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

Taking the TOEFL Internet Test: My First Thoughts

My colleague Jamal and I took the TOEFL internet test a couple of days ago and I wanted to make a few observations while the overall experience is still fresh in my mind. Please note that I won’t be talking about the pedagogical aspects of the test until we get our results, so watch this blog for updates!

We received an email before the test telling us to arrive 30 minutes early. As we nonchalantly sipped on our coffees in the McDonalds across the road (it was the only place open that time on a Sunday), my mobile rang. It was the lady from the test centre wondering whether we were still going to be taking our tests. I expressed surprise and referred her to the “30-minute” demand in the confirmation email. She said no, that we needed to be there 45 minutes early for the checking in procedures. We gulped down our coffees and scuttled across the street.

As we walked in, the lady asked to see our IDs. Each of us produced a valid Australian driver’s licence. “Where are your passports?” she asked. We both shrugged. Neither of us had realised it was necessary to bring one. “Well, each of you has to fill in the form and I’ll tell you if you can take the test,” she said ominously. With trepidation we filled in the forms, passed them back to her and she scanned them carefully.

“You can do the test” she said, pointing at me. Relief! “You can’t” she told Jamal. Oh no! Why not? It turns out that Jamal had ticked the wrong box when asked if she was taking the TOEFL test in the country of her citizenship. Rootless cosmopolitans that we are – both Jamal and I possess dual nationality and have lived in different countries – Jamal had got herself in a muddle. Luckily, the lady took her word for it and accepted that she is, in fact, an Aussie. Phew!

TOEFL Internet Test
Whatever you do, don’t forget your passport!

I should mention at this point that it was a very small test centre. In total, there were four of us taking the TOEFL internet test that afternoon: myself; Jamal; a young fellow from India who had got fed up with repeatedly failing in the PTE speaking section; and a young lady of indeterminate nationality who was taking the TOEFL for the second time with a view to migrating to Australia. Incredibly, she was being asked to get 117, which seems way too high for me.

We were all given a locker key on a ribbon to put our stuff away and told that we wouldn’t be able to touch any of it until the end of the test. At this point, Jamal left her lunchbox of fruit and a bottle of water on the table. (By the way, the test centre offered water and biscuits for anyone who wanted them.) We noticed that there were cameras everywhere.

One by one, the lady asked us into a little room – her control room, in fact – between the entrance and the exam space. It started to feel a bit like the TSA procedures at an American airport. She scrutinised my ID then asked me to sign a form and compared it to my signature on my driver’s license. I then took a picture for the system to identify me with my TOEFL number. She took a few and allowed me to choose one that I was happy with, but didn’t offer to photoshop it! I was next asked to stand up with my back to the wall, confirm that I was who I said I was, turn out my pockets, roll up my sleeves and trouser legs and spread my limbs to allow her to pass a metal detector over my body. It was pretty full on.

These formalities completed, we then entered the testing room having been given a piece of A3 ‘scratch’ paper and two sharpened pencils. There were six workstations in the room, each with a camera mounted in the ceiling above. I was asked to wait in the corner while the lady prepared my TOEFL internet test login. She beckoned me to sit down at workstation number 6, which I duly did, before putting on my headphones and starting the test.

Without getting into the technicalities of the TOEFL test itself, I’d like to leave you with a few non-test specific tips in advance of your next TOEFL internet test:

REMAIN CALM: Don’t let the security and red tape get you flustered. Just like at the airport, it can be stressful and time-consuming. Just remain calm and polite, and respect the authority of the test centre employee.

FAVOUR PRACTICAL SNACKS: The test can take up to 4.5 hours, although you may finish before that, and there is only one, strictly monitored ten-minute break between the listening and speaking sections. Bring something you can eat quickly and cleanly.

TOEFL Internet Test
Bring a snack that’s easy and clean to eat!

PASSPORT: Don’t risk being left out in the cold! Take your passport along just in case.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE: Don’t be tempted to chat about the first half of the test during your break or you risk having your test score cancelled. Topics you may wish to address during the break include religion, politics and sport.

SLEEP WELL: Arrive at your test well rested. You’ll be in a (probably) windowless and (possibly) airless space for hours.

SCRIBBLES: Use as many pencils and sheets of scratch paper as you like. It’s included in the price.

BACKGROUND NOISE: Use your headphones whenever anyone is speaking in the room. It won’t block out the chatter completely, but it helps to muffle it quite well.

TOEFL Internet Test
Make use of those headphones to block out noise!

ACCESS: Once your stuff is in the locker, there it shall stay until you’ve finished the test. Leave anything you need in the break out on the table.

SNOT A PROBLEM: If you need tissues, they will provide them for you. Used or not, they must be thrown in the bin on your way out of the test room.

PUNCTUALITY: Get there 45 minutes before the advertised start time (even if they tell you it’s 30 minutes).

Be sure to check back for an update on my TOEFL internet test soon!


Written by Colin David


I’m Going to Sit the TOEFL iBT!

A funny thing is happening to me this week.

After eighteen years of giving TOEFL classes and helping students on three continents pass three different iterations of the TOEFL test (pen-and-paper, computer-based and internet-based), I am going to go down to the local test centre with my colleague Jamal and actually sit the TOEFL iBT. That’s right, I’m dedicating four-and-a-half hours of my precious Sunday afternoon to find out first-hand just what it is that my students have been making such a fuss about all these years.

I should point out that Jamal is much keener on this than I am. To start off, she loves doing tests. (Just between us, I think she might be a bit soft in the head!) It’s not that I’m afraid of the TOEFL iBT – heaven knows I’m more familiar with this test than anything else I’ve ever worked on – but now my knowledge is being put under the microscope. I’m getting butterflies just thinking about returning to the office with a lower than expected score. How on earth would my ego cope?


Wish us luck!

So, which areas of the TOEFL iBT am I most worried about and why? It’s a question that does not have a simple answer. Broadly speaking, I’m a little worried about all of it, so I’ll touch on a few things in each section that are going to make the next few nights a bit more restless than they ought to be:

1) TOEFL Writing

I am a fairly confident writer, though being a pedantic fellow, I am happier to proofread other people’s texts. Small grammar mistakes bother me to an irrational extent. For example, at my daughter’s school there has been a sign offering “Hot Meat Pie’s” since the start of the year. It’s all I can do to stop myself from spray-painting it out. I’ve complained to the administration, to no avail.

My concern about the writing in the TOEFL iBT is time management. There are two pieces of writing to get through in a total of 45 minutes. How will I manage the planning, writing and proof-reading under such pressure? I have been timing myself this week under virtual test conditions and I can see some improvement, but I am still dissatisfied with the quality of my essays.

2) TOEFL Listening

The TOEFL iBT is more “international” than its predecessors. In a previous post I wrote about how it’s being accepted by the Australian immigration authorities as an alternative to the IELTS or the PTE. This means that there are now a wider variety of accents being heard in the test itself. Still, it is undeniably a North American test which is chock-a-block with North American accents. Exposed as we are to such accents through television, movies and music, it is not the biggest challenge to understand what they’re talking about. Even so, I am a native speaker of The Queen’s English (the capital letters are intentional!) and can find some ‘Americanisms’ both confusing and annoying.

The TOEFL iBT listening section includes conversations between two or three people, so I’m a bit worried that the way they speak to each other might cause me a few headaches.

3) TOEFL Reading

I have been out of the university system for quite a few years, and this test is very much academically-focused. The reading for the TOEFL iBT is fairly extensive – each text is around 700 words in length – and it goes into quite a lot of detail on a wide range of topics. There’s no denying that, in order to do well in the TOEFL iBT, you have to be a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades.

Someone who is used to the reality of university life where lectures, seminars and research are a part of their day-to-day routine would not be overawed by the prospect of reading through page after page of different articles. Needless to say, I have already taken a TOEFL practice reading test online, and plan to do so again before next Sunday.

4) TOEFL Speaking

Like most native speakers who find themselves taking a high-stakes English test, we almost resent being asked to prove how well we speak our own language. I mean, really! Talk about adding insult to injury. As a teacher of English as a foreign language, though, I can see the trap that so many of my peers stumble into. More often than not they fail to speak to the test. What does this mean? In the TOEFL iBT it means addressing the topic, referring to the theme throughout and speaking in a manner that is clear and comprehensible to anyone listening in possession of a reasonable level of English.

On top of this, there is the added anxiety of having to talk to a machine. I have every sympathy for test-takers who complain about this aspect of the test, but in truth it is a valid skill. Think about how many times we have to communicate over the phone or leave recorded messages. I’ll do my best to come over well in the speaking, but I am already starting to squirm at the thought of how silly I’m going to sound.

I’ve been taking my preparation for the test seriously. In fact, I have been going over a TOEFL mock test paper this very evening. Also, with all of my professional experience, I am very familiar with what I need to study for the TOEFL iBT. Referring to our TOEFL materials doesn’t hurt either!

So think of me next Sunday as I head down to the TOEFL test place with my colleague: I promise I’ll let you know how I get on (even if it’s bad news!).



Written by Colin David.

Taking the TOEFL iBT Exam for Immigration Purposes: Not a Bad Idea!

For many years, the TOEFL iBT exam was more often than not taken by candidates in three broad categories: people who wanted to study in the United States or Canada; people who were obliged to take the TOEFL as part of their undergraduate or post-graduate degree; and a small group of weirdos who ‘just wanted to check’ how good their English was (seriously?!). To this list we can now add a fourth, rapidly growing group: people taking the TOEFL for migration purposes.

Since the end of 2014, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has been accepting TOEFL iBT test scores for every single one of its 26 visa subclasses for skilled migration. To give you an idea of what this means for the average high-stakes English test-taker, the minimum TOEFL iBT exam, International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) and Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic score requirements for Australian work visas at each level of linguistic proficiency are:

  • Functional – TOEFL iBT 32 (IELTS 4.5, PTE 30)
  • Vocational – TOEFL iBT 35 (IELTS 5.0, PTE 36
  • Competent – TOEFL iBT 60 (IELTS 6.0, PTE 50)
  • Proficient – TOEFL iBT 94 (IELTS 7.0, PTE 65)
  • Superior – TOEFL iBT 110 (IELTS 8.0, PTE 79)

All of which begs the age old question: Which of the big three English-language tests is the easiest? There is no straightforward answer to this, but based on our experience and that of our students, it is easier to obtain a 60 (out of 120) in the TOEFL iBT exam than it is to get a 6.0 (out of 9.0) in the IELTS.

At the higher levels, meanwhile, all of the tests are much of a muchness. One thing to bear in mind is that the IELTS – for the time being, at least – remains a pen-and-paper test, so this is appealing to technophobes and others who are unfamiliar with computers. The TOEFL iBT and the PTE Academic are both internet-based. Also, the IELTS speaking is done in front of an examiner whereas the TOEFL asks you to talk into a microphone: which would you find more nerve-racking?

For the potential immigrant, it is gratifying to know that your scores are made available to you up to ten days after you have taken the test. The ETS, which administers the TOEFL iBT, will send you an email advising you that your scores have been posted to your online TOEFL account. From that moment on, you are welcome to pour over your results at your leisure.

It shouldn’t surprise any readers of this article that the TOEFL iBT exam is the most widely available test of English proficiency, bar none. Whether you’re migrating from Asia, Europe or South America, you can be certain to find a suitable date at one of the literally thousands of secure, ETS approved test centres in your region. The last thing you want in the midst of all the other preparations for your departure for a new life on the other side of the world is a lengthy wait for your English test! As is the case with the PTE Academic, you can take the TOEFL as regularly as you wish and with a minimal waiting period. The rule to remember is that there must be at least 12 days between tests. Seeing as you usually have to wait about 10 days to receive your results, that’s not going to be the end of the world.

There is another huge benefit of the TOEFL for immigration purposes is that it is considered valid for three years. You may have been under the impression that the TOEFL iBT expires after two years, and you would have been correct. However, in an act of inexplicable generosity, the Powers That Be in Australia have thoughtfully extended this for one more year in the case of the TOEFL iBT exam. That’s right. You get three years between the date of your test and using the score for your immigration application!

Anyone preparing to move to Australia should remember that the ETS does not set a pass or fail score for the TOEFL iBT, but they do work closely with organisations that recruit and employ skilled migrants and international graduates, in order to assist in the identification of minimum scores that meet those oganisations needs. If you are in any doubt about how much you need to achieve in the TOEFL iBT, check the Department of Immigration website.

TOEFL iT exam
It’s easier than ever to use your TOEFL iBT scores for Australian Immigration!

In addition to the excellent material on the platform, there are several TOEFL test preparation websites you can look for genuine practice material, practice exercises for the TOEFL iBT, TOEFL exams, full mock tests, including TOEFL speaking tests with proper feedback:

TOEFL / IELTS research

TOEFL Australia website

TOEFL Practice Online

Plan carefully, study hard, sit your TOEFL iBT exam and you’ll get the result you want. It’ll be one less thing to worry about before you leave for your new life Down Under.


Written by Colin David.

How to Succeed on the TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

Is it just me or is the TOEFL iBT harder than it used to be?

No, not really. It’s just got a speaking section. The TOEFL iBT speaking section has added a new level of complexity to the TOEFL in recent years. In the late nineties, preparing people for the TOEFL paper based test (PBT) was a relatively uncomplicated task. A teacher could take a group of willing, hard-working students and work your way faithfully through a fairly dry TOEFL preparation book, set them a number of mock tests then send them in for the real deal after 10-12 weeks. One of the main attractions of the PBT form of the test for the insecure test-taker was the fact that there was no speaking element. Scoring a TOEFL 550 – the equivalent of what used to be the minimum score required by many US universities (about an 80 on the TOEFL iBT ) – was less of a challenge than getting a top score in the IELTS or the other Cambridge exams. For test-takers worried about their TOEFL grades, it was one less skill they had to worry about.

That all changed about 10 years ago with the arrival of the TOEFL iBT (internet based test). Suddenly your ability to speak well in English mattered and people started to worry. To make matters worse, you had to speak to a machine: there was no human interaction, no visual cues, no interpretation of body language. Anyone who has learned a foreign language before will tell you that having a meaningful conversation on the telephone is much more difficult than a face-to-face interaction. Conference calls are the bane of many an executives’ existence. Listening to the radio is more difficult than watching television.

TOEFL iBT Speaking tip: Buy a decent TOEFL book

How then does the modern test taker get to grips with the spanner in the works that is the TOEFL iBT listening section? The first thing one must do is get familiar with the many TOEFL speaking samples that can be found all over the internet. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, an up-to-date TOEFL iBT preparation book will provide you will a plethora of speaking samples to help you model out your answers.

Be careful about using out-of-date and hand-me-down material you get from your friends and acquaintances. It might be tempting to cheap out and download a 300-page pdf, but apart from being theft of intellectual property, more often than not you cannot be certain of its origin or usefulness.

TOEFL iBT speaking tip: Record Yourself

It is a devilish thing to try to self-study this part of the TOEFL test, since meaningful feedback is what will push you away from forming bad habits. In the absence of a teacher or study partner, you must get into the habit of recording yourself and listening back to the result. Most PCs come with pretty decent Voice Recorder software, and Apple users have the same benefits from QuickTime.

Although this is not tested in the TOEFL iBT, you should find articles from academic or scientific journals and read them aloud. Record your efforts then listen back to them. You’ll start to get a good feel for crucial elements that will count towards your score in speaking, such as tempo, enunciation, whether you are mumbling (an easy way to losing crucial marks) and pronunciation. It’s worth noting that makes an excellent app, called E2Pronounce, available to anyone who signs up for one of our TOEFL iBT preparation programs.

TOEFL iBT speaking tip: Book time with a teacher

No one should ever consider getting behind the wheel of a real car without first having some on-road experience. I wouldn’t be happy boarding a plane flown by a pilot who’d done 100 hours on the flight simulator. Similarly, sitting down to do your TOEFL iBT without ever having spoken to a teacher is a risky business! I wouldn’t even recommend a native speaker go into the TOEFL iBT and attempt the speaking section without consulting a teacher.

TOEFL iBT speaking tip: slow it down!

I recently attended a conference where a variety of experienced, international speakers presented. The most disappointing of these talks was given by a middle-aged man – a native-speaker of English – with a very impressive resume who spent 50 minutes talking at such a high speed that almost nobody in the auditorium could keep up. This should stand as a warning to all TOEFL iBT test takers: quality is much more important than quantity.

If you were to reach for a comparison between your real life experience of speaking and the TOEFL iBT speaking section, addressing a group in a public situation would be it. Speak clearly, steadily and enunciate to a degree that feels almost unnatural. It is very important that your audience understand every single word of what you’re saying. Leave aside your usual, chatty tone in favour of the disciplined discourse you reserve for public speaking.

TOEFL iBT speaking
Is talking to a computer easier than talking to a crowd?

It’s also useful to reflect on speakers we have personally found interesting to listen to in the past and mimic their style. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Have you taken the TOEFL internet test before? What did you do to prepare for the speaking section?


Written by Colin David

Why You Should Put Away Your TOEFL iBT Book (and Take a Preparation Course Instead!)

Several years ago I had a student in Sao Paulo called Andre. He was a successful young lawyer and wanted to further his career by taking an LLM at a top US law school. Like many of his contemporaries, Andre had a hectic working life that saw him tied up with work most days until at least 9pm. It left him very little time to devote to studying for his TOEFL IBT.

Andre wrote in English on a regular basis, even preparing fairly complicated contracts and regularly writing emails to clients overseas. As for his speaking, Andre had an excellent level of fluency and a slight American accent when speaking English. Although lacking in formal English training, he had spent 18 months in South Dakota as an exchange student in his late teens. On paper, Andre was a shoo-in for a 100+ score on the TOEFL IBT. “Andre”, I warned. “Don’t take this for granted; the TOEFL isn’t as easy as it looks!”


At first, Andre decided it was enough to buy one of the many TOEFL IBT books from a local bookshop and work through its many hundreds of pages – plus the two CD-roms – on his own in his spare time. By his own admission, he was not well-disciplined and self-study was hardly his forte. In spite of being wholly unprepared for his TOEFL test, Andre went online to choose a date at his local TOEFL test centre. Three weeks later, Andre rang me up, despondent and hurt. “I only got 83! I can’t believe it!” he moaned. To gain acceptance onto his master’s in law he needed at least 90 overall. (It must be said, 90 is at the low end of required TOEFL scores for US universities: some demand up to 110 with no less than 27/30 in the writing section.)

From my point of view, Andre had made the same mistake that many advanced speakers/users of English make when deciding to sit a high-stakes English test. He believed that his familiarity with the language and fluent speech would be enough to get him over the line. This was clearly not the case, and it is almost inevitable that any candidate who has not prepared sufficiently, regardless of their basic competence, will fall short. The TOEFL IBT algorithms do not care how long you spent in the US or how many contracts you have written in English.

The TOEFL grading system grants you 30 points in each area of competence, so the manner in which you tackle each section means the difference between an overall score of 105 and something more anaemic. The most obvious first step is to get hold of old TOEFL papers. At the very least, this will enable you to get a feel for the structure and length of the TOEFL IBT. You can find these from any of the best websites for TOEFL preparation or, like Andre, buy one of the many books for the TOEFL IBT.

Nevertheless, mindlessly repeating TOEFL practice tests over and over again is not going to get the baby washed. This might well help your productive skills – reading and listening – but you should have extra support for the receptive skills: speaking and writing. The latter of these two can be approached in a number of ways by the autonomous learner, and there are numerous TOEFL writing practice tests free online. What is lacking, yet again, is the feedback.

So what should Andre have looked for?

First, he needed a solid feedback loop. Whether this is done in a classroom, with a private teacher or online, it is imperative that anyone who is seriously considering taking on this challenging test get this sorted out from the get go.

Next, in addition to having access to up-to-date TOEFL IBT material, Andre should have had someone break down the test into meaningful chunks for him. A knowledge of English and readiness for the test are not the same thing. If you are serious about acing the TEOFL IBT, you will need to know what the best way of tackling multiple-choice questions is, what an integrated task is and how long you ought to be spending on note-taking before answering these sections.

Finally, make sure you leave yourself with enough time to properly prepare for the TOEFL IBT. For a competent/advanced user or English, you should devote at least three weeks to preparation, and that means doing exercises, writing essays, practicing against the clock and – most importantly – sitting with an experienced teacher who really understands the TOEFL test. If you are starting at a lower level, obviously you should dedicate considerably more time to getting ready.

It is a tired old saying, but while not everyone plans to fail, many – like Andre – fail to plan. Set yourself up with a solid study plan, find an experienced teacher and boost your chances of not having to sit the TOEFL more than once.


Written by Colin David