20 Common TOEFL Questions Answered

Noodle Pro Christoph Dusenbury answers 20 of the most commonly asked TOEFL questions.


The TOEFL measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. If you are not a native English speaker, or you do not have a diploma or degree from a high school or college in an English-speaking country, you may need to take the TOEFL to show that you can read, listen, speak, and write well enough in English to succeed at a higher level.

Noodle Pro Christoph Dusenbury is a TOEFL expert. He has been professionally tutoring for 10 years. As one of the cofounders of a language institute in New Delhi, he personally taught more than 10,000 hours of Hindi, Urdu and English language classes to diplomats, military personnel, business people, academics, and NGO workers. At that point he had a lot of experience teaching ESL and took on the rewarding challenge to transfer that experience towards helping students succeed on the TOEFL and the IELTS.

Here, Christoph answers 20 of the most commonly asked TOEFL questions.

1) What is the difference between the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL CBT?

The TOEFL is now primarily offered only as the TOEFL iBT, which stands for: Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test. The TOEFL CBT (Computer-Based Test) was replaced by the iBT version several years ago. There is also a paper-based test still offered, but without a speaking component and it has limited testing dates and sites.

2)  What is a good study plan for the TOEFL?

On your own or with a tutor, figure out your timeline, target score, get a sense of your current level, and then figure out which areas of the test you need to focus on. Based on all that, create your study plan.

3) How do I know if I can self study or if I need a tutor?

How confident are you in your abilities to achieve your target score? How certain are you of your goals? If you have any doubts, you’ll benefit from working with a tutor.

4) Should I take a course or work 1:1 with a tutor?

You can generally learn a lot about the TOEFL in a course and pick up general, helpful tips. The biggest advantage of one-on-one tutoring is that an experienced tutor can not only zero in on your specific academic needs, but can also mentally prepare you for the test by playing to your strengths, boosting your confidence and thus helping you realize your potential.

5) How can I find a good TOEFL tutor?

Find someone who has extensive experience with the test and teaching experience. Just as important, find someone who takes the time to understand you as a student and unique individual before proceeding with a plan.

6) When should I take the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is offered all year at sites around the world and you’re allowed to take it multiple times (you can technically take it once every 12 days). Give yourself enough time to take it at least twice before you’ll need to submit your best score. As with most standardized tests, it’s often useful to take it at least once just to experience what the real test and testing environment are like. You shouldn’t feel pressured to achieve your target score on your first try.

7)  How can I prepare if I have two months until test date?

If you have 2 months to prepare, spend the first month practicing each section of the test in isolation. Thoroughly learn about each section and practice the language structures and templates that you’ll use most frequently. With your second month, switch over to complete practice tests along with self-evaluation and feedback from a tutor. If you have only one month until the test, use the same formula as above, giving yourself 2 weeks to examine each section in isolation and the final 2 weeks for comprehensive practice tests.

8) How do I manage my time on the TOEFL?

Time management is important on the TOEFL, especially for the reading and writing sections. During the reading section, you need to work efficiently, reading no more than the first 1-2 sentences of each paragraph before beginning the questions (see below). Reading the whole passage won’t increase your score; stay focused on finding the answers to those questions! When you’re working on the writing section, stick to the templates you’ve practiced and use the entire time to write, revise, and edit.

9) There are a lot of different TOEFL books. What book should I use to study for the TOEFL?

Nearly every mainstream TOEFL prep book presents useful tips, detailed summaries of the test, and provides you with ample practice. However, my personal favorite is Delta’s Key to the TOEFL iBT. Its explanations are concise and accessible to English learners and I appreciate its friendly layout.

10) What are good free resources for the TOEFL?

Some of the most reliable free resources can be found on ETS’ official TOEFL iBT site. The free resources are listed on the bottom of the page.

11) The score range is 0-120. What is a good score on the TOEFL?

This depends on the score requirements of the program you’re interested in! If we talk about scores in terms of percentiles, a score of 114, for example, would (generally) put you in the 98% percentile of all test takers, and is a fantastic score. But most programs don’t require a score nearly that high. A score of 110 would be sufficient for nearly any university program in the world and many programs require scores of 90-100.

12) What should I do if I’m aiming for a perfect score on the TOEFL?

While not completely unheard of, a perfect 120 is an awesome feat! If this is your goal, be prepared to work hard, and be prepared to take the test multiple times.

13) How many times should I take the TOEFL?

At least twice. The first time, become comfortable with the real testing environment. The second time, focus on getting the best score possible.

14) What is the hardest part of the TOEFL out of the 4 sections: reading, listening, speaking, or writing?

This depends on you and your perceptions of your English reading, listening, speaking and writing skills. It’s interesting that oftentimes the section that students consider the most difficult is not their lowest scoring area. Each section of the test deserves your respect and attention. But don’t underestimate yourself!

15)  How can I prepare for 3 or 4 passages and questions in the reading section?

I don’t recommend trying to memorize large amounts of new vocabulary or attempting to significantly improve your general English reading abilities (unless you have a lot of time to prepare). The TOEFL’s reading section requires you to work within your current level and hone effective test-taking strategies. For example, practice reading only the first 1 or 2 sentences in each paragraph of a reading passage before tackling the questions.

16) How can I prepare for the listening section?

Much like the speaking section, the content in the listening section is either conversational or academic. The key to success on the listening section is the ability to quickly note down key points in a way that makes sense to you. For most students, this requires practice. You need to be able to write your notes while continuing to listen so that you don’t miss any critical information. You only get to listen to each recording once!

17) How can I prepare for the speaking section?

You’ll respond to 3 different types of speaking tasks and the content will be either conversational or academic. Familiarize yourself with the format of each kind of task, create flexible response templates, and then complete practice questions while recording yourself. When you analyze your own strengths and areas for improvement, have the official TOEFL speaking rubrics in front you and try to give yourself a score.

18) How can I prepare for the writing section?

You need one tried and true template for the integrated writing task and one for the independent task so that no matter what the particular content is, your writing will remain coherent. When you’re actually taking the test, it can be difficult to remember to implement your template. However, through repetition, it becomes second nature and you won’t be fazed no matter what the content is.

19) How can I improve my vocabulary for the TOEFL?

While there are useful and effective TOEFL vocabulary resources available from the big players (i.e. The Princeton Review, Barron’s, Kaplan, etc.), as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t recommend trying to learn a large number of new words, especially if you don’t have a long time to prepare. Your preparation time will be better spent learning the test’s format and practicing your approach for each section.

20) Do you have any other advice for students?

Remember, as with all major tests, give yourself time and space to prepare for the TOEFL. It’s not simply an evaluation of your academic English; it’s also an evaluation of how well you know the test!