Lucas Fink

TOEFL Tuesday: The Hardest Part of the TOEFL

As you probably know already, the TOEFL can be a challenging test. Students often wonder what the hardest part of the TOEFL will be when they begin studying for the test.

The hardest part of the TOEFL is different for each student. What is hardest really depends on your background and your experience with the English language. However, there are common hardest parts of the TOEFL that many students struggle with. Let’s go over what these common hardest parts are.

Which skill is hardest for you?

The TOEFL has four sections. Each of these sections tests a particular skill: Reading, Writing, Speaking or Listening. Many students find that one of these skills (and the corresponding section) is the hardest part of the TOEFL for them.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

Students who take the TOEFL come from different backgrounds. For example, there are some countries where students practice a lot of reading and writing in English, but they do not work much on speaking. These students tend to have a hard time with the Speaking section of the TOEFL. Other students speak English fluently, but have not spent much time reading and writing in English. For these students, the Reading and Writing sections are usually the hardest part of the TOEFL.

It’s important that you ask yourself which of the four skills that are tested on the TOEFL is most difficult for you. Which one do you have the least practice with? This might be the hardest part of the TOEFL for you. You should practice this skill more than the others!

Speed problems

Since the TOEFL is a standardized test, it is a bit different from real life situations where you need to use English. Therefore, some students find that they have “test specific problems” on the TOEFL. For example, many students have speed problems: they find they don’t have enough time to answer all of the questions on the test. 

This is often a problem on the Reading and Speaking sections. On the Reading section, for example, you are given 20 minutes to read a text and answer a set of questions related to the text.

If you find it difficult to read quickly in English, or if you often have a hard time answering all of the questions on tests, you need to start doing timed TOEFL questions immediately! The more timed practice you can do before test day, the better.

Focus problems

Other students find that the hardest part of the TOEFL for them is staying focused. This can be especially difficult when you have to listen to a recording. On the TOEFL, you can only listen to recordings once. If you lose focus, and don’t pay attention while the recording is playing, you don’t get a chance to listen again. When students miss important information from the recordings, they cannot answer the questions correctly.

The TOEFL will have you listen to recordings on three sections of the test: Listening, Speaking, and Writing. If you think that you might find it challenging to stay focused, you should begin listening to recordings as soon as possible! Practicing will help you get better at saying focused. Make sure you take good notes when you’re listening to the recordings.

These are some of the biggest problems that students often have on the TOEFL. It’s important to know what will be the biggest problem for you, so that you can begin practicing that particular skill early in your studies.


  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

More from Magoosh