When you travel to an unfamiliar place, usually you take a companion with you.
Be it a friend, a guide book or a travel advice column in your favorite magazine, we all need companions.
Ultimately, your companion on your TOEFL adventure should be your study guide.
A study guide is a plan that clearly states your goals and sets the tasks to accomplish these goals. An ideal study guide addresses your test preparation needs within a specific timeline, so that you are fully ready by your test date.
A TOEFL study guide is essential to have, whether you decide to study by yourself or bring in extra help.
When to begin studying for the TOEFL depends on your level of English and your knowledge of the test format. Earlier does not necessarily mean better, unless you know that you need a really high score and your language level is not sufficient for it.
Your approach to studying for the TOEFL has to depend directly on how much time you have to prepare for the test. Study guides are very useful tools to keep you on track, so read on for the option that is best for you.
4 TOEFL Study Guides to Get You Totally Prepared for the Big Test
1 Year Before TOEFL
Are you starting to prepare yourself this early, one whole year before taking the TOEFL?
Great! You have all the time in the world.
Don’t let yourself relax too much though—you really need to prepare for the long haul and learn how to pace yourself.
Pacing yourself means that you will do this work in small, frequent chunks of time for the long term. Every day you should challenge yourself to get a lot of studying done, but not so much studying that you get exhausted and stop early on.
Studying one or two times a week for at least one hour is ideal. To be more thorough, you can try this daily, 35-minute English study routine. Approach this year as an opportunity to improve your general level of English and work on all aspects of language skills that are tested on TOEFL.
It might be tempting, but do not favor one area of knowledge over another. Your listening skills may be weaker than your writing skills, but you have time to improve everything! Devote equal effort to all four TOEFL sections and use TOEFL-specific exercises and themes in your studying.
Months 1, 2 and 3
Before you begin, on the very first day of studying, take a TOEFL practice exam. The results will give you a good idea of your language level and highlight your understanding of the test format. The best place to take a TOEFL practice exam is ScoreNexus. This site offers more than practice exams—it also gives you grading and feedback from professional educators. They’ll even give you suggestions for how to improve your score!
Go over the fundamentals of English verb tenses (Present Simple, Present Continuous, Present Perfect, Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect).
Every study session you have, choose one text or article to read, preferably from an academic publication or a technical field. Read for comprehension, work with unfamiliar words and practice putting learned words in context. Keep a notebook where you can write down anything you don’t understand, and practice using this language in full sentences.
Months 4, 5 and 6
Study irregular verbs and practice their conjugations. Refresh your knowledge of Type 1, 2 and 3 Conditional. Do grammar exercises at your level.
After completing your reading exercises each session, write summaries of the texts you read. Summarizing in writing will not only help with grasping the general themes and ideas expressed in the text (vital for TOEFL), but it will also highlight weaknesses in your writing skills.
Listening to academic talks or online lectures is a great way to study for TOEFL, as your comprehension will be tested to its limits and will quickly improve. While doing listening exercises, you should also start perfecting your note-taking.
Months 7, 8 and 9
Challenge yourself with grammar exercises at a more advanced level. Start writing stand-alone essays to polish your written English skills. Every other study session, write a short three to four paragraph essay on the topic that interests you. There are plenty of TOEFL resources available, and you can also come up with your own topics.
Continue doing reading practice and introduce speaking exercises to your study routine. At least one session a week should be dedicated to speaking and listening exclusively.
Months 10, 11 and 12
Make sure you are familiar with the format and rules of the test.
Dedicate the last three months leading up to the test to doing all your exercises in the correct order (reading, listening, speaking, then writing). Make up your own practice exams and get ready for battle! Or take another practice exam from ScoreNexus to really see how much you’ve improved after studying for all these months.
6 Months Before TOEFL
You already have a good idea of what kind of TOEFL score you need. In preparation, start by assessing your language skills in relation to each test section—Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
Keeping in mind your target score for the test, make the skills that require the most attention your priorities. Which sections are making your overall score lower? You still need to study for all four sections, of course, but focus on your weaker skills first and feel free to rearrange the section order in the study guide below.
Use the first month to brush up on your knowledge of grammar, English sentence structure, the basics of essay-style writing and to get comfortable with different English accents.
This basically means spending your first month studying English without regard to TOEFL, ensuring that your skills are up to the challenge. During this time, also get to know the TOEFL format. This will give you a solid understanding of what you will have to work with for months to come.
Spend it reading. Yes, it is the first section on the test, but it also lays the foundation for your success with other sections.
Reading comprehension is essential for a better understanding of spoken English for the Listening section. Reading teaches you additional vocabulary and demonstrates good writing practices for the Writing section as well. It may also prepare you well for Speaking, if you answer reading questions out loud.
Focus on reading, analyzing and writing summaries of at least two different texts every study session. Ask yourself questions about the texts. Have a good dictionary handy.
You should focus on academic and scientific texts as these are the most common on TOEFL, but feel free to mix some more fun sources into your study sessions, like online news and articles.
Integrated Writing and Independent Writing tasks are challenging, so if you have trouble writing essays, it is best to address this weakness early, by practicing it before listening and speaking.
Each study session this month should be dedicated to writing, writing and more writing.
There are plenty of essay topics available online, but you can also invent your own—all that matters is that you get better at writing clear, argumentative essays that will earn you a high score on the test. The only way to excel at writing is doing it over and over again.
Listen up! Often the most difficult for language learners to master, good listening skills are essential for your success on TOEFL.
This month, you will be all ears: your goal is to get comfortable understanding dialogues, lecture excerpts and academic talks in English. Not only that, but you also need to learn to summarize and draw conclusions from what you hear.
Use these great resources to get the most out of your Listening practice. In addition, seek out other entertaining ways to get listening—watch cool video clips on FluentU and tune in to your favorite podcasts.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks and turns them into English learning experiences.
Unlike traditional apps, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging videos like popular talk shows, music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos because it has interactive captions. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned.
Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re using the same video.
You can start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
The date of your TOEFL is approaching fast, so now you need to tackle the last thing on the list—speaking!
There are several things you can do to ensure success with TOEFL Speaking, but since you have one full month dedicated to the task, you should make the most of your time.
Practicing speaking by yourself may be difficult, so if you feel like finding a study buddy, now is the time. Not only will you be able to engage in dialogues and improvise, which is hugely helpful for TOEFL, but you will also take turns speaking and receive feedback from each other.
Use your study materials from Month 2 to get topics for discussion for Integrated Speaking. On the other hand, Independent Speaking is all about giving your opinion on a variety of subjects, so you may discuss anything you like.
Remember to time your responses. Recording some may be helpful too, especially if you are studying by yourself.
In the past five months, you have worked hard to understand the structure of the test, revise what you currently know and refresh your grasp on grammar. You also went through each section of the test month by month, developing the necessary skills to get a high score on each.
The focus of your last month before TOEFL is pooling all of these skills together and making every study session into a mini-test.
Practice a little bit of speaking, listening, reading and writing every lesson. The easiest way to do it is to center every session around a piece of academic or technical writing, like in Month 2. Discuss the themes expressed in the text (orally and in writing), ask yourself questions, work on summarizing the texts. Get listening practice by finding relevant videos on FluentU or YouTube.
1 Month Before TOEFL
One month is a really short time for a test as complex as the TOEFL, so you should be in “express” mode and try to study at least four times a week to be well-prepared.
Taking a crash course in TOEFL or hiring an experienced tutor may be valuable to save you the trouble of navigating the test structure’s complexities by yourself.
Despite the short amount of time you have, be wary of cramming, but do try to squeeze in as much practice for every section of TOEFL as you can.
Your focus should be on language review and vocabulary expansion, since you will not have time to significantly improve your current English skills. The trick is to optimize time spent on tasks and practice several things at once.
Weeks 1 to 2
Start with preparing for the Reading and Writing sections.
As we have seen from the 6-month study guide above, these two sections go really well together.
Read for speed, read for comprehension and read for vocabulary. Take the time to learn common words you will encounter on the TOEFL. Write essays based on your practice texts from the Reading section. Teach yourself to create effective essay outlines that will help maximize the actual writing time during the test. Pay attention to grammar, as it is essential for the test as a whole.
Weeks 3 to 4
Listening and Speaking judge your ability to communicate effectively, either by understanding or relaying (telling) important information.
At this point, you do not need to worry about your pronunciation too much (no time!). Make the full use of your grammar and vocabulary skills instead.
Listen to online lectures or talks, make notes and then tell an imaginary friend what you just heard out loud. Rephrase and summarize; note and repeat keywords stressed by the speaker. Make the most out of the resources available to you and, again, get a speaking/listening tutor if you can afford it.
1 Week Before TOEFL
Well, you’d better be very confident in your English skills if you begin studying just one week before the test!
However, things happen. Life happens.
If you have only one week to prepare, buy the official TOEFL online prep course, get ready to cram and just do your best.
You can also opt to study with Magoosh.
(Note: The Magoosh link below is an affiliate link, which means that we’ll receive compensation if you make a purchase on the Magoosh site. By purchasing through our affiliate link, you are supporting our ability to provide you with free language learning content—so, thank you!)
Magoosh is specially designed to prepare you for the TOEFL, and it offers many more modern and interactive learning materials. It has a special program for students who are taking the TOEFL in one week and want to score higher!
The approach is similar to the 6-month study guide, except you will have one day to cover one month’s worth of studying. It goes without saying that you have to study every day!
Day 1 is for quick review of the test format, a grammar overview and a practice exam. Take this practice exam on ScoreNexus to get professional advice on how to improve your score, fast.
Day 2 needs lots and lots of reading exercises from the TOEFL prep course.
Day 3 is all about listening practice with the materials supplied by the prep course.
Day 4 should be spent talking and recording your answers to various questions (topics are available in the prep course and online).
Days 5 and 6 are for writing. It gets two full days of your attention, because each essay requires more time than any other test task. You need to ensure your grammar and vocabulary skills are up for it. Write as much as you can. Ask someone to review and comment on your work.
Day 7 is for a full review of your study notes and a final practice exam.
A study guide is your friend, and you definitely need a friend to get ready for TOEFL.
No matter what your learning style is like, take into account how much time you have before the test. Do your best to study at a comfortable yet productive pace. The study guides above should do the trick!
Good luck on your TOEFL!
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