Originally Posted: Feb 8, 2016
Last Updated: May 26, 2020
Let’s get one thing out of the way, first: if you live in the U.S. and you grew up speaking English, you don’t need to take the TOEFL—it stands for Test Of English as a Foreign Language (and yes, they did the acronym wrong). If you arrived at this article because you were scared of the idea of taking yet another college entrance exam, but you didn’t know what the TOEFL is before now, then you probably don’t need to take it.
But if English is not your first language, and you were not born in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or another English-speaking country, then you’re here for a good reason. It’s a pain to take so many tests, and even more of a pain study for all of them. So let’s get to the point: How do you prepare for the TOEFL and another test?
Focus on one test at a time
Ideally, you wouldn’t take both the TOEFL and the SAT or ACT in the same month. If it’s possible, you should prepare for one test, take that one, then prepare for the other test. I recommend taking the TOEFL first, if you have a choice, since any English vocabulary or grammar you learn during TOEFL studies might be helpful later on the more advanced SAT or ACT reading and writing.
If you need to take both tests around the same time, you may need to study for the two simultaneously. In that case, it’s best to focus on one test for a few days, then switch. You might do TOEFL practice one week, then SAT practice the next. It’s important to spend more than one day in a row on each test. If you change your focus too often, the different question types and strategies will become confusing. But on the other hand, you don’t want to take your TOEFL after four weeks of studying only the SAT; what you learn about the test should be fresh in your mind on test day. Switching back and forth each week is the easiest way to divide and conquer two tests.
English all the time
Above all else, the TOEFL is a test of your English ability. And I don’t just mean how many words you know or how well you do on grammar tests: You have to be able to read, listen, speak, and write at a high level to get top scores on the TOEFL. So even if vocabulary and grammar help, you need more than that. You need a lot of experience using English.
This is important for two reasons:
- You can improve when you’re not "studying." Listen to English podcasts, read the news in English, and watch English movies. If you have friends who plan to take the TOEFL, speak English with them instead of your native language. And if you are lucky enough to have native English speaking friends, talk with them as often as you can.
- It helps for every test in English. One of the best ways to improve on SAT reading and writing is to read a lot; it’s not just the TOEFL.
And above all else, stay focused on the goal! The process of applying to U.S. colleges is hard, but it’s a only for a short time, in the end. It feels like forever, but once it’s done, you can forget it even happened. College awaits!