Native English speakers have taken the Test of English as a Foreign Language, getting relatively low scores -- not for poor language skills -- but for lack of knowing the methodology of the test. The TOEFL is a highly structured assessment with distinct testing points. Though the TOEFL does test the level of English proficiency, people who prepare extensively do best on the test. Several books of practice tests are available.
The best tip for the reading section is to read in English regularly. The Educational Testing Service, which creates the test, suggests focusing on textbooks and other nonfiction texts such as science and business passages. When preparing, students need to practice reading skills such as making inferences and drawing conclusions. Though it isn’t necessary to know every word in order to comprehend a passage, students should study academic vocabulary when preparing. Practicing test-taking strategies such as reading the questions first, skimming for key facts and reading carefully for answers is also helpful.
The TOEFL no longer tests grammar separately, so the writing passages are evaluated for grammatical accuracy. Therefore, students should study grammatical structures until they flow naturally in their writing. Likewise, students want to focus on spelling and punctuation conventions. Though the temptation is always to save time by omitting the planning stage, this is a mistake; a focused and organized passage scores high, and such structured writing requires planning. Students should time themselves when practicing the writing test to develop personal strategies for completing the task well.
Especially when students are studying in their home country or in enclaves of their home culture, they must seek out opportunities to listen to the English language. In the test, they listen to an audio recording, so listening to tapes and CDs of people speaking English is an excellent resource. Students can get books on tape from the library or seek out recordings of lectures. Radio and the Internet also provide opportunities to hear spoken English. As preparation for the TOEFL, though, students should restrict themselves to listening to a passage only one time as this is the test format.
It is fine to hesitate before responding during the TOEFL, but students lose points for large gaps. As such, they must seek out opportunities to practice speaking English, especially with native speakers. If not living in an English-speaking country, students may need to hire a tutor or join an English class. On their own, students can practice the speaking task by making a list of topics and talking about them in an organized manner. Since students also lose points for incomprehensible pronunciation, they should limit their use of large words to the ones they can pronounce accurately. Movies and CDs in English are an excellent resource for practicing pronunciation since students can pause and repeat what they heard.
Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.