Attending a college or university is a major endeavor, even if you are enrolling in a school where the primary language spoken is a language you have been speaking since birth. The challenge only increases if you are contemplating going to a school where a language that you are still learning happens to be the language of choice.

When preparing for the TOEFL English proficiency exam, it’s important not just to read and listen to plenty of things in English, but also to listen to the right kinds of things. There is some benefit to listening to anything in English, but your primary focus must be on the kinds of things that are most likely to be included on the TOEFL exam.

What to Read as You Prepare for the TOEFL

Let’s start by looking at what you should be reading as you prepare for the TOEFL English proficiency exam. It’s important to read a wide cross-section of material since your college courses may include reading fiction as well as non-fiction. However, remember that the focus of the TOEFL is on academic materials. Here are some things to read.

  1. English language textbooks. A great deal of your college reading will consist of textbooks. See if you can get your hands on one or more English language textbooks. You may be able to find excerpts from textbooks online. Read as much as you can.
  2. Academic studies. Often, the language in academic texts – particularly in studies and papers – is extremely formal and technical. You must become accustomed to reading this type of language if you want to do well on the TOEFL exam and in college.
  3. Transcripts of lectures. You may be given a transcript of a lecture as part of your TOEFL exam. You can find transcripts of many lectures on university websites and even on YouTube.

As you read these materials, make sure that you challenge yourself to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words based on the context in which they are used. This is a skill that will serve you well on the day of the exam.

What to Listen to as You Prepare for the TOEFL English exam 

Now let’s talk about listening material. Here again, it is important to note that there is some value to be gained by listening to anything in English.

However, the primary goal of the TOEFL English proficiency exam is to assess your readiness to thrive in an academic environment, so the bulk of your listening preparation should revolve around university life. Here are some things to include in your listening practice:

  • Online lectures (both video and audio). If you’re going to be successful in college, you must be able to listen to and comprehend English in its spoken form. Many colleges and universities feature professors and lecturers from all over the world. You can seek out filmed lectures online. YouTube, edx.org and coursera.org are excellent sources, as are many private university websites. Make sure to seek out speakers with different accents, and to compare your comprehension with a written transcript.
  • Journalist interviews – particularly long-form interviews about academic subjects – also make good preparation material for the TOEFL. You may want to seek out interviews on public radio as well as on television. Again, challenge yourself to listen to interviews with people with a variety of accents.

Here again, it is important to challenge yourself to determine the meaning of new words based on the context. It is impossible to overstate how essential it is to expose yourself to a variety of accents. Sometimes even students who have spoken English since they were babies have a hard time understanding thick accents.

In short, the more you listen, the better prepared you will be for the realities of college life.