How to Write Independent Essay for TOEFL

How to Write Independent Essay for TOEFL

Writing an Introduction

The first part of your essay must always be the introductory paragraph.  Follow this template:

#Sentence One:

The “Hook” This is an interesting sentence that introduces the general theme or topic of the essay.

#Sentence Two: The Main Point

This is your main argument and direct answer to the question. Start with “Personally, I believe…” or I am wholeheartedly in favor of…..

#Sentence Three: The Transition

Just say: “I feel this way for two reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.”

If you follow this template, your introduction will look something like this:

There are a few things to keep in mind as you write your introduction:

1- Don’t copy from the question prompt when you write your hook.

2- Don’t waste time stating the opposite of your thesis (“Some people might think…”)

3- Don’t copy anything word for word from the prompt.

Writing Body Paragraphs

#body paragraphs

Next you must write two body paragraphs that state your supporting argument and examples. Use this template for your first body paragraph:

#Sentence One: A Topic Sentence

This summarizes your first supporting reason. Begin with “First of all…”.

#Sentences Two to Four: The Explanation

Explain what you mean, without talking directly about personal experience. Shorten if necessary.

#Sentence Five: The Transition

Just use: “My personal experience is a compelling example of this.”

#Sentence Six to End: The Personal Example

An example from your life that illustrates this argument. Make it longer that the explanation part.

This leads to a paragraph like this:

#Use a similar template for your  second body paragraph:

#Sentence One: A Topic Sentence

This summarizes your second supporting reason. Begin with “Secondly…”.

#Sentences Two to Four: The Explanation

Explain what you mean, without talking directly about personal experience. Shorten if necessary.

#Sentence Five: The Transition

Just use: “For instance,”

#Sentence Six to End: The Personal Example

An example from your life (or someone else’s life) that illustrates this argument. Make it longer that the explanation part.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you write your essay’s body:

1- Use a mix of simple and compound sentences

2- Emphasize the example. It is the easiest part to write, so make it about 60% (or more) of each body paragraph

3- Avoid very short sentences (less than seven words) and very long sentences (more than 60 sentences)

4- Don’t start sentences with coordinating conjunctions

5- Use a variety of discourse phrases

Writing a Conclusion

Conclusions are easy. You just need to repeat your thesis and your two arguments.  Try this short template:

#Sentence One: Restate the Thesis, Paraphrase your thesis. Begin with “In conclusion, I am of the opinion that…”.

#Sentence Two: Restate the Two Reasons

Just use: “This is because, and _.”

1- Paraphrase yourself. Don’t copy and paste from above when you restate your ideas in the conclusion

2- Don’t introduce new ideas in the conclusion

3- Don’t write “This is because of that…”

Final Thoughts

That’s how you write a strong TOEFL independent essay.  There are a final few points that are worth mentioning here, of course:

1- Aim for about 380 to 400 words. Write a bit more if need a really high score

2- Use two minutes to plan before you start writing and save two minutes for proofreading when you finish

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5 more Secrets to Language Learning Success

Eric E. Gordon

As you’ve just seen, you don’t need to be in a classroom to keep improving your English language skills – there are lots of other ways.

Here are some easy techniques that you can use just about anywhere and anytime. And if you use them regularly you will be well on the way to becoming a great communicator in English.

1. Two heads are better than one

There are many different ways that you can practice speaking and you should get into a habit where you employ at least one or two of these methods for practice each day or week.

Practice with a friend; find a partner who is also learning English and set aside a time where you both communicate in English each day or week. By phone, online, or in person, conduct your everyday conversation through English over a coffee or tea and don’t worry if you need to fill in some gaps with your native language, just use as much English as you can and keep these chats regular.

Put learning into usage; look for an opportunity to use the recent language you have learned in conversation as soon as you have learned it to ensure that it becomes an active part of your range. As you learn a new phrase, make sure that you keep it top of mind so that you can use it at the next opportunity.


Two heads are better than one

Two heads are better than one

2. Keep a dictionary handy

Always keep a dictionary at hand. If you have a pocket dictionary, keep it with you or if you have a smartphone, then find a dictionary website that provides access that you can keep in your bookmarks. When you come across a new word, check it in your dictionary and make a quick note of the word so you can come back to it later.

When you have some spare time, familiarise yourself with the different styles and symbols that your dictionary will use as this will help you later when you need to quickly access definitions and meaning from the dictionary. For example, many dictionaries will use abbreviations or shortened words to explain the word or phrase in focus. Examples include:

Vb – verb

Adj – adjective

Syn – synonym


When you do look up a word in the dictionary, ensure you expand your knowledge by reading through the list of synonyms. A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning such as ‘happy’, ‘joyful’ and ‘elated’. It is a good idea to look at the list of synonyms as this can help you to attach other words that you may know to the new word that you have just learned.


An English dictionary is always handy

An English dictionary is always handy

3. Turn the subtitles on

English movies are a great and fun way to build up your language skills and can be very useful to practice listening, pronunciation and build up your vocabulary. As well, viewing movies in English will expose you to some very natural and authentic exchanges in everyday situations.

Where you can, turn on the English subtitles for movies and listen and follow along. Use the pause and rewind functions to pick up on any vocabulary or phrases you are not sure about or that you are interested in. If there are close-ups of the actors then use the close-ups as an opportunity to study how they are making different words through the mouth and facial movements, then pause and practice those sounds yourself. You might even find it helpful to use a mirror and imitate the sounds and movements yourself.

Active listening is a very useful way to improve your skills, listen to what you hear and apply it. If you have the captions on, turn them off and listen to what you hear and write down what you hear. Listen, pause and then write what you hear and then rewind and come back and check your understanding. This type of dictation will help you focus on the individual sounds in and around words, as well as how words link and the different stress points in those linkages.


Watching English movies with sub-titles is a good way to learn the language

Watching English movies with sub-titles is a good way to learn the language

4. Listen to the radio

It is important to listen to different voices and the more the better. Listening to the radio is one way that you can keep your awareness of the sounds of English active and at the same time, work on your pronunciation. There are many different options for free radio both online and through shortwave. Find out what radio stations operate in your area in English and familiarise yourself with some of the programmings and if you can, arrange your schedule so you can listen to a broadcast or part of a broadcast each day or week.

Pronunciation is a key part of learning a language and can be done in many different ways. Just focusing on a word and listening to syllabus stress and practicing the right form yourself can be very productive. To do this you need to find the correct version of the word. and this can often be found as an audio file in most free online dictionaries. Look for the icon that indicates ‘to listen’.

Listen to the word and then imitate the sounds you hear. Again, this might be aided by using a mirror where you can watch as you make the sounds of English.


Listen to the radio

Listen to the radio

5. Use it don’t lose it

Look to attach the English language to everyday situations, as you are working or as you are in your house think about the situations you are in and use English to describe it. If you talk to someone on the phone for example, after the phone call thinks about how you would conduct that conversation in English. Pick a few phrases and key vocabulary and think about how you would use that in the phone conversation.

Use it don't lose it

Use it don’t lose it

If you want to practice speaking you could even say the phrase aloud and pretend that you are still talking on the phone, only, you are speaking in English, although you might need to be home by yourself to do this!

Identify at least two or three sources of English content to use regularly, these might be websites, newspapers, social media sites or books. Once you have found them, get into the habit of activating some key learning techniques. One way is to keep a notebook list of new words, write the new word down and then write an example sentence using the word or phrase. Note the form of the word – is it an adjective, a noun, an adverb or a verb? If it is a verb then write down the different forms of the verb. If you want, even translate the word into your own language.

Keep your list handy and when you have a few spare minutes open it and review your new vocabulary and make sure you use those new words whenever and as soon as you can. After all, the only way to successfully learn a foreign language is hard work and, practice, practice, and practice.

For daily English language lessons and tips like our Learn English Facebook page.

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7 tips to help you remember new words

7 tips to help you remember new words

One of the most common questions from our Learn English community is ‘How can I remember new words?‘ Here are some of our top tips to help you!

1. Look it up

If you come across a word you don’t know, try to find out what it means.

Look up the meaning in a dictionary or ask someone for help to understand it.

Write down the meaning in English and in your own language.

Look it up

Look it up

2. Use it

It’s easy to remember a new word for a few minutes – but how can you remember it after a day or a week?

The trick is to use it. Use it in a sentence. Try to make a creative, memorable sentence, something you can picture and that will stay in your mind.

Write down three creative sentences using the new word, then read them out loud. If it helps, you can even draw a picture to help remember the meaning of your sentence.

Can you tell a story using different forms of the word? It’s very hard to remember a list of words – but it’s easy to remember a story.

Write it Down

Write it Down

3. Try out phrases and different forms

Sometimes it can be easier to learn a phrase than learn each word individually.

So if you’re learning the word ‘focus’ you could write down the meanings of ‘focus on’ and ‘out of focus’. What does it mean to ‘focus your mind on something’ or ‘focus your attention on something’. What does it mean if you ‘lose your focus’?

Now that you have the bigger picture, it’s easier to understand the full meaning of the word.

Don’t forget to try using it in different tenses as well.

Trying different English phrases is important

Trying different English phrases is important

4. Talk about it

We often remember things better when we learn ‘actively’. That means instead of just listening, or just reading, you should be active in trying to speak, read, write and listen.

Now that you know what the word means and you’ve tried writing it down in different ways, tell a friend about the new word. Sometimes teaching someone else can help you remember, too.

If you’re nervous about trying out a new word, practice at home first. You can even record yourself explaining the new word on your phone before you try telling someone else.

Talk about it

Talk about it

5. Use games and technology

Many people find playing games is a good way to help build their understanding. You could write words on flashcards and test yourself or a friend to make a sentence with each word.

Or you can try describing the meaning of the word to your friend without showing them the card.

Or maybe try a role play? That’s when you act out a scene, for example, if you’re trying to learn words related to shopping, you and a friend can take turns pretending to be the shop owner and a customer – how much is this?

Remember you can play these games with friends anywhere in the world: Use your phone to record your voice or make a video and send it to a friend.

Or record a conversation with a native speaker so you can listen to it later.

Use games and technology

Use games and technology

6. Don’t give up

Don’t try to do too much too quickly. It’s very hard to remember a long list of words. Maybe it’s better to learn one word a day, or a list of eight words a week. It all depends how much time you have to practice.

Be realistic about what you can do each day. You don’t have to be perfect; remember that even native English speakers make mistakes.

Successful learners have clear goals, are motivated, and stick to their plan – to keep trying!

Don't give up learning a new language.

Don’t give up learning a new language.

7. Sleep!

Did you know that if you sleep within a few hours of learning something new you’ll be better at remembering what you’ve learned?

So that’s a great reason to practice new words before bedtime. Let your brain do the work while you sleep!

But don’t forget to review your new words and phrases in the morning too.

Getting enough sleep is important.

Getting enough sleep is important.

For daily English language lessons and tips like our Learn English Facebook page

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How to Ace the TOEFL iBT Speaking with 6 Key Tips

How to Ace the TOEFL iBT Speaking with 6 Key Tips

The TOEFL Speaking section is a rapid-fire 20 minutes of reading, listening, jotting down notes, and (most of all) speaking. There’s a lot to do and keep track of during this section, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Luckily, we’re here to help.

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know to ace TOEFL Speaking. First, we’ll break down the TOEFL speaking questions you’ll see and give tips on how to answer each question type. Then we’ll go over the best way to prepare for this section and the TOEFL Speaking tips you should keep in mind on test day.


Overview of the TOEFL Speaking Section

The TOEFL Speaking section lasts 20 minutes and includes six tasks. The individual tasks will be described in more detail in the next section. You won’t be speaking to a real person during this section. Instead, you’ll hear recorded conversations and respond by speaking into a microphone. After your exam, your responses will then be listened to by TOEFL graders. Each question receives a score from 0-4. These scores are then added together and scaled from 0-30 for your total Speaking section score. Your Speaking section score makes up 25% of your total TOEFL score (out of 120).

This section tests your ability to speak effectively in academic settings. You’ll be graded on how well you answer each question, your ability to speak clearly and coherently, and your vocabulary and grammar.


What Types of Questions Are on TOEFL Speaking?

There are three different types of TOEFL Speaking questions, two tasks for each type. In this section, we explain the format and content of the tasks and give an official example question and response tips for each question type.


Tasks 1 and 2

The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks that draw on the student’s own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding. For each of these questions, you’ll be given 15 seconds to prepare and need to speak for 45 seconds.

Example question


1. Talk about a pleasant and memorable event that happened while you were in school. Explain why this event brings back fond memories.

Preparation Time: 15 seconds

Response Time: 45 seconds

TOEFL Speaking Tips for Answering
  • You won’t get much time to prepare for these first two tasks, so you’ll have to think quickly.
  • Don’t try to figure out all the details you’re going to discuss in 15 seconds. Just settle on a topic to talk about, and let the details come naturally while you’re speaking.
  • If you run out of things to talk about and there’s still time left, don’t be afraid to make things up! There’s no rule that you can only discuss facts. As long as you’re speaking, it doesn’t matter whether what you’re discussing actually happened or not.


Tasks 3 and 4

The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks. Students must use more than one skill when responding. Tasks 3 and 4 require students to read, listen, then speak. You’ll be given 45 seconds to read a short passage, then you’ll listen to a short lecture (about a minute in length). After that, you’ll have 30 seconds to prepare, and you’ll then need to speak for 60 seconds.

Example Question


4. Read a passage from a psychology textbook and the lecture that follows it. Then answer the question. (Reading time in an actual test would be 45-50 seconds.)


In psychology, the feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity is called flow. People who enter a state of flow lose their sense of time and have a feeling of great satisfaction. They become completely involved in an activity for its own sake rather than for what may result from the activity, such as money or prestige. Contrary to expectation, flow usually happens not during relaxing moments of leisure and entertainment, but when we are actively involved in a difficult enterprise, in a task that stretches our mental or physical abilities.

(Male professor) I think this will help you get a picture of what your textbook is describing. I had a friend who taught in the physics department. Professor Jones, he retired last year………….Anyway, I remember…………… this was a few years ago ……….. I remember passing by a classroom early one morning just as he was leaving, and he looked terrible: his clothes were all rumpled, and he looked like he hadn’t slept all night. And I asked if he was OK. I was surprised when he said that he never felt better, that he was totally happy. He had spent the entire night in the classroom working on a mathematics puzzle. He didn’t stop to eat dinner: he didn’t stop to sleep …………….. or even rest. He was that involved in solving the puzzle. And it didn’t even have anything to do with his teaching or research; he had just come across this puzzle accidentally, I think in a mathematics journal, and it just really interested him, so he worked furiously all night and covered the blackboards in the classroom with equations and numbers and never realized that time was passing by.

Question: Explain flow and how the example used by the professor illustrates the concept.

Preparation Time: 30 seconds

Response Time: 60 seconds

TOEFL Speaking Tips for Answering
  • These are often considered the trickiest TOEFL Speaking questions because they contain three parts: reading, listening, then speaking, all in a short time frame. The most important tip for these questions is to take good notes while reading and listening. You want to have their information briefly summarized so that when your preparation time starts, you can use it to figure out how you’re going to respond and not waste time going back and trying to figure out what the passages said.
  • When answering these questions, pay careful attention to any differences between the information in written passage and the information in the audio clip. These differences are often an important part of your response.
  • Also, in your response, you should back up any statements you make with evidence from the audio clip or written passage in order to show you were able to understand the information they included and can create a strong argument.


Tasks 5 and 6

The final two TOEFL speaking tasks require students to listen then speak. For these two tasks, you’ll first listen to a short audio clip. You’ll then have 20 seconds to prepare, and you’ll need to speak for 60 seconds.

Example Question
6. Read part of a lecture in a biology course and then answer the question.

(Female professor) Human beings aren’t the only animals that use tools. It’s generally recognized that other animals use tools as well………. use them naturally, in the wild, without any human instruction. But when can we say that an object is a tool? Well, it depends on your definition of a tool. And in fact, there are two competing definitions—a narrow definition and a broad one. The narrow definition says that a tool is an object that’s used to perform a specific task ………… but not just any object. To be a tool, according to the narrow definition, the object’s gotta be purposefully changed or shaped by the animal, or human, so that it can be used that way. It’s an object that’s made. Wild chimpanzees use sticks to dig insects out of their nests ……… but most sticks lying around won’t do the job ………… they might be too thick, for example. So the sticks have to be sharpened so they’ll fit into the hole in an ant hill or the insect nest. The chimp pulls off the leaves and chews the stick and trims it down that way until it’s the right size. The chimp doesn’t just find the stick ………… it………….. you could say it makes it in a way.

But the broad definition says an object doesn’t have to be modified to be considered a tool. The broad definition says a tool is any object that’s used to perform a specific task. For example, an elephant will sometimes use a stick to scratch its back ………. it just picks up a stick from the ground and scratches its back with it…………… It doesn’t modify the stick, it uses it just as it’s found. And it’s a tool, under the broad definition, but under the narrow definition it’s not because, well, the elephant doesn’t change it in any way.

Question: Using points and examples from the talk, describe the two different definitions of tools given by the professor.

Preparation Time: 20 seconds

Response Time: 60 seconds

TOEFL Speaking Tips for Answering
  • For tasks 5 and 6, you’ll use many of the same tips for answering as you did for tasks 3 and 4.
  • These tasks, since there is no written passage, tend to have longer audio clips, so it’s important to be able to quickly summarize the main points of the clip in a few notes so that you’re ready to speak when the timer starts.
  • Throughout your response, you should mention specific parts of the audio clip to strengthen your answer.


TOEFL Speaking Study Strategies

If you’re already confident with your English speaking skills, you may feel like you don’t need to study for this section. However, preparation is key for most people to ace this section. Keep these four tips in mind while preparing in order to get the most out of your studying.


How to Ace the TOEFL iBT Speaking with 6 Key Tips

How to Ace the TOEFL iBT Speaking with 6 Key Tips

1. Practice Speaking Regularly

The most important thing you can do to practice for the TOEFL Speaking section is to practice speaking English regularly. If you can practice every day, that would be ideal, but at the very least you should aim to practice speaking English 2-3 hours a week. Remember, this speaking practice doesn’t only have to consist of answering TOEFL Speaking questions; any conversation, even a casual chat with friends, where you’re speaking in English counts.

2. Answer TOEFL Practice Questions

While any practice you get speaking English will help you answer the TOEFL Speaking questions more confidently, it’s also important to practice answering actual practice Speaking questions so you’re more prepared on test day. Answering real TOEFL speaking practice questions will help you better understand the types of questions you’ll be asked, how long you have to prepare, and how long your responses need to be (speaking for 60 seconds straight can feel longer than you’d expect!)

3. Expand Your English Vocabulary

The vocabulary you use is an important part of your TOEFL Speaking score, so it’s important to not just repeat the same handful of words when you speak. You don’t need to sound like a thesaurus, but including a few less common and more challenging words in your responses can help boost your score.

TOEFL Speaking Tips for Test Day

You don’t want all your awesome preparation to go to waste on test day, so on the day you do take the TOEFL, keep these final tips in mind during the Speaking section.

4. Use Your Preparation Time Wisely

You’ll be given between 15 and 30 seconds to prepare for each task, and you want to be sure to make the most of this time. During your preparation time, jot down points about the main points you want to make. Don’t try to write out everything you want to say. You won’t have enough time, and reading from a script will sound unnatural and lose you points.

For the four integrated tasks, make note of any specific points you want to mention from the audio clip/written passage. Be sure to finish your notes in time so that when the timer ends and you have to begin speaking, you’ll be able to start your response right away.

5. Speak at a Steady Pace

Many people feel nervous when they take the TOEFL, particularly during the Speaking section. There’s also pressure to fit in as many words as you can in order to gain more points. As a result, many people tend to speak very quickly during their Speaking responses. On the other hand, other people who are nervous or not that confident with their English may speak very slowly, stumbling over words or with long gaps in their responses.

Neither of these situations is what you want. Both rushing through words and struggling to find the right one can lose you points. You want your responses to sound as close to a native English speaker’s as possible, which means speaking at a normal, steady speaking pace.

Practice will help you get better at keeping a steady pace. On the day of the exam, listen to what you sound like when you respond to the first task, and make corrections on future responses to improve your speaking pace. If you’re feeling nervous, take a few deep breaths during the preparation time to help calm your nerves.

6. Stay Focused

A lot happens during the Speaking section, and there isn’t a lot of down time to process it. The section is only 20 minutes, but during that time you’ll have to frequently switch between listening, reading, taking notes, and speaking. With all that going on, it can be easy for you to get distracted and let your mind wander. However, it’s very important to stay focused during this section.

You can get away with taking a 30-second break during the Reading section or while writing your essay, but the TOEFL Speaking section has so much happening so quickly that even getting distracted for a few seconds can hurt you. You could end up missing part of an audio recording (which won’t be replayed), not having anything prepared when it comes time to speak, or, worst of all, having a blank stretch during your answer where you don’t say anything.

Do your best to avoid this. Doing practice TOEFLs will help you get used to staying focused,and, during the exam, you’ll be coming off a 10-minute break, which will help. Use the break to relax, take a mental breather, and prepare yourself for 20 minutes of focus during the Speaking section.


Conclusion: How to Do Well on TOEFL Speaking

The TOEFL Speaking section is intimidating to many people, but if you prepare well, it doesn’t have to be! It’s important to understand each of the question types you’ll be seeing and how you should approach each one.

During your studying, you should be sure to speak English regularly, answer practice questions, and expand your vocabulary. Once you make it to the day of the test, follow our TOEFL Speaking tips and remember to use your preparation time wisely, speak at a steady pace, and stay focused.

If you put the effort in to be well-prepared for this section, you may find the Speaking section to be the easiest part of the entire TOEFL!

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9 Smart Resources for Stress-free TOEFL Listening Practice

9 Smart Resources for Stress-free TOEFL Listening Practice

How do you start practicing for the TOEFL Listening section?

You start very, very early.

At least several months before the TOEFL is recommended.

Even earlier is better, since it takes time to build up understanding and work on vocabulary.

If you’re starting a little late, though, don’t panic! You can still use the time you have left wisely.

Listening is the second section on the TOEFL that you get to work on right after Reading. The TOEFL Listening tasks consist of short-to-medium-length audio clips from lectures, academic talks and more casual conversations and dialogues.

The section can be from 60 to 90 minutes long and have 34 to 51 questions. It is a very intensive part of the test, and many people find it the most difficult.

Listening can definitely be challenging: Understanding spoken language requires getting used to tone and speed of speech. There might even be slang used.

Also, most audio clips are played only once. This means there is no second opportunity to catch content, like during the Reading or Writing sections.

Having a good working vocabulary is also needed to do well at TOEFL Listening.

The good news is that listening practice can be fun. It doesn’t have to be serious or academic all the time, and it doesn’t have to be stressful. You can incorporate TOEFL Listening practice into your everyday activities and even hobbies!

In this post, we’ll look at some great listening resources you can use to prepare yourself for test day.

But before you start listening, let’s look at the basic skills you should focus on.

Skills You Will Need for TOEFL Listening

First things first, you need to know what to work on when preparing for the TOEFL Listening section. These are the skills that will help you to succeed:

  • The ability to understand what is being said or discussed.
  • Knowledge of single words and phrases (good vocabulary).
  • The ability to grasp general meaning quickly without getting stuck on parts you don’t understand.
  • Keeping up with different accents (American, British, Australian, New Zealand).
  • Knowing how to take effective notes (since most Listening tasks play out dialogues only once).

How to Prepare Yourself for TOEFL Listening Practice

Before you start having fun with practicing listening, you need to do some formal studying, either by yourself or in a study group. To do well on the test, you will need to know the specific format of tasks and get used to doing them.

Make use of the official sample questions and dialogues to study the types of questions that get asked on the TOEFL.

Also work on expanding your vocabulary, especially vocabulary used in casual conversations about university life. Be sure to test yourself on it.

Remember that the TOEFL focuses on lecture excerpts, political or scientific discussions and formal dialogues. So the best way to practice is to listen to lecture recordings, talks and podcasts.

There are some great resources to help you with this below.

9 Smart Resources for Stress-free TOEFL Listening Practice

9 Smart Resources for Stress-free TOEFL Listening Practice

9 Smart Resources for Stress-free TOEFL Listening Practice

Once you are familiar with how TOEFL Listening works, you can add some more fun ways to practice it!

While there are lots of things you can do to improve your listening skills in general (like watching movies in English, listening to English music and talking to native speakers), to do well on the TOEFL you need to improve your test-specific knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean all your studying has to be dull and formal.

Radio is a great alternative to formal studying. It can provide the challenge of listening to audio on specific topics while also being fun and interesting. One big advantage of radio is its wide availability from different countries, which gives you a great tool for working on your understanding of various accents.

Video can also provide motivation. Video can keep your attention even if you don’t feel like practicing listening. Even more formal lectures and talks can be more fun with visuals involved.

Here are some resources to get you started with all kinds of listening that will help you on the TOEFL.

1. ExamEnglish TOEFL Listening

This study guide provides you with more sample exercises (in addition to those you will find on the ETS official website). On this page, you can get a good idea of how the listening part of the TOEFL usually goes. Working through these exercises will help you understand where you need to focus in your listening preparation. For example, you may need to work on overall comprehension, better note-taking or paying more attention to details.

2. OpenCulture Online Courses


This is an enormous catalog of online courses, lectures and talks. Some of the links are videos, but most of them are audio files. You can choose from any academic subject that interests you and get access to hours of lecture material. There are lectures from prestigious universities like Harvard, UC Berkeley, MIT and many more. This site will give you exposure to the real-life classroom setting and prepare you for TOEFL tasks that feature real people speaking.

3. Stanford on iTunes

Stanford University on iTunes can be very helpful if you don’t feel like digging through lots of links for courses. You can go straight to this collection of lectures from one of the best universities in the world! Stanford offers so many lectures and talks from its top faculty, it’s enough to pass a hundred TOEFLs! All courses are free and get updated regularly.

4. Wiki-TOEFL

Wiki TOEFL is your best bet for handpicked English videos from all over the internet. Whether you’re looking for an educational clip, news, an inspiring talk or some conversation, you’ll find it here! With Wiki-TOEFL, you can listen to a variety of topics and get used to a variety of accents. Interactive captions make it easy to pause and explore words you don’t know, which means you can work on your listening skills and build your vocabulary at the same time. The short videos are great for trying to grasp an overall idea—a very necessary skill for the TOEFL! Wiki-TOEFL is suitable for all English levels and is available right on the website.


Students of all levels of English decide to take TOEFL. Not every test-taker is an advanced speaker. ManyThings caters to students at the beginner to intermediate levels by providing audio clips on various topics along with transcriptions. You can listen to the clip while following along with the transcription. Or you can listen first and check your understanding afterwards. This is a great resource for TOEFL listening practice directed at students with a lower intermediate level of English.

6. iHeartRadio

This website has tons of radio stations for you to choose and stream online. You can find a podcast or a radio program based on your hobbies and interests. Browse different categories or pick a radio genre: You’ll find comedy, sports, news, talk and even college radio. The stations are mostly USA-based, so they are useful for American English practice and understanding of slang.

7. BBC World Service

The BBC is a great tool for mastering your understanding of proper British English. The BBC makes its radio available to listeners worldwide (as opposed to its television programming, which is only accessible to viewers with UK IP addresses). This is a high-quality public radio station for news and discussions of current affairs. Tune in and get listening to British accents!

8. BBC Radio 4

If you feel like being entertained, BBC Radio 4 is a great resource for drama, comedy and educational programs. Listening to any of them will help you with overall understanding, catching the general meaning of dialogues and building your vocabulary—especially if you choose to listen to one of their educational shows. Try taking notes and seeing how effective they are for remembering the contents of the program.

9. TED Talks

TED Talks are lectures on a wide variety of engaging and sometimes bizarre topics, delivered by professionals and enthusiasts in their fields. TED Talks are available in both audio and video formats. They are useful for TOEFL practice because you can really narrow your search down to a specific area. Pick a language (that would be English, of course). Pick a topic. Pick a short talk, if you only have twenty minutes to spare, or pick an hour-long lecture. You can even pick a speaker! TED Talks are as close as it gets to listening to a lecture in a non-academic setting.

Now that you have these resources to make your TOEFL Listening practice not only effective, but also fun, it is time to begin studying!

Remember that good listening skills do not appear overnight. It is very important to give yourself enough time to build them up.

Have patience with yourself, go at a steady pace…and keep listening!

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How to Effectively Learn TOEFL Vocabulary in 5 Simple Steps

How to Effectively Learn TOEFL Vocabulary in 5 Simple Steps

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

This classic saying means that it is best to move toward your goals at a comfortable but persistent (regular or even) pace.

If you try to move too fast, or to do too much at once, you may actually make things harder for yourself.

This simple idea can help you score high on the TOEFL and master the English language.

But how?

Well, in order to do either of those things, you need to build your English vocabulary.

Sure, just a few simple words—along with hand and facial expressions—can get you understood in an English-speaking country.

You can find the bus to where you want to go or buy a loaf of bread.

But knowing only a few words and pointing with your index finger will not allow you to communicate complex ideas, and it most certainly won’t be enough to get a great score on the TOEFL.

The more words you know, the better—and the best way to learn more words is at a slow and steady pace.

Improving your vocabulary will help you to express yourself, to share your ideas and to understand others. It will also help you to reach your academic and professional dreams using English.

Learning new words in a foreign language can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be boring or frustrating.

By taking things slowly and using the proven techniques and steps below, memorizing essential words for the TOEFL will be easy and fun for you.

Let’s get started!

How to Effectively Learn TOEFL Vocabulary in 5 Simple Steps

It is easy to get lost among all the English words. Your thick dictionary has thousands of words, and even the TOEFL essential word lists have several hundreds of them. Are you supposed to learn all of them at once? Of course not!

How to Effectively Learn TOEFL Vocabulary in 5 Simple Steps

How to Effectively Learn TOEFL Vocabulary in 5 Simple Steps

It is important to progress slowly but steadily, at your own pace.

Aiming to learn five new words a day, five days a week, is a proven strategy I recommend to my friends.

5 words a day, or 25 words a week, may not seem like much. But if you think about it, that is about 100 new words a month, or 1200 words a year.

Since most essential TOEFL words lists and books include 4-500 words, this means that you can master all of them in 4-5 months.

In fact, it is highly likely that you already know many of them, and you will need less time to remember the rest.

Also, learning five words a day is only active learning, or making an actual effort to intentionally remember new words.

Simply using English for fun (through reading, writing, listening and speaking) will allow you to gain even more knowledge passively, or without any effort.

By reading magazines and books, watching movies or YouTube videos and chatting with others online, you will soak up new words just like a sponge.

But how can you effectively learn five new essential TOEFL words a day?

Here are five proven steps.

1. Create categories

Creating categories is important because it allows you to imagine your words in context.

This is how your brain already works: Words don’t appear by themselves in real life. You always organize your thoughts around different categories. You discuss ideas around various topics, for example. So it is useful to relate your vocabulary to categories as well.

This approach is generally helpful for studying for the TOEFL, as the reading, writing and listening sections are all related to specific categories.

Establish some basic categories

Make a list of specific categories that are relevant to your life and the TOEFL test. You may want to check with a TOEFL study guide for categories appearing on the test.

Your categories may include (but are not limited to):

  • Education
  • Career
  • Business
  • Relationships
  • Family
  • Sports
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Food
  • Culture
  • Travel
  • Leisure

Remember, these are only examples. You may use any other categories that you can think of, and you do not have to focus on all of the examples above. It is up to you which categories you start with, but it is a good idea to focus on those that you are the least familiar with.



Break down your categories into sections

After you have your categories, create sections under each category.

These sections may include:

  • People
  • Groups
  • Places
  • Actions
  • Things
  • Feelings
  • Experiences
  • Personality
  • Descriptive Words
  • Relationships

Again, these are only examples. You do not have to use all of these sections, and feel free to add any other ones you find relevant. Which sections you end up using will depend on your categories and the specific vocabulary you are learning.


Fill your categories with existing vocabulary

Once you create a table for a category with relevant sections, fill out each section of each category with words (and phrases) you already know.

For example, let’s say you have the category “Education.”

Under the “People” section of the “Education” category, you may add these words:


Under “Groups” in the same “Education” category, you may write:

chess club

Let’s look at other words you might write under a few more sections in “Education.”




to teach
to learn
to take an exam






class trip
school dance



“Descriptive Words”:




Filling out your categories with your existing vocabulary is a true confidence booster. You know so much already!

Now it is time to add new words and to learn them.


2. Select your words

Choose a category for the week. For example, pick “Relationships” for this week.

Rotate your categories. Pick a new category every week or every two weeks. This will help to avoid boredom and to establish a diverse vocabulary.

Choose five words a day

For every day, choose five words related to your category that you don’t know. You may pick out all 25 words for the week ahead of time, scheduling five for each day. You may also pick your words daily.

It is your choice, but don’t try to memorize more than five words per day.

Also, do not add new words to your list over the weekend. Reserve weekend days for review and rest.


How to select your new words

There are a variety of ways you can select your words.

  • You can find words from a TOEFL essential word list or book.

This is a great approach, because you will increase your chances that these words will appear on your TOEFL test. It is helpful to use a list that breaks down words into categories. Open your book or scroll down on the webpage to your relevant category. If you don’t find your exact category, you may find something that is related to it. For example, if you are focusing on “Relationships” this week but this category is not on your list, you may want to look at “Family,” “Friendships” or “People.”

Once you have your category, cross out the words you already know. From the remaining ones, select five. You can do this alphabetically, or randomly.

  • You can select words from reading and listening practice material.

Find listening or reading practice material relevant to your category. If you have picked “Relationships” as your category, look for a reading that focuses on relationships. It can be about family, friendships, romantic relationships, relationships with coworkers or anything else that is relevant.

If you can’t find anything in a TOEFL practice book, you may look for a news article on Breaking News English. For example, this one called “Facebook ‘selfies’ can harm relationships.

You may also read a chapter in a book in English related to relationships. For example, “Anne of Green Gables” is an adorable story of an orphan girl’s life that talks about her relationships with her adoptive parents, friends and love interest.

When reading your article or chapter, underline unknown words. Select five that are related to your topic.

To choose your words from listening materials, you can follow the same idea. You can use CDs from TOEFL practice books, or any other relevant material. For the “Relationships” category, you could watch an episode of the show “Friends” to find words relevant to friendships and love.


What your vocabulary for the week should look like

If you have selected “Relationships” as your category, your week may look like this:

  • Day 1: sibling, bond, complex, paternal, inheritance
  • Day 2: affection, passion, devotion, reciprocity, commitment
  • Day 3: clique, associate, coworker, acquaintance, exclusive
  • Day 4: solidarity, in common, loyal, vow, reception
  • Day 5: willing, obnoxious, humiliation, gentle, engaged

Organizing your vocabulary into sections may look like this:

Category: “Relationships


  • People: sibling
  • Group: clique
  • Relationship: sibling, bond, paternal, associate, coworker, acquaintance, exclusive, in common, engaged
  • Feeling: affection, passion, devotion, reciprocity, humiliation
  • Personality: loyal, gentle, obnoxious
  • Experience: solidarity
  • Descriptive Words: complex, exclusive, loyal, gentle, obnoxious, willing
  • Things: inheritance, vow, reception, commitment

3. Define your words

Once you have selected your words for the day, your next step is to define them.

Begin by trying to guess the meaning of each word. Then turn to your dictionary. Use a monolingual English (English-only) dictionary to get used to thinking in English. Only use a bilingual dictionary (to check the meaning in your native language) if it is absolutely necessary.

Create your own definition

Once you have found the dictionary definition, create your own definition.You may write an entire sentence as your definition, or if it helps, draw it.

In the context of relationships, a dictionary definition for engaged may be: “pledged to be married; betrothed.”

On your own, you may want to define engaged like this:

“When a person is engaged, he/she has promised his/her significant other to marry him/her, and is planning to be married in the foreseeable future.”

You may even draw a picture of an engaged couple.


Use your thesaurus

After you have defined your word, turn to your thesaurus to check for synonyms and antonyms. Synonyms are words with similar meaning to your original word while antonyms mean the opposite.

Synonyms of gentle include:


Antonyms include:


Note that not all words have synonyms and/or antonyms.

Day 1 examples
Let’s look at Day 1 of your “Relationship” word list:

Day 1: sibling, bond, complex, paternal, inheritance


Definition: a brother or sister
Synonyms: brother, sister
Antonyms: none



Definition: something that binds, holds together; firm assurance; agreement of friendship or relationship
Synonyms: relationship, alliance, tie, connection
Antonyms: none



Definition: characterized by very complicated arrangements; composed of many interconnected parts; difficult to understand
Synonyms: complicated, difficult, knotty, tangled
Antonyms: easy, clear, simple


Definition: related on the father’s side; relating to a father; characteristic of a father; fatherly
Synonyms: fatherly, father-like, patriarchal
Antonyms: maternal


Definition: something inherited; something passing at the owner’s death; legacy
Synonyms: legacy, estate, endowment, gift, heirloom, birthright
Antonyms: none


4. Review your words over the week

To remember your words, it is important to review as frequently as possible. During your week, it is best to schedule quick review sessions lasting 3-10 minutes each. Here are a few different ways you may choose to review your words.

How to review your words

  • Use flashcards

Write your word on one side of a card, and the definition on the other side. Read them on public transportation or when waiting in line. Run through them during your lunch break or any break you have. Run through your flashcards a minimum of three times a day.

  • Use sticky notes around the house

Post sticky notes in areas that you frequently pass by—the bathroom mirror, your dresser, your fridge, the door and so on. When you see a word, define it, repeat it three times and use it in a sentence. Of course, if you pass a certain sticky note 50 times a day, you don’t have to do the exercise every time. Just make sure to practice each word at least three times a day.

  • Set reminders on your phone several times a day

When the alarm goes off, run through your flashcards or write sentences with your words. You can even rotate your words, setting a reminder for a new word every hour. Aim for two or three alarms per word per day.

  • Use your words throughout the day

Use your words when interacting on social media, speaking with English speakers or attending an English class. There is no minimum or maximum for how many times you should do this. Use every opportunity and challenge yourself.

  • Use your words in your writing and speaking practice

When you are doing TOEFL specific writing and speaking exercises, make sure to include some of your new words in your essays or spoken answers. Don’t force it: You don’t have to use all of them, only when it makes sense to do so.

  • Ask someone to quiz you

It is best if they are English speakers or English learners, but non-English speakers can test your knowledge, too. If you can ask someone to quiz you daily, that is great. If not, try to do this 2-3 times per week or use your weekend for this.

If you feel confident that you know a word and your quiz results prove it, you may “retire” the word—remove it from your flashcards and sticky notes.

This way you can check your progress, and increase your confidence. But don’t worry if you still have all 25 words on sticky notes by the end of the week. It is not actually a race. Just take your time with memorizing, and go at your own pace.

How to use your words in sentences

Using your words in a sentence is possibly the best way to review them. Remember, words don’t stand alone. They are used in the context of sentences, texts, audio, videos and conversations.

The purpose of the TOEFL test is to measure your ability to use English in a real-life setting: Real life is about sentences, not just words. So let’s look at some examples of how you might put your TOEFL words into sentences.

Some examples to use bond with would be:

  • I have a special bond with my brother, because we grew up together, have many memories and share many secrets.
  • Lydia is a new mom. She is bonding with her child through taking care of her, holding her in her arms and speaking to her softly.
  • Becky felt an immediate bond with James. She knew he was the one the day they met.

When writing sentences, use your imagination. How would your favorite movie character, the president, your grandmother, Mickey Mouse or anyone else you can think of use this word? How would you use the word in different situations?

Thinking about the word sibling, I came up with the following answers:

  • My favorite cartoon character, Snoopy, would jump around after receiving a postcard from Spike. He would tell Charlie Brown, “Spike is coming to visit me from Arizona. He is my sibling. Actually, he is my brother because he is a boy.”
  • A teacher may share the definition of sibling with a class by saying, “Jane is a girl. David is a boy. Jane is David’s sister. David is Jane’s brother. They are siblings.”
  • If someone asked me if I had a sibling, I would tell them that I do. I have a sibling. I have a younger brother.

You may use this exercise after you categorize and define your words. You can also use it as you are running through your flashcards or noticing words on sticky notes around the house.

Another wonderful idea to try is to put aside 5 or 10 minutes of your day to come up with answers for questions like the ones above. This exercise will force you to use your new words in a variety of sentences.

5. Review your words over the weekend

The weekend is a great time to let your knowledge sink in. It is also the perfect time to schedule some practical and fun ways to practice. Here are a few methods you can use for weekend practice.

Use your words in real-life context

If you have a teacher, a study-buddy, an English-speaking friend or people to chat online with in English, challenge yourself to use your new words frequently with them.

You may want to suggest chatting about your weekly topic with them, allowing you to practice your new vocabulary. Schedule a minimum of half an hour with a friend or a teacher for English practice, and try to spend 10-15 minutes talking about your weekly topic.


Give yourself a creative writing challenge

Write a short story or a poem including all of your 25 words from the week. You may also want to challenge yourself by writing a poem or story that uses each word several times.


Organize “Jeopardy” games with your friends

“Jeopardy” is a long-time popular game show in the United States that has gained popularity internationally over the years. It is often used in a classroom setting by language teachers, but you can easily organize your own game with your friends.

If you don’t have friends or classmates to play with, you may organize an event by posting it on Meetup or putting flyers up in your community.


  • How to play “Jeopardy”

In “Jeopardy,” there are six categories and five questions under each category. However, I suggest you play with 5 categories with five questions for each, making it easy to use all 25 words in the game.

The questions get more difficult as they go down. You also get more points for them. For example, the top question for each category is the easiest, and contestants earn 100 points for a correct answer. As the questions get more difficult, the possible points increase by 100. The fifth question is the most difficult, with 500 points.

If you answer a question correctly, you earn points. If you answer incorrectly, you don’t earn anything. In the end, when no questions remain, the player with the most points wins.

You need a minimum of three people to play: two players and one “game show host.” The “host” creates and asks questions. An ideal number of players to have is three. If you are playing in a big group, you can divide yourselves into teams (with 2-5 members for each team).

Rotate between who is creating the questions and who is playing the game. If one week you are creating the questions and asking them, the next week you should be a player and one of your friends should be in charge of the game.

  • How to write Jeopardy questions

Take a look at some TOEFL practice exams. Notice the kinds of questions asked in the reading section and listening section. Try to ask a variety of questions similar to the ones you can expect on the TOEFL.

Make sure to create a variety of questions and categories:

  • Finish the sentence.
  • Complete the sentence.
  • True or false.
  • Define a word.
  • Give synonyms or antonyms for a word.
  • Use a word in a sentence.

Note: You may know that in the original version of “Jeopardy,” the players are given the answers first. They then have to provide the matching questions (for example, “What is a sibling?”). However, the examples below don’t follow this format. You don’t need to follow it when creating your own “Jeopardy” game, either, unless you want to.


  • Example “Jeopardy” questions using words from Day 1:
  • What is a word that is used to define brothers and sisters? (answer: sibling)
  • Another word for the strong relationship between lovers is ___? (answer: bond)
  • Give me three synonyms for complex. (answer: complicated, difficult, tangled)
  • If it is not maternal, then it must be ___? (answer: paternal)
  • If my father dies, and I get all his money, what is this money? My ___. (answer: inheritance)

As you can see, learning your essential TOEFL words is not so difficult.

Just select a category for each week, pick five new words each day and define your words. Then review and use them as often as possible.

Using this technique will increase your vocabulary rapidly.

When the time comes, you will pass the TOEFL like a king or a queen!

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4 Clever Ways to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section

4 Clever Ways to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section


What to Expect from the TOEFL Speaking Section

Speaking has two types of tasks: Integrated and Independent.

Integrated Speaking requires you to respond orally to a question that is introduced by a short text or an audio clip.

Independent Speaking asks you to answer a question based on your own experiences and opinions. There are six tasks in total, and the whole section takes up only 20 minutes. The whole TOEFL takes four hours to complete, so you can see that 20 minutes is not much time.

Despite its relative brevity, the Speaking section requires lots and lots of practice. Why? Besides the obvious—you want to get a high score on TOEFL, don’t you?—you need to learn to time your answers right and to control the speed of your speech. You will have, at most, 60 seconds to record each answer, so you cannot speak too fast or too slow.

You should also work to improve your pronunciation. As a non-native English speaker, you probably have an accent and that is okay, but working on pronouncing words correctly is essential to get better at speaking English in general, not only for the test.

TOEFL Speaking requires you to speak into a microphone instead of talking to an examiner—something to keep in mind and get used to as well.


4 Clever Ways to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section

4 Clever Ways to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section

Do I Need to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section?

Yes, Speaking definitely needs your attention! But what exactly should you be focusing on?

The main idea is to know how to form clear responses to questions or topics you are given. For this you need to be able to think of something to say (fast) and then present it (even faster) using good grammar. The grammar does not need to be complex, but it has to be correct. Clear understanding and proper usage of the Simple Past and Present tenses is much more useful to you than getting lost in the verb forms of Future Perfect Continuous.

After grammar comes vocabulary. To express yourself orally, you need to have a good arsenal of nouns, adjectives and verbs. For TOEFL Speaking you might not need to study vocabulary specifically, but it is a good idea to pay attention to it. You should learn a few fancy words, but you should never use words whose meaning is unclear to you. Play it safe!

Practicing for Speaking requires that you time your responses. They need to fit into the time limit specified by each Speaking task—anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds. You need to cover all the points you want to make within this short time! However, you also do not want to run out of ideas and submit a 10-second response to a task that gives you a full minute to talk.

Last but not least, your pronunciation is also something you need to focus on. Note that it is not your accent that matters. You can have an accent! However, you must focus on pronouncing words clearly and to the best of your ability, so that people can understand you well. Every ESL speaker has some kind of accent. It is best to stop worrying about it early on and focus on points discussed above.

4 Ways to Practice for the TOEFL Speaking Section

Now, there are lots of ways you can prepare for TOEFL Speaking, and the best is practice and more practice. Here are some ideas on how to get talking before your test!

1. By Yourself

This is the most structured way you can go about practicing for the Speaking section. You can choose topics that match the TOEFL exam pattern and standards. You can focus on your weaknesses that need the most work. For example, if you have trouble responding in a certain time limit, then you can spend extra time working on being able to form an answer in under 30 seconds, or on speaking slowly enough despite being nervous.

You can also study in the location where you feel most comfortable talking and repeating things, for example, you can practice at home or in the privacy of a library study room.

You can go at your own pace, laugh at how awkward your voice sounds on the recording and re-try any speaking task you want.

To set up studying by yourself, you will need a pair of headphones and a microphone, both of which connect to your computer or laptop. You will also need a simple recording software (Audacity is a great free tool). Once you compile a list of TOEFL-appropriate topics, you are good to start speaking!

When you practice, record and play back your answers. Take note of any grammar mistakes, pauses, umm‘s and hmm‘s. Notice how you tend to speed up if you are nervous or see the time running out. Your speed of talking is important, but the timing of the response is even more crucial. Regularly practicing these by yourself is optimal.

2. With a Tutor or Teacher

You probably already know that there are tutors out there who teach English to students. But did you know that there are many tutors who specialize in teaching English for the TOEFL exam? They know all about the exam and how to improve your score.

With a private tutor, you can take and review practice tests, drill vocabulary, discuss grammar topics and work on any weaknesses that you may have. It’s all about you and your needs!

To find the right tutor for you, you can start by searching online with Verbling. There are many English tutors with experience in teaching about the TOEFL. Verbling tutors teach online, not in person.

If you would like to see your TOEFL tutor in person, at your house or somewhere like a local cafe, then you can use Wyzant (only in the United States). This website will help you find the best TOEFL tutor for you, who also lives in your local area.

3. In a Study Group

This is a more social experience that has several unique advantages.

If you can get together with a few more TOEFL-takers, you will be able to practice for the Speaking section in a more natural way. TOEFL Speaking is a monolog task, where you will speaking all by yourself, alone.

However, you can structure your sessions with a study buddy as dialogues which help both speakers practice at the same time. You will also be able to get feedback from peers on your pronunciation, on what is clear and what is not. You can agree to time and record your answers and try again, if necessary. You can give each other feedback on the recordings and give suggestions for improvement. It is a study group, after all!

The difficulties with studying in a group are mainly logistical. The group dynamics may make it hard to practice with a microphone (since you can do it by yourself, you do not need a group for that), and you might need to share the microphone if you study with other people.

Another difficulty is actually finding people to study with. You may form a group of like-minded people for free, say, friends who might also be taking TOEFL or students at your current school.

Alternatively, you can sign up for TOEFL preparation classes and have not only a study group, but an instructor to mentor you as well. If you can afford these, great. If you cannot afford these options or prefer to save money, you can also go online and find people in your area who want to practice before TOEFL for free (check out, for example). They do not have to be people you know. You might even make new friends that way!

To make practicing in a group setting effective, make a list of TOEFL-appropriate topics, agree on how your conversations are going to go, and alternate between dialogue and monologue exchanges. If you can, invite a native English speaker to oversee your session at least once before the test. Ask for her feedback regarding your skills, and you will be able to adjust your study strategy accordingly.

4. In a Social Setting

The goal of TOEFL is to ascertain you can communicate in English clearly. It is, however, a very specific test that cannot measure your ability with a 100% accuracy. Speaking English “in the wild” is a very important skill that will benefit you long after you have successfully survived TOEFL. Therefore, practicing English in a relaxed social setting with native speakers is a great addition to your study sessions.

The opportunities are truly limitless, especially if you live a big city. You can go to a regular gathering of people who wish to practice foreign languages—English will surely be at the top of their list.

You can go to a specific English-language Meet Up (check out your local listings). You can also socialize with the expat and travel community in your city: Events organized by travelers are among the friendliest to new people (see and their events).

The advantages of practicing Speaking this way are obvious: You are exposed to so much English that you become used to it very quickly and lose the fear of speaking bit by bit. It is an excellent way to practice speaking and listening at the same time, which is very useful for TOEFL. And best of all, these types of events are usually free or very inexpensive to attend and they happen regularly.

Practicing English socially cannot substitute studying for the Speaking section formally. For one, you will not always be able to choose topics that you need to practice. Timing or recording your dialogues is also out of the question for these more casual events (you do not want to scare people away). What you can do, if you find yourself in a social situation speaking English, is give yourself small tasks that will help your TOEFL preparation.

For example, make it your goal to use one or two new words you have just learned in conversation. Try to start a little discussion on the TOEFL topic you recently practiced. Observe how people react to you speaking and note if they have difficulty understanding you.

A social situation can be a great addition to your more formal studying sessions.

See, you can have some fun with it and practice your English speaking too!

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How to Make a Winning TOEFL Practice Test

How to Make a Winning TOEFL Practice Test

Want to get a high score on your TOEFL test?

Or perhaps you’ve written many essays.

Well done! Now it’s time for one big final practice: a practice test.

Any good TOEFL practice test should have the same sections, tasks and time limits as the real TOEFL test. If you have the money, you can order a practice pack online from the TOEFL website. These practice packs have a good set of exercises that are very close to the real TOEFL test situation.

To take your practice sessions one step farther, you can use a TOEFL practice test service like ScoreNexus, which will let you take full practice tests, receive precise grades from professional educators and get personalized advice for improvement. It’s always a great investment to get feedback from knowledgeable TOEFL graders.

But textbooks, classes and the test itself all cost a lot of money already. You also might be taking the TOEFL test to go study or work abroad, so you probably want to save as much money as you can.

The solution: Make your own practice test!

With Internet and technology, you can practice all test sections effectively by yourself—for free.

And there’s another good reason to create your own test: Only you know about your strengths and weaknesses in English. Sure, your own practice test may not be perfect, but you can make it very effective by focusing on sections where you need the most work. Your own test is your friend!

Making Your Own TOEFL Practice Test

How to Make a Winning TOEFL Practice Test

How to Make a Winning TOEFL Practice Test

To start, remember that TOEFL has four sections you will need to include: reading, listening, speaking and writing. A good practice test will have exercises and questions for each section.

It’s important that your practice test also has similar time limits to the real-life TOEFL test. Here they are:

  • Reading: 60-80 minutes*
  • Listening: 60-90 minutes*
  • Speaking: 20 minutes
  • Writing: 50 minutes

*The time limit range for reading and listening depends on the number of questions. You will see the time limit clearly shown for every section on the test when you take the actual TOEFL.

To get an idea of the type of questions you will see during the TOEFL test, download the free sample of questions and the interactive sample available at the official TOEFL website.

Let’s now talk about each section, one by one.

How to Create Your Own TOEFL Practice Test

1. Reading Section

Reading is the first section on the test. You will have 3 or 4 passages of 6-8 paragraphs each, followed by a set of 14 questions per passage. Questions will focus on your understanding of the passage, its ideas, vocabulary and specific context meaning. You will have about 20 minutes per passage (to read and answer the questions).

Finding practice texts to read

What does this mean for our practice test? First of all, you will need to find some texts to read! Passages from textbooks, scientific articles and even scholarly work are perfect for this. The best place to get them is Google Scholar, which searches the web for academic work based on keywords you provide—with links to actual articles, not just their descriptions!

For example, type in “what is love” and you will get some interesting results. You can use abstracts (summaries of long academic papers) as your TOEFL practice passages if they are long enough (some can be!), or use the introductions of the articles themselves. Just don’t use keywords that are too difficult or complex. You need a text that is written in academic style, but that you can still understand without being a science expert.

Making practice questions

So you have found your passages, now it is time for the questions (14 per passage). Because your practice test is homemade, skip the multiple choice format and make them open-ended questions instead. These are harder, and harder is better when you are preparing.

Here are some ideas of questions based on the actual TOEFL format:

  • Choose a sentence in the text and identify its purpose in the paragraph it is a part of.
  • Pick a word that is unfamiliar or barely familiar to you and find its synonym or closest meaning.
  • Pick a paragraph from the middle of the passage and summarize it in one sentence.

Make up 11 more questions with similar tasks to these, and then you’ll have one reading section practice part. Bonus: Because the questions are open-ended, you will have to answer them in writing. That’s great practice for your writing section!

Remember that since you are creating all the questions yourself, you have a big advantage because you can make them as challenging as you want. Really work on the areas the reading section is testing: paragraph and vocabulary comprehension, summarizing information and inferring meaning.

2. Listening Section

Listening is fun to practice, even though you need to focus. The listening section involves listening to a set of conversations, discussions and lectures, each followed by several questions. There are usually six listening passages, most of them lectures (academic talks), not dialogues (conversations).

Academic talks have 6 related questions, while dialogues will have 5 related questions. You will have just one opportunity to listen to the recording. You have to answer questions in order (no skipping or going back), so this is a tough one. You are allowed to take notes while you are listening, though, and the notes are not scored.

With your homemade practice test, you will not be able to create the same exact set-up as the TOEFL test has. It’s better to focus on improving your listening, and learning how to take helpful notes. It really is the best practice to listen, listen, listen.

Where to find dialogue listening samples

For the dialogue-type recordings, which are more casual, search for clips on YouTube or watch excerpts from TV shows and movies (especially those that take place on university campuses).

Where to find academic listening samples

For the more difficult academic talks and lectures, the Internet is again your best friend. There are many online lectures and whole courses available in any subject. A particular favorite of many learners is the collection of free lectures from Stanford University on iTunes. Pick those that interest and challenge you.

Don’t focus too much on your future field of study, because the TOEFL test won’t! You may get topics from physical sciences, social sciences, arts and life sciences on the test.

Making sample questions

Here’s what some TOEFL listening questions might ask you to do:

  • Define a main idea or topic of the recording you heard.
  • State a fact that is directly mentioned.
  • Identify the reason the conversation is happening.
  • Answer “why” or “how” questions relating to the conversation or lecture.
  • Tell what can be implied by the talk or the dialogue. (e.g. What happens next? What is the likely outcome?)
  • Tell what can be inferred (understood) from the talk or the dialogue. (This is usually not stated directly in the audio, but can be understood from the emotion or tone of voice—so focus on those too).

The “inference” and “imply” questions are the most difficult. On the test, they will usually have the option of “listening again,” which means that you will hear a small part of the recording one more time.

Listening is hard! When you have all lectures and audio materials for practice, focus on the meaning of speeches, vocabulary usage and emotions of the speakers. Always try to imagine the consequences (results) of the audio clip you hear. Use your imagination and remember to take notes.

Do not limit yourself to listening only to North American accents. Since 2013, the TOEFL test includes some lectures and conversations with speakers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Australia. These will still be standard, proper English, but you need to make sure you are comfortable understanding them.

3. Speaking Section

The TOEFL test’s speaking section is interesting, because it was introduced to the test in 2007. Speaking is hard enough for English learners, but TOEFL makes it even harder: You’ll have to talk to a microphone instead of a real person. This means no help from another person, just 45 seconds to submit an answer.

But don’t worry! Practicing speaking at home is the best way to prepare for the TOEFL speaking test.

Two types of speaking questions

There are two types of speaking questions on TOEFL: independent speaking and integrated speaking. Independent speaking refers to a general topic you’ll be asked to discuss or offer an opinion on. Integrated speaking involves first reading a short passage, which you’ll then refer to in your spoken response.

Since you know your weaknesses, you’ll know which one is more difficult for you. Is it more difficult to come up with an answer on a random topic (and fast)? Or is it harder for you to discuss an existing piece of text?

Making sample questions

For independent speaking, write down several general topics you would like to talk about. Good examples include discussions about school vacations, advantages of wearing smart clothes for an interview, the differences between owning a cat and a dog, etc. It could be anything! (Sadly, the TOEFL test probably won’t ask you about kitties or puppies.)

For integrated speaking, choose an academic text or lecture (you can use one from the reading section). Think about topics you could discuss based on the text. Do you disagree with the lecturer? Do you have alternative ideas? Do you want to elaborate on the contents?

Once you have your speaking topics, choose one randomly during your practice test and start talking!

  • Use a recording program (a built-in microphone on your laptop will do).
  • Time your preparation time (15-30 seconds) and your response time (45-60 seconds).
  • Notice the speed of your speaking. It is normal to talk faster in stressful situations, so practice controlling your speech and not speeding up.
  • Play back your answer afterwards and listen for your mistakes. You may not like the sound of your own voice, but trust me—it’s all right! Your accent is truly not as horrible as you think, and listening to yourself is so helpful for improving in this section.

You are not expected to give a perfect response. You also won’t be scored on your opinion, just on the way you present it. It’s all about clear communication.

The goal of practicing speaking is not only to give good and clear responses, but to also be comfortable speaking into a microphone. So even if you are not recording yourself, pretend you are holding a microphone!

4. Writing Section

This section is scary for many English learners, because it needs all of your English skills at once. You get a topic to write about, and then you have to write a structured set of paragraphs to discuss that topic.

The TOEFL test’s writing section includes two categories of tasks: independent writing and integrated writing. Independent writing is where you write an essay on a given topic using just your experience and knowledge. Integrated writing presents you with some information that you then need to discuss or debate in writing—like the integrated speaking section!

It’s fairly easy to make a writing practice test, though, because all you need are a few topics to write about… and then you just write!

Making sample questions

Start by choosing several topics to write your essays about. For the integrated writing part, academic passages or lecture excerpts are a good place to start. After choosing your two topics—one for the independent writing and one for the integrated writing—you’ll need to write both in 50 minutes, just like during the actual exam.

Time yourself when writing. Make sure you don’t take longer than 50 minutes to finish both essays.

When practicing, it’s important to remember that a longer essay is not automatically a better essay. Short essays with better sentence structure, clearer vocabulary and better grammar receive higher scores than long essays with hard-to-read sentences and poor spelling.

This is the TOEFL test section that asks you to demonstrate your grammar knowledge, so a big part of practicing the writing section is also studying grammar.

Have a native speaker edit your sample

If you have the opportunity, ask a friend who is a good English speaker (preferably a native speaker) to look at your essays after you write them. This will give you a new perspective on what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t know anyone personally, try this site, Lang-8, where native speakers correct your writing.

Don’t get upset if your friend finds lots of errors. It’s better to make mistakes now—in the practice test—and learn from them. Plus, remember that the goal is to demonstrate the effectiveness of your written skills; test graders are not looking for perfection, just clarity.

Now that you’ve created all your TOEFL practice sections, it’s time to put them all together for one epic practice test! Definitely try and simulate (copy) the actual test environment. This means doing all of the sections in the correct order, following the time limits and taking the 10-minute break in the middle.

Remember that the time you spent creating your TOEFL practice test is all solid English practice, too—which will really help boost your score. So once you get through it all, you will feel very well prepared. Good luck!

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How to Dramatically Improve Your TOEFL Reading Skills for FREE

How to Dramatically Improve Your TOEFL Reading Skills for FREE

Do you want to improve your reading skills? Do you want to do so without spending a dime?

If the your answers to the questions above are yes, then this article is just for you!

4 Simple Steps to Improve Your Reading Skills

How to Dramatically Improve Your TOEFL Reading Skills for FREE

How to Dramatically Improve Your TOEFL Reading Skills for FREE

1. Set a schedule

Many people do not read because they can’t find any time in their busy schedule to read. But the truth is that you need to read often to improve your reading skills. As simple as it sounds, the more you read, the better reader you become. Setting a specific time each day to read is the best way to improve your reading skills.

You might say that you don’t have hours each day to spend on reading because you have other priorities in your life. That’s perfectly OK because you can increase your reading skills by reading 20 minutes daily. You can read just before you go to bed or after you have finished your dinner.

The most important part is that reading needs to be a habit. If you set a schedule and read every day, your reading skill will be improved greatly.


2. Read according to your English level

Sometimes, students are motivated and try to read books that are too difficult for them. After reading few chapters, they completely give up because the books are uninteresting. To prevent this, it is important that you read books that are your level.

When you are starting to read, you should read books that are easy to comprehend. This will help you to make reading a habit and enjoy them at the same time. After a few easy books, you should start to read more difficult books one at a time. Reading difficult books will help you to comprehend harder books and to broaden your vocabulary.


3. Memorize vocabulary by making flashcards

As you continue to read and make it a habit, you will read many vocabularies that you do not know. To increase your reading skills, it is important that you memorize these vocabularies. In my opinion, flashcards are the best way to memorize vocabulary, and you can use any of these two ways to memorize them.

Flashcard Apps (Quizlet)

Flashcard Apps such as Quizlet allow you to make digital flashcards. You can use these apps to memorize vocabulary by reviewing, testing, even playing games! These are great tools to memorize your vocabulary on your mobile devices in your spare time.

Traditional Flashcards

If you are not tech-savvy, you can use traditional paper flashcards to memorize vocabulary. You can cut 3 x 5 notecards into two, write the word on the one side, and the definition on the other.


4. Read High-Quality Materials

Finding high-quality materials to read is probably the most difficult step for international students. You should read combination of books, newspaper articles, and scientific papers to increase your reading skills in variety of areas. I will recommend three free resources to find high-quality reading.

Kindle App

This is an essential app to increase your reading comprehension. Kindle App is allows you to access Amazon’s Kindle Store which contains millions of electronic books which are also called ebooks. Most of them are paid, but there are thousands of free ebooks also. Just by downloading the Kindle App, you can access over 10,000 ebooks that are completely free.

Most of the free ebooks are classics, which are books that have stood the test of time and are accepted as exemplary and noteworthy. Since the classics were written long time ago, their copyright expired which is the reason that they are free.

Some of the classics that you can download in Kindle App include:

  1. Moby Dick
  2. Oliver Twist
  3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  4. Tale of Two Cities
  5. Pride and Prejudice
  6. Les Miserables
  7. Scarlet Letter
  8. David Copperfield
  9. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea
  10. Christmas Carol

To read this free classics, you can either download the Kindle App on your mobile device or read it in your browser on desktop. Also, you need to have an Amazon account.

New York Times

New York Times is one of the best news sites in America that covers a variety of topics in politics, international, and finances. The articles are written by accomplished writers with years of experience writing. Reading The New York Times is a great way to broaden your vocabulary, improve your reading skills, and also be informed of current issues.

There are many other excellent news sites including USAToday, Foxnews, and CNN.

Popular Science

Popular Science is a science magazine containing excellent articles written by accomplished writers. There are many interesting articles about technology, science, and health which are both informative and practical. At the same time, you will improve your reading comprehension by reading these articles.

Other excellent science magazines include Science, Discover, and National Geographic

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8 Wise Steps to Practice Writing for Your TOEFL Test

8 Wise Steps to Practice Writing for Your TOEFL Test

You may think that your writing practice begins with a piece of paper and a writing topic from a TOEFL test-prep book. But before writing a full essay, it is important to practice writing sentences and shorter paragraphs first. It is also important to understand certain concepts you will be using in your essays.

8 Wise Steps to Practice Writing for Your TOEFL Test

8 Wise Steps to Practice Writing for Your TOEFL Test

1. Use Reading Materials with Follow-up Questions

To learn how to compose sentences, short paragraphs and short answers, look for some college textbooks, language books or online reading materials with follow-up questions after each story or chapter.

Breaking News English is an absolutely wonderful website for this because it has a library of news articles, all followed by questions. If your favorite book doesn’t include questions, you can always ask a teacher or a friend to write you some.

Read the stories/chapters carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the storyline and the main ideas, but also examine the vocabulary, sentence structures and grammatical features used. By observing and analyzing the English language, you will improve your understanding and can use what you have learned in your own writing.

Don’t forget to take notes while reading. Who are the characters? What is the main idea? What happened? These are all questions you want to know the answers to. Underline and circle words or passages that you find important.

Once you have read the text, answer the questions. Review your answers before checking the key for the correct answers. Ask a teacher or native speaker if you have questions about any of the answers.

2. Learn How to Summarize

Being able to summarize is very important for your writing practice, your TOEFL test and your academic or professional career in English.

But what does it mean to summarize? How is it different from quoting, paraphrasing or simply stating your own opinion? Let’s see.

Quoting someone means that you share their words exactly as they were originally said/written. You must use quotation marks and include the name of the author.

Remember the quote by Anaïs Nin up in this post’s introduction? Notice the quotation marks how we included her name. If you don’t use quotation marks but include someone else’s work in your writing, it is plagiarism—which is absolutely unacceptable.

Paraphrasing involves rewording someone’s message. A paraphrase still has to be linked to the original source, but since you are not using someone’s exact words, you should not use quotation marks. This is an example of paraphrasing:

According to Anaïs Nin, when we write, we taste life twice: at the moment of writing and later when we read what we wrote.

Summarizing is when you share the main idea of a story, book or article in your own words. Summaries are always shorter than the original text/story.

For example, to summarize the short story of “Cinderella,” we could write:

Cinderella was forced to do work by her evil stepmother and two jealous stepsisters. One day a fairy used magic to allow Cinderella to go to a royal ball dressed as a princess. She met the prince, but had to run away at midnight because the magic spell ended. One of her glass shoes fell off as she ran. The prince found the shoe and searched for the girl. In the end, he found Cinderella because her foot fit into the shoe perfectly. They got married and lived happily ever after. 

As you see, when you summarize stories, books or articles, only the main ideas are important.

Stating your own opinion is very different from quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing. The first three are all objective—meaning you share facts and stories as they are. Your opinion is subjective, though, which means it may differ from other people’s opinions.

For example: I may think that Cinderella and the prince will be happy forever and have beautiful children, but you may believe that they got married too soon and will not be happy together.

On the TOEFL test and in your academic or professional writing, you will be using all of these techniques. So make sure to always use the appropriate technique.

After you finish reading this post, try using all four: quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing and stating your opinion. You can do the same with any other text for practice.

3. Create a List of Topics to Write About

Now that you have practiced short writing and understand some important techniques, you are ready to start writing practice essays for the TOEFL test.

Create a list of potential topics now so that you won’t waste time brainstorming later.

Think about topics you are interested in and know lots about. Are you passionate about the environment? Write that down. Do you enjoy traveling? The benefits of traveling could be a good topic for you.

Skip topics you don’t enjoy or don’t know anything about. I don’t know much about cars, for example, so I wouldn’t write the auto industry as a potential topic.

Then, choose debate and opinion topics. Think about controversial issues and start making a list. An opinion topic doesn’t always have to be deep, like abortion or gun control. They can also be simpler, like having more than on child in a family, having a pet or studying abroad.

To help you out, the New York Times had published a list of 200 prompts for opinion writing, and the International Debate Education Association is full of ideas. Other websites, including TestMagicTest Prep Practice,ETS , Wiki-TOEFL and Good Luck TOEFL are good resources for example questions, as well.

Here are a few more examples of good opinion topics:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have made communication between people less personal. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.
  • Which one would you prefer: professional success or a happy personal life? Use specific reasons and examples to support your preference.
  • You have one day to show a foreign friend around your hometown. Introduce him or her to your culture, historic places and food. Where would you take your friend on that day, and why? Use specific reasons and details to support your choice.
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? It is better to live on the university campus sharing a room with a roommate than living off-campus on your own. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

4. Brainstorm Ideas

Grab your list of topics and choose one. Then, spend about 3 minutes brainstorming.

This means you read your topic and start thinking about it. What can you write about? What is your opinion about the topic? Do you have personal experience about this topic? Have you read any articles recently related to it?

Write down your ideas on a piece of paper. You can use arrows to connect them, or even draw if it helps you. Don’t worry about writing full sentences, punctuation, grammar or spelling at this point. Just put down any words or broken sentences that come to mind.

Once you are done brainstorming, then you can begin your outline.

5. Create an Outline

Creating an outline is perhaps the most crucial (important) part of your writing process. An outline is a document that helps you organize your main ideas so they connect logically.

Your outline will tell you if you have enough evidence to support your main ideas. A good outline can guide you along through your essay, helping you build your story or argument in a logical and flowing manner.

Writing your outline should take you about 7-9 minutes.

Think about your outline as a list of headlines. When writing your outline, begin thinking about your spelling, word choices and grammar. However, short sentences or simply a few words are better than long arguments in outlines. Remember, you are not developing each idea, just listing them.

Write a strong thesis statement. Your thesis statement will be your guide throughout your entire essay. It will come at the end of your introduction paragraph. For example, if the topic is to share my opinion on the benefits of pets, my thesis statement may be:

I believe that it is very beneficial to have a pet at home because they provide companionship, they teach you responsibility and they support your exercise habit.

A strong thesis statement usually includes the main idea (i.e. pets are beneficial) and supportive reasons (i.e. 1—they provide companionship, 2—they teach responsibility and 3—they support your exercise habit). Try to have two to four supportive ideas.

List sub-points for each supportive reason. Don’t just list the reasons themselves, but jot down ideas of facts, opinions, strong arguments and/or examples to include with each. Think about the questions “Why?” and “How?” when developing your supportive ideas: Why and how is this point supporting your thesis statement? Try to have at least three sub-points for each supportive reasons.

In your outline, one supportive reason may look like:

B. Pets teach responsibility

1. Pets have specific feeding and play times (follow a daily schedule)
2. Pets need special pet food (monetary support)
3. Pets need to be taken to the vet regularly
4. Having a cat taught me responsibility

To review, your whole outline should look something like this:

I. Introduction

A. Introduction: quote, short story, joke, etc
B. Thesis statement

II. Body

A. Supportive Reason #1

1. Supportive detail
2. Supportive detail
3. Supportive detail 

B. Supportive Reason #2

1. Supportive detail
2. Supportive detail
3. Supportive detail 

C. Supportive Reason #3

1. Supportive detail
2. Supportive detail
3. Supportive detail

III. Conclusion

A. Summary of the outline/rephrasing the thesis statement
B. Call for action or suggestion

6. Write About Your Topics

Once you are finished with your outline, the most difficult part is over! You can start writing now.

Follow your outline format closely as you are developing your essay.

Begin with an introduction. Your introduction can be a quote, a short story or even a funny joke related to the topic. Be creative. End your introduction with your thesis statement.

In the body, you will now expand on the supportive details from your outline.

Finally, you will end the essay with a conclusion. The conclusion is a summary of your thesis statement and supportive ideas. For example:

Considering that pets provide us with companionship, teach us responsibility, and support our exercise habit, I believe that having a pet is beneficial to everyone.

You may even provide a suggestion or call for action, such as:

If you don’t have a pet yet, I suggest you consider getting one. If interested, go to your local humane society where you will find many loving dogs, cats and other animals in need of a good home.

Aim to write your essay in about 7-10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of review. This means you will spend around 25 minutes total per essay: brainstorming, creating an outline, writing and reviewing.

During this time aim to write 300-350 words. Being able write a 300- to 350-word essay within 25 minutes will be beneficial on your TOEFL test day. If you need more time or your essays are too short at first, don’t worry. You will improve with time. Just notice where you are at now and where you need to get better. Ask for help when you need it; your teacher or study buddy will be happy to support you.

7. Review Your Writing

As we briefly mentioned above, once you are finished writing your essay, go back and review your work. Try to take only 5 minutes to review and to edit.

Read your writing again slowly and carefully with high attention to detail.Check your grammar, your spelling and your word choices. If you are typing, spellcheck and Grammarly are there to help you. If you notice a mistake, correct it. Don’t be afraid to cross out a word or entire sentence to revise it.

If you notice repeated words, try to replace them with synonyms. For example, if you use the word “strong” five times in your essay, replace four of them with an appropriate synonym: “active,” “hardy,” “muscular,” etc. If you don’t know any synonyms, check your thesaurus. If you are unsure about your spelling or word choices, consult your dictionary.

During the TOEFL test, you won’t have the option to check your dictionary or thesaurus, but while you’re practicing it is a good idea to do so. When it gets closer to your test date, though, practice writing a few essays without a dictionary or thesaurus.

Take note of anything that was confusing. Knowing the areas that you need to pay more attention to or review again will help your progress.

8. Ask an English Speaker to Correct Your Work

Once you are finished writing, reviewing and checking, it is absolutely necessary to ask an English speaker—a native speaker or anyone with native-like expertise—to review your work. Remember, they speak English fluently, and will be able to point out all your tiny mistakes. Besides, four eyes see more than only two.

You can use Lang-8 to check your writing. Native English speakers will edit your essay for free. In return, for good karma, you can review the writing of other members who are learning your native language.

Of course, working with an English teacher one-on-one in person or online is even better, as it provides you with further opportunities to discuss your concerns, and get specific assignments to strengthen your weaker areas.

Once someone has reviewed your work, rewrite your essay by correcting your mistakes. Then ask for another round of corrections to see if you have missed something.

Take note of your mistakes. I cannot emphasize this enough. Review the areas that you had mistakes in, and clarify any questions. Continue focusing on expanding your vocabulary as well. A week or two later, write about the same topic again to see how much you have improved.


Use these steps to practice your writing 2-3 times each week. Your writing will greatly improve, allowing you to score higher on the TOEFL test and to write better for the rest of your life. Good luck and have fun!

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Everything You Need to Know About the TOEFL Exam Pattern, Explained

Everything You Need to Know About the TOEFL Exam Pattern, Explained

Do You Have Questions About TOEFL Exam Pattern? Learn About All 4 TOEFL Sections Here!

When you think of the TOEFL, do you have lots of questions?

Are you wondering what exactly the TOEFL is?

Are you wondering which English language skills it will test?

Welcome! That is exactly what we are going to discuss here.

The TOEFL is an internationally recognized Test Of English as a ForeignLanguage. It is a long test that usually requires several months of study and preparation. And, if you are reading this post, I imagine that you probably need to take TOEFL.

Maybe you are going to study in a foreign country. Maybe you will work for an international company.

Great! It is natural to have many, many questions about TOEFL, its format and the overall exam pattern.

The first step towards success is understanding what it will ask you to do.

Understanding the TOEFL exam pattern is necessary, because it will help guide your preparation for the test. To study productively and get a good score, you really need to understand what to study for!

Every TOEFL section (there are four sections in total) has specific questions and tasks. You may have never seen some of these questions and tasks before in your English classes, so it is very important to get some practice with them before your test day.

The topics that are discussed and the specific questions that are asked will change all the time—but the format of the TOEFL never changes. The test always has the same format! That is why the following information is very important.

Everything You Need to Know About the TOEFL Exam Pattern, Explained

Everything You Need to Know About the TOEFL Exam Pattern, Explained

Everything You Need to Know About the TOEFL Exam Pattern, Explained

The TOEFL consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

The 4 Major Sections of the TOEFL

The Reading section (60-100 minutes long) assesses your ability to understand and analyze written texts on topics like science and academic discussions.

The Listening section (60-90 minutes long) makes sure you can understand information given to you orally—for example, when you listen to a lecture or speak to a professor at university. This section has four to six lectures and questions that test your understanding of the content, as well as your understanding of the motivations and emotions of speakers.

The Speaking section (20 minutes) consists of six tasks that you complete by talking into a microphone during the test. It is meant to measure how well you can express your thoughts and ideas in English.

And finally, the Writing section (50 minutes) is all about demonstrating how you can use your English in writing. Here, you will apply your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and form clear sentences and paragraphs.

Each section has a maximum score of 30, so the maximum TOEFL score overall is 120. This means that 120 is a perfect score.

The TOEFL is a test that you will take all in one day. It is four and a half hours long with one short break in the middle, between the Listening and Speaking sections. Here are a few more details that you should know about taking the test:

  • You are allowed to take notes during the test. You will be given plenty of scratch paper and a pencil—use them during the Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing sections. You must give all the notes and unused paper to exam officers when you finish the test and leave! 
  • You can bring a snack and a drink to have during the 10 minute break.
  • If you need to go to the bathroom or take another small break during the test, you can…but the test clock will not stop for you!
  • Of course, no cell phones, tablets or other devices will be permitted into the room under any circumstances. You cannot use them during the official break either (sorry).

Now, what should you expect from each of the TOEFL sections?

What Is the TOEFL Reading Section Like?

The Reading section presents you with three to five academic passages (pieces of text from academic texts or talks), each approximately 700 words long. The passages may be talking about a certain topic or about comparing several points of view. They can be scientific, historic and even philosophical.

Each text will be followed by 12-14 questions. These questions may ask you to do one of the following tasks:

  • define a word (testing your vocabulary)
  • identify an idea or argument (testing your understanding)
  • find a false statement (testing overall comprehension)

You will have from 60 to 100 minutes to complete this section depending on the number of passages and accompanying questions.

The Reading section is a demanding one. It can be difficult, because the texts you will get are often complex—you should not hope for an easy passage with easy vocabulary.

To do well, you need to be used to reading long and complicated paragraphs. You should learn to work with unfamiliar words to be able to infer (make a guess about) their meaning. Texts presented in the Reading section may have multiple focuses and arguments. The time limit also creates difficulty, as you will have to read fast.

What Is the TOEFL Listening Section Like?

During Listening, you will be working with two different types of audio:

  • recordings of lectures
  • recordings of conversations

You should expect to listen to four to six lectures that deal with academic topics. Conversations are more casual, so there are usually only two to three of these.

Each bit of audio can be from three to five minutes long, followed by five to six questions. The questions may ask you about the contents of the recording. They may also ask you about what you think happened before or what could happen after. There could also be the “why” and “how” type of questions.

You will hear every audio lecture or conversation only once. There is an exception: Some questions will play back a part of the recording for you to listen to again. However, you cannot depend on this. You should expect to only hear the audio once.

Hearing something only once is the major difficulty with the Listening section. This is why you will need to take good notes and make educated guesses about what questions you could get.

Understanding conversational English is also one of the hardest tasks for English students, so it is very important to get used to listening to many types of talks and dialogues. The TOEFL has a policy of including different English accents in the Listening section—you could hear American, British, New Zealander and Australian English on the test! Try to listen to all these different types of English before taking the exam.

To prepare for Listening, seek out English-language movies, TV shows and YouTube videos (these are particularly helpful with understanding accents). Use FluentU as much as possible. Listen to recordings of lectures and practice taking notes during them. Be sure to expose yourself to many different kinds of English by watch American news and listening to British radio, too. Doing this regularly enough will improve your listening abilities without you even noticing.

Can I Take a Break?


TOEFL has a 10-minute break in the middle of the exam, and it is mandatory, which means that everyone must stop.

You will be asked to leave the room—and you should! Use this time to walk around, stretch your legs and your back, eat your snack and drink your beverage. Go to the bathroom, too!

10 minutes will fly by very quickly, and you really need them to rest, recharge and get ready for the second part of the rest. Taking a break makes it a bit easier to pace yourself. Reading and Listening are now behind you—forget about them.

After the break, it is time to start the Speaking and Writing sections.

What Is the TOEFL Speaking Section Like?

This is the newest addition to TOEFL. Can you imagine that only a few years ago test-takers did not have to go through it?

Now Speaking is an important part of the test. It judges your ability to speak good English and it can be quite hard. You will not have an interviewer to ask you questions and listen to your answers, you will only have a microphone. Your voice is recorded and someone will listen to your answers later.

There is very little time to answer each question, and there is even less time to prepare each answer before you start talking. Speaking is the hardest part of learning any language. You will do your best if you know what to expect from this section.

You will be given six Speaking tasks in total. Two of them will ask you to express an opinion on an everyday topic. This is the Independent Speaking section. For the Independent Speaking section, all you will hear is a question. You will not need to listen to a long recording or read any long passages.

The four remaining tasks will require you to discuss something that you read and hear. This is the Integrated Speaking section. For Integrated Speaking, you will read a short passage or hear an audio recording followed by a question. You will have up to 30 seconds to prepare a response and up to one minute to record it by speaking into a microphone.

This TOEFL section is the one where taking notes will be the most useful. Once you hear the question, write down some ideas to look at them when you speak. Practice your timing, but do not speak too fast, even though you may be nervous. Remember that your accent is not important—all that matters is that you speak clearly and present some good ideas in your answer. Breathe! You will do just fine.

What Is the TOEFL Writing Section Like?

All your English skills come together in the last section of TOEFL. This last section is the Writing section. It is the section that judges your writing ability, grammar knowledge and vocabulary usage.

Writing consists of only two tasks: one Integrated Writing task and one Independent Writing task.

The idea behind these tasks is similar to the Speaking section tasks. For the Independent Writing task, you will write an opinion on a casual topic. You will get a question to answer, but you will not need to listen to a long audio recording or read a long passage. To learn more about the Independent Writing section, click here.

For the Integrated writing task, you will write an essay based on additional reading and listening material. You will have more time (30 minutes) to spend on the Independent task than on the Integrated task (20 minutes), so you will be expected to deliver a very good essay on the former (the Independent task) and a slightly shorter answer on the latter (the Integrated test). Taking notes and creating an outline of your answer is very useful during both parts of the Writing section.

The only way to prepare well for TOEFL Writing is, of course, writing as many practice essays as possible.

Remember that your actual opinion does not matter in the Writing section. You can say that you love cold winters and that you hate ice cream, even if you do not. The people grading your essay will look at how well you support your argument and how well you explain your choice. The structure of the essay and clear, grammatically correct sentences are what matter most.

Practice writing essays with a proper introduction, main body and closing paragraph. Refresh your grammar. Learn to use connectors like “therefore,” “however,” and “although” to make your essay flow better. Do not try to use too many long words, especially if you are not sure what they mean. Go for quality, not quantity!


TOEFL is a hard test, there is no doubt about it. But you can succeed.

You should register for it well in advance, giving yourself at least three or four months to study and prepare well for it.

And be sure to take a complete TOEFL practice exam at least once. You’ll not only take a TOEFL practice exam that feels just like the real thing, you’ll also get feedback from certified TOEFL teachers and tons of interactive study tools. This is very important if you want to be fully prepared for the actual exam day.

The format of the test never changes, which is great news for you! This means that finding study help and resources is much easier.

You only need to learn about the format of the TOEFL once. Once you get it, you will be able to make up your own study schedule, focus on areas of your English to improve and ultimately increase your chances of success on TOEFL.

Happy studying!

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How to Master the TOEFL Independent and Integrated Writing Tasks

How to Master the TOEFL Independent and Integrated Writing Tasks

The TOEFL writing section, also known as the TOEFL essay section, is the last section of the test.

It comes after all the difficult steps of the TOEFL reading, listening and speaking tests. Showing that you know how to write well in English is crucial for your final test score.

The TOEFL writing section measures your ability to come up with a structured essay with clear arguments, while also checking your knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary.

How to Master the TOEFL Independent and Integrated Writing Tasks

How to Master the TOEFL Independent and Integrated Writing Tasks

What You Should Expect from the TOEFL Writing Section

The writing section consists of two writing tasks.

The first task combines elements of listening and reading. You may be asked to listen to a lecture excerpt or a recording of a conversation, or you may need to read a short text. Taking notes during listening and reading is allowed. After listening or reading, you must then answer a question based on the content.

The second task is an opinion essay, where you are asked to offer your thoughts on a general question. You will have a total of 50 minutes to complete both writing tasks.

Writing for either TOEFL task is certainly not easy!

Coming up with things to write with a timer on is often difficult and stressful. You need solid essay writing skills, and you need good general English writing skills. For the first task, your reading and listening skills need to be excellent. Last but not least, good English grammar is just as important for a good essay as vocabulary.

The writing section of TOEFL is challenging, true, but there is good news. You can practice and improve your writing skills even if you never thought you were good at writing! Read on for useful tips and tricks on how to excel at writing great TOEFL essays that will help you earn a top score of 5.

What Does a Perfect TOEFL Essay Look Like?

Before you begin improving your writing skills, you need to know how tostructure an essay properly.

Knowing how to write an essay will help you to present your thoughts in the most logical way possible.

Generally, a good TOEFL essay has four or five paragraphs.

The first paragraph clearly states the main idea or main argument of the essay. This main idea is also known as the thesis, and it should be part of every paragraph in your essay. The whole essay needs to relate directly to this thesis.

Then, the next two or three paragraphs after the first paragraph should elaborate on the thesis and explain your arguments very clearly. You should have many ideas, thoughts and examples to support your thesis in these paragraphs.

Finally, the last paragraph is a conclusion which restates the thesis and summarizes the arguments you presented in the essay. You will summarize everything here and make a big conclusion about your main idea. You must show how everything ties together and is related.

Now, how exactly do you divide your essay ideas into paragraphs?

A general rule is to try and dedicate one paragraph to one idea or one argument. You should not try to explain more than one idea in each paragraph. Be very focused, and take time to make each paragraph very clear. This way, your essay will follow a format that looks like this:

  • Paragraph #1: Thesis (main idea)
  • Paragraph #2: First argument to support the idea
  • Paragraph #3: Second argument to support the idea
  • Paragraph #4: Third argument to support the idea, a different perspective on your thesis or an opposing idea.
  • Paragraph #5: Conclusion (thesis restated)

Unlike the list above, your essay should not look like a collection of bullet points. Rather, you must write full sentences and full paragraphs. There also needs to be clear and smooth progress from one idea to another (good text flow).

Using conjunctive adverbs like “however,” “furthermore” and “nonetheless” is one of the easiest ways to introduce more flow to your essay. Subordinating conjunctions (“although,” “while”) will be helpful here too.

What will also assist you immensely is having a clear thesis to argue. It really is vital for you to decide exactly what you want to say before you start saying it.

It does not matter if your idea of thesis is very simple. In fact, it should not be too complicated, because you may run out of time trying to cover all your ideas if the main thesis is very complicated.

Having a simple, clear thesis will allow you to focus on ways to support it. Then you can pay more attention to using good grammar and vocabulary and presenting your arguments in a structured way throughout the essay.

Why Good Grammar Is Important for the Writing Section

Yes, you may hate studying grammar, but it is of the essence in the writing section!

These two essays are the only part of the test where your grammar knowledge is measured directly.

Speaking does measure your grammar to a lesser extent, but writing is the one section where poor grammar will most directly impact the quality of your essay and your overall score. (Interestingly enough, there used to be a separate grammar section in older versions of TOEFL, but this is no longer the case.)

When it comes to grammar usage on TOEFL, being correct is the most important. You may use complex verb tenses and clauses, but only do so if you are absolutely sure you are using them right. It is better to correctly use simple grammar than to incorrectly use complicated grammar.

There is not necessarily a need to use complex grammar in your essays, since arguments and examples may be laid out in Simple Past or Simple Present.

You may use gerund and simple conditional forms, but keeping it simple applies not only to your thesis, but to your grammar too. Play it safe and simplify if you are unsure.

Here are some essential grammar elements you might want to pay attention to and rely on in your essays:

  • Simple present and simple past: This is obligatory for you to get right. Know the correct verb endings, revise the irregular verb forms and practice catching small but alarming mistakes like “”People says” (“people” is plural so it should be “people say”).
  • Master the difference between present perfect and past perfect: Is it “I have been doing” or “I had been doing”? Both are correct forms of present perfect and past perfect, respectively, but you would use one or the other depending on context. Make sure you understand how.
  • Gerund and conditional tenses: These will enrich your essay, showing the grader that you are capable of using more complex clauses and expressing yourself in a variety of ways.
  • Minimize the use of passive voice: This will also help you with presenting your argument (for example, “British scientists have discovered” sounds stronger and more authoritative than “It has been discovered”).

Why Good Vocabulary Is Your Best Friend

You have probably experienced the frightening situation where you know exactly what you want to say, but do not know how to say it. We have all been there (and wished for a dictionary on hand to consult).

Acquiring good vocabulary of a wide range of words and phrases to express your ideas and thoughts is probably the most important part of preparing to write good TOEFL essays. The richer your vocabulary, the better! When you know more vocabulary, you will have more ways to express your ideas.

Playing it safe is an acceptable strategy with grammar forms, but this does not work well with vocabulary. Relying on generic, basic words will leave you with a flat, uninteresting essay that will not earn the top mark of 5 points even if its grammar and structure are good. So how do you avoid that?

Once you begin practicing writing essays in preparation for the test, you will notice the vocabulary you rely on the most.

Make a list of the English words that you use most often. How many times per essay do you use words like “agree/disagree,” “think,” “say,” “people,” “many,” etc.? These are simple words that may not have many substitutions. However, it is essential for you to have some alternatives. Studying synonyms is one of the easiest ways to expand your vocabulary, useful even beyond passing TOEFL.

To study synonyms, make a list of your most commonly used words and learn a few of their synonyms with the help of online dictionaries and resources available (like Synonym Finder or this simple thesaurus). Learn two or three ways of saying “to do,” “to say” and “to think.” Find alternatives to adjectives like “good,” “bad,” “beautiful” and “nice.” Attempt to substitute “people,” “company,” “students” and “country” with appropriate equivalents. You will notice improvements in your writing in no time.

Another very important point to work on when it comes to vocabulary is identifying words you may be using incorrectly. For example, these could be verbs or adjectives that sound similar:

  • compliment and complement
  • acquire and inquire
  • gregarious and egregious
  • whet and wet
  • master and muster

There also might be words whose meanings you are unsure of but may end up using in hopes of sounding “fancy” or more advanced. Do not fall in that trap! In preparation, learn the correct meanings of words you like and practice putting these words in context. When in doubt, rephrase the sentence and do not use any vocabulary you are not familiar with.

How to Practice for the TOEFL Writing Section

The more writing practice you do for TOEFL, the easier essay writing will come to you. You will get used to identifying your main arguments, structuring your essay correctly and logically and employing diverse vocabulary and grammar.

If you need additional support and guidance, you can take a course online to improve your English writing skills. Inklyo has a great selection of books and courses that instruct ESL students in the art of English writing. The books and courses cover specific topics such as letter writing, essay writing and resume writing, so you can pick the topics that are most helpful for the TOEFL essay.

Writing a lot of essays will also help you feel more prepared when the test day comes, lowering your stress level. You will be able to focus on the actual task without being too nervous.

Another way to get rid of nervousness is to take practice TOEFL exams. After taking a full practice TOEFL exam, you will know exactly what to expect on the actual TOEFL exam day.

And when you are writing an essay, remember that it is not what you argue, but how you argue it that is important for the TOEFL writing section. The grader will not penalize you for your opinions. She is more interested in seeing a well-written, well-argued essay with good grammar usage and a few complex words thrown in here and there.

Good luck!

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