Tips for Improving Your Score on the TOEFL (Part One)

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) measures an individual’s ability to use and understand English at the university level. 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 TOEFL is an extremely accurate indicator of an individual’s English fluency. Unlike the ACT, SAT, and other standardized tests, the TOEFL actually measures what it claims to measure. While it is possible to “crack” the TOEFL the same way you would another standardized test, it is actually easier and more productive to focus on boosting your proficiency with the English language itself.


The key to getting 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. This sort of “total immersion” approach is what makes the English courses taught at the English Island in Atlanta so effective. Every single interaction between you and your instructor reinforces and builds upon what you have already learned about English.


If you want to begin preparing for the TOEFL on your own, here are the strategies that I recommend for the different aspects of English that the exam measures. In this lesson I’ll cover the Reading and Writing examinations. Next time I’ll discuss Listening, Speaking, and some additional tips and resources.


It is important to note that all of these strategies assume that you know a native English speaker who can offer criticism and feedback as you go. 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, I strongly suggest that you contact the English Island and let one of our experienced teachers fulfill that 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 and infer ideas that are not stated directly. Also see if you can 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 the best that you can. Ask them for feedback about anything that you may 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.


Additional Practice for Reading and Writing

If you really want to push both your reading and writing fluency, try the following: 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 of the article matches the original. You can also try translating 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.