How to Prepare for the TOEFL


The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is one of the most popular tests for ESL students to prove their English skills. If you’ve been studying English for a few years and want to go to university, taking the TOEFL is a great way to get there.

Your success in taking the TOEFL will depend on how well you prepare for it. Follow the steps listed below, and you’ll know how to prepare for the TOEFL in a way that will get you the scores you need. Students with great TOEFL scores go on to have successful academic and professional careers.

Figure Out If You’re Ready

Not everyone is ready to take the TOEFL. You need to be at a specific level of skill to have a chance of passing the test. There are some easy ways to determine if you’re ready before taking practice tests. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you carry on conversations with native speakers?
  • Can you watch television and read books in English and understand most of what is going on?
  • Have you been studying English for the past few years? You don’t have to study at a physical ESL program to learn the language. Online courses can be just as beneficial.

If you answered no to any of these questions, you might not be ready to take the test yet. That’s okay! Take the time you need to prepare by joining a program designed to help you pass the TOEFL. You can also find online resources to help you improve your English skills.

Identify Why You’re Taking the TOEFL

Students take the TOEFL for many reasons.

The most common reason is wanting to go to college. Over 10,000 colleges across the world accept TOEFL scores.

If you have a specific college you want to attend, check and see if they require a minimum score for admittance. This will give you a goal to work towards and help you know how much time you need to study.

Other students take the TOEFL to get jobs at specific corporations. Some companies might require specific scores. Others want you to prove that you can keep up with native speakers.

Many other organizations accept TOEFL scores. Immigration departments will use them in issuing visas. Licensing agencies in several industries use them to provide professional certifications that help you get work.

Knowing why you want to take the test will help you figure out how to prepare for the TOEFL effectively.

Figure Out What Format You Want to Take

There are two different formats of the TOEFL – internet based, and paper-based. Each one has slightly different testing criteria and will require you to study different areas before taking the test. Pick which one you plan to take before learning more about how to prepare for the TOEFL.


98% of those who take the TOEFL choose The internet-based test (iBT).

The iBT tests the four major areas of learning a language:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

Each section is timed and has a specific number of questions and tasks you must complete to get your score.


As of a few years ago, the creators of TOEFL changed the paper-based test to be similar to what users would find on the iBT. Paper-based tests are now only available in locations that don’t have access to the internet.

Know What to Expect

The TOEFL is designed to test you in four areas of English. Each of these areas have a time limit and specific tasks for you to finish. When you know what to expect, you’ll also know how to prepare for the TOEFL.


In the reading section, you’ll have anywhere from 36-56 questions. Most of these questions will ask you to read academic texts and answer questions about what you have read. Depending on how many questions are on your test, you will have 60-80 minutes to complete this section.


The listening section of the test has between 34-51 questions and gives you one or one and a half hours to complete your tasks. You will listen to lectures or conversations and fill out questions about the material you heard.


The speaking section of the test is a little different from the rest of the material. You will have to say how you feel about familiar topics or be asked to talk about the reading or listening material. This section is only 20 minutes long.


The writing section of the TOEFL gives you 50 minutes to write two essay responses on the reading and listening material.

Set Aside Plenty of Time to Study

Trying to study everything the night before the test is a bad idea. Identify what time of year you want to take the test and give yourself several months before that date to study.

In your study time, you will want to focus on each area of the TOEFL. It might help you to spend one day on reading, another on speaking, and so on.

Create a Study Plan

One of the biggest mistakes students make is not creating a study plan. When they have time to study, they simply don’t know how to prepare for the TOEFL because they don’t how to use that time.

Find study prep materials

There are many choices of guides and courses you can use to help you study for the TOEFL. These guides and courses were created by people who understand the test material at an expert level. Many of them have helped students prepare for the test.

Pick a few places to study

Your study environment can have a big impact on how effective your study sessions are. Find a few places that are quiet and free from distractions.

Ask someone to help you study

Having a study buddy can make your study sessions much more effective. If nothing else, find someone to help you practice listening and speaking, since that is a large part of the TOEFL. Try to find other ESL students as well as native speakers to help you improve your English skills in the months leading up to the test.

Take practice tests

Practice tests are one of the best ways to help you know what to expect when test day comes. Practice tests are formatted like the TOEFL test you’ll end up taking. This will help you know how to prepare for the TOEFL in the areas you need to improve.

Immerse yourself in English

Want to know how to prepare for the TOEFL in a fun and engaging way? Surround yourself with English, of course!

Immersing yourself in English is often more effective than classroom learning because it forces you to learn the language in natural settings.

Find a native speaker to help you practice

Practicing conversation with a native speaker is a great way to immerse yourself in the language. If you have any friends who are native speakers, all you need to do is schedule time to hang out with them. If you don’t, you can look on sites like to find speaking groups in your area.

Set aside time to read

Reading homework assignments is great, but you’ll want to read fiction as well. Set aside one hour of time each day to read a book you think you’ll enjoy. When you enjoy what you’re reading, it’s easier to spend time improving your English comprehension. It may not feel like studying at all!

Listen to people speak

There are dozens of ways to listen to people speak. You can watch television, find videos on YouTube, or even go to the mall and watch how people interact.

Knowing how to prepare for the TOEFL will set you up for success when it comes time to take the test. The more time you spend studying, the more your score will improve.