If you’re used to learning English in a class, the prospect of preparing for the TOEFL on your own may be daunting. But before you go online and start searching for a TOEFL prep tutor in your city, take a few minutes to consider the advantages and disadvantages of studying on your own and with a tutor.
Enrolling in a class
If you’re in a very large city, group TOEFL classes may be available, probably for a longer period and for a considerably lower hourly rate compared to private tutoring. On the down-side, you won’t get as much individual attention in a group session as you would with a private tutor; on the other hand, group courses are usually intended to meet over an extended period of time (whereas many private tutoring agencies meet 5-10 times over the period of a few weeks). Learning language takes time—LOTS of time—and I believe that the slower rhythm of a group class allows more time for students to absorb what they’re learning and deal with their problems. Before you sign up for a class, be sure you understand the timing, structure, topics covered, and, perhaps most important, how the teacher handles teaching different levels at once. If no level-based differentiation is offered, or if the school doesn’t have a lot of students at your general level, it’s probably better to take your business elsewhere.
Studying with a private tutor
Private tutors are the golden geese of test prep: they promise totally personalized courses, convenient schedules, and pacing that suits the student. However, they can be prohibitively expensive, and you may not like the teaching style of your particular tutor. If you decide to go for a private tutor, see if the tutor offers a free consultation or a discounted first class before you sign a contract. This will give you a chance to discuss your concerns and decide whether the tutor is right for you. As I said above, resist the temptation to meet for several intensive meetings. It’s far better to meet every week or so for an hour than to have three three-hour sessions in a two-week period—assuming, of course, that you study in between your sessions.
Studying by yourself
You can do a lot of TOEFL prep by yourself. The wisdom and resources that tutors and teachers can offer you are certainly helpful, but that doesn’t mean you have to have them to do well. If you decide to self-tutor, spend a lot of your time at first getting to know the ins and outs of the test structure; you’ll need to have an intimate knowledge of the official test in order to choose practice materials. Even if you decide to do 90% of your studying by yourself, be sure you enlist the help of a native speaker or English teacher to go over your spoken and written responses.