If you want to attend a top university, you need a high TOEFL score to get in. Like any test, the TOEFL has its pitfalls. Every student has trouble in particular areas. The key to getting a high score is to learn to recognize and avoid the most common mistakes.

With that in mind, here are ten of the most common mistakes students make and some tips on how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not taking timed practice tests

The TOEFL is a timed test. If you make the mistake of not practicing or of taking practice tests that aren’t timed, you may find that you have difficulty finishing the day of the test.

Mistake #2: Using informal language in the essays

Remember that the TOEFL test is intended to determine whether you can function in an academic setting. Avoid contractions (can’t, shouldn’t, etc.), slang terminology, and abbreviations.

Mistake #3: Relying on preparation materials written in your first language

The TOEFL is a test of English fluency. You might be tempted to fall back on your first language because reading about difficult topics in English is time consuming. However, since the point of the test is to make sure you can understand academic language, you won’t help yourself if you study in a language other than English.

Mistake #4: Using bad study materials

The best TOEFL study materials to use are the ones provided by ETS, the company that administers the exam. You may also want to use study guides and materials published by reputable companies such as Barron’s. Stay away from guides that are unfamiliar or poorly reviewed.

Mistake #5: Failing to familiarize yourself with likely prompts and topics

The topics that appear on the TOEFL are all academic and designed to measure your ability to attend a university where English is the primary language spoken. You can find a list of more than 150 possible prompts and topics on the ETS website.

Mistake #6: Arriving late the day of the test

Students sign up for the TOEFL months in advance. Because the test is timed, you cannot arrive late and expect to take the test. Even if you arrive with a few minutes to spare, you may end up feeling rushed and anxious as a result. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the test is scheduled to begin to give yourself time to register and settle in for the test.

Mistake #7: Spending too much time on a single question

One of the worst mistakes students make on the TOEFL is spending too long answering a single question. Time management is an important part of the TOEFL. If you find yourself feeling stumped, don’t let it slow you down. Keep an eye on the time and if you aren’t sure of the answer, make your best guess and move on.

These seven mistakes are common, but they are also easy to avoid. The key is preparation and practice. If you take the time to familiarize yourself with the test beforehand, you will be sure to get the high TOEFL score you need to get into the college of your choice.

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