Best of Tips for the TOEFL

For this week’s lesson, we’re going to revisit the most effective strategies we’ve covered for preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL. The TOEFL is considered the standard measure of proficiency for North American English. More than 9,000 colleges, agencies, and other institutions in over 130 countries accept TOEFL scores as proof of an individual’s fluency in English.


The key to earning a passing score on the TOEFL (a “20” or above) is to spend as much time actually communicating in English as possible. Read, write, speak, and listen to the English language whenever you can. To get the most out of these strategies, you will need a native English speaker who can offer consistent criticism and feedback. Unless you have an extremely fluent friend or colleague who is able and willing to spend a significant amount time working with you on the TOEFL, we strongly recommend that you contact the English Island in Atlanta and let one of our experienced teachers fulfill this role for you.



The TOEFL expects at least a mid-high school level of proficiency in reading and writing. Find articles from sources that are written at this level and analyze them critically. Good choices for reading material include the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the website of National Public Radio (NPR). Articles from these news sources tend to be written at a slightly higher level than those found in most mainstream American publications.


Try to detect the main idea of an article, infer ideas that are not stated directly, and figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words from the contexts in which they are used. Have a native speaker read the same article and then explain it to them as best you can. Ask them for feedback about anything that you might have missed or misunderstood.



Write both short and long essays on a variety of topics and prompts. Write responses to the articles that you have read as well. Have a native speaker who is extremely knowledgeable about the language (such as an English teacher) walk you through what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you need to revise. He or she should offer feedback on matters of composition and style, as well as your usage of English grammar.



The easiest and most effect way to prepare for the Speaking section of the TOEFL is to actively participate in English language conversations. Make sure that you are contributing to the conversation by building upon what others have said and by asking and answering questions. Try to answer questions as quickly as you can, as this is one of the ways that you will be tested during the exam. Pay attention to your pronunciation as well. Being able to generate clear, precise responses in everyday conversations will help you greatly on the TOEFL.



One of the best sources for listening practice is National Public Radio. NPR programs tend to use language that is both straightforward and grammatically correct. NPR also has smart phone and tablet apps, and many of its programs are available in short clips on its website. Listen to an NPR program with a native English speaker. After the program is over, have him or her ask you a few questions about what was said during the broadcast. You can do this same process with podcasts, television shows, and movies if you get tired of listening to NPR. Just be aware that standards for the correct use of English in American popular media are pretty much nonexistent. When in doubt, stick to listening to news-based and other non-fiction media.


Additional Tips and Strategies

Read an article written in English, translate it to your native language, and then translate it back into English. Have the person assisting you assess how closely your re-translated version matches the original. You can also translate articles from websites that offer bilingual versions in your native language and English. See how closely your own English translation matches up with the professional one provided by the site.


Boost your vocabulary by keeping a word journal. Keep a small notebook with you and write down any words that you do not know. Look up definitions for these words and practice using them in conversations.


Native English speakers often communicate with one another in ways that are, strictly speaking, grammatically incorrect. Check out our “Native Speaker Mistakes” blogs for some of the most common errors. Be careful that these errors do not slip into your own English usage.


Track down reading material that you find personally interesting. Reading articles and novellas that you feel a connection with can help you to stay motivated during the process of preparing for the TOEFL. If you want to read a full length novel, I recommend checking out books in the “young adult” genre. The best young adult novels use well-written, straightforward prose, without the complicated syntax and intimidating vocabulary of works aimed at olde