In Episode 5 of The TOEFL Podcast, Paul Austin of TOEFL Speaking Teacher talks about how you should prepare for the TOEFL and what resources you should use. He explains when you should just study on your own when you should use premium resources, when you should register for group lessons or take private lessons.

The first option is self-studying on your own using free resources online. For many students, it’s not enough. The second option that you have is to purchase premium self-study resources. The third option is to take group lessons, and these are often a pretty good choice, as taking lessons in the group environment will help you get well-prepared to take the TOEFL test.

The fourth option is private lessons, which are often a bit more expensive, but the most effective.

Paul explains about some of the factors that can decide what you should do. First of all is your earlier English experience. Other factors can be the score you want, how you handle stress in the test environment, how much time you have to prepare for the TOEFL and how much money you can invest in your preparation.

You need to pick up a professional service that helps you prepare for the TOEFL as soon as possible. Knowing your options and understanding those options can help you make the best decision possible. The TOEFL Speaking Response Analysis can help you know exactly what´s preventing you from getting a high score.

How Should You Prepare for TOEFL – Episode Transcript

Welcome back to the TOEFL Podcast! It is so great to have all of you back here again and so we can help you basically to achieve a high score on the TOEFL test.
In today’s Podcast, we are going to talk about how you should prepare for TOEFL. And it’s a very broad question, how you should prepare for TOEFL and basically what are going to talk about is what resources should you use to prepare for TOEFL, based on your situation.

For example, we will talk about when you should just study on your own when you should use premium resources like books or online courses to help you study. When you should try to register for some type of group lessons, and when you should take private lessons for the TOEFL.

And we will talk about the factors that affect your decision-making process:
When you are deciding, ‘What should I do? I’ve TOEFL is in a month or 2 months, 3 months, and I need to get a higher score, whether it´s 80 or 90 or 100. What do I do now?’
We will talk about helping how you can make that decision, what you can do for that decision. The first thing that I want to kind of talk about are the four options for TOEFL preparation.

The 4 options in terms of TOEFL preparation are to first of all, just do it on your own, self-studying from free resources online.
That will be things like YouTube, that will be Google, that would be various different online resources and websites – TPO is another one where you would watch free videos on YouTube, you would read free blog articles from Google, you would get free practice resources from the Internet, whether that’s for the Speaking, Reading, Writing, or Listening section and you would prepare for TOEFL using all of those free resources without spending a single dollar.

Many students do this, and for some students, it works. Again we are going to talk which students those are, why it works for them. But for some students, it doesn’t work. For many students, it’s not enough, and we’ll talk about why that is. That’s the first option, self-study on your own using free resources online.

The second option that you have is to purchase premium resources that are self-studying materials. This is like purchasing TOEFL preparation books on Amazon, on the Internet or in the local bookstore. This should be paying money, for example, BestMy Test is a pretty good website where they have TOEFL practice tests you can take. I think it´s like 47 dollars or something for a certain period of time, I forget the exact price. That would be the example where you would pay to have access to premium resources.

We offer a course called ‘Get 26 + on TOEFL Speaking.’ It costs money, and that´s a premium resource that you can study on your own. Magoosh has a premium resource that you can purchase as well.
Purchasing these premium resources online that are self-study, you just purchase, and you have it, and you can use it on your own, that is another option. And I consider that to be a better option than only using free resources. And that’s simply because ‘you get what you pay for.’ That is an expression that we use in American English, meaning that often times it’s better to spend a little bit of money because you know you are getting extremely high-quality resources.

The third option is to take group lessons. And group lessons are offered in a number of fashions, but most commonly they are offered in in-person schools, at colleges, at universities, at private night schools, where you will be taught by instructors about the TOEFL test. You will be taught to handle the Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections. Those can last anywhere from a week to two weeks, up to a month, up to three months. And these are often a pretty good option and often times taking those group lessons in the group environment will help you get well-prepared to take the TOEFL test.

And then the fourth and final option are private lessons. That’s where you register and sign up for private 1-on-1 lessons with a tutor. The tutor could be a non-native speaker who is a very inexpensive tutor. The tutor could be a native speaker who has no experience with teaching TOEFL, who is a little less expensive. The tutor could be someone who has maybe one year or two of teaching TOEFL, and that’s medium price. Or that tutor’s price might be like we are offering in TOEFL Speaking Teacher which are really high-level tutors with lots of experience who use an effective methodology to guarantee students’ results. And those are often a little bit more expensive. We´ll talk about this option as well.

Those are your 4 options: study on your own using free resources, you can study on your own using premium resources, paid resources, you can take group lessons, and you can take private lessons, which then, of course, begs the question, ‘What should you do?’

I’ll talk about some of the factors that can determine what you should do. And these are necessarily by priority: number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4. The factors should all be taken into consideration. For certain students, one factor is more important than others.

Let’s talk about factor number one that I´ve identified. That is your previous English experience. If you have a ton of previous English experience if you´ve been taking English lessons and speaking English since you were 5 years old in a prestigious school, with private tutoring or private lessons. If you’ve been told before that, you basically sound like a native speaker from a native speaker, if you have no issues listening, or reading, or writing, then I think that’s the first factor that you want to take into consideration.
If you are very well versed in the English language, it is unlikely that you will necessarily need to use group lessons or private lessons. If you have tons of experience, you probably just need to know the general format of the TOEFL test:
– here is what happens with the reading section
– here is what happens with the listening
– here is what happens with the speaking
– here is what happens with the writing
And then prepare for those things just reading a book or watching a few YouTube videos and then going and taking the test.

Now if you have some English background, but not a ton necessarily, that’s when we get into potentially needing some type of additional help.

If you are already, for example, a B1 level, you’ll probably need to get additional help, if you want to earn a high score on TOEFL. So your previous English experience plays a tremendous role in determining what you should do. And, of course, you need someone to evaluate your English level, you need someone to tell you, ‘This is where I am currently at with English.’ It also depends on the score you want. Because someone who needs 80 on TOEFL is going to have different requirements and different needs than someone who needs 100 or 110 on TOEFL. If we can figure it out, ‘This is my previous experience with English, this is where I am right now, this is where I need to go,’ that would be incredibly helpful.

The second thing that you wanna pay attention to is how do you handle the stress of a test environment. The TOEFL test is a very stressful test, and often times students want to get additional help because they don’t think they can handle it on their own. These are the students who often enroll in group lessons or private lessons because they don’t want to have to deal with the stress of unknowing, not knowing what they might have to deal with and how they might prepare for it. If you are someone who is easily affected by the stress of the test environment, if you get nervous, if you get anxious, if you struggle with confidence, then you are probably going to want to look into premium lessons and potentially private or group lessons.

Again, there is no one size fits all in this case. Because if you have tons of English experience in your background, and you handle a stressful situation quite well, and you only need 80 on the TOEFL, you will be fine on your own. But if you have tons of English experience, and you don’t handle the stress of the test environment well, and you need to get 110 on TOEFL, then you might need to hire a private instructor or private tutor. Again, knowing who you specifically are, what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are and knowing that as an objective fact, knowing that not based on what you think – because often times as humans, we make a lot of mistakes in determining our perspective and perceiving yourself – but getting advice from friends, or getting advice from a professional instructor in terms ‘Yup! You are here, you need to go here, this is what you should do.’

The third factor is, of course, time. How much time do you have to prepare for the TOEFL? Do you have 1 month, do you have 3 months, do you have 6 months? With a lot of people that I work with, they just want to get it done as soon as possible. These are people who, they’re not going to university, they don´t necessarily have any application deadlines, but they need to get 26 in TOEFL Speaking as soon as possible as well as… 24 in writing and they need to get 22 on listening, 22 on reading, something like that. They wanna get it as soon as possible. So, it´s not like they have a deadline, but to get it done sooner is better.

Some students decide they’re going to study 2 weeks before they actually have the test. Some students have 3 months, or 4 months, or 6 months before their deadline. Your time will determine what you end up doing. If you have 6 months, it might be helpful to just prepare on your own, for the first couple of months, do some practice on your own. Then, if you feel like, ‘Nope, I need to get 110 on TOEFL. When I have only three months to prepare, I should probably go ahead and hire a private instructor, or I should take group lessons to make sure I really understand it, or I should pick up this book, self-study, pay a little bit of money for it because it’s gonna help minimize the amount of time that I waste looking for free resources online. So the third one is how much time do you have.

The fourth is what´s your budget, how much money do you have. If money is not an issue, if you are trying to get your MBA at a top-tier business school and you are already making 100 thousand dollars a year or 80.000 dollars a year, then money is not an issue for you. And you should invest as much money as possible in making sure you can get done with TOEFL as soon as possible. Because the last thing you want to be doing is wasting a bunch of time and effort on trying to piece together these three resources when you just don´t have that time, you are busy; you are working, you are full time. You need to pick up a professional service that gives you as much help as possible and shortens that runway.

For the people who have a really high budget, I say private lessons, always, you should choose those as the quickest way to getting the score that you want.

If you are in the middle tier, maybe you do have some money, but you are careful about how you want to be spending it, just depends on your context or how much time do you have. What is your previous experience of English? Some of these questions. How do you handle the stress of the test environment? Answering these questions will determine if you should try to spend that much money, should invest in this resource, this will help me. Again, understanding your specific situation will lead that.

If you have no money, let´s say you live in India or certain parts of the Arabic world or South America or much of Asia, and you are on a very limited budget. You just don’t have a lot of money, and that will also determine what will you do. Because if you don’t have a lot of money, and you are trying to get 110, so you can get into the MBA school at Harvard, well, you have to ask yourself: If you get 110 on the TOEFL, and you get into the MBA school of Harvard, what´s that worth to you? If it´s worth in your lifetime a million dollars, 2 million dollars then you might say, ‘I will spend all the money that I do have to make sure that I can get 110 on the TOEFL test – so I can get this score.’ You also have to forecast that into the future, in terms of ‘What is the future value to you of getting this score on TOEFL? What is it going to help you achieve later on in life?’

This is the biggest mistake that I often see students making. I worked with pharmacists, physical therapists, doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers and these are people who don’t recognize the future value, so they say, ‘Yeah, of course getting 26 on TOEFL Speaking is going to be worth over million dollars to me in my lifetime. Because of a lot of these, for example, a lot of pharmacy technicians, they want to become pharmacists. The difference in salary between a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist is about between 80-90 thousand dollars. As soon as the pharmacy technician gets 26 on TOEFL Speaking and there are a few other requirements as well, they have to do an internship; to make sure some of the paperwork lines up, but usually, 26 on TOEFL speaking is the biggest thing then all of sudden they can make 90 thousand more dollars a year.
And over the lifetime, if you are working 30 years you are making 2.7 extra million dollars in your lifetime. Which is why, when I tell students, ‘If that’s your case if you are a pharmacy technician and you need to become a pharmacist, you should probably invest in hiring private lessons to get 26 on TOEFL Speaking as fast as possible. Because by not investing that money in private lessons, or group lessons, or high-end premium courses, you are losing approximately 7 to 8 thousand dollars every month.’
So, that’s also an important consideration in terms of what’s your budget, but also ‘What is the value of getting this score as soon as possible, what is it going to enable me to do?’ That’s the question you wanna answer.

Let’s just briefly review some of those things. Remember, there are four different resources that you can use to prepare for TOEFL: free resources online, YouTube, Google, TBO, a number of free blogs and websites, you can use premium resources, that are also online, books, you can take group lessons, at a local college or community. We also offer high-end group lessons for people who need 26 on TOEFL Speaking. So that’s an option, there are online group lessons, and we are expanding those very soon, and you can take private lessons. And that will determine, you know, what factors you should consider: What´s your previous English experience, how do you handle the test environment, how much time do you have, what you need to get a score on the TOEFL and what is your budget? Just think about that.

I wanna give you a few examples now, with some students we´ve worked in the past. One of them, she is a lawyer from Moscow, but she lives in Italy. She was trying to get her MBA at Oxford. She already works at job, where she makes a pretty decent amount of money, she makes a good living and so she knew that the quickest path to getting her required score, which was 26-27 on TOEFL speaking, was to spend money in private lessons. She works full time; she is very busy at her job; she did not have time to piece together free resources online. She had no time to waste on hiring an ineffective instructor or hiring someone who didn’t work. She needed to get the TOEFL done as soon as possible, so she decided to invest and spend money on private lessons, and she did that and she ended up getting the score that she wanted. That gives you one example.

I´m happy guys when you listen to this podcast, please go to our blog post page and maybe type in your situation, and ask for advice on what we thing that you should do based on your situation. But just take into consideration what I just told you. A lot of it comes down to your previous experience with English, how you handle stress on the test, your time, your budget and, of course, why you are taking the TOEFL. When you pass TOEFL, what is going to happen, what is the benefit of that to you?

And you have to determine that and then you make a decision from there. Private lessons are the quickest way to get the required score. The group lessons are another very effective way to get the required score. Premium resources are great online, and there are free resources.

And knowing your options and understanding those options can help you make the best decision possible. With that being said, if you do need to get 26 on the TOEFL Speaking, we do offer our premium ‘Shortcut to 26 on TOEFL Speaking’ course. We also offer group lessons and private lessons, guys. We´ll provide those details below. If you just need a professional to help you and analyze your responses for TOEFL Speaking, so that you know where you’re at, so you know how far you have to go, we also offer that service as a basic service, the TOEFL Speaking Response Analysis. We will be happy to help you so that you know exactly what´s preventing you from getting a high score or what might prevent you from getting a higher score.

Thanks so much for turning in, be sure to sign up to our newsletter and the e-mail list to get all the information for taking TOEFL. Also, check out our YouTube channel TOEFL Speaking Teacher and we´ll talk again soon.