Nobody learns to drive on a race track.
Nobody learns to swim by diving straight into the ocean.
You’ve got to practice until you’re ready.
The same is true for English exams like the TOEFL.
The best way to prepare for this test is to study strategically every day.
But what if you’re busy? How will you find time for daily TOEFL study alongside work, family, school and all your other obligations?
Don’t worry. We’ve made it easy.
Here are nine practical, effective ways to study for every section of the TOEFL on a daily basis.
Why Is Daily TOEFL Study so Important?
Studying for the TOEFL takes a lot of work. If you try to do it all at once, you might get overwhelmed. Breaking this task into shorter, more manageable chunks every day will make the whole process easier and less intimidating.
Studying every day leads to more consistent growth. If you study a lot one day but then wait a week before studying again, you’ll forget some or all of what you’ve learned. You’ll have to go back and re-study the same material. However, if you study every day, you’ll be reinforcing what you learned the day before and consistently working towards a better TOEFL score.
If you start studying every day, as soon as possible, you won’t have to “cram” (study everything as fast as possible) the night before the test. Not only is cramming an ineffective study method, but it can also leave you sleep deprived on the day of the test. If you prepare daily ahead of time, you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before your TOEFL date, wake up refreshed and feel ready to do your best.
9 Practical, Daily TOEFL Study Methods for Test Prep Success
The TOEFL has four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Below, we’ll provide daily TOEFL study techniques to help you tackle each section. We’ll also provide activities to help you prepare your vocabulary for the test.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match these daily TOEFL study exercises! You can do one activity from each section every day, or focus on one TOEFL section per day.
1. Daily TOEFL Reading Study
The reading section on the TOEFL takes between 60 and 80 minutes. It consists of 36 to 56 questions on three or four passages of academic texts.
Read a Research Abstract
An abstract is a brief summary of a research article. Abstracts are short and to the point, so they don’t take lots of time to study—but they’re filled with the type of academic language you’ll be reading on the TOEFL.
Google Scholar is a great place to search for research abstracts. Here are some common TOEFL reading passage topics that you can search for:
National Geographic is another great resource for longer articles that are similar to TOEFL test passages. Since National Geographic covers nature, culture and science, the themes you read about will likely be similar to what you’ll encounter on the TOEFL.
Test Yourself! TOEFL Reading Response Questions
For the most effective TOEFL reading study, don’t just read and move on. You need to ask yourself questions, just like the TOEFL will, to make sure that you understood. Here are some comprehension prompts you can use as you read abstracts (or any other TOEFL reading study material) to prepare for the questions you’ll be asked on exam day:
- Summarize what you’ve read in one sentence.
- Highlight the sentence(s) that explains the researchers’ hypothesis or the purpose of the research.
- Write down one inference (a fact you can conclude based on what you read) about the researchers, the experiment or its participants. The TOEFL will expect you to draw logical inferences based on the reading passages.
- Identify key words in the passage and then write down synonyms for them. The TOEFL will often present words from the reading passage and have you choose other words that are close in meaning.
2. Daily TOEFL Listening Study
The listening section of the TOEFL test is 60 to 90 minutes long. It consists of 34 to 51 questions on audio clips that may include conversations in an academic environment, lectures and/or classroom discussions. You may hear American accents, British accents, Australian accents and/or New Zealand accents.
Watch a MOOC Lecture in English
A MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is a class that’s available for anyone to view online. This means you can easily listen to real English-language academic lectures—just like you’ll hear in the TOEFL listening section.
You can find free online MOOCs through universities such as MIT (in the U.S.), Australian National University (in Australia) or the University of London (in the U.K.). Try to choose lectures from schools where you’ll hear different accents.
The TOEFL listening clips are only about three to five minutes long, so you don’t need to listen to an entire lecture every day.
Test Yourself! TOEFL Listening Response Questions
Just like with the reading section, the purpose of the listening section is to make sure you actually understood what you listened to. Use comprehension questions in your daily listening study to truly prepare.
- What is the purpose of the professor’s lecture?
- Identify the professor’s main points. Why did he/she address each of those points?
- If any students asked a question, rewrite the question in your own words. The TOEFL may ask you to explain why students asked questions or commented during lectures.
Play a Podcast in the Background
Podcasts are convenient because you can listen to them when doing other things, allowing you to get extra TOEFL listening practice without reserving any extra time in your day. So when you’re walking to class, commuting or even making dinner, try listening to a podcast.
There are tons of English-language podcasts out there. TOEFL students should focus on the ones that use formal, classroom-style language. PBS News Hour is one convenient American podcast that focuses on current events. The Inquiry from BBC can give you a British take on events. For an Australian perspective (and accent), check out The Signal.
This is a great supplementary study technique to help you absorb spoken English in different accents.
3. Daily TOEFL Speaking Study
The speaking section of the TOEFL is 20 minutes long. It consists of six speaking activities in which you’ll discuss your opinion on a topic or respond to reading and listening prompts.
Talk Out Loud for 1 Minute
Do this in the shower. While you’re cooking. In bed before you fall asleep. This type of daily practice will get you comfortable expressing your ideas in spoken English, which is exactly what the TOEFL speaking section is focused on.
In the TOEFL speaking section, you’ll talk for 45 to 60 seconds per task. That’s why you’ll want to get at least one minute of speaking practice every day. The first two speaking tasks will ask you to discuss your own opinions or experiences about a general topic. The next three tasks will ask you to respond to a listening or reading prompt.
Not sure what to talk about? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Talk about memories you have from school, such as achievements you’re proud of, interactions you had with professors, etc.
- Talk about a way that academic life could be improved in your school/area.
- Discuss whether you agree with a policy of your country’s government, and why or why not.
Try to repeat this activity as you get better at it, until you can do it six times in a row (since there are six TOEFL speaking tasks).
Pronounce Advanced Vocabulary Words
Using advanced words confidently and correctly can make your overall speaking skills seem more advanced. This is particularly true of tasks three through six in the speaking section, due to their more academic focus.
You can do as many of these per day as you need. Try to add more words to your daily pronunciation practice as you get closer to your test date.
However, the key is to get the pronunciation right by consulting a dictionary. A print dictionary will provide the phonetic spelling for each word, while an online dictionary will often provide audio clips so you can actually hear the words and imitate them.
For example, here’s some hard-to-pronounce advanced vocabulary that you may want to use regardless of speaking topic:
didactic (an adjective meaning “instructive; educational”)
disproportionate (an adjective meaning “unfairly large or small; too big/small in comparison to something.” For instance, “Women and minorities have a disproportionate share of student debt.”)
antithesis (a noun meaning “opposite,” usually used in the phrase “the antithesis of…” For instance, “His actions were the antithesis of moral.”)
4. Daily TOEFL Writing Study
The writing section is 50 minutes long. It consists of two tasks in which you’ll write essays based on listening and reading prompts.
Outline an Essay
Both tasks in the writing section require a structured essay. Studying how to quickly outline an effective essay is one of the most important ways to set yourself up for success on exam day.
A strong outline can make your essay seem more polished and more persuasive. It’ll help you prevent repetitive writing and avoid writing anything that’s not directly related to the essay topic. It’ll also indicate that you understand the format of essays as they’re used in the English-speaking academic world.
The University of Toronto offers a guide to organizing an academic essay, but here are some of the key points to keep in mind:
- Start with an introduction. The introduction can provide some relevant background on the topic and end with your main thesis statement.
- Decide your main points to support your thesis statement, and give each one its own paragraph. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that clarifies the focus of the paragraph. Within the paragraph, go into more depth and/or provide some examples to illustrate your point.
- End your essay with a conclusion. Here, you can rephrase your thesis and remind readers of the points you made to support your thesis.
Write 5 Thesis Statements
Your outline is the skeleton of your essay. Your thesis is the heart.
A strong thesis statement shows your ability to process complex information in English and respond fluently with your own opinions. Writing five a day will help you study how to quickly develop and express thesis statements for your TOEFL essays.
This is very important because on test day, you’ll only have 20 to 30 minutes to both plan and write your essay.
Thesis statements don’t need to be overly complex. The main point is to clarify what you’ll argue in your essay. For instance, if you were asked to write an essay about your opinions on globalization, your thesis might be, “The world has greatly benefited from globalization.” or “Globalization has harmed the world.”
If you want, you can also preview your main points within your thesis statement to provide even greater structure. For instance:
“The world has greatly benefited from globalization because it provides more opportunities, allows for cultures to accept great ideas from other cultures and leads to a more unified world.”
“Globalization has harmed the world by replacing unique cultures with one unified culture, increasing the spread of communicable diseases and allowing economically advantaged countries to stifle other countries.”
5. Daily TOEFL Vocabulary Study
Having a large vocabulary can help you in every section of the TOEFL. Not only will it make you more likely to understand the reading and listening sections, but it’ll also enable you to communicate your ideas more clearly in the speaking and writing sections.
Translate a Text from Your Native Language into English
When you’re reading or listening to something in your native language, try to translate it to English. If you encounter a word you can’t translate, write it down and look it up.
This is a very simple and efficient way to identify the English words you don’t know. It’ll also help ensure that you’re learning advanced English vocabulary, since you’ll be translating from the native-level texts you already enjoy in your own language.
To really get that academic focus, try translating pages from academic material like textbooks. If you’re already a student in your home region, translate your assignments and readings. This way, you’ll get daily English vocabulary practice while accomplishing a task you need to do anyways.
Review Vocabulary Flashcards
We’ll end with a popular (because it works!) study technique. Reviewing TOEFL flashcards every day is one of the best ways to build a solid vocabulary. Try to start with at least five flashcards a day, but increase the number as often as possible.
Another smart technique is to put the flashcards you can’t remember back into your review pile, and remove the ones that you know. That way, you’ll force yourself to keep reviewing those hard-to-remember words.
Always be on the lookout for new words to add to your flashcard pile! For example, you’ll likely encounter many new academic English words as you use the practice activities we’ve discussed above. Get more out of your studying by turning them into vocabulary flashcards.
Don’t go into the TOEFL unprepared. With these easy activities, you can study for the TOEFL with just a little extra effort every single day.
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