The Three Types of Skills on the TOEFL

toefl skills

What skills are assessed on the TOEFL? English skills, obviously. But no—the TOEFL doesn’t just test English. There’s so much more to the exam than that.

Today, I’m going to give you a breakdown of three distinct skill types that you’ll need to master for the TOEFL. We’ll start with English skills and work from there.

English Skills Tested on the TOEFL

In a nutshell, the TOEFL will test you on the following English language skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. These four skills make up the four sections of the TOEFL. These sections—TOEFL Reading, TOEFL Listening, TOEFL Speaking, and TOEFL Writing—are even named after the skills.

Looking beyond the names of the skills, the TOEFL assesses specific aspects of these four skills. TOEFL Reading tests your ability to read nonfiction educational texts written at the first-year university level. TOEFL Listening tests your ability to accurately hear beginner-level university lectures in English. This section also tests your ability to listen to university-themed conversations about business and life on campus. TOEFL Speaking and TOEFL Writing include similar passages, lectures, and conversations. But these sections also test your ability to give short solo speeches and write short academic essays.

Academic Skills tested on the TOEFL

The second skill tested on the TOEFL is academic skill.

To some degree, the English skills I described above qualify as academic skills. There is both a language component and an academic component to reading textbook passages, listening to lectures, writing essays, etc.

However, some skills that you need for the TOEFL are really pure academic skills that are not directly linked to the English language. For example, you’ll need to take notes on the lectures and conversations you hear. You can write your notes in your native language or in English. What’s important is that you write notes that are useful to you.

Pacing is another TOEFL skill that’s not strictly tied to your English ability. For the TOEFL, you must carefully budget your time for reading, writing, or answering questions. This is an important academic skill in any language.

In TOEFL Speaking and Writing, the academic skill of content development and organization is especially important. For a top score on these two sections, you need to be good at planning and organizing short speeches and essays. This is a school skill, but not necessarily an English skill. These kinds of content development skills will serve you well in your native language too.

Test Skills on the TOEFL

Some of the skills you need for the TOEFL are skills related directly to the test itself.

You’ll need question and task strategy skills for the TOEFL. This means knowing the different question types in TOEFL Reading as well as the TOEFL Listening question types. You should also know and understand the varied task types in TOEFL Speaking and TOEFL writing.

It’s especially important to understand how the TOEFL’s multiple-choice questions are designed. Learn the common ways that wrong answers can trick you. Learn what right answers on the TOEFL look like so you can identify them more quickly.

In short, learn to think like the people who make the TOEFL so that you understand the test format as well as they do.

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  • David Recine

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

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