Part of every student’s TOEFL preparation is taking practice tests. TOEFL practice tests familiarize you with the types of questions you’ll see on the TOEFL, as well as the response rules and time constraints for each question type. There are five ways to get TOEFL test practice:
- Official test bundles: ETS, the company that makes the TOEFL, sells bundles of practice tests with same-day correction included. Those are the closest you can get to the real thing without signing up to take the TOEFL. If you can only afford to buy an official practice test bundle once, do it at the end of your test preparation period, just before signing up to take the real TOEFL. That way, you’ll get a nearly authentic TOEFL experience right before the truly authentic one, as well as an accurate score that tells you what you can expect to get on the real test. If your score on this official practice test isn’t high enough, there’s no point signing up to take the TOEFL. You’re not ready.
- TOEFL preparation books: All TOEFL preparation books include practice test questions, and some include full practice tests. You have to correct these tests yourself, but by seeing both question and answer, you’ll get a better understanding of how the questions work. Although TOEFL test preparation books also include writing and speaking prompts, you are not likely to be able to accurately score your own writing or speaking, so these are best for getting a feeling for the types of questions asked, rather than getting an accurate sense of what your TOEFL score will be.
- Online TOEFL practice tests: A word of warning on these. There are a lot of them, and most are nothing like the real TOEFL. I wouldn’t recommend wasting much time taking online practice tests from unofficial sources. Most of them aren’t preparing you for anything, and the score they give you is in no way related to how you’ll do on the actual TOEFL.
There’s one exception: The EFSET Plus was built to the highest academic standards with TOEFL practice in mind. It’s a free, 2 hour test that will give you an accurate score for the reading and listening sections on the TOEFL. It doesn’t test speaking or writing, but this is a very good test for tracking your progress over time on the other two test sections. Because it’s free and it stores your score, you can take it regularly during your test preparation period as a self-evaluation tool.
- TOEFL preparation courses: There are a wide variety of TOEFL preparation courses on offer, both in your country and abroad. Any TOEFL preparation course that’s worth the price will include at least one practice test. Most include more than one, with detailed corrections and feedback about how to do better. TOEFL preparation courses can be expensive, but many students find them more effective than studying on their own. EF offers TOEFL preparation courses in several destinations.
- Take the TOEFL: A lot of students don’t think of this, but you can sign up to take the TOEFL just for the practice, knowing you won’t get the score you need. You’re allowed to take the TOEFL as many times as you like (although there’s a 2 week delay between sessions). No school or employer is going to know how badly you did 6 months ago unless you decide to send them your score. It’s a somewhat expensive way to practice, but it’s also the only entirely authentic way. By taking the actual TOEFL as a practice exercise, you’ll get your score, but you’ll also experience the test taking environment. Many students are surprised by how distracting it is to take the TOEFL in a crowded room on an unfamiliar computer. Having done it once before is a great way to be prepared on test day.