Tips for Boosting Your TOEFL Score
By Joey, IvyWise Tutor
For many international students, taking the TOEFL exam is one of many steps on their radar for the U.S. college admissions process. Many colleges do require TOEFL scores as part of their international application review process, so it’s important to do your research and see what the policy is at every school on your best-fit list.
However, before looking into boosting your TOEFL score, it’s worth considering at least briefly whether it’s the right test for you: there’s a possibility that the schools you’re considering might accept certain subscores on other standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT or that the IELTS Academic Test might be a better fit.
If taking the TOEFL exam is on your to-do list, it’s important to have a firm grasp on what the test will measure and the types of questions you can expect. Below, we break down some of the top tips and strategies students can use to boost their TOEFL scores and feel prepared for the American college admissions process at large.
Get Familiar With The Technology
The TOEFL is unique when compared to exams like the SAT or ACT because it’s largely an internet-based test (only 2% of test-takers take the revised paper-delivered test.) In addition to studying for the exam itself, it’s important to gain familiarity with the software being used and be sure you’re confident in navigating this kind of test taking system. You won’t be working with paper and a pencil or speaking to a live interviewer, but rather interfacing with a screen, typing written answers via a keyboard, and using a microphone to record spoken responses. The best preparation for the exam therefore includes spending a portion of your time familiarizing yourself with navigating this sort of software; you don’t want to find yourself becoming lost when under timed conditions on test day. Accurate practice software can be surprisingly difficult to locate, but the ETS’s official guide is a good starting point (although it doesn’t quite match how the test’s procedures work).
While it may seem like drilling vocabulary is a tried and true strategy to ace any exam, it actually won’t help test takers preparing for the TOEFL. The exam only tests grammar and mechanics to the extent that they actually shape sentence-meaning, so don’t waste time digesting obscure debates about the Oxford comma. It is true that vocabulary training can be an important supplement to TOEFL prep (just make sure it’s the sort of academic language the exam favors), but it’s more important to be developing your holistic grasp of conversational English.
For Best Results, Stick With a Plan
The core of effective TOEFL preparation consists of a good strategy book and, if possible, a tutor thoroughly versed in academic English. The first part of this work involves learning the breakdown of the exam: how reading, writing, listening, and speaking are intermingled; the question types and amounts; how much time is allotted for each section; the different forms listening exercises might take; and so on. The second part — where scores truly begin to receive a lift — involves cultivating your test-taking strategies. You’ll want to work on ways to better take notes while listening, scan passages for keywords, sharpen your pacing, use parallel structures and transitional expressions to heighten the fluency of your speech, and more.
Incorporate English As Much As Possible
One easy way to sneak in studying: use every opportunity possible to refine your English skills. Incorporate language work into your life in any nook or cranny possible. Some examples can include watching television shows spoken aloud in English (or with English subtitles — practicing reading!), switching the interfaces of websites like Facebook or Instagram to English, listening to podcasts — especially those with a scientific bent, and engaging friends and strangers alike in spoken English.
Once you’ve incorporated some of the above into your routine, try ‘leveling up’: take notes for five minutes on that podcast, then write a paragraph about what you learned. Listen to an article on an app like Audm read aloud in a British accent (fair game on the TOEFL alongside Australian and New Zealand accents); record yourself afterward voicing your reaction to what you heard discussed. The possibilities are as varied as the actions you take each day!
At IvyWise, we have worked with students from 40 different countries and helped create individualized plans for every applicant. For more information on our test preparation and tutoring services, contact us today.