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Are you taking the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in the near future? If you are, you need a TOEFL test preparation plan. It does not matter if you are taking the TOEFL iBT or the TOEFL Essentials version of the test. Our test prep strategy will help you study towards achieving a high TOEFL score. 

To get that high TOEFL score, you need to understand how the test format, your skill level and the different TOEFL question types all influence how you should prepare for the TOEFL most effectively.

In this article, we focus on TOEFL test preparation planning and strategies. First, let’s look at how the TOEFL test structure and the level of your English skills will determine your personal TOEFL exam preparation strategy.

What Is the TOEFL Exam?

The TOEFL exam is designed to test your level of English proficiency. It is used by universities for academic admission purposes and by governments for immigration and permanent residency applications. Both TOEFL iBT and TOEFL Essentials are used by businesses and professional bodies to assess peoples’ ability to communicate in English for hiring and promotion. 

For a helpful lesson and overview of the TOEFL exam, take some time to watch our comprehensive TOEFL overview video lesson:

What Is on the TOEFL Exam and TOEFL Score Report?

Both versions of TOEFL –, TOEFl iBT and TOEFL Essentials – have four sections:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing

A good place to start thinking about the best way of preparing for the TOEFL exam is by looking at how you will be scored. An official TOEFL iBT test taker score report, which you will receive after you complete the test, looks like this:

TOEFL Score Report showing Total Score, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing Band Scores.

TOEFL Scoring: Total Score and Score by Skills

The TOEFL score report gives you five different scores – a total TOEFL score and four separate scores for your reading, listening, speaking and writing section performance.

Your TOEFL total score is calculated using a 0 to 120 scale, with a perfect score in the TOEFL exam being 120. The report above shows that the candidate did perfectly, with an overall score of 120, which is equivalent to a high C2 CEFR level.

Your total score is calculated by adding together your separate skills scores. In other words, the most important score for preparation purposes is not the total score, it is your performance on each of the separate section scores.

TOEFL Test Report Form showing Section Scores of 30 for Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

The TOEFL score report gives you a separate score for each of your listening, reading, writing and speaking skill levels, using a 30 point scale. Note that in the example above, the test taker received a perfect score of TOEFL 30 for all skills.

The difference in your skill levels will impact on your personal exam preparation strategy, which we will discuss further below.

Tip 1: Know your Skill Levels Before you Begin Preparing

It is important to know your skill levels BEFORE you begin preparing for the TOEFL exam. This information will give you the core of your exam preparation strategy. Knowing your strong and weak skills is essential information. The big problem here is that you won’t receive your TOEFL score report until after you have taken the TOEFL exam. 
The good news is that you can get an estimate of your TOEFL skill levels before you begin your TOEFL preparation. Just sign up to E2 Test Prep and use our free TOEFL score calculator to test and measure your skill levels. An example of your free pre-test prep score report will look like this:

E2 Test Prep Skills Score Report showing indicative TOEFL range for each skill.

Tip 2: Learn the TOEFL Exam Question Types and their Difficulty

Knowing your strong and weak skills is just a first step. It gives you an indication of which skill you should focus on improving first and most. But, the TOEFL exam is divided into four parts with a total of 24 question types. Some question types are harder than others. So, not only do you need to focus on improving your weak skills, but you need to master the hardest question types.

Here is our assessment of question type difficulty, based on our research and experience, student feedback and our score calculator scores (this is a useful guide only, and individual opinions may vary). 

TOEFL Reading is 35 minutes long and contains 10 question types.

TOEFL Reading 
Sentence simplification Easier
Reference Easier
Factual InformationEasier
Negative Factual InformationEasier
Rhetorical PurposeModerate
Insert TextModerate
Prose SummaryChallenging
Fill in a TableModerate

The TOEFL iBT Listening section is 36 minutes long and contains 8 question types.

TOEFL Listening
Gist – ContentEasier
Gist – PurposeEasier
Connecting ContentModerate

Speaking in TOEFL is 16 minutes long and contains 4 question types.

TOEFL Speaking
Task 1: Independent Speaking – Paired Choice Easier
Task 2: Fit and ExplainModerate
Task 3: General/SpecificModerate
Task 4: Integrated Speaking – Summarize LectureChallenging

The TOEFL Writing section is 29 minutes long and contains 2 question types.

TOEFL Writing
Task 1: Integrated WritingChallenging
Task 2: Writing for an Academic Discussion Easier

Tip 3: Prioritizing Weakest Skills and Hardest Questions

By now, you should be able to see the basis of your study plan for the TOEFL exam begin to take shape. The question is how to easily combine this information in a way you can use it to learn and practice effectively.

If you use E2’s free TOEFL score calculator, it generates a study pathway that is personalized just for you. You can see what your study pathway looks like in the image below. The study pathway ranks your skill levels from weakest to strongest. Within each skill level, it also ranks the hardest to easiest question types and gives you video lessons and practice activities in an optimized learning sequence designed to lift your TOEFL score in the most efficient way.

E2 Test Prep Study Pathway showing personalised results for the order in which to complete tasks for each skill.

TOEFL Exam Preparation Tip 4: Follow this Five-Step Prep & Study Plan 

There is no secret formula to getting a good TOEFL score in the TOEFL exam. It requires learning the test, mastering all the question types, and doing a lot of practice with high quality practice questions. Here is a five-step study plan:


Pre-Prep Skills Calculation
Use E2 Test Prep’s free TOEFL score calculator to receive an estimate of your skill strengths and weaknesses.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial and use our TOEFL score calculator to measure your skill levels.

Create Your Study Pathway
Use E2 Test Prep’s free TOEFL study pathway tool to generate a study plan optimized just for your study plan.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial and use our TOEFL score calculator to generate your personalized study plan.

Learn & Practice Each Question Type
Learn how to master each TOEFL question type for all skills using E2’s highly successful methods lessons. Then, practice, practice, practice with our online resources.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial to access TOEFL video lessons and high-quality practice questions.

Get Expert Feedback
If you are struggling with Speaking and Writing skills, seek expert help and feedback from a trained TOEFL teacher. Do a writing or speaking intensive assessment or sign up for a 1 to 1 tutorial with an expert to get help and guidance.

Practice doing mini and full mock tests
Do not jump into doing full TOEFL mock tests at the beginning of your preparation. It is best to learn about your capabilities and the format of the TOEFL exam first.  Sign up to E2 Test Prep and take a mini mock test.

Author Bio:
E2 is the world’s leading test preparation provider. Our expert teachers are fully accredited English teachers, with TESOL, British Council or other relevant certification, and years of TOEFL examiner or TOEFL teaching experience.

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