Have you ever considered moving to the USA or Australia to start a new life?

Maybe you want to use your professional skills –  whether you’re a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or physical therapist – and work for a higher wage.

Or, have you ever considered attending University in the States?

Possibly for your masters or PhD, or maybe to get an MBA.

If, at some point, you have thought of moving to the USA, then you should be aware of (at least) ONE thing:

For many of these career pursuits, you will need to take the TOEFL exam.

What is the TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language.” It is a standardized test administered by ETS, and is often required for people who want to the United States – whether for a professional job or to attend University.

There are four sections in the TOEFL

  • Reading: 80 minutes long, separated into 4 reading passages. Each reading passage has 10-15 questions.
  • Listening: 60 minutes long, separated into conversations and academic lectures. Each listening has 5-7 questions.

10 minute break

  • Speaking: 20 minutes long. Students must answer 6 questions – 2 Independent and 4 Integrated
  • Writing: 60 minutes long. Students must write 2 essays – 1 independent and 1 integrated

In total, the TOEFL test takes about 4 hours.

To understand the more complex parts of the TOEFL – like which types of questions you will face on the reading section and how to answer each speaking question type – I recommend picking up ETS’s official guide to TOEFL.

It goes through all the basic details so you will be prepared for the TOEFL exam.

In the rest of this post, however, I’m going to discuss some ‘higher-level’ strategies to help you improve all four sections of your TOEFL test. Most of these strategies emphasize a fun, immersive approach to learning.

There is nothing worse than preparing for TOEFL and having to repeat boring exercises day after day. Instead, I believe students should use fun, enjoyable, and effective ways to prepare. 

TOEFL Reading Section

If you want to improve your reading score, and overall reading comprehension, I recommend reading academic material you actually enjoy.

Some students enjoy reading about scientific topics. Other students enjoy history, or philosophy, or comparative religion. What’s important is that you pick a topic you enjoy.

Begin your studies by reading for 15 minutes every single day. Set your timer for 15 minutes, read the material you found, and stop reading once your timer rings.

Do this for 1 week.

Then, the next week, increase your reading time to 20 minutes each day. Continue to do this, week-after-week, until you have increased your reading time to 30-40 minutes every day.

By doing this, you will see a drastic improvement in your English reading comprehension.

If you need to reading resources to use, I recommend the following:

  • Go to your local library! At your local library (especially if you already live in the United States) you will find tons of interesting books you can read. I recommend reading non-fiction books, since this is the type of reading you will see on TOEFL.
  • Read the transcripts from TED talks. TED (stands for ‘Technology, Education, and Development’) talks are an excellent tool to improve both your reading and listening abilities. Almost every TED talk has a transcript. Before you listen to the TED talk, take 10-20 minutes and read through the transcript. (Click here for an example transcript)

TOEFL Listening Section

I recommend a similar approach for the listening section.

It is easy to learn all the normal tips and strategies on how to answer certain TOEFL listening questions in the various TOEFL preparation books.

However, if you really want to improve your overall listening comprehension, you must immerse yourself in as much spoken English as possible.

When I work with private students, I recommend starting out by listening to 30 minutes of English every day. You can listen in the morning before work, you can listen in the car or on public transportation on the way to work, you can listen at lunch, and you can even listen when cooking dinner at home. Find ways to listen to more and more English.

What resources can you use?

I tell my students to, first and foremost, listen to subjects they enjoy listening to! If you want to improve at a language, this is so critical. You won’t improve at a fast rate if you’re bored and uninterested.

Once you know the exact subjects and topics you like, check out websites like TED.com (TED talks are excellent for improving your academic listening comprehension) and stitcher.com. I also tell students to watch movies, TV shows, and listen to audio books.

YouTube is also an excellent resource for practicing your English listening. You can search for topics like “College Lectures About _______” (fill in the blank with the topic you are most interested in).

TOEFL Speaking Section

What’s the best way to improve your speaking ability for TOEFL?

I’ll give you a hint: it is pretty similar to the above two strategies.

By talking more!

This is why Cambly is such an excellent platform to improve your TOEFL Speaking score. You can find a private tutor 24/7 to practice speaking English. And you don’t even need to practice specific exercises for TOEFL!

Instead, focus on speaking and connecting as much as possible. Find a teacher who asks great questions and teaches you how to constantly think in English.

The more you speak in English, the more confident you will become when giving responses on the TOEFL Speaking section.

Once you become super comfortable speaking English, then begin to prepare for each specific question on the TOEFL test. On my site, I have a huge list of TOEFL Speaking questions you can use to begin the preparation process.

TOEFL Writing Section

You probably already know what I’m going to recommend for improving your writing score:

I want you to write more, of course!

Again, you can learn all the basic strategies and techniques of writing TOEFL essays from ETS’s Official TOEFL Guide.

However, the single biggest factor in your TOEFL writing score will be how quickly you can write your essays.

The more you write, in general, the quicker you will be able to think of ideas when sitting for the TOEFL test.

You don’t have to write anything complex! All you have to do is spend 5-10 minutes each day writing in your journal. Write about what you did during the day, what you studied for TOEFL, what food you ate at lunch and dinner, and so on.

You don’t need to get fancy – just write!

Use a similar process for increasing your writing time as you did for reading.

For the first week, write for 5 minutes each day. The next week, write for 10 minutes each day. Continue to increase up to 20 minutes each day.

Have Fun!

Like I mentioned above, these are more non-traditional recommendations for improve your TOEFL score.

What matters most is that you HAVE FUN and ENJOY the process of studying. If you continually do TOEFL exercises, again and again and again, you will not improve your overall English at the same pace.

This is because the brain learns much quicker when actively engaged in the task at hand. And when you have FUN with studying, you are always engaged.