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TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language)

General Info
How to Prepare for TOEFL
My Favorite Preparation Guides

General Info

TOEFL is not the most crucial part of the application, but it is unavoidable part, which sometimes can be quite painful and time consuming. You must pass TOEFL is order to be considered for graduate studies. To pass means to receive the score of at least 237 (550 - old units) - which is quite bad, but acceptable at some universities. The score above 250 (600) will suffice for all universities if you are applying for technical specialty (and usually will suffice for all other specialties too). The maximum possible score is 300 (667). For more details on the test and scoring system visit official TOEFL website and particularly FAQ section.

To evaluate your current level you can take free test on-line (you need to register before you can do that), free paper test at the Moscow Library of Foreign Literature, or find a book. You can also view sample questions on-line (paper test: Section1, Section2, Section3 or CBT). Usually one can expect to improve his score by 50-100 "old units" after 3-5 month of everyday work of 2-4 hours a day. The higher your initial score is the longer it will take to improve it by the same number of points. It is highly advisable to start preparing for TOEFL as long beforehand as possible, if you can start preparing half a year before the test it is good if a year before - even better. Remember that you are striving for at least 250 (600) (as long as it is above that number it is not so much important what your exact score is).

How to Prepare for TOEFL

First of all, expect to work hard, there is no easy way to learn the language.

To prepare for the Listening Comprehension section (40-60 minutes, 30-50 questions):

* Listen to the native American English speakers: CNN, movies, books on tapes, American radio (you can listen via internet if you have fast connection)
* Use preparation guides, the best ones in my opinion are:
Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test, KAPLAN TOEFL Workbook
You can find some of them at the American Center in Moscow or order your own copy through Amazon.co.uk (follow the link on the name of the book). You can pay buy debit or credit card there, if you don't have one, ask your friends (possibly me) to arrange that.
* Find a friend who is interested in improving his English and talk English with him, I practiced that with my roommate and I think it was quite useful.
* Learn idioms and spoken expression, bookstores have quite a lot of books on idioms
* Attend lectures by Americans organized at the American Center or at other places in Moscow

To prepare for the Grammar section (15-20 minutes, 20-25 questions):

* Do exercises from Grammar books. I would recommend the following books: R. Murphy English Grammar in Use, Cliff's Preparation for TOEFL
* Read books and pay attention to the structure of the sentences. This will greatly enhance your intuitive choice making

To prepare for the Reading section (70-90 minutes, 44-55 questions):

* Read as much as you can. Try to read diverse literature: novels, educational articles, newspapers. Pay closer attention to the educational literature since this is the type of texts you will have on TOEFL. If there are a lot of unknown words in the text, it's ok not to check all of them in the dictionary, try to figure out words from context.
* Learn 5-20 new words everyday. Increasing your vocabulary will improve your score in all sections of the TOEFL. Try to learn recommended word lists from Barron's, Cliff's, Princeton Review or any other TOEFL word list you like. Here is a description of my favorite way to learn words.

To prepare for the Essay (30 minutes, 1 topic):

The only way to prepare for the essay is practice. Of course, you need to repeat grammar rules (which you also need for Grammar section) and punctuation, but without practice this won't give you good essay score. There is a number of ways to practice writing:

* The list of topics for the TOEFL essay is readily available (pdf file). Try choosing one topic every day or every other day and writing and essay. Give yourself only 30 minutes, first you won't be able to finish an essay in that short time, but after some practice you will. Ask your friend to read and critique your essays.
* Get the book Barron's How to Prepare for the Computer-Based TOEFL Essay and study it thoroughly (it's really good, I've used it).
* Get a pen-pal, it won't take a lot of time, but it will give you good practice and it's fun. The good places I know to look for pen-pals are the following: Hands Across the World, Parlo, Links to Many Resources

My Favorite Preparation Guides

Barron's How to Prepare for the Computer-Based TOEFL Essay

The most detailed book I know for preparation to Essay writing. If you are serious and patient about getting high score on the essay this is the right book to use.

Barron's How to Prepare for the TOEFL
TOEFL Test Preparation Kit (Book & CD-ROM) by ETS

Contains full actual paper-based tests. You will find these tests easier than in most other books. Good for extra practice. I suggest not to buy this book but just do the tests at the library.

Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test

Excellent preparation to Listening Comprehension section. Good Grammar and Reading section. Contains full tests. 8 tapes for listening exercises and tests. Highly recommend getting this book.

Kaplan TOEFL Workbook

Great book for intermediate to advanced level students. Has some reviews and plenty of good practice questions, all answers are given without explanations. Highly recommend for those who are quite confident about taking  TOEFL and need little preparation.

Cracking the TOEFL by Princeton Review