Taking the TOEFL is almost always a stressful experience. You need to get a specific score. You pay a lot to take the test. You’ve been preparing for months. You might not have slept well the night before.
There’s nothing to be done about any of that, but beginning to prepare for the TOEFL well in advance is one of the best things you can do to reduce your level of stress on test day.
Here are 5 TOEFL preparation strategies that I have found effective:
1. Become a good note taker: During the TOEFL, you only get to listen to audio clips once. You will then have to answer questions, speak, or write on the subject you heard about. Because you cannot replay the audio, you need to become a good note taker. You can practice taking notes in your native language or in English. It is probably best to do some of both. Your goal is to learn to take notes in real time, without missing anything the speaker is saying. Try with a variety of different audio clips of different lengths and levels of complexity, then listen to the clip again and see how accurate your notes are. Pay attention to things that may seem elementary like the layout of your notes and the legibility of your handwriting. Being able to take notes confidently and record all the important pieces of information in real time will be a huge help to you on your TOEFL test, but also in your future studies.
2. Take practice tests: When you’re preparing for the TOEFL, you’re almost always aiming for a specific score. During your TOEFL preparation period, you can only know if you’re nearing your objective by taking practice tests. Practice tests will also help you get a feeling for the test environment, question types, and constraints you’ll be faced with on test day. There are several ways to get TOEFL practice, including using our free EF SET test to track your progress. I wrote an article about the five most popular TOEFL practice test sources.
3. Read every day: Even native English speakers build their vocabularies by reading. The more broadly you read, the more exposure you get to concepts and vocabulary. The more closely you read, the more you build your reading comprehension skills. Read broadly and closely to expand the range of subjects you are comfortable with in English. You never know what subjects will come up on your TOEFL test, so it’s best to have a very wide comfort zone.
4. Listen to podcasts: There is a lot of English-language talk radio online, whether you like the BBC or NPR, comedy or news. Listening to native English speakers speaking English at their natural speed will develop your listening comprehension. You can also develop your speaking skills by playing back parts of the podcast and trying to mimic the pronunciation of the speaker. Understanding a recording is harder than understanding a video because there aren’t the same context clues. That makes podcasts better for listening comprehension practice than watching movies or TV shows in English.
5. Learn to touch type: The writing section of the exam requires you to type your answers on an unfamiliar computer with a QWERTY keyboard. If you spend all your time struggling with the keyboard, you’re not going to have much time left to write a good essay. It seems like a simple skill, but many people forget to prepare for it. Make sure you can type quickly in English on a QWERTY keyboard well before your test date. There are lots of free online tools to help you learn touch typing.