One question that many students ask me is how long they should study for the TOEFL test. The answer to this question depends on various factors such as the student’s current English level, the score required for their university or job, and their study habits. It also depends on how quickly you – personally– pick up a second language. The younger you started studying English, the better! I wrote about this in a previous blog, so I won’t get into it again here.
The answer is not black and white and there is no “one size fits all.” However, here are some general guidelines that can help students determine how long they need to study for the TOEFL test (or IELTS).
First, it’s important to assess your current English level. You can take a diagnostic test (see below) to determine your strengths and weaknesses and identify areas that require improvement. This will give you an idea of the amount of work you need to put in to achieve your desired score.
I seriously recommend taking a test at home at your convenience. ETS charges $45.95 for it, but it’s ENORMOUSLY helpful to know what your weaknesses are. If you employ a tutor, they can really use these scores to help guide your studying.
Here is the link. Make sure you choose one that costs $45.95 and not another product. You can take it anytime at home. (Of course it should be noted you CANNOT use these scores for anything except to assess your current level. They cannot be used for university admission.) It does NOT matter which test you choose between #27-30. Just pick one and good luck.
Also, it should be noted that you should NOT go straight to studying TOEFL if you do not have fairly good English skills. I get students who cannot understand me or write a sentence, but they want to study for TOEFL. To complicate matters, many of them have left this massive undertaking to just a few weeks before they want to take the exam and get a passing score for pharmacy or dental school. Honestly, you need to prepare well in advance before you even start your studying for the TOEFL test. You should have a lot of English skills already. One clue you might not even be ready to start your TOEFL journey is when native speakers cannot understand you when you speak, or cannot understand your emails or other forms of written communication. If that is your situation, you can sign up for ESL classes on my website. These classes prepare you with skills such as grammar, vocabulary, speaking, and writing but at a lower level than TOEFL. Then you can move onto TOEFL when you are comfortable and ready.
It is very important to understand that both the TOEFL and IELTS are comprehensive exams that test your proficiency in English across four main skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Therefore, the amount of time you need to prepare for these exams will depend on your current English proficiency level and how much improvement you need to make in each of these areas.
Secondly, your study schedule will depend on your availability and how much time you can devote to studying each week. If you have a full-time job or other commitments, you may need to spread out your study time over a longer period. I know that mothers with small children struggle a lot to find time in their day to study. It’s important to have a support system that will help you. Hopefully, you have a spouse or family member who can watch your little ones so you can have some study time (or put on a Disney movie for them 😉 )
With these factors in mind, here are some general guidelines for how long students should study for the TOEFL or IELTS:
1. Beginner to Intermediate level: If you are a beginner to intermediate level English student, you will likely need at least 3-6 months of intensive study to achieve the necessary level of proficiency for these exams. During this time, you should focus on building your vocabulary, grammar, and basic skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
2. Intermediate to Advanced level: If you are an intermediate to advanced level English student, you may need 1-3 months of intensive study to prepare for these exams. During this time, you should focus on practicing test-taking strategies and refining your skills in each of the four areas tested on the exams.
3. Advanced level: If you are already an advanced level English student, you may only need a few weeks to a month of focused study to prepare for these exams. During this time, you should focus on taking practice tests and identifying any areas where you need to improve. I SERIOUSLY only recommend this small amount of time to people who are almost native speakers. For instance, I had a student from Nigeria who had studied for seven years in England. She did not need much time to prepare, but her case was exceptional.
It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and the amount of time you need to prepare for the TOEFL or IELTS will depend on your individual needs and circumstances. It’s always a good idea to speak with a qualified English teacher or tutor who can assess your current proficiency level and provide you with a study plan.
Next, consider the score required by the university or employer. The TOEFL test is scored on a scale of 0-120, with a minimum score of 61 required for admission to most universities. However, some universities may require a higher score, so it’s essential to research the score requirements of your chosen institution. Of course, dentists should aim for 100 or more to be competitive. Pharmacists – I do not even have to tell you what you need! (Famously, pharmacists need 26 on speaking and 24 on writing which poses enormous challenges.)
Based on your current English level and the required score, you can estimate the amount of time you need to study. As a general guideline, it’s recommended to study for at least three months before taking the TOEFL test. However, this may vary depending on the student’s individual circumstances.
To make the most of your study time, it’s crucial to create a study plan and stick to it. This plan should include regular practice tests, vocabulary and grammar exercises, and reading and listening activities. It’s also essential to set aside dedicated study time each day and to practice speaking and writing in English regularly. By the way: the best way to study is by taking old practice tests. I recently read an excellent book about how to improve test- taking skills, and it mentioned that ONE HOUR of taking practice tests is worth TWO HOURS of studying grammar and vocabulary! Wow!
Feel free to also employ a capable tutor or teacher. You do not have to do this alone. While teachers cannot perform miracles, they can give you feedback in real time about your mistakes and how to improve. However, I always say you will still have to do most of your studying on your own, which is why your support system is so important.
Good luck on your test, everyone.