Applying to a graduate school or a foreign university as a non-native English speaker often comes with its rigors, one of which is acing the TOEFL test. Be rest assured you are not alone on this quest as we have provided a comprehensive guide to help you achieve your aim.

This article is even more useful if you are comfortable with the English language. If you are still having a bit of trouble with the English language, feel free to peruse– a website that focuses on teaching the English language the way it is used in the real world, not as monosyllables but as well-structured meaningful phrases 

Here is a sneak peek into what is covered in this article

• Why do people take the TOEFL test

• All you need to know about the TOEFL test and its sections

• Tips and secrets on cracking each section

• The TOEFL scoring system

• Latest changes to the TOEFL test by the ETS

• Free resources and links to relevant books and videos

Why People Take The TOEFL Test

The TOEFL test is recommended for anyone who needs to prove his/her mastery of the English language whether to apply for an exchange program, a student visa for immigration purposes, or most commonly; admission into a foreign English-speaking undergraduate or graduate school.

What Is The TOEFL Test?

The TOEFL exam is an abbreviation for "Test of English as a Foreign Language", and it is a standardized test used to assess your level of understanding and proficiency in the English language, more specifically the type used in an academic environment.

The test can be taken Online (TOEFL iBT) or taken in paper and pencil format(TOEFL PBT). The TOEFL iBT involves the use of a computer, listening with a headset, supplying answers via the keyboard(writing), and speaking with a microphone.

After the results are released, what determines whether you passed or fail depends on the minimum score requirement for the school(s) you are applying to. These scores vary depending on the university's reputation and ranking. So be sure you put this into consideration as you prepare for the TOEFL Test


Sections of The TOEFL Test

The TOEFL test is a standardized test broken into 4 different sections– Reading, Speaking, Listening, and Writing.

Each section is designed to evaluate your proficiency in each of these English skills. A question/task may require you to use one or more of these skills.

• The Reading Section

You will be given about 60-100 minutes to finish up the entire section. It usually consists of multiple choice questions (about 12-14) based on the content of the passage given to you. 3-5 passages on any topic with each having roughly 600-700 words will be provided.

Each of these questions will be worth one point although some might be worth more.

• The Speaking Section

This section is a little bit more demanding than the previous section. It typically consists of six tasks, with most tasks requiring some form of reading and listening. You will have 20 minutes to complete this section. Depending on the task, speaking will be for 45-60 seconds.

• The Listening Section

Here, 6-9 audio listening prompts are provided each lasting for about 3-5 minutes long. This section tests your ability to understand English lectures and conversations(Academic/Casual). 5-6 multiple-choice questions about the content of the audio you listened to. You will have 60-90 minutes allotted to this section.

• The Writing Section

You will have just 50 minutes to complete this section, consisting of two writing assignments– The first 20 minutes for an integrated writing task which involves listening to a short passage and also a short lecture before giving a response in written/typed form

The other 30 minutes is for an independent writing task which involves composing an essay about a given topic based on your thoughts/experience.

Tips On Cracking Each Section

On a general note, we recommend that you give yourself a preparatory timeframe of about 4-6 weeks before jumping on the TOEFL. We do not advise you to cram for this exam, rather employ the following strategies; 

Reading Section

a. Develop Active Reading: TOEFL passages are most likely those you haven't encountered before and are reputed for creating disinterest in test takers. This type of passage, coupled with the brevity of time allotted wouldn't give room to entirely digest the passage. Rather read the passage actively by;

• Understanding the structure– know that TOEFL passages usually contain an introduction, body, and conclusion. Familiarize yourself with the type of information gotten from each.

• Finding the main Idea– By stating what topic the author is writing about from the first sentence of each paragraph, then skim the rest of the paragraph for direction markers. Add these to the last sentence of the conclusion (which will most likely contain the final point of the author).

• Finding the purpose– By noting what the topic is and what the author is writing about, why the author introduces it, and how the author ends the passage.

b. You can go through the questions first, then attempt to look for the pointers/details in the passage which can help provide answers. Remember the answer to every single question is right there in the passage! For even more difficult passages, attempt to trim the fat, skim instead of reading and replace difficult words with familiar vocabulary.


Listening Section

The Listening Section will test your ability to pay attention to lectures and conversations structured in an American setting. You are allowed to take notes while listening but listen only once! This, of course, is where the problem lies. Plus you aren't allowed to jump to questions or answer them later. Here are some tips to help you ace this section;

a. Do not memorize but try to understand the audio content. Look for the main idea and changes in structure.

b. Hone your listening skills beforehand by having conversations using only English. The easier it is to achieve this, the easier it is to ace this section.

c. Taking notes is completely optional. If it interferes with your concentration and focus, then consider not taking notes but being fully focused.

Speaking Section

This section is known to stir anxiety in most test takers when compared to the other sections. This is attributed in larger part to the requirement of other skills in this section. The first salient point to note is that the type of response you'll give to all six questions will be fairly similar. Another thing is that you do not have to sound like a native speaker to excel in this section. But the main question here is "How Understandable Is Your Speech"?

Follow these tips to crack the speaking Section in your forthcoming TOEFL exams;

a. Avoid unnecessary pauses, try to speak at an even and fluidy pace. You can achieve this by listening to spoken English as often as possible.

b. Improve your command of English Vocabulary and Grammar. Learn the appropriate Vocab for each task e.g the correct pronunciation of words, spelling, e.t.c

c. Have a clear flow of ideas and employ appropriate transitions in living topics 

d. Graders look for language use, topic development, and Delivery.

Writing Section

This final section will question your ability to communicate in an academic environment. Here are some tips to score high in the writing Section;

a. Answer/Address the task. Getting a top score here isn't about your fluency, it is about addressing the task.

b. Know how to structure your essay. The structure and organization cannot be overemphasized. This makes it easier for graders to evaluate your performance. Consider taking the following steps;

• Know what exactly you want to write before starting. Use templates from provided resources.

• Don't just start writing, organize your essay.

• Consider your audience– the graders.

c. Maximize your time as there are only 20 or 30 minutes to write.

The TOEFL Scoring System

After taking the examination, you would receive a breakdown of your scores (into 4 sections) and a total score. A score range of 0-30 from each section– Reading, Speaking, Listening, and Writing is obtainable, thus giving a total of 0-120.

Unlike some internet-based exams, TOEFL will not penalize you for choosing the wrong answer.

Raw scores are the total number of correct answers supplied by a student for each section. Scaled scores are gotten from the Raw scores. The scaled score is what reflects on your report.

New Changes To The TOEFL IBT Format

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has recently implemented some changes to the TOEFL format which include;

• Total test time now 3 hours instead of 3 hours 30 minutes

• 10 questions in 54-72 minutes in the reading Section without a change in question type and number of passages

• 3-4 lectures within 41-57 minutes under the listening Section, without a change in the number of questions.

• 4 speaking tasks in 17 minutes

• The writing Section is more or less the same.

Here are some amazing resources for passing the TOEFL iBT test

Official TOEFL TEST Site

TOEFL Practice Test

TOEFL Study Guide

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