Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Getting a high score on the TOEFL test is essential for whatever institution you are applying to. Nevertheless, obtaining that score is not as easy as it may sound. A lot of effort and time needs to be placed into studying, preparing, improving and repeating everything.
So, here I brief the list of rules I make my students follow.
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As you may have guessed by the name of this post, I will brief you into getting a score of 100 or higher. So it goes without saying that I am considering that for the school, college or university that you will be applying to, you are being requested a minimum score of 100 points in the TOEFL.
Make sure you have the right level of English.
If you are targeting a score higher than 100 points, then you need to have a very high level of general English to get it. Knowing the basics, or even having an intermediate level just won’t cut it.
At this stage, you need to be able to keep your grammar mistakes (which everyone makes every once in a while) to the bare minimum. Not to mention your spelling. Working with relatively common vocabulary can help you express ideas easily for everyone to understand you, but this vocabulary alone will not help you achieve the top tier score. You will need to know a good amount of more obscure vocabulary, spell it correctly and use it in the right situation. Many students will want to insert a fancy word and just force it into a sentence where it just doesn’t fit right and hinders their score.
In another post, I went over the correlation between a person’s general English level and their potential score in the TOEFL-iBT. You can click here to see that post. You will gather from there that you will need to be in the higher tier, from C1 and higher to have a better chance.
Improving your level of English is not something that can be done in a short time. Depending on your current level and the number of hours you practice per week, this could take anywhere from a few months, to a few years. So make sure you have the right level before you begin your preparation.
Make a strong foundation in Academic English.
The TOEFL measures the level of English in an Academic Setting, so naturally in the test students will find content that is 100% Academic oriented, which is why to achieve a high score on this test you must first increase your vocabulary in the Academic realm.
Close to 70% of the topics in the TOEFL will revolve around the general sciences, such as Geology, Physics, Anthropology, Astronomy, and others.
In addition, you may also be exposed to Academic content of other subjects, such as Psychology, History, Art and many more. So having a good volume of vocabulary is not enough if we wish to get a higher score in the test.
To expand your knowledge and vocabulary in the Academic fields I always recommend my students to read blogs about them, here are a few links:
There, students will have an almost unlimited source of science-related topics that will be updated on an almost daily basis. But reading them is not enough, as you can take more advantage of each article by gathering the unknown vocabulary and making your dictionary. By doing this, you will retain the new vocabulary in each writing for a much longer period. Additionally, if you make a small summary of each article you read, then you will have a chance of not only using that newly acquired vocab but to practice your writing style and organize your ideas better.
Practice general English all the time (chat, podcast, movies, conversations)
If you are taking this test, the odds are that you are currently not living in an English speaking country, so practicing your general English with a friend or colleague, may not always be an easy thing to do, mainly because people who speak English will be hard to find.
But you mustn’t let this be a barrier. Nowadays, we have an incredible advantage in global communications. You wouldn’t be reading this post if it weren’t for that tool.
The Internet offers enormous areas for people to connect and have conversations, such as chat rooms and even online games.
However if you have the opportunity to meet with someone face-to-face, take it. Even if it is just a few times a week in order to practice with all four skills, but focus mainly on your speaking skill. You will need to expose yourself to an English environment as much as you can, that way your brain adapts faster into transitioning to English.
Another obvious way to continue practicing your receptive skills (reading and listening) is by watching movies or TV shows. If you need subtitles, then you probably need to increase your general level of English. But one of the best ways to practice is by listening to the radio or podcasts.
These can be a bit of a challenge at times, but they make people focus and sometimes tense because the speakers are speaking pretty fast. However, the radio and podcasts are in my opinion one of the best tools. You can listen to them in those “dead” hours everyone has in the day, such as the commute. You cannot read or write while your driving, but you can listen to the radio, so there are no excuses.
Understand the test
Understanding the test isn’t just, reading a general overview of it. It involves research. Many hours of reading must go here to craft a good strategy.
It is necessary for you to go in deeper not just into knowing what to expect in each section, but also, the scoring system, because here you will understand where you will need to put extra focus to achieve a higher score.
For example, I mentioned before that in the writing section, you will need to apply the use of more obscure words that are not very common. This will be a clear indicator for you that familiarizing yourself with high-quality vocab that is out of the mainstream, will help you get that extra push.
Aside from this, understanding the purpose of the test and the content from within is key to being able to get a higher score. At this point, you will have to feel relatively comfortable helping someone prepare for the test because you will understand the inner workings that it has.
Practice with the best material
There is plenty of free material online to prepare for the TOEFL test. But be wary, as not all of it has a good quality. The best place to go is the source. Luckily for us, they have provided a few full sample tests for students who wish to prepare for the TOEFL-iBT to prepare adequately.
You can download some of the free material the folks of ETS have offered by clicking here.
Here, you will have access to 4 pdf files that have 1 full test each along with the answer keys for you to download. 2 of these files have the audios embedded within, although you need to have a Windows 7 or higher Operating System and your Flash Player up to date in order to use the audio files.
Additionally, you can download the official App which is called TOEFL GO! In your mobile device.
There is of course paid material, and if you are seeking a score over 100 points, you may need to purchase it, in order to get some more practice. You will find that good quality material can run out pretty quickly when you practice a lot.
As usual, I would recommend you go straight to the source and purchase The Official TOEFL Guide either directly through ETS, or through Amazon by clicking here which should go around the US $25 range.
The other book I recommend is the Barrons TOEFL Guide that can also be found on Amazon for about US $22 Just click here. I like this book because the tests tend to be slightly more difficult, but you also get a good number of them, so you have plenty of practice material.
Besides, since you will be aiming at a score higher than 100 points, I strongly recommend, you get help from either an experienced friend who has already scored higher than 100 points or a qualified tutor.
It is very important to have someone else’s opinion, especially to help you with The Speaking Section and the Writing Section, as these will not have a fixed mold to respond or to score. So getting the feedback of a person who knows what they are talking about really helps.
Now you could have this person with you through your whole training process, but you can also just request their aid for specific situations. Then your practice and improve and then, they can do a general checkup and see how you`re doing and if there is anything that needs to be fixed or reoriented.
Read & write a lot
Now I went briefly over this in Rule 2. But I will explain further in order to give you a more profound understanding of the importance, and how to do it.
When it comes to reading, I mean, it’s just an incredible source of new vocabulary for you. Every time we read an article or a book or a summary, or a report, we have a good chance of finding new vocabulary.
If you keep in mind that an average college-educated native speaker will posses around 20.000-35.000 words in their repertoire, then we understand a little better on how we have to prepare and expand our vocabulary. Not necessarily to the same amount, but you can get close to it and be just as good.
When reading and catching new words, it is very important to keep track of them, by making our own little dictionary. The best way to make you remember the words is to:
- Look up the definition.
- Find at least 2 synonyms (not all words will have one).
- Write a sample sentence
- Put them into use.
What do I mean by “Put them into use”? Well, exactly that. Once you have read an article or are practicing with the writing section of the test, have your dictionary at hand, and try to force one of those words into your paragraph. This will take time to adapt to, but after some time, you will be paraphrasing sentences with relatively common and easy vocabulary and upgrading them into more complex sentences in order to fit a specific word. For example.
Simple sentence: as john was very shy, he usually lived his life through the life of his brother.
Advanced sentence: as john was quite timid, he usually lived vicariously through his brother.
Here we are upscaling the simple sentence to a higher level, without changing the original message. This is not the style in which you must write through the whole test, but a few of these more complex sentences will give a nice touch to the essay as a whole and you will have the chance to prove that you can work with that vocabulary.
By following these steps, you will increase drastically the chances of remembering your new acquired vocabulary and improve your writing style.
Since the TOEFL-iBT is the most common form of the TOEFL nowadays, I strongly recommend you do all your writing in a computer with a standard QWERTY keyboard, as this is the one which will be offered in all test centers around the world.
You could just have your personal dictionary in a physical notebook. But all your summaries and essay practice on a computer.
Master timing and step up your confidence
Having good control over the timing in each section is fundamental if you want to complete everything in time. But working on accuracy and timing will take you to a higher level.
Now, what I mean by this is that it is recommended to focus on increasing your accuracy at first, making sure you understand the section in which you are working, its details, what to expect, the types of questions, the toughest questions for you, and that you are in control. Here, you should already be scoring a decent score, but we are looking for more than 100 points, so we have to improve more.
Once you have gathered some experience in the test, you must start to make things more efficient. This is where you will have to put yourself under pressure and work on trying to solve the sections not only at the right time but in less time.
This, of course, cannot be done in all sections. The Speaking section as you have a few seconds that you need to fill in with your answer. But in The Reading, The Listening and The Writing Sections, you can practice by slashing a few minutes of every practice test you do.
Working on writing the essays in less time reduces the quality, but makes you prepare better outlines and structures and to plan ahead in a more efficient way.
I always recommend my students to have about 2 or 3 minutes free at the end of their essays where they just proofread and make small corrections here and there.
It is important that you do NOT settle for a score under 25points in any section. I have said before that it is very easy to know what percent you are getting good in The Reading and The Listening Sections. However, checking your score for The Speaking and the Writing section is more complicated.
So, to help you, you can click here and you will find a link to the Rubric of The Speaking Section and click here to find the Scoring Rubric of The Writing Section to help yourself evaluate what you can improve.
If you see that your score in any section is under 25pts, then you have to find out why and how you can mitigate it fast. 25 points in each section is the minimum for 100, and yes, you can score 30 in one section and 20 in the next and still get to that 100 band threshold. But getting those final 5 points in each section is usually not easy, they are the hardest points to get. Let me explain it this way.
To get a perfect score in the Reading Section, you need to get 36 CONSECUTIVE CORRECT ANSWERS. It sounds different when expressed like that right. So, aim for that minimum threshold in all sections, and then try to maximize by aiming higher.
If you already took the test, you have more chances.
Experience is the best teacher. Which is why I recommend you do many practice tests before the actual test. In addition, getting the help of a friend who has already taken the test or the help of a tutor is an added bonus.
However, in life, we don’t always get what we want. And if you took the test and unfortunately didn’t get the score you wanted, then you can take the time to regroup and see what went wrong and how to improve it for the next time you take it.
There are some very common factors for you to keep in mind once you re-evaluate your position from the score you obtained.
If you scored under 80 points, then maybe you need to increase your General English level to a higher one. A lower level will usually drag some grammatical issues and limited expressions and vocabulary as well as not being able to comprehend all the information that is given to you in the readings and listenings throughout the whole test. So getting a higher level before retaking it is key.
If you scored more than 80, then the issue may be different. If we are looking for a score of 100 points, we know that we have some pressure on us, so it is very normal for students with higher levels of General English to feel nervous during the test, which can make them get distracted easily and even freeze, especially in the speaking section which is very intense.
This can also cause some spelling issues when some insecurities come to light. Along with eventual distractions in the reading and listening section. In some cases, students do not go to the test center a few days before, to see what the best route is, or where to park, and some traffic issues may come up, so they add that stress that same morning of the test, which really affects them.
Collecting all this data and seeing what could have gone better, and preparing for those events will usually give the students an instant boost of about 5-10 points. This is of course, on average, from my personal students. With whom I chose to re-evaluate and then take the test in about 1 or 2 months’ time. By doing this, students have enough time to prepare and practice some more of what their weaknesses were and take the necessary measurements to be overprepared.
These are steps that may sound relatively simple and straightforward, but applying them will be the biggest challenge for most students. similar to the gym paradox, many people pay for the gym but make excuses to not go.
Setting up their routine and working continuously on improving and getting better with more confidence will be the key to getting past that 100 point threshold. The more you practice, the better you can get.