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TOEFL Study: “5 Best Techniques To Study For The TOEFL iBT Test”

To study for the TOEFL can feel like a test just by itself. There is no simple recipe. There’s so many conflicting test prep tips for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. You need to be careful about accepting TOEFL iBT study advice. Misinformation and bad examples will only harm your fluency in English and waste your time

To help you avoid these pitfalls, I have studied more than 100 reports from test-takers about strategies that work. These are my top 5 findings that will send your scores through the roof. I have also included links to the top online TOEFL study materials that students recommend for each section of the test

Before we begin, do you know the number one TOEFL study tip from ETS, the official developer of the Test of English as a Foreign Language? The tip is: set aside time every single day to communicate only in English. Consistent practice is the absolute best way to develop your English skills. [1] This means you should be using my top 5 tips daily.
  1. Maximize Your Overall Efficiency With The ‘Robin Hood’ Test Prep Time Management Strategy

    Robin Hood was a heroic rogue who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. When your TOEFL study time is limited, you need to practice like Robin Hood by stealing time from your best (rich) subjects and giving it to your worst (poor) subjects. All four subjects on the TOEFL are worth the same number of points, so you have nothing to lose with the Robin Hood method.

    ETS, the official developer of the exam, strongly recommends this TOEFL study technique, advising test-takers to “practice more on their weakest skills.” [2]

  2. Maximize Your Reading TOEFL Study Time With ‘So What’ Questions

    My top TOEFL study tip to prepare for the reading section is the So What technique. Most reading questions focus on these concepts:
    • What is the main topic of the article?
    • What are the author’s arguments?
    • What evidence does the author use to support his arguments? (research, statistics, etc.)
    • What are the author’s hypotheses?
    • What does the author say should be done?

    When you are doing reading TOEFL study exercises, ask yourself, “So What?” for each sentence. Figure out how it helps answer one or more of these questions.

    I suggest making your own TOEFL study guide for reading. Download articles from Scientific American, BBC, and The Economist, and use them as examples. Look for answers to these questions using the So What technique. I adapted the So What technique from an innovative study of reading comprehension by Cris Tovani, a reading consultant and instructor at the University of Denver. [3]

  3. Maximize Your Writing TOEFL Study Time With The ‘Beginning-Middle-End Method’

    There are many different writing prompts on the TOEFL iBT, but the Beginning-Middle-End TOEFL study strategy applies to them all. All essays need a beginning that explains what you will say, a middle that has one paragraph per supporting argument or example, and an end that summarizes everything you have written. The Beginning-Middle-End technique provides the most important thing: structure. The Beginning-Middle-End technique is based on ETS’s official test-taking strategies. [4]

    For TOEFL study material for writing, I suggest you download these example prompts and post your essays for group critique on the TOEFL section of the GMAT Club Forum or

  4. Maximize Your Listening TOEFL Study Time With The ‘Put-Your-Finger-On-It’ Technique

    My top TOEFL study tip for listening is the Put-Your-Finger-On-It technique. First, you need to figuratively put your finger on the main idea of the listening passage. At the same time, you need to literally put your fingers on your pencil and take efficient notes. Research by Carrell, Dunkel, & Mollaun (2002) supports this technique, finding that note taking positively affects listening TOEFL scores. [5]

    I recommend these TOEFL study materials for listening:

  5. Maximize Your Speaking TOEFL Study Time With The ‘Because’ Rule

    My best TOEFL study tip for speaking is the Because Rule. On the exam, the speaking section tests your ability to speak in a logical way and support your position with facts or reasons. BECAUSE of that, any time you are doing speaking TOEFL study exercises, you need to get in the habit of supporting your claims. After you state your main point and you begin to explain it, use the word BECAUSE in every sentence. This will ensure you provide reasons for all your claims—an easy way to increase your TOEFL speaking score. Dr. Pamela Sharpe, a renowned professor and TOEFL expert, also recommends this strategy. [6]

    For speaking, one good free TOEFL study guide is Jason Renshaw’s TOEFL Speaking Mentor.
Following these 5 tips will keep you on the right track during your studies, but remember ETS’s number one piece of advice: you must study every day. Take out your calendar right now and set aside a time every day to use my 5 tips.

  • [1]
  • [2], p. 38
  • [3] Tovani, C. 2004. Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12. Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, Maine.
  • [4]
  • [5] Carrell, P. L., Dunkel, P., & Mollaun, P. (2002). The Effects of Notetaking, Lecture Length, and Topic on the Listening Component of TOEFL 2000. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
  • [6]

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