toefl tips
English proficiency tests are essential for students applying for universities abroad. Source: Martin Bureau/AFP

If you’re planning to study abroad, especially in English-speaking countries such as the US or Canada, you may be required to complete an English proficiency test like the TOEFL. These tests are important in university admissions, which makes it essential for non-native English speakers to do well. Luckily, the right TOEFL tips can help you get the score of your dreams. TOEFL is widely recognised by universities and countries worldwide, from universities in Canada to South Korea.

For those who are unfamiliar, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is divided into four sections: reading, listening, writing and speaking. It measures how well you can use your English skills in an academic setting and your score is valid for two years.

TOEFL is designed and administered by a private non-profit organisation called Educational Testing Service (ETS). The test is conveniently offered via three testing options:

  • the traditional TOEFL iBT test in a test centre
  • the TOEFL iBT Home Edition
  • the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition
TOEFL exam

If you are an international student, these TOEFL exam tips would help you have a better chance of being accepted into your dream university. Source: Ina Fassbender/AFP

ETS sends your TOEFL score directly to the university — candidates can nominate up to four institutions to send their scores to for free. Usually, the results – the sum of all scores obtained for the four exam sections – will be ready within six days. 

The TOEFL score you’ll need depends on the university you’re applying to as they set their own minimum scores. The score ranges from 0 to 120; the minimum graduate mark for the TOEFL test is generally higher than that for undergraduate applications.

Since this is an important test for non-native English speakers, we’ve compiled a list of TOEFL tips to help you ace it:

TOEFL tips #1: Practice makes perfect

This adage holds true for TOEFL test-takers: Practice until you feel ready to sit for it. Make a study plan, get your hands on as many tests and resources as possible, and go through them regularly. Identify your weak areas and focus on improving them. 

There are plenty of online TOEFL practice tests that can help you get test-ready. You can also get a trusted buddy to go through the TOEFL exam preparation with you – ask for his/her feedback on your speaking and writing sections. You will be more prepared with regular practice.

TOEFL tips #2: Familiarise yourself with the test format

You’ll want to be familiar with the test format since this is a timed exam; this can be achieved with practice tests. However, don’t get complacent once you’re familiar with the exam format and instructions.

On test day, be sure to go through the instructions carefully and look for keywords within them to help you formulate your answers. For instance, the speaking section may ask you to support your answer with relevant reasons and examples – don’t give them unnecessary and unwanted details or worse, forget to include these as part of your response.

TOEFL tips #3: Keep an eye on the clock

Each of the four TOEFL sections has different durations, so it pays to know how much time you have for each session, and to time yourself when practising. 

If you’re struggling with a question, consider making an educated guess before moving on to the next question. You can go through them again if you have some time left after completing the section.

TOEFL tips #4: Expand your knowledge

Non-native English speakers should practise their English daily to improve their grammar and build their vocabulary. You can make it a point to watch more English-speaking television shows, read English newspapers and magazines, and practise with a friend. Once you’ve built your vocabulary — and confidence — you’ll feel more prepared to take the test.