Dos and Don’ts for International Students Considering Taking the TOEFL Exam
If you’re an international student planning to apply to US universities, and English is not your first language, chances are you’ve heard of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Whether you’re unsure about taking the test, or need pointers on how to study, these do’s and don’ts will get you on the right track to ace the TOEFL.
The TOEFL is a comprehensive, multi-faceted exam designed to evaluate your grasp of the English language. In addition to mastering English, acing the exam requires strategy, practice, and proper studying. While some US universities will accept SAT or ACT scores and the application itself as evidence of English proficiency, many schools will require a TOEFL score as part of the admissions process for international applicants. Often, this is in addition to the SAT or ACT and SAT Subject Test scores. There’s a lot that international students need to know in order to prepare for the TOEFL, so here are a few dos and don’ts for international students preparing to take the TOEFL exam.
Do Make Sure The TOEFL is Right For You
Not every college requires international students to submit TOEFL scores. Some schools might accept certain sub-scores on other standardized tests, such as the ACT or SAT. Other colleges may accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), an entirely different exam that may be a better fit for certain students. If the schools on your balanced college list do not require the TOEFL, you may want to reconsider taking it.
Don’t Go Into the Exam Expecting a Pen and Paper
If you're taking the TOEFL, it's important to know you're taking an internet-based test. You won't be working with paper and pen or speaking to a live interviewer, but rather interfacing with a screen, typing written answers via a keyboard, and using a microphone to record spoken responses. The best preparation for the exam therefore means spending a portion of your time familiarizing yourself with navigating this sort of software; you don't want to find yourself becoming lost when under timed conditions on test day!
Do Prepare and Strategize
Just like any other exam, the core of effective TOEFL preparation consists of a good strategy book and, if possible, a tutor. Your initial focus should be learning the breakdown of the exam: how reading, writing, listening, and speaking are intermingled; the question types and amounts; how much time is allotted for each section; and the different kinds of listening exercises involved. After you have a grasp on the basics, start working on cultivating effective test-taking strategies. Focus on ways to take better notes while listening, how to scan passages for keywords, and ways to save time and maintain proper pacing.
Don’t Fixate on Vocabulary and Grammar
Avoid spending all your time drilling vocabulary or trying to cram in grammar rules. While vocabulary training can be an important supplement to TOEFL prep, it's more important to develop your holistic grasp of conversational English. The exam only tests grammar and mechanics to the extent that they actually shape sentence meaning, so don't waste time digesting obscure debates about the Oxford comma.
Do Seek Out Every Opportunity to Practice
Incorporate language work into your life whenever possible: watching television shows spoken aloud in English, switching the interfaces of websites like Facebook to English, listening to podcasts, and practicing your conversation skills with friends or strangers. Get creative and find small ways sneak studying into your day-to-day life.
Preparing for the TOEFL doesn’t have to be stressful, but it should be comprehensive and deliberate. By following these simple dos and don’ts you should be prepared to ace the exam once it comes time to take it.
In addition to the TOEFL, there are a number of admissions requirements and strategies that are unique to international students applying to US universities. Download our free US Admissions Guide for International Students below to learn what you need to do in order to gain admission to your top-choice US universities!