This article discusses how to prepare for the the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL IBT).  It discusses the meaning and importance of the TOEFL, choosing appropriate test dates, practice tests, and test centers, the registration process, and test fee. It highlights effective tricks that will help you get high scores.

TOEFL vs IELTS

The Test of English as a Second Language (TOEFL) is a crucial admission requirement in most American colleges, especially for international students. So, congratulations for your studying-abroad ambitions! This standardized test examines applicants’ ability to speak, read, write and understand verbal English.  Most colleges accept both Toefl and IELTS but it good to check if they have a preference before registering for either. The two tests are quite similar except that in the speaking section, IELTS uses human interviewers to assess your oral ability while in Toefl, test takers record their voices which will be rated later. Toefl is therefore better if you are more comfortable speaking to a machine than to a real person.

Toefl scores

Compared to other standardized tests like the GRE, the TOEFL is quite simple. However, colleges and departments have different cut-off points for their applicants. Some only want the Toefl score report; others want around 70 points; I have seen some that require 110 points! It is therefore important to know what score your college or department wants.

For most Kenyans, Toefl should be simple unless, of course, your college wants a super high mark. Having learned English for over 10 years, scoring 70 out of 120 in a largely multiple choice exam is a piece of cake. But 70 is not what you aim for when you are desperate for that admission, scholarship or funding. You want to dazzle the admission committee with something above 100. The speaking and writing sections are usually troublesome. The former because of the close timing and the latter because ETS, the examining body, has very particular requirements for the section. The good news is that, with proper preparation, one should easily get a good mark in these sections.

TOEFL Registration and Practice

After registration you can either enroll in one of those Toefl preparation classes or, with the right material, you can study by yourself. And about registration, you will want to register as early as possible. You will be surprised how many people want to take the test in the few available test centers. On average, you can only get an exam slot a month ahead. Ensure the available test dates at your test center are in line with your college application deadlines. It is wise to have at least a month between your test date and the college application dead. So register in June if you want your results before August. The exam costs around KSH. 19 000 and a further KSH. 4 000 for the testing center.  Right, that is a shitload of money if you’re not Kabura’s brother -in this country where money does not grow on trees and jobs died of cancer. Prep classes will set you back at least KSH. 5000. So if you are Mkenya wa kawaida you will have to study on your own. Two weeks of intensive preparation or a month of 4 hours a day should be enough to ready yourself for the test.

Toefl preparation

With the right study material studying on you own should be fun. Toefl books are quite rare in the country but with some luck, you can find used books from vendors or you can get your overseas relatives and friends send some to you. Kaplan, ETS, Princeton, Cambridge and Barrons have good prep books. You will need a book that covers all the 4 sections of the tests. Most of these will come with an audio CD for the speaking and listening sections. These publishers also provide more tutorial material on their websites -you might need to have bought a new book from them to get login details for their websites.

Apart from knowing English language, managing your time well during the test is the second most vital factor that will determine your score. Very few people fail the test because the questions were too difficult. You will need a lot of practice before the test. Most importantly, you will need to be familiar with the test format. Luckily Cambridge and Kaplan have software that simulate the test. This is the best way to practise your speed. Speed is especially critical in the speaking section. The software provides answers for the reading and listening sections as well.

Speaking section

The speaking section is the easiest part for Kenyans to fail. For each of the six questions in the sections, you have 30 seconds or less to prepare and 60 seconds or less to speak. Besides, if you are shy as I am, speaking loudly in a room full of people takes some getting used to. You will find the simulation software of great help in this section. You can record your answers to see if you are loud enough and to monitor your speed. You can also compare your answers to sample responses provided in the software. I would recommend that you take at least 3 mock tests before the real thing. Good luck!

PS: I found this FREE edX Toefl Prep course which is also … self paced!

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