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How to Study for the TOEFL Exam

Thursday | September 1, 2016 | by Kaitlin Ramby

Three students taking the TOEFL Exam

Welcome to part two of our blog series about the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. If you missed the first post, An Introduction to TOEFL, you can review it now to gain an understanding of TOEFL basics. Here, we will dig in a little deeper into the parts of the exam so you know what to expect and prepare to study for it effectively.

Achieving a high score on the TOEFL requires a lot of studying and practice beforehand, and is often a required part of your application to gain admission to a university in the U.S. or Canada. The following sections discuss how to study for each of the exam’s four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The TOEFL exam is meant to rate your skills and test your knowledge in the same way that you would be in a real academic setting. Something important to keep in mind while preparing for the TOEFL is that the test includes both independent tasks (where you are using only one skill, like reading) and integrated tasks (where you are using multiple skills, such as listening and writing). You should practice reading, writing, and listening in English daily as part of your test preparation.


In this section, you will have to read passages from real university textbooks and correctly answer questions about the meaning of that passage. You can prepare by regularly reading university-level material such as essays, books, journals, or anything written in an academic style. Reading a variety of material on several topics will also help build your vocabulary. As you practice reading, keep a dictionary with you to look up words you are unfamiliar with, and write them down so you can go back and review them.

Search for reading practice questions online. There are many free (such as Exam English) and for-fee (such as these books) resources available.


For the listening section of the exam, there are a lot of free English listening resources you can access online (you can also find helpful material at your local bookstores or library). Try listening to English radio and podcasts on a daily basis, particularly those that cover more professional and academic topics. NPR and CNN have quality resources available at no cost. Begin with the subjects you are most familiar with, and then build your way up to more complex material as you go. Make sure to take notes and write down key words, phrases, and main ideas, so you form a habit of examining everything you listen to in English.


For this section, find someone you can practice speaking English with such as a native speaker, a tutor, or a friend learning English. Together, you can research conversation topics, and you can respond to questions they ask you. When you are asked a question, instead of immediately responding, take a few seconds (about 15) to think about what you can say, then write a few words and ideas down on a piece of paper. That way, you can be more organized in your English responses—a practice that will help you to clearly think before you speak. For guidance on the types of speaking you should be familiar with, see the Exam English Speaking resources.


The writing section consists of both independent and integrated tasks. For the independent writing task, gather a list of topics, and give yourself 30 minutes for each topic to prepare, write, and edit an essay. For the integrated section, try reading two articles on the same topic, take notes on both, and then write a comparative essay that examines the arguments in each article. Remember that you will be given both of these task types, so make sure to be prepared for each one.

The key to effectively preparing for the TOEFL exam is to test yourself the same way you will be tested during the exam. Train your brain to problem solve the way you will have to for the TOEFL by timing yourself and practicing each of the four skills. Are you looking for an easy way to study for all sections of the exam? The TOEFL website offers a variety of practice test materials you can purchase.

Learn more about mastering the TOEFL on exam day by reading part three of this series: Best Practices for Taking the TOEFL Exam.

Do you have any tips when it comes to studying for the TOEFL? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Kaitlin Ramby

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