How to Study For the GRE and the TOEFL at the Same Time

If you are hoping to go to graduate school in the United States, there is a good chance you will have to take both the TOEFL and the GRE. (In fact, GRE support is one of Magoosh’s most popular products.) Having to study for two different exams may sound scary. Luckily, the GRE and the TOEFL test a lot of the same skills, but in different ways. You can actually prepare for both of these tests at the same time.

GRE Verbal Reasoning and the TOEFL

The GRE Verbal Reasoning Section is a lot like TOEFL Reading. Both exams test reading skills in similar ways, with similar question types. In both sections, you are asked to understand basic information, make inferences, paraphrase, summarize, recognize new vocabulary words, and so on. There is one big difference between GRE Verbal Reasoning and TOEFL Reading. The GRE tests vocabulary at a much higher level. However, you will still need the simpler vocabulary of the TOEFL to understand reading passages on the GRE. Because of this, it’s useful to study TOEFL vocabulary and GRE vocabulary together. You can make word lists that combine words from both exams. You can also study words from both tests using the same methods: flash cards, mnemonics, and so on.

GRE Verbal Reasoning is also like TOEFL Listening in some ways. TOEFL Listening also requires test takers to comprehend, infer, paraphrase, and summarize language. Comprehending both spoken and written English can give your overall English ability a real boost. This may be just the boost you need to do well on the more challenging GRE.

GRE Analytical Writing and the TOEFL

The GRE has two different Analytical Writing tasks. In the Analyze an Argument Task, you will read an argument someone has written. Then you will analyze how well-supported the argument is. You will need to identify good evidence, weak evidence, and missing evidence. The Analyze an Issue Task asks you to give your own opinion on an issue. Your opinion should be well supported and reasoned.

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The GRE Argument Essay is similar to several TOEFL Tasks. TOEFL Speaking Task 3 asks you to understand an argument that you hear, recognizing the reasons and evidence that a speaker uses. TOEFL Speaking Task 4 asks you to identify spoken supporting details for a short written article. Speaking Task 5 asks that you analyze two different proposed solutions to a problem. The Argument Essay is the most like TOEFL Writing Task 1. In both cases, you need to understand a written argument. However, the GRE requires you to analyze the argument yourself. In contrast, TOEFL Writing Task 1 only asks you to listen to a professor analyze the written argument.

The GRE Issue Essay is very similar to three TOEFL tasks. You need to speak on a personal issue in your life and support what you say in TOEFL Speaking Task 1. Speaking Task 2 is even more similar to the GRE Issue Essay. In both the Issue Essay and the Second TOEFL Speaking Task, you need to state and support an opinion about a public issue. The Issue Essay is almost exactly like Writing Task 2 on the TOEFL. In both tasks, you are asked to write a well-supported opinion essay about a public issue. In fact, the questions for the GRE Issue Essay and TOEFL Writing Task 2 are remarkably similar. The biggest difference is that the GRE asks the test taker to write more, and in greater detail.

Bringing it All Together

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to practice TOEFL Reading and GRE Verbal Reasoning at exactly the same time. The skills and questions are similar enough that you can mix them together smoothly. Similarly, TOEFL Listening practice can be mixed with GRE Verbal Reasoning practice for great skill building.

On the other hand, it is probably better to alternate between TOEFL Speaking/ Writing tasks and GRE Essays. TOEFL Speaking and Writing tasks help you build basic skills that will help you on GRE Writing. In this case, you can treat TOEFL Practice as a kind of warmup exercise for GRE Practice. This is especially true with TOEFL Writing Task 2 and the GRE Analyze an Issue Task. You could even treat the second TOEFL Writing Task as a rough draft of a GRE Issue essay, rewriting it as a more complex GRE task.


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  • 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!