Prepping for the TOEFL with Mami Takeda

TakedaMamiCROP2 For many international students pursuing a college education in an English-speaking country, one of the most significant steps in their admissions process is taking the TOEFL test, which measures how well non-native English speakers can use and understand the English language. TOEFL test scores are accepted by more than 10,000 colleges and universities, as well as governments, exchange programs, and scholarship funders around the world. Mami Takeda, Ross School’s coordinator for the English for Speakers of Other Languages program, has taught English to non-native speakers in the United States, Japan, Spain, and the Philippines. Here are some of her suggestions for those preparing to take the TOEFL.

In your experience, what aspect of the TOEFL concerns students most? What students worry about most is the time restriction, especially in speaking and writing sections, in which they have limited time to prepare their answers. For example, the speaking section allows test takers 15 seconds to put their ideas together and then only 45 seconds to speak.

What strategies do you recommend for preparing for the writing and speaking sections? To tackle both of these sections, students should work on organizing their ideas quickly by using an outline template. They should also practice, practice, practice with a timer to become comfortable with the time limit.

How soon before the test date do you recommend students begin a concerted study effort? Students should begin practicing with mock tests at least a year before their test date, but it’s important that they begin improving their overall language skills as early as possible. There are institutions that teach test-taking "tricks," and often students think that's enough preparation, but it is not. Their true abilities, especially accuracy and fluency in language use, will be shown clearly in speaking and writing. Starting test preparations without the sufficient English skills and knowledge will not help much.

Can you provide any test day tips to help nervous students? Practice! Preparing early, practicing many times before the test day, and becoming familiar with the testing process will help students to become more confident. Students should also remember that this is just a test—they can take it again! Start your TOEFL journey early, so there’s enough time to prepare, practice, and retake if necessary.

ETS, the organization that administers the TOEFL test, offers a collection of study materials both free and for purchase. For more information, visit