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.

By the way, you can fill out the form below to download a free TOEFL ‘independent writing’ essay sample!

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.

Make sure you check out our article about planning your TOEFL preparation time as well!

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!

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Written by Meaghan M. 

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


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 TOEFL 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

The Internet TOEFL (TOEFL iBT): What is it?

The internet TOEFL test, or TOEFL iBT, replaced the very successful computer-based TOEFL several years ago. One of the most important innovations was the addition of a speaking section not seen in its previous iteration or even the one before that, the TOEFL paper test. There are still a handful of TOEFL test locations that offer the TOEFL paper test, but they are soon to be phased out.

Most people take the internet TOEFL for academic purposes, and this is reflected in the nature of the questions you will see in the body of the test. The context for most of the spoken conversations is on a university and the discussions are either about academic topics or are between people on a campus (eg: a tutor talking to a student, two students talking with each other). Nevertheless, there are other uses for the TOEFL iBT. Australia now accepts the TOEFL iBT for migration purposes, leading to a dramatic rise on the number of candidates applying for the test around the world.

There are numerous books for the TOEFL available to purchase on the market, including excellent tomes from respected publishers such as Longman and Cambridge. These preparation books are a handy way to prepare for the TOEFL iBT because they include TOEFL sample essays, genuine TOEFL writing samples and listening exercises on CD roms. Although you will feel the lack of any guided learning from an instructor, you will be able to run through TOEFL test simulations that will help you feel more at ease with the format of the TOEFL iBT test structure.

Since each of the four language skills – reading and listening (receptive) and speaking and writing (productive) – are tested by the TOEFL iBT, the TOEFL grading is organised in a logical way. Each skill is given a mark out of 30, meaning that one’s total score can be anything up to 120. How much you need to get in the TOEFL iBT is decided by the institution to which you are applying. As a guide, you would be hard pressed to find any credible institution of higher learning allowing a student to enrol with an overall TOEFL iBT score lower than 80. Many top universities in the United States and Canada will expect you to achieve no less than 105 out of 120, with a minimum of 26 in every skill.


What is the best way of tackling the speaking? 



TOEFL iBT was one of the first major tests in which the candidate did not interact with another human being. By taking on sophisticated software based on input from language testing experts, model answers and real samples taken from actual test-takers, the algorithms embedded in the system then grade your efforts. 

Many candidates are put off by the absence of another person to talk to, and feel that it makes the task even more challenging. We naturally react to the responses we get from other people, which is why so many learners of English find speaking on the telephone more challenging than having a face-to-face chat. Once you have got over the fact that you’ll be speaking into a machine, it does bet easier. In the TOEFL IBT you are expected to respond speaking out loud after the relevant prompt. This can be something you have heard, read or both (in an integrated activity).

Another factor that tends to make matters worse, is the noise made by all of the other candidates during the speaking section of the test can be hugely distracting. Without the benefit of noise-excluding headphones, you are going to have to learn to cope with this. You can do this by yourself by going to a busy place like a bus station or a cafeteria and record yourself responding to questions into your phone. There is nothing else to do but ignore the chaos around you and focus on the task at hand. Concentrate on your own words and the way in which they come out of your mouth. If you’re doing it correctly, the hubbub around you will become background noise and you can rise above it.


How long do I need to prepare for the TOEFL IBT?


Give yourself a decent amount of time to become familiar with the format of the test. An intensive preparation period of about three weeks is about right for most people, but this will vary according to your level of competence before you start.
There are TOEFL test locations all over the world, and tests are taking place every week of the year, so you can think about booking when you feel you are ready. Some of these TOEFL test locations get very busy at certain times of the year. While you can be fairly confident of being able to sit the TOEFL iBT on the day of your choice, the further in advance that you book your test, the better. If you leave it too late, you may not be able to sit your TOEFL iBT test at the location of your choice. The last thing you want to be doing on exam day is taking a long drive to a far-off location.  



Written by Colin David.