context will help you, and so will a wide vocabulary.

To develop your vocabulary, you need to read. Reading is the best way to see how words are used in context. You don’t have to read complicated books.

The best way is to make reading fun by reading things that interest you: Food, gardening, fashion, celebrity news, economics, science, politics, etc.

As you read, you will discover new words in context. Try to get the meaning of an unknown word by understanding the whole sentence.

Then, look up the word on or on to see if your guess was correct. This skill will help you with the guess vocabulary from context question.

Also, try to learn a word a day.

Check the English Learner’s Dictionary word of the day for a new word each day with the definition, pronunciation, word form and example sentences.

Make Inferences

Inference is about understanding what the author is trying to say, without actually saying it.

TOEFL reading
Making an inference is liked making an educated guess: you have drawn an idea or conclusion from evidence, reasoning and experience.

You’ll be asked something like “what does the author mean by…”.

With this kind of question, you won’t find the answer directly in the text. It will be implied, so you’ll need to infer the meaning.

To do that, you need to go beyond the text which means using higher-level thinking skills.

A good way to develop this is to do riddles. There are plenty of inference riddles that you can find online that will help you practice making inferences.

Making inferences relies on what it says in the text plus your background knowledge and ability to connect information to draw conclusions.

Another way to build this skill is, as you read, ask yourself questions about the meaning behind what is written and make guesses.

Find connecting points and bring them together to draw a conclusion. Make predictions about the information provided.

Identify a Reference

This question type is all about understanding what a word or words in a sentence refers to.

For example, “I watched Star Wars yesterday. It was a great movie”. Here the word “it” refers to “Star Wars”.

Of course, this type of question will be a bit more challenging in the actual TOEFL reading. So, you need to build up your knowledge of grammar and sentence structure.

As you read different articles, highlight any reference words like it, they, they, which, whose, who, etc. Then ask yourself, what does that word refer to?

To answer that question, you’ll need to identify the subject of the previous sentence. This is an exercise you should keep in mind when doing your daily reading practice.

It will help prepare you for this very common TOEFL reading question.

Identify a Fact
TOEFL reading
Facts are snippets of concrete evidence drawn from your reading.

In the TOEFL reading, you might be asked to find a fact from the passage.

Facts are the supporting information that tell more about the main idea. Facts often tell about the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the main idea.

The fact question is based upon information which is actually stated in the passage.  You must find the part of the passage which deals with what is being asked.

The best way to build this skill is to practice reading and answering comprehension questions.

Rhetorical Purpose

This kind of question asks you why the author mentioned something. Authors say things for different purposes.

For example:

  • To persuade the reader of something
  • To describe something
  • To make a suggestion
  • To illustrate a point
  • To prove a theory

Like the inference question, the answer will not be stated in the passage. You will need to infer.

A good way to build this skill in preparation for this type of question, is to read critically. That means, as you read, ask yourself:

  • Why did the author mention that?
  • What was the purpose of including that information?  
Simplify Information

This question type asks you to pick the best paraphrase of a sentence from a passage. You’ll be given four options to choose from.

Paraphrasing is all about expressing the same idea in a simpler way. To build this skill, read an article and pick a paragraph to paraphrase.

Write a couple of sentences using your own words to capture the same idea that the paragraph expresses.  Then read your paraphrase and compare it to the original paragraph.

Keep refining your paraphrasing skills by doing this each time you read an article.

Jump onto Youtube to watch free E2Language TOEFL videos and start learning TOEFL reading methods today! 

Start planning your TOEFL preparation time by following the link to this blog post here!

Follow a list of of link to quality TOEFL learning material right here!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!

All the best with your TOEFL reading preparation!

Written by Jamal Abilmona

TOEFL Learning Material | The Best Online TOEFL Study Materials!

If you’ve decided to take the TOEFL iBT, you’ve probably realized by now that a quick Google search will return pages upon pages of TOEFL learning material.

Although this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be overwhelming. I bet you’re probably asking yourself, “where do I even start?

Before you go into pre-TOEFL shock, check out these THREE key steps to finding helpful TOEFL learning material.

TOEFL Learning Material
WARNING: Study materials are just within reach!
Step #1

Gather background knowledge about the TOEFL iBT test format

Going into the TOEFL test with no preparation and minimal understanding of the test format is unwise, even for advanced students and native speakers.

To get the best use out of your study time, make sure to invest some time on pre-study research. That is, before even looking at any practice questions, do some investigation into rubrics and question types for each section.

View the Scoring Guide for Writing and Speaking sections.

Also, be realistic about your preparation time. Be sure to give yourself enough time, based on how much time you can commit on a daily basis.

Don’t jump into the test until you feel confident! Take it from me; when I did the TOEFL iBT, I spent about a week brushing up on the test format and practicing and I was still scared silly for the speaking section!

Unfortunately, I lost points in that section because I overestimated my abilities and didn’t take the sufficient time to practice beforehand.

Step #2

Find official TOEFL learning material and TOEFL-like practice exercises.

Yes, I know, you’re already shelling out some big bucks for this test, so do you really need to pay for more practice material?

I’m not going to answer with a definitive “yes, you do!” but, if  you’re unsure of your English level or haven’t taken the TOEFL iBT before, it could be a great investment.

Find these useful resources below:

Preparation Books
TOEFL Learning Material
The TOEFL guides may seem a little heavy at first, but you only need to grasp what’s relevant to your preparation!

There are buckets of TOEFL books out there, so you’ll no doubt have little trouble finding one that suits you. When deciding what book(s) to buy, consider the following:

  1. Is the material up-to-date?
  2. Does the book include full mock tests?
  3. Aside from the practice questions, does the book provide any tips/ strategies for each section?

Some of the Most Popular TOEFL Books on the market:

  • Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test: Amazon
  • The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test (iBT Edition):  Amazon
  • The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test: Amazon 
TOEFL Practice Online

If you already know your stuff when it comes to TOEFL, but just need a few more questions to run through to boost your confidence, try the official mock test or look through some past exams with the Official TOEFL iBT Tests

Speaking Evaluation: Speaking Series or 1:1 Tutorials?

I bet I’m not the only one who gets nervous for the speaking section! While practicing at home ( i.e., running through some mock questions while timing and recording yourself) will help you feel more confident under the pressure of the actual exam, the best thing you can do to improve in the TOEFL speaking section is to get some feedback!

See this recent post for expert advice on tackling the TOEFL speaking test!

ETS offers the “TOEFL iBT Speaking Series” which will give you one full set of speaking tasks (two independent and four integrated), and will simulate the experience of taking the test, only through your own computer.

Though the Speaking Series will give you a projected score, you also need to be able to accurately determine your weaknesses in order to improve. For that, the best resource is live feedback, which we will happily provide through 1:1 tutorials on E2Language!

Check our TOEFL Preparation packages HERE! 

toefl learning material
Yes, E2Language offers live feedback when you take 1:1 tutorials with expert teachers from all over the world!
Step #3

Enhance your overall English skills with non-TOEFL learning materials!

Looking at page upon page of TOEFL Reading passages or listening to endless hours of TOEFL Listening dialogues will be sure to numb your brain, so give yourself a break by using other sources to study.

Adding variety to your study sessions will keep you engaged while still picking up on vocabulary and improving your overall knowledge.

Here are some ideas of resources to use:

Newspapers/Magazines: Think sources such as The New York Times, National Geographic, The Economist, etc.

Documentaries and TED Videos: Look for speakers with American accents!

E2Language Youtube Channel –— Brush up on your grammar and vocabulary with our clear and simple (yet awesome!) videos on E2 Core Skills Channel!

Check out this TOEFL Reading video on E2 TOEFL:

Remember, set realistic goals, use a variety of TOEFL learning material, and study consistently to get the best results!

Start planning your TOEFL preparation time by following the link to this blog post here!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!

Written by Meaghan. 

TOEFL Speaking Test Explained | Independent and Integrated Tasks

Imagine if you’re attempting the TOEFL speaking test with zero preparation! How would you approach each of the speaking tasks? 

Ask yourself: What is being tested of you? What language skills will you likely use? 

TOEFL speaking test
Understanding the TOEFL speaking test requirements will save you a lot of stress on test day!

What are the TOEFL speaking test requirements?

The TOEFL speaking test assesses your ability to speak about familiar topics as well as your ability to verbally summarize information.

The speaking test is divided into two sections: the independent and integrated speaking tasks.

There are six tasks in total.

Independent Speaking Tasks

The first section is independent speaking. It is independent because you will be using your own information to complete these tasks. This section has two tasks.

For both of these, you will be given 15 seconds to prepare and note down ideas. You will then need to speak into a microphone for 45 seconds.

  1. Description Task

The first one asks you to describe something familiar to you. This could be anything from your personal experience like:

Describe a teacher who had an influence on you, or: Describe a place that you like to visit, or: Describe a book that you liked to read as a child.

As you can see, these are all topics that are related to your experience.

  1. Opinion Task

The independent speaking tasks asks you to give your opinion on a topic.

For this task, you will need to say whether you agree or disagree with a statement, like: All children should play a sport.

Or you may be asked to choose a side and explain why. You will need to support your opinion with reasons!

For example: Some people think students should take a gap year before entering the workforce while others think this is a waste of time. What is your opinion? 

TOEFL speaking test
Give your opinion; your view on the topic and explain why take this position. 

Integrated Speaking Tasks

The integrated speaking tasks make up the second part of the speaking test. It is integrated because you will be using information provided to you from reading and listening texts to answer the questions.

There are four tasks in total. For each task, you will be given 30 seconds to prepare and note down ideas. You will then need to speak into a microphone for 60 seconds.

For these tasks, you will have to integrate, or combine, information from a reading passage and listening audio into a summary, or summarize information you hear in a lecture or conversation. You will be able to take notes as you listen.

TOEFL speaking test
Learn a good technique for summarising text and audio!

View the article on TOEFL tips and tricks for developing a good note-taking system here

  1. Summarize Opinion

For this task, you will be given a short reading text. You will have 45 seconds to read it. The text will be related to a campus issue, like student parking, or tuition fees for example.

You will then hear a conversation between two students relating to that topic. In this conversation, one of the students will give an opinion about the issue. You will then need to summarize that opinion and explain why the student has that opinion.

  1. Summarize Reading and Lecture

For this task, you will have 45 seconds to read a short passage about an academic topic. You will then hear a short lecture on the same topic.

You will be asked explain how the examples used in the lecture support or contradict information in the reading passage. It is important to take good notes to complete this task successfully.

  1. Summarize Problem

For this task, you will listen to a conversation that takes place on a university campus. It will be related to some kind of student problem to do with things like accommodation, scheduling, assignments, etc.

The speakers will also mention some possible solutions. You will be asked to summarize the problem discussed by the speakers and state which solution you would recommend and why. You should take notes as you listen.

  1. Summarize Lecture

In the final speaking task, you will hear a lecture on an academic topic. You should take notes of main points and examples from the lecture as you listen. You will then use your notes to summarize the ideas in the lecture.

View the following E2 Core Skills Channel on YouTube for helpful tips on forming complex sentences! 

Start planning your TOEFL preparation time by following the link to this blog post here!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!

Written by Jamal Abilmona. 

TOEFL Listening Test | Answering Different Question Types

The TOEFL listening test is tricky, especially if you’re unsure about what to listen for in the audio recording. 

This article from E2Language will explain the components of the TOEFL listening test and provide samples of the types of questions you may encounter on test day! 

There are two components to the TOEFL listening test:

  1. Conversations
  2. Lectures
TOEFL listening test
Don’t overcomplicate your test preparation. Focus on building your listening skills around the conversation and lecture components of the TOEFL listening test!


The conversations you will hear take place on a university campus and relate to student issues. These could be conversations between two students about a recent class, an upcoming assignment, or a change in university policy.

Or, you might hear a conversation between a student and a professor related to a student query.

You might also hear a conversation between a student and the registrar regarding administrative issues like changing courses, applying for a student loans, or asking about student accommodation.


The lectures are all related to academic topics. But don’t worry. You don’t need to be familiar with the topics of the lectures. Everything you need to answer the questions will be in the audios. The lectures could be about anything from history, art, psychology, sociology or zoology.

All together there are between 6-9 audios (2-3 conversations and 4-6 lectures). Each audio goes for 3-6 minutes. There are 30 questions in total and the listening section goes for between an hour and an hour and a half.

You will hear the audio, take notes, and after the audio finishes, there will be a series of questions related to what you just heard.

To move from one question to the next, you will click a “next” button. There is no going back once you have answered a question and clicked “next”.

Once you have answered all the questions for one audio, you will hear the next one. You will only hear each audio recording once.

Listen Carefully  

toefl listening test
Get into your groove and relax a little, this will help you to concentrate on your task at hand!

You need to listen out for the following:

  • The purpose or main idea: why a conversation takes place, or what a lecture is mainly about
  • Detail: specific points from a conversation or lecture
  • Function: why a speaker says something, rather than what they said
  • Opinion: what the speaker thinks about a topic or idea
  • Inference: what a speaker means by something he or she said
  • Organization: how a lecture is organized
  • Non-standard format: identify correct or incorrect details by checking boxes in a table or chart.

Helpful Hints 

For each audio recording, you will be able to take notes using a pencil and scratch paper provided. You should listen out for what the speakers say, as well as how or why they say it.

Context vs Content Questions

TOEFL listening

Many of the TOEFL listening questions are related to context rather than content. Content questions are related directly to a point mentioned in the conversation or lecture.

For example, you might hear a student talking to a professor about submitting a late assignment. The professor may say “You can submit your assignment by email next Friday before 2pm”.

A content question might ask: What must the student do by 2 o’clock on Friday?

  1. Send an email
  2. Meet the professor
  3. Hand in an assignment
  4. Attend a lecture

The answer to this question would be C. In this case, you will answer using information directly stated in the audio and you will be able to refer to your notes to find this specific point.

However, a context question relates to how or why a speaker says something and what they mean by it in the context of the lecture or conversation.

For example, a student might say: I found the topic quite interesting, but I just wasn’t able to grasp the theory. The professor replies: Well, it would have helped if you actually came to class.

A context question might be: Why does the professor say “it would have helped if you actually came to class?”

  1. To show his irritation with the student
  2. To explain to the student that everything they need to know is covered in class
  3. To prove that the student he is willing to help
  4. To give the student a second chance

The answer to this question would be A. In this case, the answer is not directly stated. Rather, you would need to consider the context of the conversation and how the phrase was said (tone of voice) to determine the answer.

Another content question might be related to how a lecture is organized. In this case, the lecturer will not clearly state this. You will have to refer to your notes to deduce the answer.

For example, if a professor is explaining a historical era, and mentions certain events chronologically, you will write each event and the year it took place in your notes.

If the question asks: How does the professor organize the lecture?

  1. Thematically
  2. Chronologically
  3. From most important to least important event
  4. From least important to most important event

You will be able to look at your notes and see that each event was mentioned by year. So, the answer in this case would be B.

After some practice on the TOEFL listening test you will be able to tell the difference between context and content questions! 

For TOEFL preparation tips and strategies to get you started, check out the E2Language blog post here!

Learn from my experience as an IELTS teacher by checking out my TOEFL Reading Tips here!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!

Written by Jamal Abilmona. 

TOEFL Tips and Tricks: Strategies for Test Preparation!

So you recently decided to take the TOEFL ibt test, but don’t know where to start with your studying? This article will outline a few TOEFL tips and strategies to get you started.

Don’t start with the English dictionary. Lets take a look at what materials you can use to prepare with!

TOEFL Tips and Tricks #1

Use a variety of materials to study

The TOEFL ibt is a test of American English, and therefore, you should get accustomed to American English pronunciation, intonation, and also common vocabulary and expressions.

Before the test, try to immerse yourself in English as much as you can, especially through North American media sources. Try to read the newspaper, listen to English radio, and speak to your friends (even about TOEFL tips you’ve learned!) in English.

To learn about planning your TOEFL preparation time, see the article here. 

It’s also a great idea to go through as many authentic TOEFL materials as you can (mock questions, the official guide, E2Language practice questions), but you should also look to other English resources for practice.

Remember that the exam will include readings and listenings on a variety of academic topics. Try to incorporate practice with materials such as:

  • Podcasts or videos of university lectures
  • TED videos (these may be harder than the actual TOEFL ibt listening materials, but practicing with TED videos will make the test seem easy!)
  • Documentaries

TOEFL Tips and Tricks #2

Expand your vocabulary

Work with a variety of linkers and conjunctions: In the Speaking and Writing sections, you will be asked to express your opinion on a given topic. In order to do this easily and articulately, practice using a variety of connectors and try to commit some to memory.

Follow the link to practice your conjunctions on the Smart Words website.  

Learn common idioms and phrasal verbs. Speakers of American English frequently use idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs in conversation. As you will probably hear them used in the Speaking section dialogues, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the most common.

Lists of TOEFL idioms and phrasal verbs can be found on the following websites listed below:

Become familiar with “university” vocabulary. A lot of the material in the TOEFL ibt will be related with typical situations of university life. If you are using this exam for entrance to an English-speaking university, then this vocabulary will come in hand anyway!

Follow the link to start using 100 campus vocabulary words to get you started on

TOEFL Tips and Tricks #3

Have you got a blank notepad lying around? Start jotting down some ideas and topics that are of interest to you, then start exploring these topics through popular English media!

Develop a note-taking system

Throughout the TOEFL ibt exam you will be able to take notes. It’s therefore essential that you develop suitable note-taking skills as you study for your exam.

A lot of students don’t consider this while they are studying and then are left confused by their own writing on the day of the exam. Don’t let that happen to you; practice ahead!

Remember that it isn’t necessary to copy down everything. Instead, try to write down a few details (names, titles, places) and then focus on taking note of the relationship between concepts (for example, cause and effect, changes, and transitions). Take note of these concepts with simple symbols such as arrows and shapes.

Look here for some helpful abbreviations to use. It’s fine to use this as a starting point and develop your own system. The important thing is to develop a pattern that works for you, and practice with it consistently so that you understand your notes on test day!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!

Written by Meaghan M. 

TOEFL Reading Section: Expert TOEFL Reading Preparation Tips

This article from E2Language will outline some TOEFL reading tips you can use to practice for the TOEFL reading section.

At first glance, the TOEFL reading section appears easily misleading! 20 minutes may seem like loads of time to read a page-length text and answer 12-14 questions. You’ve read heaps of academic texts, learned tons of new vocabulary, and tried a bunch of practice questions, so you think this will be a breeze, right?

TOEFL reading section
All your studying and test preparation will pay off if you can approach each TOEFL section strategically!

Fast forward ten minutes and you’re still stuck trying to figure out what “—-” really means.

Don’t worry friends, it happens to the best of us! That is why you should not only spend your study time familiarizing yourself with the question types and a wealth of TOEFL reading material, but also focus on becoming a more efficient reader.

So what do I mean by ‘becoming a more efficient reader’? Basically, don’t do more work than you have to, dear test-takers!

Understanding every word of every sentence isn’t necessary to succeed on the TOEFL reading section, so reading the entire text first before you look at the questions will only waste your precious time! Instead, work on developing the following TOEFL reading skills.

TOEFL Reading Tips #1: Practice Skimming

To get the main idea of the text, you’ll want to employ a method called skimming. This is where you essentially read at a high speed; reading for overall meaning rather than detail. On the TOEFL test, you can usually get the main idea by looking through the first lines of each paragraph and the conclusion.

To practice at home on the TOEFL reading section, start with some TOEFL Reading material and set a timer for 30 seconds (see our TOEFL preparation blog article for useful insights into how long you need to prepare for the TOEFL).

Look through the text quickly, focusing on the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Once the timer is up, stop reading and write down as many vocabulary words as you can remember, as well as the main idea of the passage in your own words.

You can also try an online reading speed test. Building an element of pressure into your study will help you prepare for the real conditions of the test.

TOEFL Reading Tips #2: Scanning

Another skill that will help you succeed in the TOEFL reading section is scanning. This is where you move your eyes quickly down the text, looking for specific information.

On the test, read through the question and make a mental note of a few key words (important objects, titles, dates, etc) and then try to locate them in the text. If you already know what you’re looking for, you can find the information quickly and search within the same area for the answer.     

TOEFL reading section
Scanning a document is like fast-forwarding on the television remote, which allows you to target and capture the most important scenes or information you need.

Try these resources for more skimming and scanning practice!

TOEFL Reading Section: Practice Links

TOEFL Reading Tip #3: Do the easy questions first!

On the TOEFL iBT you’ll encounter a mixture of question types some significantly harder than others. Remember that you have 20 minutes for each text. Ideally, when answering each question type, you should also leave yourself a couple minutes to navigate back through the questions and double check your answers (this is where your skimming and scanning practice will pay off!).

Another TOEFL reading tip is to change the order in which you complete the questions. Look through the questions that say “According to Paragraph 2” or “In Line 5…” first. These questions should be relatively quick as you have the location of the answer given to you, and once you’re done these, you can spend another minute or two on those harder inference questions!

Just remember to check the “Review” button to see if you’ve completed every question before you move on from the section.

A word of caution: you won’t become a faster reader overnight. Make sure you give yourself sufficient time to practice the strategies above, be consistent and you’re sure to see results!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!



Written by Meaghan. 


TOEFL Preparation Time | How Long Do I Need?

Undertaking TOEFL requires you to consider the level of TOEFL preparation time that’s right for you.

We’ll set out to answer this critical question that focuses on building your receptive and productive English skills. 

How much TOEFL Preparation Time do I need?

There’s an old joke about a tourist in Ireland who, while paying an old farmer for some apples, asks for directions to Dublin. The elderly man replies: ‘Well sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

There is something of the ‘Wise Fool’ in the Irishman’s response. After all, if you want to get somewhere, then it’s better to start from a place where you have a good chance of reaching your goal. Such is the challenge faced by the TOEFL test candidate.

As teachers of the TOEFL iBT, we are often asked by our students how long they will need to get ready for the test. It is not always the most straightforward route – study really hard for two weeks before the test – that is the best to take.

Also, if you’re not in a desperate hurry, the journey is (nearly) as fun as getting there!

TOEFL preparation time
Exam cramming won’t help you to retain crucial long term knowledge, so plan your time effectively!

Planning your TOEFL Preparation Time

The first solid piece of advice is, if you have never taken the TOEFL test before, you really should try one of the official tests on the ETS website.

Your TOEFL preparation time depends on many factors, not least your own starting point. Planning is important so that you can get the score you need in time to submit your university application forms. What are your deadlines? If you’re applying to several universities, make sure you’ve checked each of the due dates carefully.

Mastering Academic Skills

The TOEFL iBT assesses all of the skills you need to communicate effectively in an academic environment, and university-level vocabulary and grammar are embedded in the test. Anyone who is planning to study in a foreign university that is taught entirely in English needs to master both their receptive and productive English skills.

TOEFL preparation time

Master the 4 English skills tested on the TOEFL. If you’re unsure about siting the TOEFL exam, see our post on 5 Reasons to Choose TOEFL over IELTS & TOEIC. 

Receptive Skill no. 1: Reading

Even though reading seems like the easiest part of your scholastic experience, when it comes to understanding lengthy, specialized texts in a short time, your challenge is immense. You will be expected to master new subjects and gain knowledge at an academic level.

It goes without saying that this can tough in your own language, let alone English. As often as is humanly possible, you should practice your reading: newspapers, magazines, novels and blogs will all go a long way to helping you improve. You should prefer academic texts – the TOEFL iBT is an academic test, after all – and constantly challenge yourself to capture the information presented in your own words.

There’s no time in the test to check unknown words in the dictionary, so use the lead in time before your TOEFL iBT to build your own word list as you read. By the time you get to test day, you should have amassed a fairly rich vocabulary.

Receptive Skill no. 2: Listening

Once you’ve passed your TOEFL and got into the university of your choice, you will be attending classes where the sole language of communication is English. To succeed in your chosen course of study, it is crucial that you understand what the lecturers say.

You will also be expected to participate in and contribute to seminars and class discussions. As an extra challenge, some of your teachers and many of your peers will be non-native speakers of English like you, so it’s best to be prepared for a variety of English accents.

Productive Skill no. 1: Writing

Written assignments and exams are an essential part of university studies in the English-speaking world. To start off, you will have to prepare your university entrance application in the best possible English.

This will probably include a beautifully organized resume with accompanying cover letter, a statement of intent (i.e.: “Three reasons why I would sooner die than not gain entry to this university!”), and filling in form after form with minute details of your personal, academic and professional background. Try doing that without a decent grasp of the written word!

Productive Skill no. 2: Speaking

You are a human being, a social creature, and will naturally want to interact with your fellow students outside of the lecture hall. You will also have team projects to prepare with your peers, and you will need it to communicate with the university administration and the local community. Honing your speaking skills ahead of your TOEFL test will be key to ensuring your transition into an academic environment.

So how much TOEFL preparation time do I need? That does depend on ‘how far you are from Dublin’ when you start. If you are a high-end user of the language to begin with, a structured four-week spell preparing for the TOEFL iBT will probably suffice. If, however, you struggle with the basics of the English language, establish a solid base in your core skills before you take on this exciting and ultimately rewarding challenge.

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!



Written by Colin.

5 Reasons to Choose TOEFL Over IELTS & TOEIC

There are so many tests to choose from, so why choose TOEFL over the rest?

Why You Should Choose TOEFL: Gold Standard

Whether you’re in HR or academia, this test is a by-word for excellence in English language testing. The TOEFL has a standardised structure that is clearly divided into four distinct steps:

i) reading;

ii) listening;

iii) speaking; and

iv) writing.

Choose TOEFL
The 4 English skills tested on the TOEFL.

Numbers i) and ii) are receptive skills, meaning you are the passive recipient of written or spoken English. The speaking and writing sections are productive, so your active ability to demonstrate your English-language competence is put to the test.

Suffice to say that all four represent the skills that you will need to have mastered before entering an academic environment in higher education. A solid TOEFL score objectively demonstrates to the institutions you are applying to that you have dominated the English language.

Why You Should Choose TOEFL: Booking is Easy as Pie

It is easy to book a TOEFL test wherever you are in the world. There are test centres everywhere, and nowadays it is all done online. There’s no need to struggle with an old-fashioned pencil and paper (see the IELTS or TOEIC), because the TOEFL is an internet based test.

Indeed, there are very few countries in the world today where you cannot sit the TOEFL test, an assertion that other major EFL tests are not able to make. And as for ease of use, there are over 50 TOEFL iBT test dates every year, you do everything in one sitting (I’m looking at you, IELTS!) and the results come out quickly.

Choose TOEFL
Booking the TOEFL online is incredibly easy.

Why You Should Choose TOEFL: Rich Pickings

Because the TOEFL has been around for so long, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to preparing for the test. Get onto Google and a quick search will turn up tens of thousands of pages of exercises, books, PDFs, videos and online courses. Unsurprisingly, a lot of this is can be of dubious quality, so have your wits about you when you decide to invest your precious time and hard-earned money.

The saying in English is “forewarned is forearmed”, and in most cases, you will get what you pay for. Keep your eyes peeled for authentic questions, sometimes gleaned from previous tests, as well as real-time, live training sessions and helpful explanatory videos. The cumulative effect will be the shoring up of your test knowledge, leaving you fully equipped on test day.

Why You Should Choose TOEFL: Fair and Balanced

The TOEFL is a hugely popular test because it is seen by test takers and institutions alike as a fair measure of your English language competence. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into preparing the TOEFL.

Take the TOEFL speaking section, for example, in which you are required to speak your thoughts directly into a microphone without having to face a total stranger. Your recorded speech is rated by up to half a dozen experts at the ETS, ensuring your work is properly vetted and checked by people who know what they are listening to.

Choose TOEFL
The TOEFL is recognized for its fair approach to scoring.

Why You Should Choose TOEFL: Open Arms

Dominating the TOEFL is your key to studying in some of the best universities in North America and around the world. At last count, almost 10,000 institutions endorsed the TOEFL as the go-to test for under- and post-graduate students. Applying to courses with a valid TOEFL certificate in your hands is a sure-fire way to get your application to the top of the admissions pile!

Still not sure if you should choose TOEFL? Feel free to email us for more information!

Follow our social media for more TOEFL resources and updates!



Written by Colin.

How to Improve Your TOEFL Integrated Writing Score

There is an expression in Portuguese, which translates as “Complaining with your belly full”. I got 115/120 in the TOEFL iBT, so I should be grateful and count my blessings! Still, I was not entirely happy with my 26/30 in the TOEFL writing, but I was extra annoyed to discover that it was my TOEFL integrated writing skills that had let me down. I’d love to share what I wrote with you, but without being able to look over my actual essay, I’m going to have to speculate on what went wrong for me.

What is involved in the TOEFL Integrated Writing Task?

In this task, you have to read a short passage then listen to a lecturer addressing all of the topics you have just read about. The lecturer may be agreeing or disagreeing with the passage.

I’m not allowed to go into any specifics about the TOEFL integrated writing task I encountered in my own TOEFL iBT – I have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the ETS, as will you come test day – but I can say that Jamal and I had a short, uncomplicated passage to read on a people from ancient history and proof of their origins. The writer had proposed three pieces of evidence as to why it was clear that these people had come from elsewhere.

We then heard a lecture by a woman who was negating all of the evidence we had read about. It was very clear what she was referring to as her counter-arguments followed the same order as the written piece.

TOEFL Integrated Writing

Where did I go wrong on the TOEFL integrated writing task?

I am going to use the marking rubric used by the ETS to suggest reasons for my relatively poor showing in the integrated writing section of the TOEFL iBT and what you should do to get a better mark.

‘An important idea or ideas may be missing, unclear, or inaccurate’

  • Make your notes accurate and to the point.
  • You have got to blend the template that I’ll give you in this blog post with the notes you’ll be making while you listen/read during the test.

‘There may be unclarity (sic.) in how the lecture and the reading passage are related’

  • This is irritating: ‘unclarity’ is a made-up word. Suggested synonyms for the ETS to use in future include obscurity or lack of clarity.
  • Be blatant about the connections between the two elements about which you are writing.
  • There will be links between the topics covered in the lecture and the passage, so be sure to write about those.
  • Don’t write a long, rambling introduction or conclusion. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I suspect this may have been my main problem. Perhaps the introduction and conclusion were a bit over-the-top.

‘Grammatical mistakes or vague/incorrect uses of words may make the writing difficult to understand’

  • This one leaves me stumped, to be honest. Maybe I suffered a mini-stroke and didn’t realise… or maybe I just used complex sentence structure and should have kept it simple!

Below is a very useful template to follow when you’re confronted with an integrated writing task where the lecture contradicts the passage, such as the one I was faced with in my TOEFL iBT. Where I have used XXX or YYY, use specific information taken from either the passage or the lecture.

While the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that (YYY). There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.


First, while the passage stated that (XXX), the lecture implies that (YYY).


Next, the lecture mentions that (YYY). However, this contradicts the claim of the passage, that (XXX).


Finally, while the passage stated (XXX), the lecture says that (YYY).

To flesh this out, your essay would read something like this:

While the passage stated that hamburgers are one of the healthiest sources of protein in the world, the lecturer did not have the same point of view. The lecture stated that hamburgers are high in unhealthy fat and are often even carcinogenic. There are several details on which the lecture contradicted the passage.

First, while the passage stated that hamburgers were invented in Hamburg in northern Germany by servants of the king who were unsure what they could make with unexpected quantities of ground beef, the lecture implies that it was nineteenth-century German immigrants to the United States who first brought this foodstuff to prominence.

Next, the passage mentions that hamburgers were widely consumed by the Confederate Army during the US civil war in unprecedented quantities. However, this contradict the claim in the lecture that fresh meat was scarce during that conflict and many soldiers’ diets were entirely bereft of meat for the duration of their service.

Finally, while the passage stated that hamburgers are today considered the height of fine-dining by many across the world, the lecturer says that, although they are very popular, one would not find the world’s best restaurants selling them on their menus.

Do you need help preparing for the TOEFL integrated writing task? We’re here to help! Check out our flexible, 24/7 TOEFL courses here.


Written by Colin David.


TOEFL Reading Tips from an IELTS Expert

Yes, you read the title correctly! I am a seasoned IELTS teacher who took the TOEFL recently, and I have some TOEFL reading tips to share with you based on my experience.

Two weeks ago, my colleague Colin and I took the TOEFL. Although it had been many years since I had sat a formal test, I was looking forward to the challenge! That’s my competitive streak. Sitting the test was like a competition against myself that I wanted to win. So I waited with anticipation for my scores and when I finally received them 10 days later, I was relieved at my speaking, writing and listening (30, 29 and 29 respectively), but surprised at my reading. I scored 23/30! Although this is still considered “high”, I was disappointed. I have been reading in English all my life, and have gone through three university degrees reading academic texts. I was expecting a 28 or 29.

TOEFL Reading Tips

You might be thinking, if a native speaker scored a 23 in TOEFL reading, how can I get a high score? What I learned from this is that it comes down to more than just language ability. It is about understanding the questions and knowing what to look for to help you answer them. Being an IELTS teacher, I was not familiar with the TOEFL format or question types, so this was a learning experience. I had not really prepared, and that was my weakness. So here I am going to share with you some examples of reading questions and some methods and tips that can help you get the score you expect. But first I want to tell you about how the reading is scored.

According to the TOEFL report card, in order to get a “high” score, you need to:

  • have a very good command of academic vocabulary and grammatical structures
  • understand and connect information, make inferences and synthesise ideas
  • recognise the organisation of a text
  • abstract major ideas

when the text is conceptually dense and linguistically complex.

TOEFL reading tips

What does this mean?

It means when reading an academic text with complex concepts and language you:

  • need to understand how vocabulary and grammar work to give meaning to a sentence
  • have to use critical thinking skills to connect information, infer meaning and bring different ideas together to create meaning
  • have to understand how to use the organisation of a text or paragraph to help you find the answer
  • have to take the meaning of a word, sentence or paragraph from the information given

How do you do this?

Well let’s look a few of the question types that I found in the reading test.

  • Guess the meaning of a word from context
  • Understand reference
  • Identify purpose

Here’s an example of each of the above and some TOEFL reading tips to help you answer them.

TOEFL Reading Tips: Guess the meaning of a word from context

Here you are given a word or a term from the text and asked to choose a synonym from a list of four options. The word is highlighted in the text to make it easy for you to find it. For example,

“Benjamin Franklin was the only person to sign all four key documents of American history”.

  1. The term key could best be replaced by
  • successful
  • mandatory
  • fundamental
  • opening

If you don’t know the meaning of the word, read the sentence in the text and try to guess from context. Re-read the sentence again, each time replacing it with a word from the list. The one that sounds the most correct in that context should be the correct answer. You may not be sure, but often you know if something ‘sounds’ right. In this case, go with your intuition. Chances are you have heard it somewhere before and that’s why it feels right. Can you guess the answer? It is C.

TOEFL Reading Tips: Understand reference

Here you are given a pronoun and asked what it refers to. For example,

“A presumably secure beach can undergo such severe and dramatic erosion that eggs laid on it are lost.”

  1. The word “it” refers to

(A) beach erosion

(B) shoreline protection

(C) wind and wave direction

(D) a secure beach

Here you need to read the sentence and find the subject of the sentence. This is what “it” will refer to. What is the subject of this sentence? “A secure beach”. So the answer is D.

TOEFL Reading Tips: Identify purpose

Here you are asked why the author has mentioned specific information. You need to use some critical thinking for this one. Let’s take a look at an example.

“As late as the fourteenth century, scholars needed to remember what was read. Reading to remember requires a very different technique than speed reading. Until recently, people read only a few books intensely over and over again”.

  1. Why does the author mention “speed reading?

(A) to discuss a fourth century technique

(B) to illustrate why people read a few books intensively

(C) to explain the copies of the texts fourteenth century scholars needed to recall

(D) to contrast the type of reading done nowadays with that of earlier times

When reading the passage, we can see that it begins by talking about a time in the past (the fourteenth century) and ends by talking about recent times. Therefore, the sentence about speed reading was included to contrast the type of reading done today to that done in the past. So the answer is D.

These are examples of only a few reading question types. It is important to familiarise yourself with all of them and to practice so that you are prepared. Succeeding in the TOEFL reading test is about more than just understanding what you are reading. It’s about using skills such as critical thinking, knowledge of grammar, and also a bit of intuition.

Check out our TOEFL course for practice questions and all the TOEFL reading tips you’ll need to succeed on the TOEFL iBT!


Written by Jamal Abilmona