Probably the best way for English-language learners to develop the skills being measured on the TOEFL iBT is to study in an English program that focuses on

The following tips have been created by ETS, and are written for students (although teachers will also find them useful).

The best way to improve reading skills is to read frequently and to read many different types of texts in various subject areas (sciences, social sciences, arts, business, etc.). The Internet is one of the best resources for this, but books, magazines, and journals are very helpful as well. It is best to progress to reading texts that are more academic in style, the kind that would be found in university courses.

Here are some suggestions for ways to build skills for the three reading purposes included in TOEFL iBT.

  1. Reading to find information
    • Scan the passages to find and highlight key facts (dates, numbers, terms) and information.
    • Practice this frequently to increase reading rate and fluency.

  2. Reading for basic comprehension
    • Increase vocabulary knowledge, perhaps by using flashcards.
    • Rather than carefully reading each word and each sentence, practice skimming a passage quickly to get a general impression of the main idea.
    • Build up the ability to skim quickly and to identify the 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).
    • Select all the pronouns (he, him, they, them, etc.) in a passage and identify which nouns they refer to in the passage.
    • Practice making inferences and drawing conclusions based on what is implied in the passage as a whole.

  3. Reading to learn
    • Identify the passage type (e.g., classification, cause-and-effect, compare-and-contrast, problem-and- solution, description, narration, etc.)
    • Do the following to organize the information in the passage:
      • Create an outline of the passage to distinguish between major and minor points.
      • If the passage describes the order of a process or is a narration, create an outline of the steps in the process or narration.
      • If the passage categorizes information, create a chart and place the information in appropriate categories. Note: In the TOEFL iBT test, 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.
      • Create a written or oral summary of the passages using these charts and outlines. Note: This is not measured in the Reading section, but practicing summarizing skills is useful for the integrated task in the Writing and Speaking sections.
      • Paraphrase individual sentences in a passage, and then progress to paraphrasing an entire paragraph. Note: 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 best way to improve listening skills is to listen frequently to many different types of material in various subject areas (sciences, social sciences, arts, business, etc.). Of course, watching movies and TV and listening to radio is an excellent way to practice listening. Audio tapes and CDs of talks are available in libraries and bookstores; those with transcripts of the listening material are particularly helpful. The Internet is also a great resource for listening material, including these valuable sites:

Here are some suggestions for ways to strengthen skills for the three listening purposes included in the TOEFL iBT test.

  1. Listening for basic comprehension
    • Increase vocabulary knowledge, perhaps by using flashcards.
    • Focus on the content and flow of material. Do not be distracted by the speaker's style and delivery.
    • Anticipate what a person is going to say as a way of staying focused.
    • Stay active by asking mental 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 things down while listening. Listen again until you write down all major points and important details.
    • Listen to a portion of a lecture or talk and either orally summarize or write a brief summary of major points. Gradually increase the amount listened to and summarized. Note: This is not measured in the Listening section, but practicing summarizing skills is useful for the integrated tasks in the Writing and Speaking sections.

  2. Listening for pragmatic understanding (understanding of the speaker's purpose, attitude, degree of certainty, etc.)
    • Think about what each speaker hopes to accomplish; that is, what is the purpose of the speech or conversation? Is the speaker apologizing, complaining, making suggestions, etc.?
    • Notice the way each speaker talks. Is the level of 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 degree of certainty of the speaker. 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 (side comments in which the speaker briefly moves away from the main topic and then returns).
    • Watch a recorded TV or movie comedy and pay attention to how stress and intonation patterns are used to convey meaning.

  3. Listening to connect and synthesize (to combine information from two or more sources) ideas
    • Think about how the lecture is organized. Listen for the signal words that indicate the introduction, major steps or ideas, examples, and the conclusion or summary.
    • Identify the relationships of ideas in the information being discussed. Possible relationships include: cause-and-effect, compare-and-contrast, 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 and try to predict what information or idea will be expressed next.
    • Create an outline of the information discussed while listening or after listening.

The best way to practice speaking is with native speakers of English. For those who are living in English-speaking countries, it is sometimes difficult to make the effort to meet people who speak English. One way of meeting people is to become involved in student organizations and clubs. For students who are serious about improving their speaking skills and overall communication skills, this kind of involvement is very important.

For those who are not living in an English-speaking country, finding native speakers of English to speak with can be quite challenging. In some countries, there are English-speaking tutors or assistants who help students with their conversation skills. It is critical to speak as often as possible with them, and ask if classroom assistants offer private tutoring. Another way students can practice speaking is to join a club that involves speaking in English about movies, music, travel, etc. If no such clubs exist, students can start their own clubs and invite any native speakers they know to join.

Here are some suggestions for ways to strengthen skills for the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT test.

Independent Speaking Tasks

Integrated Speaking Tasks

All Speaking Tasks

Integrated Writing Tasks

Independent Writing Tasks

All Writing Tasks

Once you have built you skills and practiced for the TOEFL iBT, you are ready to take the test. Here are some good test-taking strategies recommended by ETS.