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5 TOEFL iBT Practice Mistakes To Avoid Getting Rejected From Your Dream College

Have you been taking TOEFL practice tests? Are you sure you’re prepared for the experience of taking the real thing? Many students think so, but they are actually making terrible mistakes during test prep. The TOEFL English test is a high-stakes, high-stress exam. It can make the difference between dream college acceptance and career success, versus a lifetime of regret.

questions for best preparation

To ensure your TOEFL iBT practice is on track, you need to learn and avoid the following 5 mistakes. By doing so, you will improve your skills and prepare yourself for a future of success and achievement.

You should be aware that no one is immune from these mistakes—even the best students make them. In fact, a 2012 study by ETS found no strong correlation between GPA and TOEFL iBT score. [1] It doesn’t matter whether you are a straight-A or average student—you could be making the following 5 test prep mistakes right now.

Links To TOEFL Practice Tools And Tactics

  1. Split Your TOEFL iBT Practice Time Between Learning English And Learning The Test

    TOEFL iBT practice is all about reading, writing, listening, and speaking English, right? Wrong—that is only part of the challenge. Test preparation is two parts:

    • Learning English, and
    • Using TOEFL practice tests to learn the structure of the test itself.

    The TOEFL is not just a regular multiple-choice exam. It has four completely different sections and a variety of difficult question types. When you are taking free TOEFL iBT practice tests online, remember that learning the structure of the test can be just as important as your English skills. Learn the kinds of questions in each section, how much time you will have, and read about other test-takers’ experiences. In fact, this is the very first test prep tip in ETS’s official guide, “How to prepare for the TOEFL iBT.” [2]

  2. Practice Taking Notes During The TOEFL iBT Listening Section

    Another common mistake during TOEFL practice online is not taking notes during the listening section. Many test-takers think that taking notes is easy, and fail to practice it. Then, during the official ETS test, they have trouble listening and taking effective notes at the same time.

    In fact, a 2007 study by ETS found that note-taking skills do affect TOEFL iBT listening scores, but many test-takers fail to take notes efficiently. [3] Note taking can be much more difficult than it sounds, so do not neglect to practice it.

  3. Make Sure Your TOEFL iBT Practice Tests Are Hard Enough

    Not all TOEFL iBT practice test materials are created equal. One common complaint of test-takers is that the official ETS test turns out to be harder than the books or online courses they used to practice.

    To avoid this, follow these steps:

    • Make sure you use a variety of test prep materials, and make sure they are challenging to you.
    • If you find that a certain TOEFL iBT practice test is too easy, do not assume it means you can stop studying.
    • Instead, find another free TOEFL iBT practice test with harder sample questions and keep practicing.
  4. Time Yourself During Every TOEFL iBT Practice Test

    When doing TOEFL test practice, it can be tempting to give yourself extra time to finish questions. Do not give into this temptation. The time limits on the official ETS test are unforgiving, and you are setting yourself up for failure if you cheat while taking sample questions. Samir, one test-taker who used this strategy, scored 117. [4]
    toefl practice test questions free sample questions to passThis table contains the number of questions and time limits on the test. When you are doing TOEFL iBT practice questions online, make sure to complete the exercises at approximately these rates. If the practice test format is different than the TOEFL iBT, then you can estimate your time limit by multiplying the number of questions on your practice test by the number of minutes allowed per question (in bold). Use a stopwatch if you have one.


    # of passages and questions


    • 3-5 passages, 700 words each
    • 12-14 questions each
    20 minutes for each 700-word passage and associated questions
    Or, about 1.5 minutes for each question—including reading time.
    • 4-6 lectures of 3-5 minutes each, 6 questions per lecture
    • 2-3 conversations of 3 minutes each, 5 questions per conversation
    60-90 minutes for the lectures
    60-90 minutes for the conversations

    Or, about 2 minutes for each lecture question, and 5.5 minutes for each conversation question, after listening is done.
    • 2 independent speaking tasks (speaking only)
    • 4 integrated tasks (read, listen, then speak)
    15-30 seconds preparation time for each task

    60 seconds response time for each task
    • 1 read/listen/write task (150-225 words)
    • 1 independent, writing-only task (300 words+)
    50 minutes for both, minus 5 minutes for reading and listening in first task.

    Or, 45 minutes for both essays.

    Source:, pp. 8-23

  5. Practice Speaking With The 1-Minute Argument Method

    Many students struggle with the speaking section during TOEFL iBT practice. It can be very hard to speak for 60 seconds in a structured way, especially when you are having a one-way conversation with a microphone instead of a real person. To prepare for this, you need to practice until it is practically second nature to speak about any topic for 60 seconds at a time.

    The 1-Minute Argument method is an easy and effective way to chip away at this problem, piece-by-piece, until it’s totally gone. What you need to do, at least five times a day, is speak for 60 seconds at a time—to a computer, a wall or your pet—and create a structured argument for or against something. For example, if you see something on the news you disagree with, grab your cat and speak for 60 seconds. Start with an introduction where you state your belief, then provide 2-3 reasons or facts that support your belief and why, and then summarize yourself with a conclusion. If you have a 1-Minute argument, 5 times a day, you will be able to ace the speaking section on the TOEFL iBT.

    I adapted this method from ETS, which recommends practicing 1-minute responses as a key part of TOEFL iBT practice. [5]

Now that you are informed about the top 5 TOEFL iBT practice mistakes, you can avoid making them yourself. Take a few minutes to think about your test preparation strategies, and ask yourself: “Am I making these mistakes?”


  1. [1]
  2. [2], p. 35
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5], p. 31

Go to: The Easy-Way To Succeed On The TOEFL Test