Overview of TOEFL Prep Options
The TOEFL is designed to be a rigorous assessment of English language skills in non-native speakers. In order to produce satisfactory scores, test-takers must show more than the distinct skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking – they must also demonstrate that they are capable of combining these skills into functional communication in English. Students required to take the TOEFL must be prepared for the exercises on each section of the exam, and adequate performance is almost always the result of careful preparation. Even students with a fairly strong understanding of the English language can falter on the TOEFL without the focused skill development that professional methods of preparation generally provide. Passing TOEFL scores are rewarded by full admission, assuming students are otherwise qualified applicants. Some institutions offer provisional admission for international students with scores below the established minimums, but this admission is usually accompanied by expensive and time-consuming language requirements. Thorough TOEFL preparation ultimately saves students both time and money.
Students preparing for the TOEFL have several options, including prep courses, individual tutoring, books, videos, and online resources. Prep courses are characterized by group instruction with an individual teacher. The main advantage of this preparation method is a coherent approach to TOEFL content with a knowledgeable instructor. A further benefit to TOEFL classroom instruction is the variety of perspectives provided by the group of students. TOEFL private tutoring is generally more expensive than group classes, but this method of TOEFL study allows students to work exclusively on their own TOEFL weaknesses (as opposed to the more general content necessitated by group contexts). The focused nature of individual instruction often results in faster progress than is likely in a class with several students. The qualifications of TOEFL teachers can be wildly inconsistent, and test-takers should carefully screen prospective instructors for relevant teaching credentials and experience. Finally, it is theoretically possible for students to prepare for the TOEFL on their own, using books, videos, and online resources. This method of study frequently produces poor scores, largely because of the lack of structure and accountability provided by a qualified teacher.
Because the TOEFL PBT is no longer taken by most students, the vast majority of preparation resources and materials are intended for the iBT. Options for PBT study are therefore rather limited. There are a number of PBT guides and textbooks still in print, but PBT prep courses are few and far between (with so few PBT administrations, it isn't economically viable for most test prep firms to offer PBT classes). The best option for students taking the PBT is probably individual tutoring, which can be customized to that version of the TOEFL.
International students are urged to remember the primary purpose of the TOEFL, which is to ensure that they have the English abilities necessary to succeed in their university coursework. Obviously, a "passing" score is the short-term goal, but students without sufficient language skills are likely to struggle in college classes. Informed and experienced TOEFL educators therefore suggest setting score goals of 100 composite and 25 on each of the test's four sections. Students who achieve this level of TOEFL proficiency can be confident in their command of the English language in academic contexts, and these scores are acceptable to almost all degree programs. A quick internet search will show a large number of degree offerings that will accept lower scores (in some cases much lower), but many of these programs have low TOEFL standards because they are starved for tuition revenue. Inadequate language skills create numerous difficulties for international students, regardless of the specific institutional TOEFL standards.
Test-takers must consider their own learning preferences as well as their academic strengths and weaknesses. Some students enjoy the group interaction of classroom settings, while others learn more effectively in one-on-one contexts. Mode of delivery can also be a factor, and group classes and private tutoring are often available both on-site and online. The former offers a higher degree of accountability, and may therefore be the best choice for students who have issues with self-discipline. The latter is much more convenient, but requires more responsibility of the student. In all cases, it is absolutely vital to conduct a thorough assessment of prospective teacher credentials. Poorly qualified teachers quite simply produce poor results.