Lucas Takes the TOEFL

Any good test preparation teacher should know the test they help students prepare for, and that means actually taking the test occasionally. So on November 22nd, I did just that. I took the TOEFL in order to share my experience and thoughts with students.

Yes, I’m a native speaker, and no, I didn’t need to take the TOEFL for the same reason the other test-takers did. So yes, some people looked at me questioningly when I gave my U.S. driver’s license as my identification and spoke with an American accent. And no, I didn’t speak with a fake Italian accent all day.

The main point was to do some experimenting. On your TOEFL, you won’t want to do anything experimental. You should have done plenty of practice questions already, so that you know exactly what you’re doing and why you want to do it. But for me, taking the test was a learning experience, not a real exam, so I had the opportunity to try some different techniques and get more information about how ETS scores the test.

I was also there to get more information on what types of questions the TOEFL asks. There are plenty of official practice tests you can buy, but I’ve already seen all of those, and many of them are old. I wanted to see ETS’s newest version of the TOEFL. Nothing changes with tests like this, normally—and there were no changes to the test this time either—but it’s worth checking and getting even more experience.

Let’s go over what I tried and what I noticed in each part of the test.


Before the start

You’re supposed to arrive 30 minutes (or more) before the scheduled start of the test. Surprisingly, many of the test-takers arrived only a few minutes before the start, and they had to hurry to finish paperwork and have their picture taken. The paperwork is just copying a paragraph and signing your name, but it takes a couple of minutes. Arrive early so you’re not rushed like that. I’m sure they started the test feeling stressed from the beginning.

Many of the students there brought a lot with them: phones, backpacks, study materials, drinks, snacks, books, etc. None of this can go into the testing room. Bring the snack and drink for the break, of course, but don’t bring much else. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your phone in a room that other people will be walking in and out of, don’t bring your phone, either. ETS isn’t responsible if it’s stolen. It’s not a good idea to sit and stare at your phone before the test, anyway. Looking at a small screen like that can make you nervous and unconfident. You want to sit back, hold your head high, and maybe talk a little bit with other test-takers to feel more comfortable and confident before you start.



I was given a long reading section with 4 passages (there can be from 3 to 5). For the first three, I tried three different strategies. I’ve done all these before, but it’s always good to reconfirm.

The first strategy was reading the whole passage carefully before starting the questions. This is one of the better strategies. It generally takes longer than the other strategies, as it did this time, but it’s the best for getting correct answers. You should definitely use this method in the beginning of your studies.

The second strategy I tried was reading only the first and last sentence of every paragraph, then moving to the questions. I have heard this recommended many times, and I used to recommend it to students, but nowadays I really do not think this is a good strategy. It’s hard to understand the structure and main points of the passage from only a few sentences, and reading these first/last sentences takes time. In the end, this was just as confusing as the third strategy–going straight to the questions–but it took a longer time.

The third strategy of going to the questions immediately is something I did not used to believe was a good strategy. Over time, though I have seen it be successful, and my test last week was a good example of this. Going to the questions first was four minutes faster than reading the whole passage first.

But I’m native, and it’s easier for me to deal with the confusion this can cause. If you have more trouble understanding the meaning of sentences, then reading while answering questions can be too confusing. I only recommend this if you’re a very experienced reader who has time problems. Otherwise, take your time and use strategy #1.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

I spent most of my time looking at the wrong answers and thinking about how they are written. It was similar to what you see in the official books, of course, but I’ll write more about that in another blog post. 🙂

In both the reading and listening tasks, I answered one question wrong on purpose to see if it would bring me under a score of 30. The test results are scaled, so this will be different for different versions of the test, but it’s always good to get a bit more data. Most of the practice tests in the official guide give a 29 if you miss one question. In this case, the one incorrect answer didn’t affect my score. I still got a 30 on the reading.



For the listening section, I experimented with different amounts of notes. I have said many times that you have to find the right balance, and my recent test experience just supports this idea.

For me, taking too many notes was actually the most challenging method. It’s difficult to hear all of the important details if you are too busy writing. Many TOEFL guides seem to forget this point, and their sample notes are much too long. Don’t try to write down every single detail you hear. Taking no notes was actually more comfortable for me, personally. It’s not a good idea, but it’s better than taking too many notes, in some ways.

Taking structural notes has always been the best for my students, and it was the most comfortable for me, too. It was easiest to remember the answers to the questions when I had a few short notes—just 5 or 6 main ideas in a few words each.

This was also a good reminder of how much information each listening passage presents. Conversations change topics completely within only 2 or 3 minutes. Lectures explain ideas that could take a half hour or more in just 5 minutes. You have to really be listening carefully to hear everything that is said. Be ready and pay close attention!

As for that single incorrect answer, it did affect my score in the listening; my score was a 29.



At the break, it was clear that not enough people realized they could bring snacks. Some people had food, but many didn’t. It really helps to have a small snack during that ten minutes, so be sure to bring something to keep you energized.


A Note on Timing

Something very interesting happened before the break: a few people finished their listening sections and started their breaks five or ten minutes before me. (I used all of my available time, analyzing how the questions were written so I can create similar questions for students.) These people probably hurried through both the listening and reading sections, spending even less time than they are given. So when they came back to do the speaking section, they were the only ones speaking. Listening to them talk, I could hear that they were uncomfortable. Many other people were still working on the listening section, but those who started the speaking section had to talk out loud in a small, crowded, mostly silent room.

It’s true that speaking while other people are also talking can be difficult—it’s hard to concentrate—but speaking when everybody else is silent is very awkward. It feels like everybody is listening to you.

But the opposite problem happened to the people who finished their reading and listening sections later; they were speaking while most other test-takers were trying to write essays. But at least those people had the opportunity to write their essays in silence. The people who finished early had to write while other people were speaking, which is, again, hard to do.

Altogether, it seemed worse to finish early. And that’s especially true because it’s easier to get right answers if you don’t hurry through the reading and listening. Don’t rush any more than you have to.



On the speaking section, I decided to have a little fun. I answered all the questions like a bored native teenager who didn’t care about the instructions and didn’t listen very closely to the recordings. I paused for a long time, repeated myself, used many vague words like “stuff,” “things,” and “whatever,” and didn’t structure my answers.

But I also used a lot of idioms, phrasal verbs, complicated grammar structures, and quick, natural speech to show that I was clearly a native speaker.

In short, I did a bad job answering the questions, but I spoke native English.

And the result? Even I was surprised: ETS gave me a 29. This makes the very interesting point that you don’t have to give a perfect answer to the question. Your pronunciation, vocabulary, and comfort level while speaking are much more important.

Now, I’m not going to say that the structure is a bad idea. Again and again, I have seen students who are completely lost and very confused while speaking improve by a lot when they use a set structure. It can help you to be more confident and more communicative, which is incredibly important. But in the end, the TOEFL is a test of speaking experience. If you sound experienced and comfortable, the scorers will reward you.

And notice that even though I was definitely a native speaker, they didn’t give me a 30. In a way, that’s a little strange, isn’t it? The TOEFL is a test of how well you can manage in an English speaking environment. Clearly, I can do that. But without that structure and without giving good answers, I couldn’t get a perfect score. So even if it’s not the the most important thing, structure is an important part.



The writing section was even more interesting. On both essays, I did the same thing that I had done in the speaking task; I answered the questions badly, but I made it clear that I was a native speaker by using many idioms and difficult vocabulary, referencing a lot of American culture, and generally writing the way an unskilled American teenager might.

I also wrote a lot. ETS recommends writing about 350+ words for the independent task. I wrote closer to 1,000 words.

Well, it seems that structure and content are more important for writing than they are for speaking, because I got a 27 on the writing sections. So when you hear people tell you that longer essays score higher, remember that’s only part of the story. You need good structure and focus. Writing anything that comes to mind for 30 minutes (independent task) without editing is not a good idea. If you’re not native, it won’t get you a 27. If I wrote a better, shorter essay with fewer mistakes and more focus I would have gotten a 30.


After the test

There’s a moment of enormous importance at the end of the test: your choice to send scores or cancel them. Be aware of this, and be very careful. Do not cancel your scores without good reason. If you didn’t perform well, you can always take the test again another day. Don’t panic and hit the cancel button!

Hopefully all of this gives some extra insight into how the test is given and scored. If you had any similar experiences or any that were very different, tell us a bit about it in the comments below!


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151 Responses to Lucas Takes the TOEFL

  1. Max December 30, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    Thanks Lucas

  2. anuja January 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Hey lucas, ur blog was very nice. just want to ask u a few thing, i performed horrible in 2nd and 3rd speaking question but i think rest went good. i think i got a little overwhelmed by the fact that, i messedup my listening section coz i was not prepared to handle a situation, where the last listening question, being the toughest, the person adjacent to me was trying to give his speaking answer in loudest possible voice. i missed listening to most of the crucial part in it as i got totrally distracted. i think i got so nervous after it and it was reflected in speaking section. Now my question to you is: does answering couple of questions horribly give me very low score even if rest were good.??
    I am so disappointed today coz this is my second time giving toefl and i had score excellent in all three sections except speakign in which i score 22. required score for me is 26.and now i dont think i will score htat good in llistening as well.i hope to get more htna 19 though.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

      I’m sorry to hear about the distractingly loud person next to you–that’s unfortunately common during the TOEFL iBT! The good news is that it’s not just you. Many people get distracted and have trouble concentrating, and the test graders are aware of the situation.

      As for your listening grade, it includes all questions equally (any questions on the test worth more than others are labelled). A couple of low-scoring answers doesn’t mean the total grade will be low! It’s completely possible, for example, to miss one question and still get a perfect score. That depends on how the your specific version of the test is scaled, which always varies.

      Answers to speaking questions are also equally important, so just one or two weak answers doesn’t mean an overall low score. Focus on the big picture: your total experience, not just one or two details 🙂

      • Aaditya Govindarajan October 28, 2019 at 5:32 am #

        Hi Lucas! I took my TOEFL an year back, using Magoosh’s prep. I am glad to say I did well in the reading, listening and writing sections but similar to anuja, I was distracted by a loud-mouth right next to me, yelling the answers like Ron Weasley on the telephone. So I messed up my sentence structures and had to pause, rephrase and could talk only intermittently in my futile attempts to blot out my obnoxious neighbor’s loud thoughts. I got only a score of 23 while my reading was 28, listening 29 and writing 27. This made me feel I was really bad at speaking though I have had no trouble in my job as an online tutor, teaching students through video and voice chat.

        Is 23 a really bad speaking score and do I need to improve on it desperately? Kindly help me out here.

        P.S.: Magoosh’s TOEFL Prep is awesome. I am not exaggerating. It made me quite familiar with the test and made sure I had no surprises in the questions I faced. Kudos to you guys!

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 7, 2020 at 2:18 pm #

          Hi Aaditya,

          Thank you for telling us about your experience! I’m sorry that we are getting back to you so late–sometimes it takes us a while to get through our blog comments. I’m really sorry to hear about your experience in the testing center; this is an unfortunate characteristic of the TOEFL test, and it’s enough to distract even the most focused test-taker.

          Whether 23 is a high enough score really depends on the school you are applying to. Many schools have a minimum score for admissions (and they may have another one for teaching or research assistantships), and as long as you exceed the minimum score you will be OK. If your speaking score of 23 exceeds the minimum score for your target schools, then there is little need to go through the effort and expense of retaking the TOEFL. It might hurt your pride a bit to have a lower score than you deserve, but once you get to the university it won’t matter at all 🙂

  3. Daniel February 16, 2014 at 2:26 am #

    Hey, thanks for sharing great info.

    just wanted to ask you, the question you intentionally got wrong on reading section – do you think it didn’t count possibly because it could have been a part of that experimental part of the test? or did it not count because there were so many questions in total to make one question worth less than a point when scaled out of 30?

    Also, in writing section, i haven’t yet seen compare/contrast type of topic given in ibt actual test. I’ve seen them in books but not on the actual test. Have you?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Hi Daniel,

      That’s a great point, and it’s absolutely possible that my incorrect answer was on an experimental section. It’s much more probable that it was on one of the three scored sections and the scaling simply bumped me up to a 30, but it’s impossible for me to say for certain that I chose a scored section for the incorrect answer. It’s important to know, though, that the test is scored not only based on your performance, but also on the relative performance of everybody else. It’s possible that you could answer two questions incorrectly and still get a 30 if enough other people are also missing many questions from that version of the TOEFL. In other words, if a section is slightly more difficult than average, the scores are scaled to compensate.

      As for compare and contrast essay questions, it is possible to see them on the test. They’re just rare; probably 95% of the time, the essay prompt won’t ask you to compare two things. But you can find them in the official list of prompts that ETS published (, which means that they have been given before.

  4. Kristine March 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Hi! I was wondering how you were doing in essay writing at school. Did you write A+ essays or it was more like a big struggle for you? I am not native English speaker, but I took 2 writing classes at Canadian college. One was business communication, and other was college writing. Both classes I finished with 96% average. Is there any chance that I will be able to get a high score in TOEFL writing if I was doing well at school or they are rating essays differently than college?
    Also I have a question about speaking part. Usually, I can talk for hours without a problem, and I speak English every day at home and work, but every single time I try to speak in front of computer I start to sound odd, and I freeze. How to learn speak normally also in this conditions. I have only 6 days left before I have to take that test, and literally my all further education depends on that single attempt. What should I do if I don’t have any opinion about specific topic?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      Writing has always been my strong suit, personally, but that doesn’t mean anything about you as a non-native 🙂

      But it seems to me that you have enough English experience to do very well on all four sections of the test. Based on your writing experience, the essays should definitely be manageable. The assignments are different from what you did in college, of course, but the same basic skills apply: communicating your ideas clearly, transitioning cleanly between thoughts, making logical connections for the reader, and vocabulary & grammar, of course. In college, you were graded on another level, though. The TOEFL is just about your skills in English, not about the depth of your content. So in that sense, it’s actually easier.

      I can definitely understand how the speaking section might be intimidating (I have had the same type of problem, myself), but don’t stress about it! You only have to give your opinion three of the six tasks. The first two are very general, about your experience. It doesn’t really matter what you say, what your experience is; what’s important is how you say it. So just pick the first topic that comes to mind, whether you believe it or not, and think of a couple possible reasons/examples, then just start saying things—anything! Practice alone at your computer to get used to this. There are some sample questions on ETS’s site which will help, I think. The more you practice the same setup, with TOEFL questions in from of your computer, the more comfortable you’ll be on test day 🙂

      Above all, don’t stress about it! You’re in a great position with all that speaking and writing experience.

  5. ANA March 13, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    I have a question: where I can find Listening Section to practice ….I do have a book but I do have only one CD…thank you Please please help…

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 17, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

      Hi Ana,

      I think this blog post might help a bit 🙂 ETS’s QuickPrep is a good place to find an introduction to some free TOEFL listening. You might also want to check my book reviews for more recommended material.

      I hope that helps a bit!

  6. Dhaivat June 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    Thanks, this was really informative.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 11, 2014 at 8:17 am #

      You’re very welcome!

  7. maryam June 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Hi Lucas
    Thank you so much for your valuable information.
    I have a question about speaking task.
    Does the question remain on screen while I am responding on microphone or disappear?
    Best Wishes,

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 14, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      Hi, Maryam! That’s a good question. If I remember correctly, the question does stay on the screen. You won’t really need it, though. Or at least, you don’t want to use it when you’re speaking.

      The basic question in tasks 3-6 is the same on every test, so you definitely don’t need those on screen if you prepare well. (For example, in task three you will explain a student’s opinion about some school news and talk about the reasons the student gives for their opinion. You don’t need the question to know that. The wording of the question might change, but the task is the same.)

      The only ones that it might help for are tasks 1 and 2, really. But even those are usually very simple, and you will have 15 seconds to prepare before speaking, so you can collect your thoughts then. Basically, even if the question does stay on the screen, you won’t want to be reading it during your time to speak!


      • maryam June 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

        Hi Lucas,

        I really appreciate your complete response and I also have another question!!!

        As I understand from your post, it is preferable to sound natural and confident during speaking rather than following fixed format that everyone uses. Here is my question about task 1 and 2 : should I explain only one reason but develop it in details and elaborate it with some sorts of descriptions and context? (I recorded myself in order to speaking preparation and It does not sound natural when I try to provide 2 distinct reasons in 45 sec!! )

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas June 23, 2014 at 10:21 am #

          That’s a good question! In my experience, most students do well with two examples, but you’re right that your comfort level and fluency—including grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation—are much more important than the number of examples! If you find that you can speak more and be more comfortable with one example, then that’s a good idea.

      • maryam June 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

        Thank you dear Lucas,
        You provide a complete explanation!!! I have so many other questions but exam is on Saturday!

  8. Azula June 24, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Hi Lucas!

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m going to take the toefl next month. I need to score 26 for the speaking section and I’m still in doubt if I can score that high. My friend passed the exam yesterday and she told that there’s one part in the speaking section that she has to read the passage out loud. I got confused because I read a lot of toefl books and it wasn’t mentioned that I have to do that. Is this true?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 24, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

      Yes, in a way. But that’s not a graded part of the test. It’s just for the microphone to adjust to the right volume. 🙂 You can say anything at all—you just have to speak for a few moments for the microphone to calibrate. They give you question that you can read out loud or respond to. Most people just read that question out loud again and again. I think mine was “Describe the place where you live,” so many people just said “Describe the place where you live. Describe the place where you live. Describe…” until the microphone was ready. But you could also answer it. In any case, that part is not recorded, and nobody ever hears it (other than the people who are in the room with you when you do it). You will know it’s not a part of the test because it looks very different from the actual questions that you get after.

      • Azula July 13, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

        I took the exam last Friday and I think I didn’t do well in the speaking section 🙁 The questions were easy but I got distracted with the others answering the same questions I had. I was listening to what they were going to say rather than thinking of my own answer. Overall, my answers were not clear and there were parts that I repeat words over and over again. I really got nervous. I know what to do with each task but I really need more than 15-30 seconds to prepare. I think I have to practice on that. I have an American accent, pronounce words correclty and the way I answered sounded like I didn’t follow any template or read a script. there were times I paused and then spoke again. I didnt even finish speaking on Q6 tsk tsk.. Oh well… Your experience gives me hope and I wish I get a 26 regardless of the flaws. If not, I just need to practice paraphrasing and expand my vocabulary then take the test again 🙂

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas July 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

          I know what you mean about being distracted by other people speaking… it’s a clear problem that ETS really should fix. But you have a great attitude toward what to do if you don’t hit your target score! In any case, I do think that your accent and experience with English will show that you’re a fluent speaker. 🙂 But please do let us know how it turns out! I’m sure there are other students who had similar experiences who will want to know.

          • Azula July 21, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

            OMG!!! I got a score of 28 for speaking!!!!!!! You’re 100% right!!! Even if it’s not structured, you use the same word over and over again and provide them with vague words, you can still get a high grade as long as you know what to do with each task. The accent helps too. It’s weird that I got a 21 for reading though. That’s like the easiest part of the exam but that’s the lowest score I got. Oh well. But I’m really happy with my grade 🙂 I can proceed with my NCLEX exam. thank you Lucas!

          • Lucas Fink
            Lucas September 5, 2014 at 9:43 am #

            That’s fantastic, Azula! You got it right: pronunciation, structure, and pacing are some of the most important parts.

            And reading can be surprisingly difficult, even for native speakers. You’re not alone, there! But if your score is good enough for your specific goals and plans, that’s all that matters.

            Good luck on your NCLEX!

  9. Sani July 9, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    hey Lucas, thanks for the great information. All of the tips are so helpful. I have two questions. First, I have taken the TOEFL once and I scored good on the writing, listening and speaking, but I scored horrible (14) on the reading. Well, I had no idea about the test and I missed one of the readings because of timing problem, but even when I don’t miss any questions I score pretty bad on reading. i’m also taking the Sat in a few months and I really need to improve my reading. What should I do?

    second is that I was reading the Barron’s and the sample essays for the independent essay have one topic sentence and then the first idea in the same paragraph and then the rest of the ideas. However, at school I learned that we should have a hook then a thesis for the introduction and each idea in one paragraph. Which way do you think is better? Also can I have a hook at the end of the essay like ending it with a question or a quote?
    Thanks again for your help !

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas July 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

      Well, here’s the good news: if you did well on the other parts of the test, I think that means your reading score can be greatly improved by just understanding the test better. In other words, I don’t think the score reflects your English level, but it instead reflects your comfort with taking the test. That can definitely be improved in a short time! First, I recommend trying a different strategy: don’t read the passage at first. Skip it, and go straight to question 1. After you have looked at question 1, then start reading the passage. Stop reading once you have the answer to question 1. Then, move on the question 2. Read that question, then go back to the passage. Continue reading from where you stopped until you find the answer to question 2.

      This strategy isn’t helpful for everybody, but I think it will be for you! It can definitely save time. 🙂

      Otherwise, I also recommend, above all else, as much practice as possible. You should be reading in English every day. SAT reading is a bit different from the TOEFL, but if you are practicing that you will also be improving your general reading skills, so that will help your TOEFL scores, too. When you do read, do it actively. That means stopping often to think about what you read. Summarize and ask yourself questions, such as what the author’s main purpose is, what the relationships between paragraphs are, and which details show the main ideas most clearly.

      With continued practice and careful attention to how questions are written (and why you get answers wrong), you will make improvement over these next few months!

      As for the essay, you certainly can have a hook at the beginning of your essay (or at the end), but it’s not strictly necessary. Often, the time spent writing a quote could be better spent by using your own words. Although there’s no set formula for how to structure your introduction, you can follow my template, if you’d like that kind of regularity. 🙂

      • Sani July 14, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

        This was much more helpful than the reading strategies of the practice books. Also, I think I will use your template. Thank you so much !!

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas July 21, 2014 at 11:08 am #

          Glad to hear it! You’re more than welcome.

  10. Jeta July 20, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Hi 🙂
    Sometimes while i practice for the speaking section, i’m done with what i have to say before the exact time. Does this affect my scores?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas July 21, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Good question, Jeta! That depends on how early you’re stopping. If it’s only 1-3 seconds before the end, then, no, that won’t hurt you. On the other hand, if you stop 5 or 10 seconds before the end, it may sound like you want to say more, but you are having trouble thinking of English words. Basically, try to keep talking up to the end. If you find that you have a bit more time, then just summarize what you’ve said.

  11. Hooman August 26, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    Hi Lucas,

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience, and also for making such a sacrifice (taking TOEFL) in the first place! 😉

    Your article was particularly interesting to me, because from experience I had come to the conclusion that I do best in the reading section when I read the whole text at the beginning, and I do great in listening section when I don’t take any notes! Yet, everyone else was discouraging me from doing so. I thought I’m not good enough to do it their way (e.g. taking detailed notes while listening.)

    The only part of your article that seems a little bit vague to me is your description of your performance at the speaking section. You have mentioned “I paused for *a long time*, repeated myself, used *many* vague words” and “I also used *a lot of* idioms…” I think because you’re a native English speaker your definition of “a long time”, “many”, and “a lot of” in this context might be different from those of non-native speakers like me. I think it would help a lot if you could demonstrate your performance at the speaking section. I mean if you could record yourself giving an answer similar to the original one, it would be AWESOME and I would love you forever! 😀


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 5, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Hi Hooman,

      Notes can really be tricky! I recommend getting all of the details on paper than you can without sacrificing understanding, but for some people that means taking very, very few notes. It was great to hear your experience and thoughts on that. Thank you for sharing that.

      You’re absolutely right about “a lot,” “a long time,” etc. It was many months ago that I took the test, so my memory isn’t perfect, but I would say that some of my pauses lasted 5-10 seconds. I relied on vague words like “things” and “stuff” in every response (using them at least once in every recording), and used the same number of idioms—one or two in each response.

      And I like your idea about recording examples. 🙂 That might be another blog post to come later! Thanks for the suggestion.


  12. Emily September 5, 2014 at 3:00 am #

    Hi Lucas, your overview of your TOEFL experience was very informative and a bit comforting to be honest, but the part about the distractions in the speaking and listening sections got me worries though. For me, i work best in a silent and calm environment, like i don’t work well when there is some noise and i am afraid that i won’t be able to fully concentrate.

    Another problem for me is in the reading section. I always get some quetsions wrong, especially the last question where we are asked to pick the three major points. If i got some right and some wrong, so i get partial points or doe sit all count as incorrect? And am i allowed to refer back to the reading passage when answering this same question? I am taking the test tomorrow and i am a bit nervous! Do you have any advice on how to be positive and confident? Thank you so much Lucas!!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 5, 2014 at 9:39 am #

      I’m glad to hear this was helpful! I know what you mean about distractions during the test. The best advice I can give is to press the headphones against your ears and even close your eyes when you’re trying to speak during the speaking section—that’s when the most people are talking. If there is anybody who starts talking during your listening section, it will only be at the very end of the section, so don’t worry about it too much! You’ll do fine, I’m sure. 🙂

      As for the last question in reading section, yes, you get partial credit. It can be worth 2, 3, or 4 times as much as other questions (usually 2 times). If there are 3 correct answers, it’s worth 2 points. If there are 5, it’s worth 3 points. If there are 7, it’s worth 4 points. Getting all the answers correct earns you full points. For every correct answer missed, you get one less point. So if you get 6/7 of the correct answers, that earns you 3 out of 4 points. (Remember that the score is later changed into a 0 – 30 scale, so I’m not talking about point on that final scale.) And yes, you are allowed to see the passage as you answer the final question.

      As for being positive and confident, read this SAT blog post for some surprising advice. The most important thing is that you act confident.

      And good luck on your test!

  13. Arijit Pal September 29, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    Hi Lucas, your post there was very much detailed and informative.. I think I have a much better perspective of the test now. However my test is after just 4 days, and I’m facing a problem. In the listening section, I tried to take notes as recommended by many guides but found out that I ‘m missing out some really important details due to it. And I do better by not taking notes at all. But there may be a scenario when some of the test-takers are in their speaking section when I’m in my listening section. So, what would be the best strategy in order to keep my concentration, take notes or not?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

      Hi Arjit,

      I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond to this sooner! It sounds like you were taking too many notes at first—many students have that problem. Taking just enough notes that you can still hear everything that’s said is a skill that varies between people. I don’t recommend taking no notes, in general. It’s better to take at least some.

      In any case, I hope your test went well!

  14. Marios October 7, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    Hi Lucas,I would like to ask you something about Toefl speaking.What happens if while you are talking you say something wrong and you understand.Can you say just “excuse me” and correct the answer as would happen in any conversation or it doesn’t really matter and you get a lower grade anyway?
    Thank you very much!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      That’s a great question, Marios! Yes, you can recover from a small slip-up and it won’t hurt your score if you recover well. 🙂 In fact, if you’re able to correct yourself fluidly and naturally, then it would help your score more than hurt it, because that’s an important conversational skill. Again, though, that is if you correct yourself smoothly and understandably. If the listener is confused, then it can certainly hurt your score.

  15. Ishan October 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Hi Lucas, I got my TOEFL score yesterday. And i got 95(r24, l27,s22,w22). And i want to do MS in mechanical engg. Is it sufficient?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

      That depends on where you’re applying, Ishan. Check out the websites of the programs you’re applying to and you’ll find minimum or recommended TOEFL scores. If you can’t find the info on their website, email them. We also have an infographic that might help!

  16. anna October 12, 2014 at 1:05 am #

    really helpful (I am a TOEFL instructor who does not want to pay to take the test, but who previously lacked the confidence of being able to describe what it’s really like!)

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      That’s awesome to hear! I know what you mean—every TOEFL teacher has a time when they haven’t yet taken the test, and that makes some questions tough to answer. I hope this really does clear everything up, but let me know if I forgot to include anything that might help.

  17. Victoria October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    Hello, Lucas.
    First of all, thank you for providing us ( test takers) with this informative description of the test.
    Secondly, I have some questions to ask:
    My test is in 4 days, but due to the fact that I have spent too much time practicing for other sections of the test, I haven’t been preparing for the Speaking section. How should I organize my time before the test in order to score well ( at least 25) in this section? I do not have a lot of problems with grammar and fluency, but the major obstacle for me that I can’t overcome is answering fully in the time limit ( I include details that I assume to be important and do not have enough time for finishing the task). What can you suggest?
    The other thing that worries me is the reading section. The problem is: I score well on my practice tests (about 26-28), but I am afraid that my nerves could affect my score. I can’t obtain the information because I am too nervous to think clearly. I am only 14 and that is why I can’t be as confident in my abilities as some grown ups are and sometimes have troubles with coping with stress. Though I need to receive a score of at least 97-100. How can I manage to avoid stress?
    Thank you for your time and effort.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      Hi Victoria,

      First, it’s really awesome that you’re so disciplined and focused on this test! The TOEFL makes adults nervous, too, so don’t worry—you’re not alone there. 🙂 If you are a fluent speaker without grammar issues, you will do well on the speaking section, I’m sure. The best way to practice timing the speaking section is to give yourself a clear structure for each question type and try to only spend a set amount of time on each part of your answer. For example, in task one, you need to explain why you chose one person/place/thing as an example of something that is important to you for some specific reason (e.g. “Describe a person who positively impacted your education. Explain why you chose that person…” etc). To answer that in 45 seconds, you could give yourself this structure:

      – ~10 seconds to state your choice
      – ~15 seconds to give one reason
      – ~15 seconds to state a second reason
      – ~5 seconds to summarize (or an extra five seconds to finish your second reason)

      Each task can be broken into steps like that.

      As for test stress, here are some tips that will help you conquer it:

      I hope those help, and good luck!

      • Victoria October 15, 2014 at 4:32 am #

        Thank you so much for your time and effort! I really appreciate your assistance. I hope it will affect my score positively:)

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas October 17, 2014 at 11:10 am #

          You’re welcome! I hope you do reach your target score. Good luck!

  18. sara October 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Hi Lucas,I would like to ask you something about Toefl exam in speaking section does the question appear or disable after 15 second ?

    another question i would like to ask you about writing section in toefl what is the easy why to count the word , how can i know that i achieve 300 word ?or it will counter below

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 17, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      Hi Sara,

      The speaking questions stay on the screen while you speak, yes. But you won’t really need it, ideally—you’ll be looking at your notes more than at the question, since you do have a short time to prepare before you start speaking.

      As for the writing section, you don’t need to count the words. 🙂 There’s a counter that does it for you on the top right of the screen, so you always know exactly how long your essay is.

  19. caroline October 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    Hey Lucas,
    Thanks for great information. I just wondering is it allowed to write down the structure for the speaking section while you’re on your 10 minute break? is it possible to use your notes while answering the speaking questions? Can test takers, take your notes from you??

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 17, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      That’s a good question. During the break, you have to leave the testing room, and you cannot bring your notes with you. Similarly, you cannot bring anything from outside the testing room into it. If the test administrators see you trying to do either, they can cancel your test and ask you to leave the building. So you’ll have to think about the structures of your answers in the 15, 20, or 30 seconds of preparation time before each question. If you know the test well, though, you can also make use of the time given for instructions. Before the section really starts, you have a couple of minutes to read instructions on what you will do. So know those instructions ahead of time and use the time to prepare yourself. 🙂

  20. Pranav October 19, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Hi Lucas!
    I plan to give my TOEFL test within a couple of weeks. But I am not at all confident in the speaking section. I usually speak too fast and end up blabbering. How can I improve myself in the speaking section? I don’t have much of a problem planning and thinking about the content I want to talk about, its just that I can’t deliver my answer properly.

    I read your blog posts about the listening and reading practice questions and I was hoping if you could lead me to similar blogs or websites or even books for practicing the speaking questions. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks. 🙂

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 28, 2014 at 11:43 am #

      Hi Pranav,

      If you find yourself speaking too quickly and going off topic during the speaking section, one of the best things you can do is to focus on your pronunciation. Try to sound like a radio personality—calm, composed, and above all, CLEAR. If you think more about how you sound, you will be forced to slow down your pace. If you already have a good plan and know what you want to say, then slowing down a bit and thinking more about your pronunciation shouldn’t hurt the content of your answer. As for other blogs and websites that help with speaking, I’m afraid I don’t know of much… one of the reasons we started the Magoosh TOEFL blog is that we saw there isn’t a very good TOEFL community online already. As for books, though, Cambridge is a great resource, although it might be a bit too much considering your time-frame. If you haven’t finished all of the free ETS material, start there!

  21. Maisaa October 20, 2014 at 6:47 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I would like to thank you for the information provided about TOEFL exam. I was so scared when I was preparing for it. I only had 6 days. I do not study the day before the test so they were 5 days. I am also pregnant, 7 months, so studying was overwhelming.However, the amount of information that I received through this blog and other blogs in Magoosh helped me alot; both in preparing and kowing what will I face in the test.

    I went to do my test with a decision that I will have a fun time even at the most difficult parts, if there were any.

    I felt that I did very bad in the reading section and was so disappointed at myself. But I decided that I am here to have fun. Otherwise, I will be even more exhausted than the other regular days in my pregnancy.
    I relaxed and enjoyed the prompts to the degree that I was laughing at one of them. and did the same with the other parts especially the writing section.

    I finished my test hoping that I will at least pass and get the score recommended for the university admission.

    My persoal evaluation was: Reading: bad, listening and speaking good and writing:

    My scores are:
    Writing:23 !!!

    I was shocked to see that my lowest score was in writing. But my advice to the new test takers is to focus on the content and the ideas presented in the text and prompt and relate them to each other in you essay. It seems that I forgot to relate the ideas in both parts for which I ended up with this score.

    I am happy with a total score of:100 . It is waaay more than what is required. Good luck to the rest of you.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Hi Maisaa,

      Thank you so much for sharing that! I really love that you set your mind on having fun with the test, and I think that probably was a great help in staying attentive during the listening and speaking comfortable during the speaking section—even if laughing at the test might seem a bit strange to some. 🙂 I think enjoying yourself as much as you can is great advice for other test-takers.

      And congratulations on that score! It’s good to know that your mentality worked out and that things went well, altogether. I hope that score brings you where you want to go!

      • Janaina May 23, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

        Hi Maisaa! I am also 7 months pregnant, have a husband, 8 years old son, a dog and a house to take care of! Also, I am working full time while studying for the toefl test. I can not express in words how grateful I am for your post. It gave me a lot of confidence and happy feelings! Thank you so much!!!! I do have a question for you. Did you take extra breaks to go to the bathroom? Were you able to have water with you?

  22. Meg November 9, 2014 at 5:49 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I wrote my TOEFL exam today and I am not very happy about my performance. I didn’t do well on the reading section ( This was the section I was least worried about during practice since I always did well on it). So, I was stuck on a few questions and ended up running out of time.. I could not answer the last 5 questions at all! I am worried about my score now! What should I do?


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 10, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      Well, first of all, don’t worry about it now! You can’t change anything, and you don’t even know your scores, so it’s not helpful to worry.

      Once you know your scores, if you decide you need to retake the test, then you can think more about how to improve your reading speed and what, specifically, cause you trouble when taking the test. But again, don’t worry about it until you see your scores! You might be pleasantly surprised by the result. 🙂

  23. irakly November 10, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Hi Lucas!
    I’m starting preparation for TOEFL exam and my goal is 90 or above score (requirements of medical school)what book could u recommend ? i prefer use one book plus Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio so which combination you think will be best?

    Official Guide to the TOEFL Test With CD-ROM, 4th Edition +Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio OR

    Complete Guide to the Toefl Test +Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio OR

    Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test+Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio OR

    something else?
    Tank you

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      That’s a tough question! There is not single book (or combination of books) which will result in a 90+ score for anybody who uses them. You have to know your starting point in order to know how much material you need. How much do you need to improve? Some students might need very little preparation to score 90+, in which case I recommend just the Official Guide to learn the format of the test. But if you need to improve your core skills, such as note-taking, structuring your essay, transitioning between ideas, and paraphrasing (among others), I recommend getting either the Complete Guide or Cambridge Preparation in addition to the Official guide. Both of those give skill practice and much more training material. To choose between them, I highly recommend reading my book reviews.

  24. Rongan Li November 29, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    I did not have enough time to finish the last passage, how much will it affect my grade

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      That depends on a number of things:

      – Whether the passage was scored. If you had four reading passages, then one was unscored. That would mean there’s a 25% chance if won’t affect your score at all. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible!
      – How many questions you missed.
      – The specific test you took. Since the TOEFL can vary a little bit in difficulty, tests are scored according to how difficult they are.

      With that in mind, if, for example, you missed all ~14 questions associated with one passage, and it was a scored passage, then your maximum score would be in the 20-23 range (depending on the test) instead of 30.

  25. Dayana December 4, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Hi, Lucas.

    I’m preparing for the TOEFL test on my own. The reading section has been really hard for me. Although I’ve read carefully and paid lot of attention in the passage, I’ve failed half of the answers and sometimes more than that. It makes me feel disappointed and not proud of myself as I got a Bachelor degree in education majoring English in my native country (Venezuela). Despite how I feel, I still have hope. I just wanted to comment that what has been helpful for me is that I first read all the questions and its answers before starting reading the passage and I have gotten better results doing this. I know you wrote that you think it is not the most suitable strategy but I’ve realized that it has worked for me. What do you think? Am I wrong? I’d appreciate your advice.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

      You’re certainly not wrong! It’s just that most students who try that end up confused and more slow than otherwise. If you see the best results using that strategy, then use it. 🙂 But I really recommend trying a question-by-question approach, too. Read the first question, then go through the text until you have an answer to that one. Then move on to the second question, and continue reading the text until you have an answer to the second question, etc. This might give you even more focus than reading all of the questions before starting the passage, and I’m confident it will be faster, too! But again, use the strategy that works best for you, and pay careful attention to your mistakes and how they happened. Only that way can you avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

  26. Meenakshi December 12, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Hi Lucas. I gave my TOEFL today. I got 4 reading passages. Very lengthy but overall it was good. My main worry is about listening and speaking. In the listening section I left 4 questions as time I ran out of time, because the student behind me was speaking loudly and I got distracted and lost concentration. Does this effect my listening score? Coming to speaking I attempted Q3,Q4,Q5,Q6 nicely but the first too independent speaking question were not that good. My personal evaluation was: Reading: good, speaking: OK, writing: Excellent, listening: Bad

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

      Skipping or missing questions does affect your score, yes, but it’s hard to say exactly how much, because that depends on how the particular test you took will be converted to the 120 scale. In general, though, missing 4 questions in a listening section might bring down your score by roughly 3 – 6 points. It’s still possible that you will get a very high score on listening! I think the same will be true of your speaking, but it’s hard to say without much context.

      • MARISEL December 22, 2014 at 8:50 am #

        I also took the test on Dec 12th and my scores are R 24, L 28, S 24 W 24. Unfortunately, I have to retake the test because I need to get at least 26 in the Speaking section. Do you have any advise for me?

  27. Daniel December 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Dear Lucas

    I took 8 toefl test and I always got low grades on the writing section. I wonder how is possible to have a huge gap between sections? Do you think that I should try to write like an american?

    R 23, L 24, S 23 and W 13 – Mar 2014

    R 22, L 28, S 20 and W 17 – Apr 2014

    R 19, L 21, S 22 and W 18 – May 2014

    R 23, L 22, S 23 and W 14 – Dec 2014


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 16, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Daniel,

      Large gaps in between section score are surprisingly common. The fact that you’re able to score more highly in the other sections probably means that vocabulary and grammar aren’t major obstacles. You want to find out what is the obstacle. For the writing section, timing (and therefore length) is a very common problem, so I’d suggest looking carefully at that. Compare your essay to the official sample essays to see what is different. Structure is also a common problem—make sure that your essay moves clearly from one idea to another in a separate paragraph, with appropriate transition phrases and sentences. There are a number of other issues that could be causing the problem, but I’m afraid I can’t tell what would personally benefit you just from the scores—it varies a lot between people! But comparing to those sample essays should help. 🙂

  28. Rosa G. December 16, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    I’ll take the test on February 14th. I’m really afraid because I have been preparing for my own and I feel is not enough but I don’t have time to go to an english institution, because I want to apply for a scholarship and the delay to send my score is on March. My goal is 90.

    I’m really worried, because it will be four years since I practice english. A lot of years ago I was studying english until I gave up in intermediate level. Nevertheless due to my desire to apply for a scholarship, I have restored the english study for my own. Everyday I practice grammar, reading and listening, but I have a lower level speaking and writing. I’ll buy the official guide and the Barron’s book in a few days. My native language is spanish.

    I think that if I take the test today, my score would be 60 TT.

    Well, I want to thank you for giving us great advices.
    This page encourage me a lot.

    Rosa G.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 16, 2014 at 11:48 am #

      Hi Rosa,

      I’m glad this helped a bit! I think that with that ~2 months of study time, you’ll do well. 🙂 Keep working at it every day. Happy studying!

  29. ABH December 16, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Hello Lucas,

    I took the test in November and got the following scores: R-26;L-27;S-27;W-27; I am not a native English speaker but I felt that I could do better with practice (I only watched some Youtube videos to practice). For example I could not complete the Reading section as time had ran out (again, needed practice) and in the second part of the writing section, I panicked and could not convey my ideas and arguments clearly. My Listening section performance was good and I don’t think I can do better. But on my Speaking Section I performed poorly speaking on familiar topics. Now my question is if I sit for the test for a second time, can my scores improve? (or is there a chance that things will go horribly wrong and I end up with a lower score); also will a second sitting be necessary for me?

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 30, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

      I can’t say whether it’s necessary—that depends on where you’re applying, and what their attitudes are toward TOEFL scores—but based on what you’ve said, I definitely think you can improve! Those are all common issues, and they get easier to handle with practice. There is always a chance of a lower score (if you don’t make sure to be happy, healthy, and confident on test day) but it’s rare. You can always choose to send your scores after the test date, too. In that case, you decide exactly which schools see which dates’ scores (you have to send all the sections from any one date together, though: you cannot pick favorite section scores from different dates).

      • Sandra December 31, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

        Hi Mr Lucas,
        Thank you for your collaboration.
        I sat for the Toefl Ibt and I got 5/30 in the listening part. I am so sad about that and I want to know if it will be possible to get more details about that. What shall I do? Could I ask for a recorrection?
        For the other parts, I got good marks.

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas January 6, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

          Hi Sandra,

          I’m sorry to hear that! Although it is possible to get speaking and writing sections rescored, it’s not possible for the listening section, I’m afraid. That’s because the listening section is scored by the computer, so there is no possibility of error. Most likely, you simply need to practice the specific listening skills tested by the TOEFL. Were you comfortable taking notes, for example? Were you able to understand the main point of each lecture/conversation and how it was structured? How confident were you in the answers you chose? Were you working too quickly?

          If you think carefully about what happened on test day, I think you will identify a weakness that you can strengthen. Then, with practice, you will be able to score much higher in a retake. 🙂 I hope that helps at least a bit.

  30. Annisa January 8, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

    Hi Lucas, i wanna share my problem here. I’ve been searching through all website and didn’t find any satisfy answer. Well, i suppose take a test on January 11th, but suddenly a phone call came on Jan 8th told me that my TOEFL iBT test is rescheduled to Jan 25th.They told me that I can go on for this or decide to cancel it. After took some time to think, I decide to cancel my test on the new date. So I go to my ETS home page and cancel my view order.Things I wanna ask are:
    1. Do I get a full refund fee of my test? Because the regulation wrote that above three days before the test, the taker’s cancellation would result a half refund. But, I doubt about which day of the test they meant, “my chosen date that Jan 11th” or “the new date Jan 25th”
    2. How long it will take by ETS to refund taker’s fee if they cancel the registration?
    3. Do I need to fill another form to cancel my registration, or it is enough by click CANCEL on my View Order in ETS homepage?
    Really thanks for your answer, although I already sent them this question too, but still feel burden with this. 🙁

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

      This is a unique situation, but all of those questions are best for ETS. It sounds like you already reached out to them—I think they’ll be able to help resolve any doubts!

  31. Oguz January 10, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

    I just took my TOEFL exam today. Test room wasn’t warm enough I was cold till finishing my exam. As Lucas says it is very distracting to read or listen while you hear the other people speaks loudly eventhough I was wearing my headset all the time.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience! The temperature is a good point. It’s always helpful to wear layers, so you are warm enough if they’re needed and you can remove a layer if it’s too warm.

  32. My January 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm #


    Um, this site have been really helpful for me for a while, so first of all I want to say thank you for the posts.

    I have just taken the test for the first time last week and during the writing section, I didn’t finish the conclusion on time. How bad this will affect my score? I also reaaly want to know what range of score is possible for an essay without a conclusion. Thank you so much!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

      First, the good news: The conclusion isn’t necessary for a top score. It is possible to write a fantastic essay with no conclusion. That’s because the essays are scored holistically. That means the grader looks at the total essay when giving a grade. They don’t grade specific aspects of the essay and then give a total or average grade. So there is no “range of scores” for an essay with no conclusion. Your score will depend on your essay as a whole.

      But it’s not all good news. If you weren’t able to finish writing your essay, that probably means you didn’t edit or didn’t have enough time to write the maximum you wanted to write (or both). It’s also possible that you stopped writing after a sentence that was confusing to finish with. So the fact that you weren’t able to complete your conclusion probably did hurt your score a bit, yes. But it’s impossible to say how much it hurt your score. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific!

  33. Ordinary boy January 11, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    I took the exam on 1.11.
    In the writing section, i have a trouble with my example.
    The topic was about good communication skills’ importance, so i couldn’t find any good example. Thus, in one example, i used George Bush as a very good leader even though his communicating skills were bad. But, in fact, all people know that George Bush was a bad.
    Can it become the reason of deduction fron my points.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

      The TOEFL essay is not graded by how correct your facts are or what your opinions are. Whether Bush was a good leader or not is an opinion. The test grader will not deduct points (or give points) based on an opinion. Your language skills are most important. If you explained the example well, transitioned to it neatly, and connected it clearly to your thesis, then the example will help you. 🙂

  34. Julia February 12, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    This was a great post, I’ve often wondered what a native speaker’s perspective on this test would be. I’ll be taking the test for the second time next month, and while I did very well the first time a couple of years ago, I seem to be having some trouble writing this time around. I think having a set structure to follow during the writing parts helps me a lot, but I always get so hung up on the length that it actually hurts my essays. You mentioned writing nearly 1000 words for the independent task, but how long was your integrated essay? Mine always tend to be a little on the long side, and I think I waste a lot of time editing them for length. Would you say that a long essay is fine as long as it’s organized and nicely structured, or do you think it could hurt my scores somehow?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 19, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      Glad to share some insight! A long essay is definitely a good thing, not a bad one. As long as you have structure and clear writing, don’t shorten the essay. I don’t mean to say that writing more will always help, but in general longer essays score higher, and if the length doesn’t create another, separate problem, it’s not a bad thing!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas February 19, 2015 at 10:53 am #

      Oh, and I think my integrated essay was around 600 words, but it’s a bit hard to remember at this point.

  35. Sina March 28, 2015 at 12:49 am #

    Dearest Lucas

    I am really amazed by your works, not just doing the TOEFL yourself, but all the things that you have done in this site, including long answers to visitors like me. One can not simply say thank you to thee 😀
    I have two questions that are bothering me a lot.
    First, do you think that TOEFL graders understand if we use pre-practiced templates in writing section ? For example I develeped a conclusion paragraph for my self from various sources. is that going to affect my score in writing ? also same thing in speaking section. I have a common way to start my speaking. I handle speaking in real world very well, but I found out that I can not apply it in the real exam so I decided to memorize the critical starting.

    Second question is about dictation problems in writing exams. I have this kind of problem , even though that I know the correct way to write them. This problem usually happens to me when I am typing fast, and I don’t have enough time to read my own writing at the end. So how much it is going to cost me ? :-s

    Again I REALY REALLY appreciate your helps all the times

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas March 30, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      I’m happy I’ve been able to help so much! I can help answer both those questions, sure. 🙂

      Yes, using memorized templates can help, but if you rely too much on memorized sentences/phrases, you do run the risk of the grader subtracting points. That’s less true of the writing, though, because graders can’t tell whether you are reciting by memory from your tone of voice. My best advice is to use some words/phrases that you have practiced with, but not to use full paragraphs or multiple sentences. And be sure that your template is your own creation! If you are pulling a full paragraph of text from other places on line, then you might copy somebody else’s essay material, which results in a 0. So that conclusion paragraph may be very helpful, but be sure it is your wording! And keep in mind that the topics can change greatly. A template has to be very flexible to work in any essay.

      As for spelling, it counts a little but not much. You can get a perfect score with some spelling errors. 🙂 Just try to avoid making mistakes as best you can. If there are so many errors that your writing becomes hard to read, then it will certainly affect your grade, but 3 or 4 typos are not a big deal.

  36. farid March 29, 2015 at 6:08 am #

    hi Lucas,
    it is my first experience of the TOEFL test that i am going to take it ten days later but i am so much doubtful and nervous about the integrated task of writing section whether the lecturer’s accent is American or British, for i am not familiar enough with British accent.

    • David Recine March 31, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      Hello Farid,

      It’s understandable to be doubtful and nervous before taking any standardized test. But knowing what to expect can certainly help you be more confident. You’re on the right track by thinking about what accents you may hear. This should help you be more prepared.

      Although the TOEFL has used only American accents in the past, you are correct that the TOEFL is starting to use some foreign accents in their newer audio tracks.

      I asked Lucas about this, as he has taken the TOEFL since it started adding foreign accents. He says he has heard one British lecturer, but that the British accent wasn’t that strong.

      If you have time to practice listening to British/non-American accents in the next several days, I say go for it. But if there are other general skills you feel you still need to improve, you may be better off practicing those general skills; understanding non-American English does not seem to be a major focus on the TOEFL at this time.

      That being said, here are some good resources to practice listening to British and non-American accents.

      1) TED Talks. TED Talks has many different English language speeches with transcripts. The speakers have quite a few different accents. Here are some British English TED Talks: (13 minutes) (6 minutes) (3 minutes) (10 minutes) (5 minutes)

      I also recommend the website , which has audio tracks and transcripts of English in different accents from around the world.

      Then there’s . To practice listening to British English, look at their sample listening sections for Cambridge exams such as the PET, FCE, and IELTS.

      But again, don’t worry too much. As always, what’s most important on the TOEFL are your general skills in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.


      • farid April 2, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

        thank you so much David for your extremely helpful recommendation.

  37. atta April 12, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    Hi lucas,

    I did my iBT TOEFL test yesterday.
    I am wondering something. In the writing section, the time ran out when i was still typing. . Will they record and score my written text yet?

  38. David Recine April 15, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    I can answer that for you, Atta. Students sometimes run out of time on the TOEFL Writing section. Sorry to hear that happened to you.

    The TOEFL will record and score whatever written text was entered before the moment the time ran out. Even if it’s not quite complete, the writing you did enter will still be judged by the TOEFL Writing Rubric ( ).

  39. SHEKHAR May 31, 2015 at 12:56 am #

    Hello Mr .Lucas

    Yesterday , I gave my Toefl ibt and i did well in all sections except one , the speaking section .What happened that i began speaking really well in starting of every question but due to the noisy environment around me, made me confuse and lost and i stopped for 4 seconds at the end of every question , also i remember that i stopped for 10 seconds at the end of one question ….. and now i just want to know how much damage have i done to my score .. although i speak English well but yesterday it was just a disaster..

    Thank you..

    • David Recine June 2, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

      Sorry to hear that you had to speak under distracting, frustrating circumstances, Shekhar. If I understand correctly, you had 4-10 seconds of silence at the beginning of your recorded answers, before you began actually speaking.

      This may or may not hurt your score. If your actual answer is good once you start speaking, some scorers may not consider the delay to be a serious problem. But then, there are other scorers who might reduce your score a little, perhaps for sounding slightly unnatural.

      If you still sounded confused after you started talking, or paused in the middle of your speech, that would be a much bigger problem.

      It’s frustrating, but you’ll just have to wait until you get your score to see if you lost any points because of poor testing conditions. Once you get your score, I’d love it if you’d post again to let us know how you did. This could benefit other students who find themselves in your situation.

  40. Chris June 8, 2015 at 11:37 pm #

    Hi Lucas! Thanks for taking the exam on our behalf and experimenting on various strategies. I have a doubt. After the exam, will I be shown my total score there only or only for those sections which are computer graded? Also I am not sure on the process of sending the scores. Do I get to select which of the added institutions get my score or all of them do so? Also how can I decide whether I should send the scores there only? I mean I won’t be knowing once the human graded sections are checked, whether I am qualifying or not. Kindly explain the process in detail from the time the writing section ends to the time you leave the workstation.


    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel Wisuri June 10, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      Hey Chris!

      If you choose universities to send your scores to BEFORE you take the test, you won’t have any control after you take the exam. This means that if you get a low score, you can’t cancel it — schools will receive this score regardless. After you take the test, you cannot cancel scores.

      That said, it is free to designate 4 score recipients before the test; that’s definitely something to keep in mind. And if you accidentally end up sending a low score, it’s not that big of a deal. Schools care more about more recent, higher scores than they do about earlier scores. After all, students’ English can improve over time!

      Lastly, you can learn everything you need to know about sending scores here:

      Hope that helps!

  41. Cornelia August 31, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Lucas,

    I have a queation about the speaking section.

    My teachers told me that in order to get a score over 27, I must speak really slowly( much more slowly than my normal speaking ). Is it really a useful tip or is it just crap?

    Did you speak fast( in the normal native speaker’s speed ) druing the test when you got 29?

    I’m looking forward to your reply.

    Thank you

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink September 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

      I did speak quickly, yes. Speed is secondary—comprehensibility is the real issue. If you have a strong accent, then speaking more slowly can be great advice. You need to make sure the graders understand you. But if your pronunciation is almost American, then speaking quickly isn’t necessarily bad. Slowing down can be either good advice or bad advice depending on your pronunciation and your natural speed. It can also help you not repeat yourself, stutter, or say “ummm” a lot, so it is often good advice, but not always.

  42. muzaik September 1, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

    hi Lucas

    i wanted to ask if there is any countdown even for the questions which appear in the listening section.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink September 2, 2015 at 8:17 am #

      Yes, there is a timer during the listening section. There are two sets of three recordings (a total of six recordings to listen to), and each recording has 5-6 questions, for a total of 17 questions per set of three recordings. For each set of three recordings with 17 questions, you get 10 minutes. The clock stops when you are listening to a recording. Generally, the timer is not a big problem in the listening section. It is enough time for most students. But you do need to answer pretty quickly—less than a minute for each question.

  43. Tsafrir October 16, 2015 at 4:04 am #

    Hi Lucas!

    First of all, thank you for a GREAT TOEFL prep course. It was smack on the point for me and the practice questions were very similar to the ones on the TOEFL itself (except maybe for the reading which was somewhat more difficult on the test itself).

    One question:
    In the listening section I had two seconds left for the last question. It was just enough time to pick my answer choice but I wasn’t able to press “ok” and then “next” to submit it, like I did with all the other answers. I went through the TOEFL FAQ to see if my answer was registered, but I didn’t see it addressed anywhere.

    Do you think my answer was indeed registered, even if I didn’t click “ok” and “next”?


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink October 16, 2015 at 9:37 am #

      First, I’m glad our premium TOEFL material helped! That’s great to hear you enjoyed it.

      Unfortunately, if you don’t click submit, the answer isn’t counted in the listening section. At least, that’s what ETS representatives have told me in the past, but to be honest it’s such a specific detail of how the software works that I’m not 100% confident in the answer. Still, that is the only answer I’ve gotten from ETS. That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Missing one question can hurt your score, but not by much. It’s even possible to get a perfect score with one wrong or blank answer. 🙂

      • Tsafrir October 17, 2015 at 2:01 am #

        Thanks so much for the detailed reply, Lucas! 🙂

  44. Bronwyn November 4, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    I am a native English speaker and have a postgraduate degree. All of my tuition was done in English; however, I am obliged to write the TOEFL iBT in order to apply for overseas postgraduate study as my home country has 11 official languages.

    I have been practicing (my test is in ten days) but my natural inclination is to write essays in the third person using an academic tone given my background training. Do you think I will be penalised for doing so?

    The sample responses often differ from mine quite drastically stylistically and I am concerned that using third person is inappropriate especially for the independent task. Your advices and assistance would be sincerely appreciated!

    • David Recine November 9, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

      Writing in third person/academic tone for TOEFL Independent Writing shouldn’t be a problem. Magoosh and other prep service recommend a more casual first-person tone only because most students find that tone to be faster and easier. If more formal writing comes more naturally to you though, go for it.

  45. Thomas November 25, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Hi Lucas
    I took the toefl two weeks ago and scored 99 🙁 : 28L 28R 22S 21W . I really need 100.
    I’m thinking about re-scoring my writing because maybe my speaking was affected because of the fever i had on the exam day.But i think i did pretty well at the writing and got fair at both tasks. Based on your wide experience, is my writing score more likely to increase or decrease. I mean could it be 22 😀

    • David Recine December 1, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

      Hi Thomas. David here, Magoosh’s *other* TOEFL blogger. (Well, one of several others on Lucas’ great team! 😉 )

      In a rescore, the new TOEFL scorers aren’t told that they’re doing a rescore, so they aren’t influenced one way or another by your original score. There’s an equal chance your score could go up or go down.

      If you absolutely need 100 and your only other alternative to get 100 is to retake the exam (which it would be), then paying $80 for a Writing Section rescore may be worthwhile, especially if you feel pretty confident in the writing you did.

      But like I said, it’s unpredictable. If you request a rescore, be prepared to possibly lose a point or two. And be ready to retake the exam if that happens.

  46. Shahinaz Shalaby December 20, 2015 at 3:23 am #

    Hi Lucas,
    Thanks for the wonderful comprehensive blog
    i am wondering how to register for your courses
    is it online ?
    My husband tried 4 times
    still 10 marks away from required score and needs your help, he is currently in Augusta , GA,US


  47. Anon February 10, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    I am an avid reader of your blog (though admittedly, I only discovered your blog few days ago, which is a pity!). And your TOEFL guidebook is really helpful. One question though:

    2 For the integrated writing, I notice that Lucas and Magoosh suggested us to follow the format in which we ‘compare’ head-to-head the points discussed on the lecture and the reading. Based on cambridge guide book however, it seems the summary should be concise, accurate and coherent. But we don’t need to compare it in every paragraph. While there is need for comparison, we do not need to do it in every paragraph. So do I really have to compare the reading and the lecture in each and every paragraph? Would it be sufficient if I compare in two of the three paragraph? It is sometimes difficult to compare in each and every paragraph since not all points are comparable at times

    Also, if the passage and the lecture agrees on certain things (i.e while the lecture disagrees that DDT is dangerous, it believes that the usage should be on recommended dosage. the passage believes the same thing, although overall it says that DDT is definitely dangerous), should we include that similiarity?

    Sorry for spamming you with too many questions. Looking forward to your reply.

  48. David Recine
    David Recine February 11, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    Hi Anon,

    Thanks for your kind words. Glad you’re enjoying our blog!

    To answer your first question, the Cambridge guide is right in the sense that you do want to be as concise as possible. But Lucas is also right that you want to pay close attention and make sure you do a head to head comparison of every point that IS comparable. And in nearly every Integrated Writing task, each main point from the reading will be addressed in the lecture. Many supporting details from the passage also *might* turn up in the lecture, and sometimes all supporting details are also addressed by the professor. But if there are points which don’t come up in both the reading and lecture, you can certainly ignore them.

    To address your second question, the Integrated Writing Task generally focuses on how the lecture CHALLENGES points in the reading, not how it agrees with points in the reading. So mentioning agreements is less essential to the task. But it can be useful. By mentioning the ways in which the professor concedes some points to the passage writer while still disagreeing with the writer overall, you give a very rich account of the professor’s argument. This added dimension can really help your reader fully understand exactly how the professor is challenging the reading. But again, mentioning the agreements is not the most essential part of the task. Mention agreements only if you feel you have the time and skill to mention the agreements clearly and still let the professor’s disagreements be the focus of your response.

  49. Sky March 11, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

    I had my TOEFL exam yesterday. I am unsure whether the microphone actually caught what I was speaking.
    While calibrating, I had to bring the mic a bit closer to my mouth. I forgot that and spoke in the default position. I am really afraid now. Is that affect my score? How do i know if microphone is recording my voice at that time or not? Some people are saying that some pop-up will appear if your voice is not recording during speaking test. is this true? because no any pop-up was appeared in my screen.

  50. Sky March 11, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    I had my TOEFL exam yesterday. I am unsure whether the microphone actually caught what I was speaking. How do I know if my voice was recorded?
    While calibrating, I had to bring the mic a bit closer to my mouth. I forgot that and spoke in the default position. I am really afraid now. How do i know if microphone is recording my voice at that time or not? Some people are saying pop-up will appear if my voice was not recording. is this true?

    • David Recine
      David Recine March 16, 2016 at 12:02 pm #


      Normally the microphone calibration should work, and you should be able to record, even if the microphone is not close to your mouth.

      That being said, to my knowledge, no pop-up comes up on the screen if your recording volume is too low.

      It’s pretty rare for recordings to be too quiet or silent. But if that does happen, ETS will notify you that they’re unable to score your TOEFL exam. From there, you’ll have two choices: retake the entire TOEFL exam free-of-charge to get a proper score, or choose not to retake the exam and get a full refund. (In which case, you won’t get a TOEFL score.)

      This is obviosuly not the best of situations. The good news is that failure of the exam center microphone really is rare. If you’re worried this might have happened to you, consider contacting TOEFL customer service to check:

  51. meg May 21, 2016 at 5:43 am #

    Lucas can you please help me out,
    i took my TOEFL today i did my reading listening and writing section fine but i completely messed up my speaking section
    the first question i did not even answer properly , the second ones i gave quite a few amount of gaps between two sentences i wasn’t able to finish an answer in question i gave one example time ran out by the time i was giving my second example !! is it going to affect my score really bad ??? I’m quite confident about reading,listening and wrting sections

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 21, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

      Meg— OUCH! Sorry to hear about those problems on your Speaking section! Good news though… probably.

      If you really excelled in the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections, AND you did well after your problems with the first two TOEFL Speaking Tasks, you’ll probably still get a pretty good score on the TOEFL. But those mistakes will still affect your score noticeably— you’ll score at least a a point or two lower than you would have if you’d given better answers on Speaking Tasks 1 and 2. Whether your score will be good enough to get into school depends on the schools you’re applying to, of course… Since every school has different TOEFL scoring standards.

    • Jeanne May 25, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Hello Meg. In may 21 was my exam also. I just want to know if the test is the same everywhere??? . And during the break I had asked a couple of other test takers about extra section they had. Surprisingly, I had extra listening but they had extra reading… how it could happen… And what extra did you have??? Thanks.

  52. Aurora June 3, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Hi Lucas, I just took my toefl exam today. I think I did ok in listening and speaking. I’m more worried on how i did on my reading and writing. I had 4 passages in my reading at at the end had to rush and couldnt answer about 8 last questions, I had a hard time understanding what I was reading under pressure. As for writing, I didnt have time to complete at least 300 words on the 2d task, I only got about 250 words. However, I think my grammar wasn’t too bad, so I’m really not that sure how I did.
    For my speaking section, I tried to respond as best as I could, On one task I gave a quick answer and left almost 10 seconds without saying anything else. On another task I gave my answer and since I still had time, tried to say something else but finally was cut in the end.
    I do know I am fluent and can manage myself very well in an english environment. I just spent 6 months working in a completely english speaking environment and sometimes I was confused to be native because I had almost no accent.
    I have to get at least 80 in total to apply to a program I’m trying to go to, I’m just worried I won’t make it.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 6, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

      Wow! A lot going on there. Even after test day, there can be a lot of reasons to feel anxious. To address each of your concerns:

      Reading: Missing the last 8 answers completely can definitely put a dent in your score. If those are the only answers you missed, your reading score will be at a 24. If you miss total of 15 answers, you could drop below 20 in TOEFL reading. And if your other sections are also near or below 20, there could be a risk that you’d get less than an 80 on the test as a whole. That’s a lot of “ifs” though— even with those 8 questions missed, there’s still a decent chance you’ll hit your target score of 80.

      Writing: The TOEFL recommends between 180-230 words for Writing Task 1, and around 300 words for Writing Task 2. But these are just recommendations. It’s possible to be under the suggested word count and still get a good score. What’s most important is answering the task question clearly and completely.

      Speaking: Ideally, you want to speak as close to the end of the time limit as possible. 5 seconds short is usually OK. just under 10 seconds short might hurt your score a little, but can be OK too. More than 10 seconds under time almost always indicates an insufficient answer, but thankfully, you didn’t fall more than ten seconds short. Getting cut off during your final thoughts, after you’ve already given a complete answer, will hurt your score very little. The completeness of your answer is the most important aspect of your score.

      From what you’ve told me, I think you still have a good shot at getting the 80 you need. If you do fall short though, you’ll probably do better on the retake. It sounds like you have the language skills for a good TOEFL score, but that you struggled with some of the test skills. Testing skill can be learned and improved pretty easily for a retake.

  53. John June 12, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    Hey!! Thanks for all that information It really helps a lot. By the way,, I took the test yesterday and in the last question of the listening section I could not press the buttom “ok” to confirm my answer but I had selected the correct option already. Do you know If that question will be considered as answered? Please, I can’t get that out of my mind. Specially considering that in the TOEFL test every point counts.

    Best regards. And thanks for all the time that you take commenting our questions.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 14, 2016 at 7:34 am #

      Hi John,

      That is not good! Did you report the technical error to the test supervisors on the day? That kind of thing should be reported. I do not know how the program deals with that issue, so you should also consider writing to ETS and asking them about this exact issue. They can give you a 100% definitive response. Good luck! 🙂

  54. Lena July 6, 2016 at 10:43 am #

    Hello there,

    I chanced upon your blog and found it interesting and insightful. Incidentally, I also happen to be a native speaker, hold a BA (Hons) in English Literature from one of the world’s best universities and to boot, I’m a qualified Cambridge GCE O and A Level English examiner for my country’s education ministry. I had to sit for the TOEFL because I am going to further my studies in the UK and I come from a former British colony whose English is considered by the British government to be potentially not up to scratch. Why the TOEFL instead of the IELTS? Simply because I had a TOEFL test centre close to home and the results were delivered quickly.

    If I may, I’d also like to share my thoughts. I sat for the exam with zero preparation and totally clueless about the format. Even as a native speaker, I found the paper exhaustingly long yet demanding of the utmost concentration.

    1. Reading – 30/30 (Read with strategy, do not waste time swallowing an entire text before answering its questions)
    The first text was already dense and esoteric so I casually took 20 mins to digest it. Some questions also had similar options and the text had to be repeatedly consulted so I took another 20 mins answering them. However, I noticed that the many vocabulary questions were straightforward and could be answered without reference to the text. The whole text actually need not be read once in its entirety. It was possible to answer the questions accurately by reading only the paragraph concerned or in some cases, just literally locating the question in the paragraph and finding the answer no more than a few lines away. Time was running out for me so I applied this strategy and miraculously cleared the remaining texts in 15 minutes, with 5 minutes remaining. A close shave but nevertheless exhausting and daunting, what with 3-4 dense and dry texts with 42 questions, some having similar answers, to answer in an hour.

    2. Listening -24/30 (Focus and take note of as many details as possible, no matter how fatigued)
    My worst-performing section. This was daunting as I was allowed only one listening of the recordings that were bombarded endlessly at me for over 90 minutes. I imagine that after a few recordings, candidates would already be exhausted. The American accent was not too much of an issue despite my exposure to largely British accents. However, what complicated matters were that some of the recordings were esoteric lectures on science that were complete Greek to an arts major like myself. Furthermore, highly detailed note-taking was essential as questions sometimes focused on little seemingly insignificant details. Lastly, some questions had similar answers and required thorough reflection. As a result, I didn’t have time to answer one question whose answer I knew!

    3. Speaking -26/30 (Do not waste time summarising and presenting ideas, make sure you expound on your own)
    With only an average of 30 seconds to take notes, plan answers and present them fluently, I had to speak whatever came to mind first. There was no time to think of the best way to convey my answers. Presenting what I read or heard was one of the requirements and I made a grave mistake by spending time presenting the ideas in depth while not having enough time to elaborate on my own ideas.

    4. Writing -28/30 (Just type away, do not waste time writing drafts and planning)
    This was the most manageable and reasonable section in my opinion. With comprehensible and grammatically sound English as well as the ability to organise ideas in paragraphs, scoring should not be an issue.

    All in all, the TOEFL also poses challenges even for the native speaker.

    • Akhil November 7, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

      Interesting and thanks for taking such an effort to help people like us. I’m not a native speaker and will be taking my TOEFL next month. I took 2 practice tests and this has been my experience so far.

      For the reading section, I noticed that the strategy of reading just the statement concerned would most probably help in answering a question correctly. However, if there’s some time left at the end, it’s better to go look at the whole passage once.

      For Listening section, as Lucas mentioned, isn’t it difficult to maintain notes while listening to the convo as we might miss some important points while doing so?

      Finally, I think I now have a clear idea on how to handle the Speaking section. As this section isn’t evaluated during the practice test, I was timorous about how this would go. Thanks to you and others who have shared their experience.

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 8, 2016 at 9:23 am #

        Akhil, I think you’re right on note-taking. it’s tempting to do really detailed notes in TOEFL Listening for fear that you’ll miss an important detail. But this approach will distract you and will do more harm than good.

        I also agree that it’s a good idea to revisit the whole reading passage if you have time. But often you won’t have time, and Lena is right that it’s not absolutely necessary.

        With regards to what Lena said about Listening— for TOEFL Speaking Tasks 1, 3 and 5, you really do need to make time to focus on your own ideas. But for the other tasks, it really is all about summarizing the ideas of others.

  55. alisha dahal July 6, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Hey, I want some suggestions. I had given my TOEFL exam last week and i got the score only 70. Now again i’m planning to give the TOEFL exam again within one month. Do u think i can score 90 within 1 month of time.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 7, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

      I’ll be honest with you, it’s usually impossible to boost a TOEFL score by a full 20 points in just one month. The only way this might happen is if you have pretty strong English skills, and are only weak in test skills and strategies. Test skills and strategies can be learned pretty quickly, so if that’s the only thing holding you back, you have at least some chance at a 90 next month. Otherwise, you’ll want to give yourself more than a month to boost your score— I’d say 4 months or more, ideally. Building up really good second language skills takes time!

  56. hanumansvh July 19, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Someone really help me here… I was told that the integrated writing task would have a four paragraph essay or at least there would be four points that the passage and the lecture talk about. But when I’m writing test in Barron’s the integrated task is very confusing. The test doen’t have the points and neither the professor would specify the points and refutes them.

    Does is really happen in the TOEFL exam as well. If so, what should I do, especially in the barrons cd test-2 the integrated writing task is very confusing and I’m very much in trouble seeing those questions.

    Anyone please tell me, will I be facing that type of confusing questions in the real test.??

    I’m sooo worried … my test is in about a week .. please help!!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 19, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

      The good news is that you probably won’t find the Independent Speaking Task on the real TOEFL to be quite so hard. As Lucas mentions in his review of Barron’s TOEFL iBT, the Barron’s lectures are more complicated and harder to follow than the ones on the real exam.

      Don’t worry, this doesn’t happen on the real TOEFL. In real TOEFL Integrated Writing, there will be 3-4 very clear points in the passage, and the professor will address those points obviously and specifically.

      To make sure you’re prepared for real TOEFL testing conditions, I strongly recommend using official TOEFL materials from ETS (the company that makes the TOEFL). You can immediately access some real ETS TOEFL Integrated Writing Tasks through their free online TOEFL Quick Prep materials. (Magoosh offers its own audio track for Quick Prep Volume One as well!) You can also buy official TOEFL books with full practice exams here.

  57. Andres July 31, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    Lucas how are you? I was wondering if I can take TOELF in any part of the world. I have had several difficulties when taking it here at my local area. I was thinking about going to The US and take it there. Can you tell me about the centers over there? Are they comfortable? Is the people noisy everywhere?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 1, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

      I’m sorry you had bad TOEFL test center experiences in your home country. You definitely can come to America to take the TOEFL, and you may have better luck here. By reputation, the US has some of the best-run test TOEFL testing centers in the world. ETS is headquartered in America, and they maintain pretty good quality control over in-country testing centers. Just make sure you have the ID you’ll need as a foreign national who’s visiting the USA to take the TOEFL. Check the official web page for TOEFL identification requirements before you go.

  58. Marcelo August 2, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

    Hi, I wanted to ask you if you know a place or a person who can assess my speaking section that knows about TOEFL. I’ve seen the ways to gauge my answers; however, I find it really hard. Can you help me with that?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 6, 2016 at 11:26 am #

      Self-scoring your TOEFL speaking can be pretty hard. Realistically, you’ll probably need to hire a tutor who is knowledgeable about the TOEFL and able to give you some reliable mock scores for your TOEFL Speaking. There are a number of online tutoring services that can do this. One that comes immediately to my mind is TOEFL Speaking Teacher. You could also try uploading sound files to one of the Web’s TOEFL Forums for feedback. See also: this blog’s post on how to get TOEFL Speaking feedback, and our two posts about finding a TOEFL Tutor online.

  59. Bandita August 7, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    Hi Lucas

    I took the TOEFL yesterday and have a few concerns about the testing environment, which is why I am writing this note to take your feedback and advice on a few points.

    My microphone sound check failed three times before starting the test. This threw me off completely, even after the test administrator came to my seat, checked and conducted the test on my behalf once and passed (which was also very surprising since I do not speak softly and spoke no differently from her, so I was left all the more puzzled as to why she passed the sound check and I didn’t). Anyway, she assured me that the mic’s working fine and I started the test. However, the incident threw me off a bit, and I was unable to get into my normal pace during the reading section for the first 15-20 minutes. Adding to my woes was the fact that I got the experimental 56 question reading section, and all passages seemed inordinately tough.

    Apart from the reading section problems, the rest went quite well. But now, 24 hrs after the test, I am getting a nagging feeling about the microphone again. What if my speaking section answers were not recorded at all? Is this possible? After each if the speaking tasks the computer did pop the usual “saving your response” prompt, but I can’t get the bad feeling about it to go. Am I panicking for no reason or do you think I should contact ETS and try to get some clarifications?

    Thank you, Lucas. I have studied your blogs for the test , and had high hopes of scoring well. I just hope my worst fears do not come true

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

      Hi Bandita,

      First, take a deep breath! At this point, it is out of your hands and you will have to be patient, no matter how frustrating that is. It is possible that your microphone did not work and, in that case, ETS will contact you and tell you that your entire test has been invalidated due to the incomplete test since they can’t score broken audio, but you will be given a voucher to reschedule at no cost to you. While not ideal, at least this gives you an idea what to expect.

      Good luck! I hope your audio is fine. 🙂

  60. Bandita August 7, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Thank you, Lucas! Your response has indeed calmed me down ? My fingers are crossed that the audio is fine.

    • Bandita August 15, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

      Hi Lucas!

      I just wanted to share my experience about the ‘scare’ with the technical difficulties on the audio during my test day. I hope this benefits other future test takers who might be reading this.

      So, I wrote to the official TOEFL guys on the contact page in the ETS website, explaining my fear about the audio clips not getting saved. I received a response in 36 hours, assuring me that someone would get back to me after checking my audio files. And they did – the very next day! I got a personalized message from them, assuring me that they had all my speaking files checked, and they were recorded fine and could be heard clearly. I was very happy with the prompt and clear response they provided. So here’s my advice to future test takers who might have questions or concerns after taking the test – just dart off to the TOEFL iBT ‘contact us’ page, and ask directly. You will need to provide your ETS number and registration number to receive a prompt and complete response.

      And here’s some more happy news to end my post with – I got my scores today and managed a good 111 (Reading 26, Listening 29, ***Speaking 28*** :-), Writing 28)

      Cheers and best of luck to future test takers!

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 16, 2016 at 4:03 am #

        Congratulations on a favorable outcome! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience, and I hope others can find comfort in it, too!

  61. Scaff September 3, 2016 at 11:05 pm #

    I took the test again yesterday; second time I’ve had to jump through this hoop. My experience from the first was reinforced yesterday. My tips:

    1. Do NOT hurry through the first sections. You don’t want to be the candidate speaking in hushed, embarrassed tones while others are working in silence. This is especially true if you have a shorter reading section (not everyone will have the same number of questions for reading). I finished with reading and listening well ahead of the allotted time, but let the clock tick down.

    2. When letting the clock tick down, do be sure that you’ve answered all questions. Last time I realised with 2 minutes to go that I still had one more listening task to perform.

    3. For speaking, as a native speaker, I could start organising notes as I listened to the text. This gave me a few second spare at the end of prep to actually write a strong opening sentence, which made launching into the monologue easier.

    4. The writing section is somewhat subjective. I scored the same as Lucas’ disaffected teenager with two fully considered answers. Though perhaps not following a preset structure precisely, they nonetheless clearly indicated a native speaker with a tertiary education. Both addressed the question well.

    Regarding the last point. As I need to write materials for different levels as part of my profession I’m pretty good at assessing the F-K level of my text. I would estimate I wrote for graduate level (F-K 20 or so) in my initial exam. I gave nods to . This time I knocked it back a few points to around 40 or so, which is the level a college student should be able to parse happily. I did so by removing more precise but perhaps unfamiliar vocabulary (example, using “assigned” rather than “charged” for duties) and restricting the amount of unfamiliar punctuation (using no ellipses, for example). Let’s see if that makes any difference. If it does then my advice for native speakers might be to mimic a non-native and stick to the script rather than use your natural tone.

    • Scaff September 3, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

      Oops, my toddler pressed submit before the comment was complete. I intended to say that I gave nods to different devices like alliteration, pacing, etc.

  62. Jane November 12, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    Hi, Magoosh Experts!

    I took the test today and had a technical issue during one the listening sessions. The recording paused for too long in the middle of the test and it was unresponsive; no sound was heard for more than 20 seconds. The audio then resumed but it was obvious that I missed some part of the audio, hence I was not able to answer some of the questions. ‘Luckily’, I wasn’t the only one in the room who had the problem, I was told that 3-4 students had the same problem, and the center immediately filed a case with ETS.

    I would like to know what would usually happen to the unfortunate students like me? Will ETS actually care to deal with this kind of problem that only affects a small portion of the test takers? I value every single mark in the test and I really hope my results will not be affected by this.

    You can tell that I am really worried, even if I try not to. I’d really appreciate your response to my concern.. Have a nice day! Thanks!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 13, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      I understand being worried. What an unusual and frustrating situation! The good news is that ETS usually refunds test fees and nullifies scores in situations like this. The bad news is that you’ll probably need to retake the entire test, even though the error isn’t your fault. If you want some specifics on how this will be resolved, keep in touch with the test center and with TOEFL customer service. And if you get a chance, come back and let us know what ETS was able to do for you.

      • Jane November 23, 2016 at 5:28 am #

        Hi, I am here for the update. I got 25 for listening and the test centre told me that ETS is aware of the problem because it happens so frequently. ( I guess at least in my country where the internet speed is really really slow) However, they did not specifically tell us how did they ‘take care’ of the problem. And because my overall score is okay, so I decided to put a full stop to this issue. 🙂

  63. Arthur September 22, 2017 at 10:06 am #

    Hi Magoosh experts! I took the test today, and noticed something quite odd…

    At the beginning of the test, most precisely, the reading section, I noticed that the test givers/administrators were talking a bit too much. They were three, and that was becoming quite inconvenient. I was kind of bothered with their conversation, and it made me lose my focus while answering the questions. I could also notice that after the first 20 minutes ended, they stopped. Do you think that is something ETS could be experimenting in? Does it make sense to you?

    I felt kind of bad, cause after the first passage, my reading performance got compromised. And I don`t think I got a good score.

    Overall I did good…


    • David Recine
      David Recine September 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

      I’m glad you did well in spite of the difficulty with background noise.

      One thing I can tell you is that having the test administrators talk to each other in a loud, distracting way is definitely NOT something ETS would experiment with. Instead, this is simply a sign of somewhat improper behavior on the part of those particular administrators at that particular test center.

      It probably wouldn’t have hurt to go to the administrators and politely tell them that their talk was distracting. They certainly shouldn’t have been talking loudly near test-takers.

      • Arthur September 22, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

        Thanks for your reply…

        Do you think I should report this? I`m afraid my scores in the reading section are not good enough, and might have to take the test again.

        Is this something ETS would back up?

        Thank you

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 25, 2017 at 3:25 pm #

          Hi Arthur,

          You should write to ETS and report this, but it might be too late for any further investigation to happen. At the very least, ETS should ask the test center to better administer the test for future test takers, but you never know what other kind of support you might be able to get! Good luck. 🙂

  64. kajal January 29, 2018 at 12:43 am #

    Hie lucas, I gave exam yesterday but i did not finished my last sentence in task one
    I had written 3 points in contrast but at the end I had written this.
    “Hence, keys fgf was fgf”

    I wanted to write that last line.

    All this will affect my scores?
    I Am really frustrated.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 31, 2018 at 11:42 am #

      Hi Kajal,

      While it’s not ideal, this is unlikely to significantly affect your essay score. The rest of your writing will be scored, and one sentence is not going to make or break you. Do not worry, and keep positive thoughts! 🙂

  65. Bhagyashri Sanjay Badgujar April 21, 2018 at 2:55 am #

    Hello, I need your help!
    I recently gave my TOEFL iBt test and in the writing section I forgot to conclude my essays. How many marks will be deducted from my writing score?

    • David Recine
      David Recine April 21, 2018 at 12:47 pm #

      The good news is that for TOEFL Speaking Task 1, the Integrated Essay, you aren’t required to write a conclusion. So long as your Task 1 is well organized and feels complete without a concluding paragraph, you won’t lose any points for leaving out a conclusion.

      The bad news is that conclusion is pretty important for TOEFL Speaking Task 2 (Independent). It’s hard to say exactly how many points you’ll lose for leaving out a conclusion there. That depends a lot on how strong the rest of your essay is. But based on the official TOEFL Writing rubric, I would guess that you’d lose at least one full rubric point, possibly more, for not having a conclusion in that second essay.

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