Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
A lot of students have had the desire or need to prepare for an international test of English, whether to obtain or continue their tertiary degree abroad, to enter a transnational company or as a necessary document for an immigration process.
After many hours of research and preparing students for these tests for a few years, I have managed to find out that the answer is not that simple, as several factors are needed before responding accurately. I will list some topics here for better visualization.
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Many of those who have asked me about the TOEFL, don’t understand what it measures, nor why it is so important for their future path. I do not want to go too deep into explaining what it is, but I will give you a general overview that may shed some light.
What is the TOEFL-iBT?
The TOEFL-iBT is the TEST OF ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE – internet BASED TEST. In other words, it is a test that measures your knowledge of English if you live in a non-English speaking country, or if English is not your native language. Beyond just measuring your knowledge of English as a whole, it measures 4 main skills; Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, as well as a few more obscure skills, such as organization, cohesion, comprehension, inferring, etc.
This test is oriented mostly towards Academic English as it is generally used to screen candidates for universities and colleges in English-speaking countries like the U.S. and Canada. The test lasts around 3 to 4 hours and has a short 10-minute break halfway through. Its score ranges from 0 to 120, where each of the four main skills can score from 0 to 30.
Things to consider: Time, Score, English Level.
you need to be well informed and plan before attempting this test.
This is the big one. You cannot prepare effectively if you are taking the test tomorrow. It is improbable. Even if you have a good English level, the test is challenging.
To give you some perspective, a monolingual native English speaker who takes the test with no preparation could have a score that oscillates anywhere from 80 to 120. That’s a wide range that represents a third of the total score!
You need to know the deadline for your score application and prepare well before then. The best scenario for most students is to prepare with a minimum of 2 months of anticipation.
Most of you have a family and a social life, this will demand a chunk of it, so prepping for it with time to spare can help prevent any delays in the study and help work out the sections that are more difficult for you.
Normally a university will require a minimum score of 80 to apply for your B.A. or your B.S. but a master’s degree or something more advanced will require a score of at least 100 if not more.
And some universities will require a minimum score in a specific section. E.g. law schools are very demanding on the writing section, so they may request applicants to score a minimum of 90 pts overall with at least 27 in the writing section.ore
Yet despite these pieces of data, the biggest issue I have encountered is the English level of my students. Most of them don’t realize that this test is not simple, and that to get a score of 80, you will need more than just good preparation.
Many times, it is necessary for students to improve their level of English to be able to opt for their dream score. And depending on their current level of English and their dedication, this process can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Click here and go to directly to read from the folks of ETS speaking of the comparison of the TOEFL and CEFR
This is the fun part. Following up from the previous paragraph. Let’s set an ideal case. The student has the correct level of English according to the CEFR and projects accordingly to the score he or she needs as well as two months of preparation time.
How will the student prepare? My standard of hours dedicated to my student is in this beautiful ratio 1:4. What I mean by this, is that for every 1 hour of class I work with the student, he or she will have to input 4 hours of their activities.
Of course, I guide them into which activities to do, focusing the first month in a general introduction of what to expect, styles of readings and articles and types of questions and how to solve them faster and be more efficient and the second month on improving those scores and simulating full tests before the big day comes.
It is a matter of making the students find the balance between hard skills and structure, yet flowing with the surprise and not freeze. I usually work with my students from 2 to 6 hours a week, so according to the ratio, they will have to do from 8 to 24 hours of activities outside from the class to reinforce strong points and build the weak spots.
Ok, this is a hot debate. Tutors have of course gathered tons of material through the years both by buying books and digesting them and collecting a few hundred hours from podcasts and videos and reading endless blogs and experiences, without mentioning the hours of vicarious experiences they get from their students.
But students will not prepare to teach this test, they will prepare to take it and then forget it existed. So to sieve through all the unnecessary things that you can find online and make your study program more efficient, I would recommend either finding an experienced tutor or studying directly from a book. This will depend on two main things, your time availability, and your budget.
If you’re pretty dedicated to your things, and are relatively organized and motivated to get a good score on the test, then you may be able to work it out just with the book (I always recommend avoiding the internet for this, except the official pages, because you will always find mediocre information as well as some that haven’t been updated in months or years).
Just try to get a consistent hour where you read and practice exercises every single day so that when test day comes by, you will be more than ready.
If your budget allows it, I would advise getting a bit of help from an experienced tutor. They can help you out a lot, as they have collected direct and indirect experiences and can funnel them to you. Additionally, you don’t have to do a full 2-month program with a tutor, it could be something where you practice your weakest section for a few weeks.
Should I get a tutor?
Continuing from the last thought, there are many advantages to this. But first, you need to identify the tutor by experience. How do you recognize them? You can ask a friend who has taken the TOEFL already to see if they worked with a tutor or not, and if it was helpful they could recommend this person.
Word of mouth is one of the strongest ways to get one, as people who recommend them had good results. If this doesn’t work, go online, some tutors have their website and could do classes both online and in-person, be sure to read comments and reviews, and at this point, it is also good to compare not only the prices but what is included in the classes. Some may be cheaper than others, but they may be less experienced or not offer the same material.
Also, tutors can be flexible and adapt to your specific needs, e.g. let’s say you’re prepping for the test in 3 months. You can work with the tutor in the final month or so, to help you polish and correct your mistakes and help you get your dream score. But you can also get the tutor early on, to get a good introduction to the test and then the final month you just practice by yourself and continue improving.
Additionally, you can get evaluated by the tutor to see if you have the correct level of English for the score you need, and that tutor may help you with improving your overall level of English before you prepare for the TOEFL, this will usually be a longer program where classes are planned on a semi-rigid schedule for a few months.
Ok guys and gals, I hope I have helped you clear some doubts on general terms on preparing for this test. We can go deeper, but to do that, we have to do some more searching as I mentioned before. I hope you stay tuned for our other posts!