How to Pass the TOEFL Exam

Instructor: Fola Rae
The TOEFL exam is used to determine whether you have the English-language proficiency required to complete a college degree program. Find out how to pass the exam by reading tips to keep in mind for each section, and find out about study resources to use in your preparation.

Passing the TOEFL Exam

You can get a passing score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) by preparing for the test in advance. One great way to prepare for the TOEFL is to take practice tests. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) website offers free, downloadable sample tests and questions used on previous paper-based and Internet-based tests. You may be able to find additional options for practice tests online.

Choosing between the paper-based and the Internet-based TOEFL is one big decision you'll have to make, and you can learn more about the two test formats on the ETS website. It's also important to know how to approach each section of the exam. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for the TOEFL, and to make sure you pass the TOEFL on test day:

Tips for the Reading Section

  • Identify important words first - Vocabulary knowledge will be important, and you'll need to recognize important words in the passages. Look for the main idea in each passage and make a note of it to help you answer some of the questions.
  • Read questions first - Look at the questions that will be asked about a passage, then look for the details in the passage that could help you to answer them.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. - Use a practice exam to build up your skills early in looking for important vocabulary terms, the main idea and inferences.

Tips for the Listening Section

  • Practice conversing in English only - The easier it is to have a conversation using only English, the easier it will be to understand the taped material on the exam. Choose a variety of topics and use videos of speeches on the internet to hone your listening skills.
  • Listen carefully - Since you will only hear the taped material once on the exam, remove all distractions and concentrate on what's being said on the test. Using practice tests, get accustomed to concentrating and retaining what you hear within a short space of time.
  • Listen for the most important information - You won't be able to change your answers, so decide on an answer and move on as quickly as possible. Focus on listening for both main ideas and details, as both kinds of questions will be asked.

Tips for the Speaking Section

  • Take your time before you start speaking - It's important in this section to respond as quickly as possible without taking long pauses. It is also recommended that you take all of the time you're allowed to give a thorough response.
  • Learn the correct pronunciations of words before the test - Points will be deducted if you mispronounce words, so make an effort to practice the correct pronunciation beforehand.
  • Keep the language you use familiar - Use expressions and words that you're familiar with so that you can give confident and well-framed responses.

Tips for the Writing Section

  • Learn spelling and grammar rules - Keep in mind that you won't be able to use software to check your spelling, so you'll have to be sure of the correct spelling of the words you use.
  • Develop an outline for your essay first - Plan your essay before you start writing and leave time at the end to review your work.
  • Use language know know well - Try to write in simple terms and include examples to support the points you make. To be sure that you can recall everything you need to answer the questions, memorize phrases for making connections and transitions before the exam when completing practice tests.

Skills to Improve Before the Exam

Along with enhancing your listening, reading and writing skills, also consider making the time and effort to improve on these skills:

Note Taking

You should get into the habit of taking notes about details and main ideas, as well as practicing moving back and forth between reading, taking notes and reviewing questions. The exam allows test takers to take notes and refer to them during the exam because it's a skill that will be important when you become a college student. A good place to start learning this skill is with the lesson on taking notes and making study guides for yourself.


You will want to improve your ability to concentrate and not lose focus for extended periods of time. Consider studying for short periods of time to begin with, and try to build up to the point where you're able to study for three or four hours at a time. This way, you'll be prepared for the length of the TOEFL when test day comes. Find ways to manage your study time effectively with the lesson on how to improve your study skills.

Typing and Writing

If you choose to take a computer-based TOEFL, it's important to practice typing skills. You don't know what type of keyboard will be provided at the testing center, so practice typing on different computers to get familiar with various keyboard types. In addition, try to improve your typing speed as much as you can so that you can complete your essay in the time allowed. For written tests, practice your handwriting to make sure it's legible. View the lesson on developing handwriting and typing skills to improve your abilities in these areas.

Study Resources

Use the TOEFL IBT Test Prep Course to help you pass the test. The course includes lessons on listening for agreement and disagreement and how to use context to determine the meaning of words. The video lessons can make the learning experience fun, and you can quiz yourself at the end of each lesson. This course covers:

  • Information about the TOEFL
  • Reading basic and advanced help
  • Listening and speaking
  • Grammar and essay writing

Since the test is so important for your college career, and you can't really know how you'll feel in the days leading up to it,'s lesson on how to overcome test anxiety can help to get you ready for test day conditions.

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