David Recine

How to Save Time on the TOEFL

Very often on the TOEFL, time is simply not your friend. So many test takers lose points not because they couldn’t give correct answers, but because they didn’t have time to answer every question or complete their answer.

To help you make better your use of time on the exam, Magoosh offers a lot of great tips and tricks for TOEFL pacing. We even offer some specific tips for how to pace on each section, with posts on pacing for TOEFL Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. These pacing posts are very useful. I recommend visiting them if you haven’t already. For the most part, those posts deal with the best ways to use the amount of time you’re given. This post will look at some general ways to use less time in all sections of the TOEFL.

Reading faster in TOEFL Reading and Writing

You’ll want to cut down on your reading time, especially in the TOEFL Reading Section and the Integrated Writing Task. Remember that in reading, you’ll be able to return to the reading passage. To save time, read the question first, and then look in the reading for the answer. Reading questions will often tell you which part of the passage has the answer. They may even highlight context clues. Carefully reading the whole passage before you answer any of the questions is not really necessary.

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In the longer Integrated Task reading passage in TOEFL Writing, you only get to read the passage once, and you can’t go back to it later. So here, you will definitely want to start reading immediately. However, there are still ways to get through the passage more quickly. Integrated Writing passages are structured so that the main idea is in the first sentence of each paragraph. You can save time by carefully reading each of these first sentences, but only skimming the rest of the paragraph for important details.

Listening more quickly in TOEFL Listening, Speaking, and Writing

In TOEFL Listening, speed and saving time are especially important. Most test takers miss a few phrases here and there in their listening. However, if you miss much more, you could find yourself missing the answers to many of the Listening questions. Your listening needs to keep up with the pace of the speaking.

The trick to fast, efficient listening is to listen for certain kinds of words. In the recorded conversations in TOEFL Listening, you need to know the student’s situation, and what he or she wants. You also need to know what information the school administrator or professor gave, and what help the administrator offered. The two speakers in the conversation get this information from each other by asking each other questions and making requests. You can save a lot of time and not fall behind if you pay attention to question words such as what, how, who, etc., and request words such as want, please, would like, and so on. These important types of TOEFL Listening words will help you know when to note important information. This in turn will help you to not fall behind on you r listening as you struggle to understand something you just missed.

Similarly, when you listen to TOEFL lectures, pay close attention to certain kinds of signal words. Again, you’ll want to listen for question words. Professors in TOEFL Listening lectures often ask questions and then answer them or get student answers. In some lectures, students ask important questions too. In both TOEFL Listening and TOEFL Integrated Writing lectures, professors mark the beginning of their spoken paragraphs with transitional language, words such as “second,” “next,” “for example,” “now,” and others. Listen for these transition words, and you will be able to quickly tell whether or not the lecturer is about to make a new, important point. Just as you would read the topic sentences in TOEFL Reading and then skim for other details, you can focus your time and thoughts on noting the important spoken points, and then listen for supporting words.

Speaking and writing more efficiently

Note that I mentioned speaking and writing more efficiently, not more quickly. Talking at a higher speed can make you harder to understand, and writing words faster can cause you to make more mistakes. For tasks where you actually produce language, you’ll want to complete your task in less time, but not by moving more quickly. Instead, to make sure you are faster on Speaking and Writing tasks, prepare yourself to give the simplest possible answer to the question. Once you have that simple answer in your mind, be ready to add more details to your response, if you have time to do so. This comes with practice. Do a lot of sample TOEFL Speaking and Writing tasks. With each question, try to find the simplest answer first, and then think of possible supporting details second. Of course, TOEFL test scorers like to hear answers that are more in depth. But a complete answer is better for your score than an incomplete one. Give priority to the basic spoken or written answer, and only add details as time allows.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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