The TOEFL and SAT Tests- the Key to Academic Success Preparation for the TOEFL and SAT is a strenuous process that requires strong motivation, determination and an investment of time, energy and dedication. There are several factors paramount in students’ preparation for the tests and their achieving optimal scores: effective management of time both during preparation period and the tests themselves; solid knowledge and proficient usage of English grammar, structure and lexicon; essential tools, academic language skills and test taking strategies necessary to achieve optimal scores on the exams.
About the TOEFL® Test
Undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs around the world require students to demonstrate their ability to communicate in English as an entrance requirement. The TOEFL test measures how well students use English, not just their knowledge of the language. Because it is a valid and reliable test with unbiased, objective scoring, the TOEFL test confirms that a student has the English language skills necessary to succeed in an academic setting. That’s why it has become the most popular and accessible English language test in the world.
Using the latest technology, the TOEFL test is given in an Internet-based format (iBT) that fully integrates all 4 language skills measured: listening, reading, speaking and writing. It emphasizes and measures English usage and communication ability in academic settings.
The new TOEFL iBT consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The entire test is about four hours long and all sections are taken on the same day. It is delivered on computer via the Internet at secure test centers around the world. It tests all four language skills that effective communication requires: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. It emphasizes and measures English usage and communication ability in academic settings.
What’s New About the TOEFL iBT? A Speaking section has been added. This section includes six tasks that require test takers to wear noise-cancelling headphones and speak into a microphone when they respond. The responses are digitally recorded and sent to ETS’s Online Scoring Network. To ensure maximum objectivity and reliability, three to six certified ETS raters evaluate the responses on a scale of 0 to 4. The average rating is then converted to a scaled score of 0 to 30. Raters are constantly monitored every time they score a test to ensure the highest accuracy and quality control possible.
The Writing section has been expanded. The new test requires test takers to write a response to material they have heard and read. In addition, test takers must compose an essay in support of an opinion. Test takers’ typed responses to the writing tasks are sent to ETS’s Online Scoring Network where two to four raters evaluate the responses on a scale of 0 to 5. The average rating is converted to a scaled score of 0 to 30.
Some questions require the test taker to use more than one English-language skill and combine or integrate information from more than one source, the same way students use English language every day in the classroom. For example, sometimes test takers read a passage, listen to a short lecture about a topic, and then provide a written or spoken response. TOEFL iBT helps test takers prove they can combine their English language skills to communicate ideas effectively. This ability is the key to academic success.
Note taking is allowed. Test takers can take notes on any section of the test the same way they would in a real college class. Test takers can use the notes when answering test questions. The notes are collected and destroyed before the test takers leave the test center.
The time limit for each section varies according to the number of questions. Every test contains additional questions in the Reading or Listening Section.
Why Were Changes Made to the TOEFL Test?
To assess the ability to communicate successfully in an academic setting. The new test helps test takers determine their academic readiness. It also helps institutions identify and select students with the English-communication skills required to succeed.
To simulate university communication. The new integrated tasks, which require more than one language skill to complete, reflect the way language is used on campus every day—from the classroom to the bookstore. By simply preparing for the new TOEFL test, students will build the skills they need for academic success.
The New Test Format
3-5 passages from academic texts; approximately 700 words long; 12-14 questions per passage.
4-6 lectures, some with classroom discussion; each 3-5 minutes long; 6 questions each. 2-3 conversations; each 3 minutes long; 5 questions each.
2 independent tasks to express an opinion on a familiar topic; 4 integrated tasks to speak based on what is read and listened to.
0-4 points converted to 0-30 score scale
1 integrated task to write based on what is read and listened to; 1 independent task to support an opinion on a topic.
0-5 points converted to 0-30 score scale
A. TOEFL iBT Reading Section Academic Reading Skills
The Reading section measures the test taker’s ability to understand university-level academic texts and passages. The following are three purposes for academic reading:
Reading to find information - effectively scanning text for key facts and important information increasing reading fluency and rate
Basic comprehension- understanding the general topic or main idea, major points, important facts and details, vocabulary in context, and pronoun references, making inferences about what is implied in a passage
Reading to learn - recognizing the organization and purpose of a passage understanding relationships between ideas organizing information into a category chart or a summary in order to recall major points and important details inferring how ideas throughout the passage connect
Reading Question Formats There are three question formats in the Reading section:
questions with four choices and a single answer in traditional multiple-choice format
questions with four choices and a single answer that ask test takers to “insert a sentence” where it fits best in a passage
new “reading to learn” questions with more than four choices and more than one possible correct answer. These questions test the student’s ability to recognize how the passage is organized and understand the relationships among facts and ideas in different parts of the passage. Test takers sort information and place the text options provided into a category chart or summary. The summary questions are worth up to 2 points each. The chart questions are worth up to 3 points if there are five options presented, and up to 4 points if there are seven options presented. Partial credit is given in this question format.
Questions in this category are in multiple-choice format. They test the student’s ability to select the answer choice that most accurately paraphrases a sentence from the passage.
Test takers can now click on some special purpose words and phrases in the reading passages to view a definition or explanation of the term. About the TOEFL
B. TOEFL iBT Listening Section Academic Listening Skills The Listening section measures the test taker’s ability to understand spoken English. In academic settings, students must be able to listen to lectures and conversations. Academic listening is typically done for one of the three following purposes:
Listening for basic comprehension - comprehend the main idea, major points, and important details related to the main idea (Note: comprehension of all details is not necessary.)
Listening for pragmatic understanding –
recognize a speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty
recognize a speaker’s function or purpose
Connecting and synthesizing information
recognize the organization of information presented
understand the relationships between ideas presented (for example, compare/ contrast, cause/effect, or steps in a process)
make connections among pieces of information in a conversation or lecture
recognize topic changes (for example, digressions and aside statements) in lectures and conversations, and recognize introductions and conclusions in lectures
C. TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Academic Speaking Skills Students should be able to speak successfully in and outside the classroom. The Speaking section measures the test taker’s ability to speak effectively in academic settings.
In classrooms, students must:
respond to questions, participate in academic discussions with other students, synthesize and summarize what they have read in their textbooks and heard in class, express their views on topics under discussion
Outside of the classroom, students must:
participate in casual conversations, express their opinions, communicate with people in such places as the bookstore, the library, and the housing office
The Speaking section is approximately 20 minutes long and includes six tasks.
The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks on topics familiar to test takers. They have 15 seconds to prepare their responses and 45 seconds to deliver them
They ask test takers to draw upon their own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding. (However, test takers can respond with any idea, opinion, or experience relevant to completing the task.)
The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks where test takers must use more than one skill when responding. Test takers first read and listen, and then speak in response. They can take notes and use those notes when responding to the speaking tasks. At least one requires test takers to relate the information from the reading and the listening material.
D. TOEFL iBT Writing Section Academic Writing Skills
In all academic situations where writing in English is required, students must be able to present their ideas in a clear, well-organized manner. The Writing section measures a test taker’s ability to write in an academic setting.
Writing Task Types
Task Type Task Description
Task 1: Integrated Writing Task Read/Listen/Write
• Test takers read a short text of about 230–300 words (reading time, 3 minutes) on an academic topic.
• Test takers may take notes on the reading passage.
• The reading passage disappears from the screen during the lecture that follows. It reappears when test takers begin writing so they can refer to it as they work.
• Test takers listen to a speaker discuss the same topic from a different perspective. The listening passage is about 230–300 words long (listening time, 2 minutes).
• The listening passage provides additional information that relates to points made in the reading passage. Test takers may take notes on the listening passage.
• Test takers write a summary in connected English prose of important points made in the listening passage, and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. Suggested response length is 150–225 words; however, there is no penalty for writing more as long as it is in response to the task presented.
Task 2: Independent Writing
Writing from Experience and Knowledge
• Test takers write an essay that states, explains, and supports their opinion on an issue. An effective essay will usually contain a minimum of 300 words; however, test takers may write more if they wish.
• Test takers must support their opinions or choices, rather than simply list personal preferences or choices.
• Typical essay questions begin with statements such as:
- Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use reasons and specific details to support your answer.
- Some people believe X. Other people believe Y. Which of these two positions do you prefer/agree with? Give reasons and specific details.
About Test Scores
A. Score Scales
Because TOEFL iBT is significantly different from the previous version of the test, the score scale is also different. The TOEFL iBT provides scores in four skill areas:
Total Score 0–120
The total score is the sum of the four skill scores.
General Skill-Building Tips The best way for English-language learners to develop the skills measured by the TOEFL iBT is to study in an English-language learning program that provides instruction in:
reading, speaking, listening, and writing skills, with an emphasis on speaking
integrated skills approach (e.g., instruction that builds skills in listening/reading/speaking, listening/reading/writing)
Reading Tips for test-takers:
English-language learners can improve their reading skills by reading regularly, especially university textbooks or other materials that cover a variety of subject areas (e.g., sciences, social sciences, arts, business, etc.) and are written in an academic style. A wide variety of academic texts are available on the Internet as well as in magazines and journals.
Reading to Find Information
Scan passages to find and highlight key facts (dates, numbers, terms) and information. Practice frequently to increase reading rate and fluency.
Reading for Basic Comprehension
Increase vocabulary. Flashcards can help.
Practice skimming a passage quickly to get a general impression of the main idea, instead of carefully reading each word and each sentence. Develop the ability to skim quickly and identify major points. After skimming a passage, read it again more carefully and write down the main idea, major points, and important facts.
Choose some unfamiliar words in the passage and guess the meaning from the context (surrounding sentences). Then, look them up to determine their meaning.
Underline all pronouns (e.g., he, him, they, them, etc.) and identify the nouns to which they refer in the passage.
Practice making inferences and drawing conclusions based on what is implied in the passage as a whole.
The Reading section does not measure summarizing skills, but practicing them builds the skills required for the integrated tasks in the Speaking and Writing sections.
Reading to Learn
Identify the passage type (e.g., classification, cause/effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, description, narration, etc.) and its organization.
Organize the information in the passage:
– Create an outline of the passage to distinguish between major and minor points.
– If the passage categorizes information, create a chart and place the information in appropriate categories.
Create an oral or written summary of the passage using the charts and outlines.
Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage. Then, paraphrase entire paragraphs.
B. Listening Tips for test-takers: Listening to the English language frequently and reading a wide variety of academic materials is the best way to improve listening skills.
Watching movies and television, and listening to the radio provide excellent opportunities to build listening skills. Audiotapes and CDs of lectures and presentations are equally valuable and are available at libraries and bookstores.
Those with transcripts are particularly helpful.
The Internet is also a great resource for listening material (e.g., www.npr.org or www.bbc.co.uk/radio or
Listening for Basic Comprehension
Focus on the content and flow of spoken material. Do not be distracted by the speaker’s style and delivery.
Anticipate what a person is going to say as a way to stay focused. Stay active by asking yourself questions (e.g., What main idea is the professor communicating?).
Copy the words, “main idea, major points, and important details” on different lines of paper. Listen carefully, and write these down while listening. Continue listening until all important points and details are written down and then review them.
Listen to a portion of a lecture or talk and create an outline of important points. Use the outline to write a brief summary. Gradually increase the amount of the presentation you use to write the summary.
On the TOEFL iBT, test takers do not have to create such a chart. Instead, a chart with possible answer choices is provided for them, and they are required to fill in the chart with the correct choices. Practicing this skill will help test takers think about categorizing information, and be able to do so with ease.
The Reading section measures the ability to recognize paraphrases.
The ability to paraphrase is also important for the integrated tasks in the Writing and Speaking sections of the test.
The Listening section does not measure summarizing skills, but practicing summarizing skills is useful for the integrated tasks in the Speaking and Writing sections.
Listening for Pragmatic Understanding
Think about what each speaker hopes to accomplish: What is the purpose of the speech or conversation? Is the speaker apologizing, complaining, or making suggestions?
Notice each speaker’s style. Is the language formal or casual? How certain does each speaker sound? Is the speaker’s voice calm or emotional? What does the speaker’s tone of voice tell you?
Notice the speaker’s degree of certainty. How sure is the speaker about the information? Does the speaker’s tone of voice indicate something about his/her degree of certainty?
Listen for changes in topic or digressions.
Watch a recorded TV or movie comedy. Pay careful attention to the way stress and intonation patterns are used to convey meaning.
Listening to Connect and Synthesize Ideas
Think about how the lecture you’re hearing is organized. Listen for the signal words that indicate the introduction, major steps or ideas, examples, and the conclusion or summary.
Identify the relationships between ideas. Possible relationships include: cause/effect, compare/contrast, and steps in a process. Listen for words that show connections and relationships between ideas.
Listen to recorded material and stop the recording at various points. Predict what information or idea will be expressed next.
Create an outline of the information discussed while listening or after listening.
C. Speaking Tips for test-takers: Independent Speaking Tasks
Make a list of topics that are familiar, and practice speaking about them.
Describe a familiar place or recount a personal experience.
Later, state an opinion or a preference and present clear, detailed reasons for it.
Make a recommendation and explain why it is the best way to proceed.
Practice giving one-minute responses to topics.
Integrated Speaking Tasks Find a textbook that includes questions about the material at the end of chapters, and practice answering the questions orally.
Read a short article (100–200 words). Make an outline that includes only the major points of the article. Use the outline to orally summarize the information.
Find listening and reading material on the same topic covered by the article. The material can contain similar or different views. (The Internet and the library are good places to find information.) Take notes or create outlines on the listening and reading material:
– Orally summarize the information in both the written and spoken materials. Be sure to paraphrase using different words and grammatical structures.
– Orally synthesize the material by combining the information from the reading and listening materials and explain how they relate.
– State an opinion about the ideas and information presented in the reading and listening material and explain how they relate.
– If the reading and/or listening material describes a problem, suggest and explain a solution to the problem.
Recognize the attitude of the speaker or the writer of the original material through intonation, stress, and word choice. This helps to understand their point of view and plan an appropriate response.
All Speaking Tasks
Increase vocabulary and learn to use idiomatic speech appropriately.
Learn grammatical structures and use them naturally when speaking.
Work on pronunciation, including word stress, intonation patterns, and pauses.
Use signal words and expressions to introduce new information or ideas, to connect ideas, and to mark important words or ideas. This will help the listener easily follow what you are saying. (For example, “on the one hand…,” “but on the other hand…,” “what that means is…,” “The first reason is…,” “another difference is…”)
skills use P English at www.ets.org/tse/pie22.html.
D. Writing Tips for test-takers: Integrated Writing Tasks
Find a textbook that includes questions about the material at the end of chapters and practice writing answers to the questions.
Read an article that is about 300–400 words long. Make an outline that includes the major points and important details of the article. Use the outline to write a summary of the information and ideas. Summaries should be brief and clearly communicate only the major points and important details. Be sure to paraphrase using different words
and grammatical structures.
Find listening and reading material on a single topic on the Internet or in the library.
The material can provide similar or different views. Take notes on the written and spoken portions, and do the following:
– Summarize the information and ideas in both the written and spoken portions.
- Synthesize the information and discuss how the reading and listening materials relate. Explain how the ideas expressed are similar, how one idea expands upon another, or how the ideas are different or contradict each other.
Paraphrasing involves restating something from the source material in one’s own words. On the TOEFL iBT, test takers receive a score of zero if all they do is copy words from the reading passage. Practice paraphrasing words, phrases, sentences, and entire paragraphs
frequently using the following tips:
Learn to find synonyms with ease. Pick 10 to 15 words or phrases in a reading passage and quickly think of synonyms without looking them up in a dictionary or thesaurus.
Write a paraphrase of a reading passage using only your notes. If you haven’t taken notes, write the paraphrase without looking at the original text. Then check the paraphrase with the original passage to make sure that it is factually accurate and that you have used different words and grammatical structures.
Independent Writing Tasks
Make a list of familiar topics and practice writing about them.
For each topic state an opinion or a preference and then support it with evidence.
Practice planning and writing at least one essay for each topic. Be sure to take 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise each essay.
Think about and list all ideas related to a topic or task before writing. This is also called “prewriting.”
Identify one main idea and some major points to support that idea, and plan how to communicate them (by creating, for example, an outline to organize ideas). Create a focused thesis statement and use it to develop the ideas presented in the essay.
Develop the essay by using appropriate explanation and detail.
All Writing Tasks
Increase vocabulary and knowledge of idiomatic speech so you can use it appropriately. Learn grammatical structures so well that you can use them naturally when writing. Learn the conventions of spelling, punctuation, and layout (e.g. paragraph creation). Express information in an organized manner, displaying unity of thought and coherence. Use signal words and phrases, such as “on the one hand” or “in conclusion,” to create a clear structure for your response.