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TOEFL Tuesday: When to Take Practice Tests

Mock tests are an important part of studying for any test like the TOEFL. Those full-length practice tests help you learn the timing of the test, build your stamina, and show you how much improvement you’ve made. But when should you take them, and how many should you take?


That varies, depending mostly on how long you’re studying for. So let’s break the answer down into three parts:

TOEFL Practice Tests If You’re Studying for a Short Time (1–3 weeks)

If you’re only studying for a couple weeks, then two tests will probably be best for you. You’ll use the first test as a “diagnostic.” That means you won’t really study the TOEFL much before you take the test. The experience of the full-length test will be not to practice skills you’ve learned, but instead to give you a lot of information about the TOEFL as fast as possible. There’s no better way to see the whole structure of the TOEFL than to take a mock test. But this comes with a sacrifice; if you use that mock test just for learning about the test, you can’t use it as well for practice purposes.

After you take the diagnostic then learn a lot more about the test structure and strategies, you will want to take one more test to practice everything you’ve learned all at one time. This should be within a week of your real TOEFL, but don’t do it too late! In other words, don’t take that final practice test the day before the real test. Doing the test twice in two days can be too stressful and tiring. You want to be rested and relaxed on test day. Plus, if you take your last practice test sooner, you have some time to study your mistakes and learn from them in the time before the mock test and the real TOEFL.

Studying for Longer (1–2 months)

If you’re going to study for more than a month, it’s likely you’ll take three or more tests. Generally, one test every two weeks is a good frequency. You need time to learn in between the tests. Learn how the test is written, how to best answer questions, and where you personally make mistakes.

If you are studying for longer, then taking a diagnostics isn’t so important. You will have enough time to learn all the details of the test format just by studying them individually. And as I said above, using a mock test for a diagnostic means you can’t use that same test later for practicing the things you learn.

3 months or more

The rule of one test every two weeks can apply here, too, depending on what material you have—whether you have enough full practice tests. But if you are studying for several months, you have even more freedom to break up those tests and do focused practice on specific skills and questions types most of the time. So you don’t have to take full-length tests so often, but don’t forget about them, either. Once per month is a good minimum. That keeps you thinking about the test experience as a whole, including your timing and stamina.

But regardless of how many tests you take, and over what period of time, there’s still that same piece of advice about your final practice test: don’t take it immediately before your real TOEFL.

Just as is true of a student who only studies for two weeks before the test, if you’re studying for many month, take your final practice test several days before the real test. Don’t stress yourself out a day before your actual TOEFL.

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