7 ways to improve your TOEFL score

Taking any test can be a nerve-wracking experience, but taking a test in a language other than your native one can cause you great anxiety – especially tests like the TOEFL or IELTS, which have a lot riding on them (meaning that many important things depend on succeeding with these tests).

Here are a few tips to help you with the TOEFL exam, as well as other important tests like it. A text version is below the video.

1. Find every opportunity to expand your English knowledge

Ok, this one is a “no-brainer” (meaning that it’s very obvious), but how to go about it might not be.

Part of your studying should be doing things like studying the actual test itself and learning good test-taking techniques.

But another part of your studying should be finding ways to use and explore English as much as you can. For example:

  • Take any class conducted in or about English, even if it’s not specifically directed to TOEFL,because:
    • Conversation or presentation classes will help you with the speaking portion of the test.
    • Grammar classes will help you improve your speaking and writing sections.
    • Academic skills classes will help you with test-taking skills, and tips about reading and writing.
  • Read English language books or magazines to expand your vocabulary.
  • Join online or in-person conversation partner programs to practice speaking English.

2. Learn as much as you can about the test in general

The TOEFL is administered by ETS, the Educational Testing Service, and they update the TOEFL Information Bulletin with the latest information. Find it at www.ets.org/toefl.

3. Familiarize yourself with the test format and directions

Take practice tests so that you understand the design and style of the test, and are familiar with the directions as well as the time constraints. In addition, you’ll need to type your essays, so practice typing on a keyboard with an English layout if you aren’t already. You’ll record your speaking section on a microphone, so even practicing that will help you come test day.

4. Study efficiently

Of course you need to make time to study for the test. Studying consistently is more effective than “cramming” several hours into one day a week.

In addition, the 30-5-5 technique is great for studying:

  • 30 minutes of studying
  • 5-minute break
  • 5 minutes of reviewing what you studied in the first 30 minutes

5. Prepare your body and mind carefully in the days leading up to the test

This one might be obvious, too, but if you exhaust yourself studying, you won’t be in the best condition to take the test.

Be sure you are getting enough sleep, and try to reduce your stress as much as possible in the weeks before the test.

The night before the test, don’t plan any activities, and make sure you have all of your required documents ready.

On the day of the test, wear comfortable clothing, make sure you eat something healthy and nourishing before the test, and make sure you arrive at the testing location with plenty of time.

6. Use test time wisely

Don’t get stuck on any one item in the reading and listening sections. Since they are multiple choice, marking any answer works in your favor when you aren’t sure, rather than leaving it blank. Rather than making a random guess for difficult items, see if you can narrow down your choices. Guessing with one-in-two or one-in-three odds are much better than with one-in-four odds.

7. Combat test anxiety

You’re bound to be nervous during a test of this nature, but know that a little nervousness can make you more focused. However, if anxiety overcomes you, take a few seconds to take a couple of deep breaths and focus on your senses (what can you see, or hear right now?). This will help bring you into the moment and away from worrying about the outcome of the test.


These tips were inspired by “The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test” by Bruce Rogers, which is a fantastic resource for prospective TOEFL takers.

Would you like to study for the TOEFL exam with me? I use the book referenced in the link above and provide one-to-one or one-to-small group via online meetings. Email me at amanda@teacheramanda.com for more information.

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