Getting Started with TOEFL
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.