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TOEFL Preparation – The Ten Commandments!


This is the month of the year when most of you are thinking, “I have taken the GRE and I have another ten days for the TOEFL. Is it really enough?”

You are also asking, “I have prepared for the GRE. Will that help for the TOEFL?”


The TOEFL is an acronym for Test Of English as a Foreign Language and is usually a requirement for many universities abroad as an indicator of your ability to communicate in English. This includes reading, writing, speaking and understanding English. Here are Ten Commandments you must follow during your TOEFL preparation:


Commandment: 01 – Thou shalt know the structure of the TOEFL.

The TOEFL comprises four sections – Reading, writing, listening and speaking:

Reading: 3 passages / Approximately 39 questions / 60 minutes or 5 passages/ Approximately 65 questions / 100 minutes.

Writing: Independent task that asks you to write an essay in about 250 words in 30 minutes / Integrated task that asks you to Read, Listen, Comprehend the information in both and write an essay in about 150 words in 20 minutes.

Listening: Academic Lectures and Campus Conversations have to be listened to and questions need to be answered.

Speaking: There are 6 questions in speaking; 2 of which require only speaking, 2 of which require to Read, Listen, Comprehend and speak and 2 of which require you to listen and speak.

Unless you know what is expected of you in each section, you will not be able to perform well in it. For example, in Integrated Writing,you must know that your essay comprises points from Reading and Listening. If you don’t know this, you might not take down relevant information from the passage and the track. The purpose of having Independent and Integrated writing is just to ensure that your comprehension of English is tested in situations as close to real life as possible.

Commandment: 02 – Thou need not read the Reading passage while doing the Reading section.


The questions in the reading section are in the order of the passage. This means that you don’t have to really read the passage in detail or make maps unlike in Reading Comprehension on the GRE.So just go ahead with the questions and start working with them. Also there are two facts that you can use to your advantage:


(1) You can move back and forth between questions in the same passage

(2) The subject of the question is highlighted in the passage.

(3) The questions are sequenced such that you can easily guess the location of the answer. That is, if the answer for the first question is in Line 3 and the answer for the third question is in Line 7 then the answer for the second question is definitely between Line 3 and 7.


Commandment: 03 – Thou shalt remember that the last question in the Reading passage is based on the whole passage.


The last question in Reading is usually a summary or a sort question. And this depends on the entire passage. Since you would have already read the whole passage in parts for the other questions, you should ideally not have a problem answering this question. Also remember that this last question usually carries more than one point on the test.


Commandment: 04 – Thou shalt take copious notes on the Listening section.


The key to doing well in the Listening section is to take copious notes. This also applies more to the Academic Lectures as they are long and heavy to comprehend. However the god-send here is that these lectures usually talk about a process or a description of something, thereby making it very easy to take notes.


You could draw or use whatever signs/symbols/shorthand you like to capture the highlights. A caveat here is to not start writing down everything verbatim as this is unnecessary and will just tire you out.


Commandment: 05 – Thou shalt stick to a 4 paragraph structure while writing.


It’s best to stick to a 4 paragraph structure while writing essays on the TOEFL.


Paragraph 1:  Introduction, which should contain the direct answer to the question being asked.

Paragraphs 2 & 3:  Contain the body of your essay.

Paragraph 4:  Conclusion, which summarizes the takeaways from your essay


Commandment: 06 – Thou shalt give personal examples on TOEFL writing.


While popular examples are recommended in your GRE AWA essays, remember that the task on the TOEFL tests personal preference and hence it is apt to give at least one personal example.For instance, consider a question that says, “Given an hour extra a day, what would you prefer to do; 1. Go for a long walk listening to your favourite songs 2. Snuggle with your pillows and take a much-needed power nap.”

Saying “The famous environmentalist XYZ prefers going on a long walk when given some extra time as he feels that it gives him more time to enjoy nature.” in response to this question does not make sense. You must simply talk about your personal choices.


Commandment: 07 – Thou shalt use the Note taking “T” while taking notes on Integrated Writing or Integrated Speaking.


While doing Integrated Writing or Integrated Speaking which involves reading a passage, listening to a track based on the passage and then writing or speaking based on what was discussed, remembering points might be very difficult as there is a just too much information.


So, even though the points in listening may not be in the same order as they were in reading, you can match them up while taking notes, or later, while brainstorming before you write.


Commandment: 08 – Thou shalt not stammer or use too many fillers while you speak


Your actual Speaking time on the TOEFL will be very less – around 30 to 60 seconds. But the pressure is what makes it challenging. As a result, you may end up stammering or saying “Er… ummm…” etc. when you fumble for words or points. Practise extensively beforehand to avoid such situations as using fillers will eat up the time available for you to speak and reduce your speaking score.


Commandment: 09 – Thou shalt be very clear and organised while giving answers in the speaking section.


Remember to use the time given for prepping very effectively. Always make use of one standard template for your answers.

Your direct answer to the question / The main point of the answer.
Reason – 1 / Point – 1
Reason – 2 / Point – 2
Reason – 3 / Point – 3
Summary line


Commandment: 10 – Thou shalt keep calm and tackle the TOEFL 🙂


All this information may seem a little overwhelming at this point of time. But a bit of prepping and a lot of confidence will ensure that you handle the TOEFL well.

Use the TOEFL ETS Guide and mock tests – they are as close as possible to what you will encounter on the actual test.

Worry not, thou shalt sail through the TOEFL – All the Best!

What are your problem areas on the TOEFL? Leave a comment and our experts will guide you!

All right, so you know how to tackle the TOEFL! What next? Read our quick 15-minute guide on all aspects of the GRE!

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