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How to Pass the TOEFL

Students based outside the United States must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, before they can begin studying here. Although many promising students know basic English (and may even be fluent), the TOEFL was created as a baseline so that 1) educators know what kind of materials their students are prepared to receive, and 2) students know what to expect in a US classroom.

If you’re applying to schools in the US or just considering it, you’ll need to take the TOEFL exam. It only takes 10 days from your test date to get your scores and they’re valid for 2 years after you take the exam. The test administrators suggest you start studying 8 weeks in advance of the exam and offer multiple resources for students online including a tool that shows you who accepts the TOEFL and what kind of scores they’re expecting from applicants. The test is available online (the paper version is being phased out) and registration is quite convenient as well. Here’s a few other helpful things to know before you take the TOEFL:

Study For Free

While there are many paid sample tests for the TOEFL (which can be extremely helpful), there are also many free online resources available through the ETS website for students wishing to save. In addition to practice exercises, you can study the breakdown of the test section by section. Study what’s here and take as many practice tests as possible. Understanding the kinds of questions you’ll see and the way you’ll be tested on the TOEFL is the most valuable thing you can do. Standardized tests are formatted to be similar. If you’ve seen multiple versions of the TOEFL, you’ll notice similarities between the real test and the examples you’ve seen. And your final score will likely be close to the last sample test you took.

Practice, Practice, Practice

In advance of your test, practice English at every opportunity—not just in the classroom or with practice books. Use what you know to read news article written in English or watch programs in English without subtitles in your native language. This could be challenging at first. You may only be able to pick out a word or two. But if you stick with it, your familiarity will slowly grow. Have an English dictionary on hand to help you as you read. Speak in English with native speakers if possible. This will help get your brain into the appropriate groove before your exam.

Try Again

If the US school to which you’re applying is very competitive, you may not get the kind of score you need the first time you take the exam. It’s not a problem, however, as you can take the TOEFL as many times as you need to until you get the score you want. It’s also worth noting that retaking the test does not reflect poorly on you. Registering online is easy and you may re-register 12 days after you took your last exam. If you know you performed poorly on the test, perhaps due to negative circumstances, you can request that ETS cancel your scores for no added fee. If you change your mind, they can reinstate your scores for US $20 up to 60 days after you take the test.

Keep all this in mind and push yourself to work hard before your TOEFL date. With the right preparation and a healthy mindset, you can get an impressive score and be on your way to studying in the US!