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Getting Started with TOEFL

A TOEFL prep class in Boston.
A TOEFL prep class in Boston.
Getting Started with TOEFL
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If you are interested in studying at an American university, you have probably heard about the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The test is widely known as the TOEFL. It is the most widely used language assessment exam for American universities.

Many foreign students are frightened of the TOEFL because it is risky. Good test results on the TOEFL will open many doors. But a low TOEFL score will limit your choices for financial aid and admission to top schools. The most competitive universities generally expect an Internet-based test score of 90 or above. Others accept lower scores, and some do not require a TOEFL score at all. Most universities do not publicize an actual cutoff score, but a high score will always help.

There are two major versions of the TOEFL test. The first is the iBT, or Internet-based Test. It is offered in most of the world and accepted by nearly every university and scholarship program in the United States.

The other version of the test is called the Paper-based Test or PBT. It is still used in some developing countries. Scholarship programs provide money for a student to continue his or her education. Many scholarship programs will accept the PBT results when a student first asks for financial aid. However, they may require students to take the iBT before official admission. The PBT is less costly to take and does not require use of the Internet. Some businesses and government offices use the PBT to test the English language skills of their employees.

The iBT and PBT have very different structures. The main difference is that the iBT is completely online and includes questions to measure the person’s ability to speak in English. The iBT also has integrated tasks. For example, listening, reading, and speaking are mixed together. The Paper-based Test does not mix the different sections. The PBT has an area to test grammar, the rules governing the use of words and phrases. The Internet-based Test does not.

If you have a choice, take the iBT if it is not too pricey. The Paper-based test is being phased out. It will eventually disappear.

Here are some tips for getting started with TOEFL:

1. Plan ahead – It takes a long time to improve your TOEFL score. Many students study just before the test. Raising your score will takes months of intensive work. Do not expect a big lift in your test results after two weeks. There is no easy way to improve your score quickly. You will have to spend a lot of time and energy.

2. Master the basics first – Many students study for the TOEFL before they are ready. You should have at least an upper-intermediate English level before you attempt the test. If you score below 500 on the PBT or 70 on the iBT, study the fundamentals for a few months and come back to the TOEFL later.

3. Get a study guide – It is easy to find study guides for the iBT. Pearson, Barron’s, ETS, and Kaplan all produce quality materials. Take a practice test once or twice a month. The best study guides will have explanations in the answer key. PBT study guides are difficult to find because the test is being phased out.

4. Use outside resources – Using TOEFL practice materials all the time will make you crazy. Remember, you are learning a language, not a test. You can improve your TOEFL score by making English part of your daily life. Some simple ways are listening to podcasts, informal conversation with English speakers, watching movies and reading newspapers. Some others are reading English textbooks, sending and reading text messages in English, and writing online comments in English.

The bottom line is, the best way to do well on the TOEFL is to know English well. Do not depend on informal advice or tricks. Do not try to outwit the test maker. Think of reading, listening, speaking, writing, and grammar as a single connected concept–communication. The real goal of the test is to measure how well a student can communicate in English-speaking classroom. Immerse yourself in English on a daily basis and improvement is sure to follow.

I’m Adam Brock.


Words in this Story

assessmentn. the act of making a judgment about something

scholarshipn. an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc., to a student to help pay for the student's education

phase outv. stopping something gradually over a period of time in a planned series of steps or phases

outwitv. to defeat or trick (someone) by being more intelligent or clever

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