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!
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.
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.
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Written by Colin.