If you’re shocked at how focused American students are on attending college, don’t worry: they’re not alone. Teens from all over the world aspire to attend U.S. colleges, which means they usually have to take the SAT or ACT. No wonder these tests are administered across the globe from the Åland Islands to Zimbabwe. Unfortunately for many, the SAT and ACT are administered in only one language; students for whom English is a foreign language must often prove their proficiency through an additional test.
The TOEFL is typically mandatory for teens planning to study at American higher education institutions. Most take the TOEFL iBT or Internet-based Test, which is offered in most of the world and accepted by nearly every U.S. university and scholarship program. College-bound students may feel overwhelmed by the thought of adding an additional high stakes test to an already overburdened application process, but just as a rising tide lifts all boats, prep for one test can lead to success on all others.
In other words, preparing for the ACT and SAT can be the foundation for preparing for the TOEFL iBT exam for students whose native language is not English. A great test prep program will teach real reading, writing, math, and problem solving skills, rather than just narrowly focusing on specific ACT and SAT questions. In addition, the written English skills needed to score in the upper percentiles on the SAT & ACT grammar and reading sections indicate true strength in those areas.
Of course, students should take practice TOEFL iBT tests to assess what they know and determine what they need to work on. Practice also develops familiarity with the test, a true cornerstone of test preparation. The TOEFL iBT consists of many different sections, only some of which are similar to parts of the SAT and ACT:
3-4 Passages of 12-14 Questions in 60-80 minutes
All answers are in the passage; some specialized words are defined
The Reading section is most like the Reading and Science sections of the ACT and SAT, but the TOEFL iBT
test does not include figures or graphs. Nonfiction passages are written at the university level, so they are harder than the ones on the ACT and SAT. The question types on the TOEFL iBT differ from the usual college-admissions test format: some multiple choice questions will have more than one answer.
4-6 Lectures that are 3-5 minutes long (500-800 words)
2-3 conversations that are about 3 minutes long (12-15 exchanges)
Some questions are based on tone of voice and other cues
The listening section has students analyze verbal information. The skills tested by this section are the same decoding and analyzing skills needed for the Writing and Reading sections of the ACT and SAT.
6 tasks in 20 minutes (with headset and microphone)
While a strong foundation of Reading and Writing skills will be helpful, this section of the TOEFL iBT diverges most dramatically from the ACT and SAT paradigm. Some of the tasks are independent speaking tasks, requiring students to talk about their own personal choices on a given topic. Other integrated tasks ask students to listen to or read given information, then speak about what they read or heard.
2 writing tasks in 50 minutes
The writing section of the TOEFL combines aspects of both the SAT analytical and ACT persuasive essay assignments. The Integrated Writing Task has students read a short passage, then listen to a lecture on the same topic with a different perspective, then summarize the listen passage and connect it to the reading passage. The Independent Writing Task asks students to explain and support their opinions on an given issue.