Writing Faster During the TOEFL Exam

Even for a native speaker, it can be difficult to remember all of the information from a TOEFL lecture without taking notes. Fortunately, you can take notes on any section of the test (the notes will be destroyed when the test is over). Although this is a great help, it can also complicate the matter further, since you have to learn to multitask. This post will give you some tips to speed up your writing so that it won’t bog you down as you try to interpret the material from a lecture.


Make a shorthand and practice it

Use plus signs and minus signs to indicate positive and negative effects, arrows to show causality and relationships, and make up abbreviations for commonly-used words (bio. for biology, biologists, and biological; comp. for competition; i.e. to mark an example). Use not only abbreviations, but also symbols, and even quick drawings (like a happy face to mark an advantage).

Here are some common words you may want to make abbreviations for (words on the same line can share an abbreviation, as the exact word meant will be clear from context):

biology, biologist, biological

chemistry, chemist, chemical


anthropologist, anthropology

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benefit, advantage

drawback, disadvantage

economic, economy, economist

history, historically, historian

geography, geology, geologist, geological

literature, literary, literal, literally

administer, administration


resource/natural resource


technical, technological, technology


Practice note-taking

Do you like watching American sitcoms? Great, use them to study. Sit down with your favorite show and practice taking notes—what are the most important things people say? What jokes and gags are in the show? What’s the main plot of this episode? I admit that this won’t be nearly as much fun as relaxed TV-watching, but it will help you to pick out the important information and get it on paper quickly, as sitcoms move very quickly.

Intersperse your TV note-taking sessions with academic note-taking, so the abbreviations we talked about at the beginning of this post will be automatic, and you’ll be used to taking notes on thought-provoking material (which, let’s face it, sitcoms aren’t).


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  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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2 Responses to Writing Faster During the TOEFL Exam

  1. Sameeha January 9, 2015 at 4:58 pm #


    Just for the record, we weren’t allowed as much paper as we wanted at the center I took my test in. They said they were specifically instructed by ETS to provide 2 pieces of scratch paper, and then an extra one if needed, but not more.

    By the way, I used the Magoosh TOEFL 1-month subscription for my test prep (used for ~ 3 weeks to be exact) and scored R: 27, L: 27, S: 28, W: 28, total: 110. I’m very happy with my score. Thanks! 🙂


    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas January 12, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks for telling us your experience, Sameeha! I took out the section about having as much paper as you need—you’re right that it is limited. The majority of students will have enough paper to space out their notes and not have a problem, and some test centers will be less strict about the limit, but we don’t want to mislead anybody, of course. And that’s great that you hit your target score after preparing for Magoosh—110 is awesome! I’m glad we could help you get there. Good luck in your applications!

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

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