If you are a foreign student about to enroll in an English-speaking university, there is no skipping these examinations. But no fear—this article will give you a step by step guide to prepare for TOEFL/IELTS effectively with in-depth explanations surrounding the test format and helpful studying techniques.


Remember that TOEFL and IELTS are not a pass or fail exam, but standardized tests to measure your ability to use and understand the English language as it’s read, written, heard and spoken in the university classroom and the real world. Try to judge your current English proficiency; Are you a basic? Intermediate? Advanced enough to understand common academic text? Advanced enough to interact with local speakers and understand their slangs? Then think about the kind of universities you’re aiming for. You’ve probably made a good list already. Every university has their own TOEFL and IELTS score requirements, so how high a student’s score have to be depends on the university they choose to enroll in.You can start setting your score target this way. Research a bit on your chosen universities and find out the minimum TOEFL and IELTS score each regulates. This way, you have a basis on how broad and how intense your studies need to be on the long run. Of course, a desirable score is a score that exceeds the minimum—some universities will offer special benefits or opportunities for students with extra points, such as a teaching assistantship and on-campus work opportunities. Also, not all universities specify the minimum TOEFL and IELTS score, so you may need to have a score that’s in a certain range, depending on the university’s ranking (upper, mid, or average-ranking). In this case, you can go through TOEFL and IELTS own range of scores, see what level each range represents, and set your target score to the one that standardizes with with your chosen university’s ranking.

A good TOEFL score is identified by the level of performance achieved. Each test section are broken down into three to four score range levels:

1. Reading and Listening: High (30-22), Intermediate (21-15), Low (14-0)
2. Speaking: Good (30-26), Fair (25-18), Limited (17-10), Weak (9-0)
3. Writing: Good (30-24), Fair (23-17), Limited (16-1)


A good preparation makes all the difference—and a good preparation requires the right studying materials. If you google “studying materials for TOEFL/IELTS” or encounter the educational books section of a bookstore, you’ll be flooded with a lot of references. So, how to know which ones you truly need?In essence, students need to be equipped with preparation books and practice tests. You can start with those created by some of the world’s leading English program specialists:


With all the materials you need to go through, no doubt it will stress and overwhelm you.

However, by having a studying plan, you are able to have all your studying time broken down into tidbits and organized in a schedule you can follow up.

There is no “correct” or “one-size-fits-all” study plan. When creating your personalized studying plan, you should ask yourself and analyze: Which subjects do I need to prioritize? How many free hours are available?

When you’re studying for TOEFL and/or IELTS, it’s best to classify the time between studying each skill, doing the practice test and going over the answers of your practice test. Make a monthly or weekly to-do-list or make a mark in your calendar. Write in detail the subjects you want to study or tasks you want to work on and the time duration for each subject and task.


Once you’ve built a good foundation on all four skills—reading comprehension, academic level vocabulary, standard grammar—the next crucial step is to familiarize yourself with the test format.

Your TOEFL and IELTS studies will be a lot simpler and effective once you get the idea of the content of the test, the question and task types of each section, and also their rules and regulations.

The best way to do this is by regularly taking the practice test.TOEFL takes about four hours long. The test is done orderly: Reading (36-70 questions, 60-100 minutes), listening (34-51 questions, 60-90 minutes), speaking (6 tasks. 20 minutes), and writing (2 tasks, 50 minutes). IELTS test takes about two hours and 45 minutes long. The listening test consists of 40 questions (30 minutes), reading 40 questions (60 minutes), and writing 2 tasks (60 minutes). These three tests are done in one sitting. The speaking tests, consisting of three parts (11-14 minutes), may be on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.


The more you take practice tests, the more you’ll able to identify your weak spots. In this case, for a faster and more effective progress, it’s best to have a tutor alongside your studying journey.

You can join a TOEFL/IELTS course or work with a professional tutor in each of those fields. It’s better to have tutors that are both English experts and are familiar with the test form rather than just hiring an English expert. Generally, it’s hard for self-learners to know where they stand: whether progress has been made, whether there’s an unnoticed mistake committed over and over, or whether they are already well prepared for the exam. By hiring an expert tutor or teacher, you have someone alongside you with the eyes to identify the gaps in your learning process, pinpoint your weaknesses and give you the right guidance to hone each skill and tackle every section of the test.

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