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How to Prepare for Your TOEFL English Exam

TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardised test that assesses your level of English skills. The score you get after the TOEFL® language exam tells universities if you know English well enough to enrol in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree abroad.

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Universities set their own minimum accepted TOEFL® scores based on the degree level and complexity of the subject matter. Along with IELTS, TOEFL® is one of the most popular English language certificates in the world. Almost any international university accepts it.

The Basics about TOEFL®

Currently, TOEFL® offers two types of tests: the internet-based test TOEFL® (iBT) and the paper-based TOEFL®, available only in locations without an internet connection. The tests are standardised and can be taken in one of the over 4,500 test centres worldwide. The easiest way to register for a TOEFL® test is the TOEFL website.

Due to the current coronavirus outbreak, TOEFL® iBT can also be taken online, from the comfort of your home.

Select a location and a date and pay the examination fees that are between 160 and 250 USD (depending on your country) in advance in order to book a place.

Make sure that you print the confirmation of your registration and take it to the test centre, together with your ID card!

Finding a suitable examination date depends on your location and your current English skills and takes several weeks!

After the test, you’ll have to wait for about 15 working days until you get your grades. Since the test results are sent from the U.S., it can take 1-2 more weeks until they arrive at your place.

What TOEFL® score do I need to be admitted to an international university?

Depending on the type of study degree you apply to, you will have to meet a certain set score. Here are a few examples:

1. For a semester abroad or Bachelor degrees: test score of 79/80 points

Prepare for admission with an English preparation pre-Bachelor programme.

2. For many Master's programmes: test score of 90 or even above 100 is needed.

Especially if you do not have any practical experience (e.g. a stay abroad) and your last English classes are a while ago, you should prepare for the test with an English preparation pre-Master programme.

3. Special Bachelor's and Master's programmes: test score of over 100 points

At this score level, not only your language skills are relevant, but also your ability to cope with the test conditions.

Apply for the right TOEFL® exam preparation course at one of the English language schools worldwide.

Where can I prepare for the TOEFL® exam?

The TOEFL® test structure

In contrast to the earlier test formats (paper based, computer based), the TOEFL® iBT consists of four different parts (reading, listening, speaking and writing) and takes about four hours in total.

In each of the four parts, you can achieve up to 30 points, which adds up to a maximum score of 120 points.

1. Reading Comprehension (60 – 100 minutes)

You will get 3-5 short texts (ca. 700 words). The texts are academically-related and cover different topics (e.g. astronomy, history, biology etc.).

After reading a text you have to answer 12-14 multiple choice questions about the content as well as the grammar.

The time limit to read the texts is quite short so skim through the text first and then read single paragraphs more thoroughly when it comes to the questions.

Texts are usually easy to understand; only few technical terms and less-known words are used. You can guess the meaning of those words from the context.

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2. Listening Comprehension (60 - 90 minutes)

This section tests your ability to understand academic related lectures and discussions.

You will hear 4-6 different lectures and discussions in the classroom as well as 2-3 conversations about general topics about university life.

Each listening part is about 3-5 minutes long and is only played once! You are allowed to take notes on provided sheets, though.

After listening, you have to answer 5-6 multiple choice questions about the content of the lecture/conversation. Sometimes, short sections of the listening part are repeated before you have to answer the question.

The speakers in the listening section can have a (very slight) accent and behave quite realistically during the conversations including pauses or even misspeaking. Important details are repeated during the talk several times. For this reason, it is easy to follow the conversation and remember all important details later.

Usually, you can answer most of the questions without looking into your notes.

3. Speaking session (20 minutes)

For many people, the speaking session is the most difficult one, especially due to its unusual test setting. In contrast to other tests (e.g. IELTS), where you get individually interviewed by an examiner, the speaking part of the TOEFL® test is entirely conducted on the computer by using a headset.

Your answers are recorded and are later sent to an evaluating test centre.

You would have about five minutes of actual speaking. This part consists of two independent and four integrated tasks.

For independent tasks, you will get a trivial question (e.g. Do you prefer to eat out in a restaurant or do you rather prefer to cook at home?). After just 15 seconds of preparation time, you have to record an answer of about 45 seconds.

For the integrated tasks, you have to read a short text and/or you listen to a small listening section.

You have 30 seconds of preparation time and 60 seconds to record a statement about the listening section /text. You can also take notes in the speaking section.

Because time limits are short, write down important keywords which you can use as quick orientation during your answer.

How to prepare for TOEFL English certificate.jpg

4. Writing expression (50 minutes)

The writing section consists of two parts:

1. Integrated writing part

You will have to read a short text and then listen to a conversation which is related to the text.

After that, you have to give a written answer to a question.

Usually, you have to summarise the most important points of the text and the listening part and point out the connection and the difference between the two with 300 words.

While you are writing your answer, the text is displayed again as well as the number of words you already typed.

After the time is up, the text will be immediately hidden and cannot be edited anymore.

2. The creative writing part

You will get a question about a controversial topic and then you have 30 minutes to state your opinion about that topic by using pro and contra arguments. Usually, the questions require yes/no answers.

As for the other part, about 300 words are expected.

While writing, keep in mind that a well-structured text is more important than the content or your actual opinion. Sometimes it might be easier to find arguments for the opposite opinion, even if it is not your personal belief.

During the evaluation, special attention is paid to so-called linking words that you use to connect your different thoughts, arguments and conclusions.

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What to expect on the TOEFL® examination day

Make sure that you reach the test centre on time and that you do not forget your ID and your confirmation mail. Otherwise, you cannot take part in the test and you have to register (and pay) for another date! The total test takes about four hours.

The test centres are usually equipped with 10-20 computers, just separated by thin paper walls.

For the listening- and speaking parts, a headset is available. Before you can start with the test, you'll have to sign some forms and a picture of you is taken. This picture is also printed on your TOEFL® certificate.

If you practised with one of the exercise software programmes, the TOEFL® user interface should look familiar by now. Instead of focusing on the explanations about the software and the test structure, you can use the time to calm down and relax a bit.

Since you can skip some of the explanation parts you can influence the time you need for the test. That can be useful later because it gets quite noisy during the speaking section when everybody is talking into his/her headsets.

Finally, the test is done. All you need to do now is wait for the test results.

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