David Recine

Are TOEFL Skills Useful in Real Life?

“When am I ever going to use this?” is a common student question. You may wonder this as you study the TOEFL. Are TOEFL skills useful in real life?

The answer to this question is a definite “yes,” for a number of reasons.

Using TOEFL Language Skills in Real Life

The TOEFL  is designed to test your language abilities and see if you have the English skills you need for a specific real-life activity: studying abroad.

Studying abroad is a multifaceted experience. You don’t just listen to lectures and read textbooks. You also listen to conversational English from classmates, professors, and university staff. And you read important announcements and bulletins about campus affairs. You also use English to communicate with others on campus. You write essays and personal messages, give speeches in class, and respond to things that are said to you in the university setting.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

The TOEFL format is designed to help you prepare for all of the most common situations on campus. You listen to lectures. The Reading, Listening, Integrated Speaking, and Integrated Writing portions of the TOEFL give you practice with the real life “receptive” skills in English — reading comprehension and listening ability as it relates to conversations and course lectures.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing also give you a chance to build up the productive skills you need in real English-language environments. In TOEFL Integrated Speaking and TOEFL Integrated Writing, you have chances to practice summarizing academic passages, written campus bulletins, academic lectures, and school-related conversations. Your summaries of these real-life forms of campus communication can be spoken or written. Similarly, in a real study situation, you’ll be expected to write and talk about the various things you read and hear on campus. And in Independent Speaking and Independent Writing, you practice expressing yourself personally in speech and writing, which is also an important real-life school skill.

There’s also a chance you might go on to work at an English-speaking job after school. In that case, these TOEFL English skills can be useful in your post-university career. Presentations from bosses and co-workers are a lot like lectures. Conversations with co-workers require the same basic language skills as campus conversations. You may give presentations yourself, ones that aren’t too different from the speeches you need to give on the TOEFL. And you’ll be expected to write emails and memos, which involves TOEFL Writing skills.

Using TOEFL Testing Skills in Real Life

I will be honest with you. I have mixed feelings about standardized tests. Are they really the best way to assess a student’s abilities? That’s open to debate. What is not open to debate is that standardized tests are an important part of modern life around the world.

You’ll likely need to take a standardized test if you want to go on to grad school. And you’ll also take standardized tests in on-the-job training, and to apply for special work-based licenses and certificates that you need to advance in your career.

The multiple choice strategies, task design, and general “feel” of the TOEFL is similar to that of many other standardized tests you’ll probably take in your lifetime. So building test-specific TOEFL skills is certainly useful in other life situations.

The Takeaway

The TOEFL is very relevant to your life. But the TOEFL is not, strictly speaking, “real life.” TOEFL questions and tasks are deigned to simulate real life — to create activities that are life-like. As you build TOEFL skills, be aware of the real-life activities you are training for. And understand that real life is more complicated than the TOEFL. Think of the TOEFL a simplified “basic training” version of the real language situations you’ll experience after you take the test.

In many ways, the TOEFL is a simplified version of other standardized tests, too. Graduate-level entrance exams and vocational tests are more complex and specialized than the TOEFL, as a general rule. But the same basic skills of standardized testing are useful on any exam.


  • 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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