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How To Start Studying For The TOEFL

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The TOEFL is no ordinary test; it’s an institution. Since 1964, the TOEFL has helped people prove their English ability all around the world. The exam is used as a qualification for immigration visas, jobs, professional licenses, and school admissions.

The TOEFL is an important and incredibly valuable test. Even just preparing for the exam has long-term benefits—many students have greatly boosted their English skills in the course of TOEFL prep. Often, facing such an important test can be a little scary or confusing at first. The trick is to know exactly where to start.

Step 1: Know What’s On the Test

This is an absolute must before you start any other study activities. You need to be aware of what the TOEFL is— you need to know that the four skills measured on the TOEFL are Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, and also know how these skills are measured. Study the test format, the types of questions on the exam, the kinds of answers you’ll need to give, and the nature of the tasks you’ll need to do. In other words, you’ll want to get a complete overview of the exam before you do anything else. You’ll be happy to know there are many TOEFL resources on the web that will help you take this first step.

Step 2: Know What Score To Aim For

Many different places accept the TOEFL, and they all have different score requirements. Make sure that you know the minimum acceptable score. Then choose your target score. You may want to just aim for the minimum, especially if the TOEFL is just a minor aspect of an application process. But often test-takers will aim for a target score above the minimum, just to be safe.

Here again, there are so many online resources that can help you. Lots of websites post lists of the TOEFL requirements for different kinds of institutions. One very typical goal of TOEFL test-takers is admittance into a top U.S. school. The Internet abounds with guides for top school TOEFL standards. Such lists can help you set the right target score before you start studying actual TOEFL skills.

Step 3: Know Which Skills to Focus on and How to Build Those Skills

More often than not, you’ll find you’re stronger in some skills in your second language, weaker in others. Take an honest look at what you’re good at in English, and what you find a little more challenging. Once you’re sure you know your strengths and weaknesses, start out by practicing your problem skills. So if you’re weak in—say—listening, you’d start studying TOEFL skills with a set of Listening practice materials. From there, you can branch out into other skills as well. In TOEFL prep, there’s always room for improvement, even in areas where you already feel confident.

David Recine is a GMAT and TOEFL expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA TESOL from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been tutoring and teaching ESL since 2007.