So you’ve realized you need to take the TOEFL. The next thing you need to know is whether or not you are ready for TOEFL-specific study. This depends a lot on your level of English ability. As Kate mentions, good test-taking skills won’t make up for poor language skills. If your English ability is somewhat low, you should study general English first and TOEFL later. Here are some things to think about:
The Quality of Your English
To see if you’re ready to focus on TOEFL study, take some practice exams. How many answers are you getting right? If you are getting less than 60% of the answers correct in the practice tests, you may not be ready to start studying for the TOEFL. If you don’t understand why you got most of answers wrong, even after reviewing answer guides, you are definitely not ready for TOEFL study just yet.
It’s a little harder to tell whether you are getting the “right” answers on speaking and writing tasks. ETS provides grading rubrics and graded sample answers on their official website and in their official guides. However, it can be hard to rate your own work, even with guide help. If possible, have an ESL teacher or tutor give you feedback on your speaking and writing. If you don’t have a tutor or teacher right now, online services like InstaEDU and 24HourAnswers will let you buy just one or two tutoring sessions cheaply. Ask for feedback on whether or not your speaking and writing can get a score of 3 or higher. If your work is level 2 or lower, you should probably study general English skills for now.
The Speed of Your English
Pacing is another part of your English ability that you should check. Can you read a TOEFL Reading passage of about 700 words in 10 minutes? If not, how long does it take you? If it’s taking you 20 or even 30 minutes to read the passage completely, you probably need to focus on general reading skills for now. The same goes for other timed tasks. In general, if it is taking you 2-3 times the TOEFL time limit to complete a TOEFL task, you are not ready for TOEFL study.
What to Do if You Are not Ready
Take a step back from the exam. Focus on general skills instead. Seek out English conversations. Watch English language internet videos, TV shows, and movies and try to understand them without the subtitles. Look for any English reading material that interests you. Write in English as much as you can. Try keeping a journal or writing comments and message board posts on the Internet. Work with a tutor if you can afford to. If you have the time and money, you may even consider enrolling in ESL courses or an intensive English program. As you do this general study, practice the TOEFL again from time to time. Once your performance on TOEFL practice materials improves, you’ll be ready to start studying for the TOEFL itself.