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Best Practices for Taking the TOEFL Exam

Tuesday | September 6, 2016 | by Kaitlin Ramby

A group of students taking the TOEFL exam

Welcome to the third and final part of our blog series about the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. In our two previous posts, we gave you an introduction to the TOEFL as well as study tips for each section of the exam. Now, we’re going to review some best practices that will help you be a successful TOEFL test taker.

Start Studying Early

Whatever your level of English is, it is a good practice to begin studying six months to one year ahead of the time you take the exam. Educational Testing Service (ETS), the developer of the TOEFL exam, recommends a minimum of eight weeks. However, people at the beginner level may need more time than that. Keep yourself on track with your English studies by setting daily reminders to study vocabulary, create weekly and monthly goals, and stick to them. Because there are four different sections of the exam—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—be sure to dedicate a reasonable amount of your studying time for each section.

Schedule Yourself for More Than One Test

Sometimes the unexpected can happen on the day of the test; you could wake up sick and not be able to make it to the testing center, the test could be harder than you expected, or something else could occur to keep you from getting the score you desire. If you have a deadline with your university, and because spots for the exam tend to fill up quickly, you should register for more than one TOEFL exam (see registration tips) so that you have a backup plan in case anything goes wrong.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The TOEFL is a timed exam that takes a total of four hours to complete. It is a good idea to take several practice exams before your test day so both your mind and body are prepared to sit through the exam. You can find plenty of  TOEFL practice materials here. Even if you have a great English level, the way the exam is formatted can exhaust even the most knowledgeable English speaker. Practice taking the exam as much as possible to build up the endurance you will need to complete the TOEFL successfully.

Prepare for the Day of the Test

Try not to procrastinate by waiting to study the day before the exam. Try to relax the day before, and get at least eight hours of sleep so you wake up rested and refreshed. Make sure to eat a good breakfast to keep your brain nourished, and come to the exam prepared with everything you need: a valid form of identification, comfortable, a paper and pen for taking notes, and a snack for your break. The TOEFL requires that you arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before the exam begins. However, you should leave early enough so you still have time if you get lost on the way there, or find yourself stuck in traffic. For further information on preparing for test day, read the TOEFL test day tips.

Take Notes

One thing that will help you a lot during the exam is your ability to take notes. The TOEFL permits exam takers to take notes during each section of the test, so this is something you want to make sure you take advantage of. Practice your note-taking skills as you study for the exam, so that when you hear, read, speak, or write something, you can have your main ideas and important points written down for reference in case you forget or need to revisit them. You can watch the video below to learn note-taking strategies for the TOEFL. Good note-taking will help keep you focused and allow you to work through the exam in an efficient manner.

TOEFL note-taking strategy video

Do you have experience taking the TOEFL exam, and want to share a few of your own best practices? Let us know in the comments below.

Kaitlin Ramby

Kaitlin Ramby is the former Digital Content Producer and a Contributing Writer for World Education Services.