Been There, Done That: TOEFL Tips

Ask any UGRAD and they will tell you that there is nothing more exciting than being selected to participate in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. They will also tell you that as soon as you become a finalist, it’s time to start getting ready for the next big step on the road to the US: the TOEFL exam. To help our future UGRAD’s get ready for the TOEFL, alumni from Serbia and Montenegro shared their tips on what worked for them and what they learned the hard way. Thanks to the following alumni for their bits of advice: Alan Kovacevic, Anja Draskovic, Jovana Gigov, Jovana Radovanovic, Igor Aksentijevic, Momcilo Radovanovic, Nina Jovanovic, Stefan Zaric, Vladimir Krstevski, and Zuzanna Cipak.

If you are taking TOEFL iBT, it consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.


In the reading section, pay special attention to sentence constructions and logical relations between words. Most of the time, it is not really about vocabulary or knowing grammar; instead it is about making conclusions based on logical reasoning.

The reading part might have 4 texts instead of 3, so plan your time accordingly.

It goes without saying that you should take notes even if you think you have knowledge of the subject. You never know what the point of the question will be, whether it’s going to be the right answer or just a distraction. If you draw a mind map as you go, you can easily see the connection between ideas.


For listening and speaking, take notes on a piece of paper since this is allowed. This helps you remember key words, even some specific phrases, so you can score more points.


Make sure you pace yourself. Keep an eye on the timer, but don’t rush. Remember that success is a combination of clear speech and clear, organized ideas (which you can’t convey if you rush).


The writing part is pretty formulaic. When it comes to the second essay, it is important to bear in mind these rules: introduction, argument 1+reasoning, argument 2+reasoning, argument 3+reasoning, and then conclusion. It is not about the validity of the arguments, but rather their proper presentation.

Before you start writing, take 5 minutes for brainstorming 3 reasons for the given topic and 3 arguments for every reason.

Test Taking Strategies

Try to finish the first two parts earlier or take a shorter break before the speaking part. When everybody starts speaking at the same time, it gets distracting and hard to concentrate on conveying thoughts properly into the microphone.

You will find a ton of really great strategies in the ETS textbook, which you can find at an American Corner in your country. It includes tips like skipping the questions you don’t know and coming back to them later, or when you are unsure of the correct answer, trying to find incorrect ones first.

To best prepare for the types of questions used in TOEFL, go through the TOEFL preparation kit published by ETS. Also, you can look at free sample tests on the TestDen website.

Stay focused. All the clues are either in the text or the question itself. Students oftentimes get wrong answers due to guessing and assuming. These standardized tests are very specific and even literal. They test your ability to concentrate and pay attention.

It is not about knowing the English language, but knowing the test rules. Study the test structure and pay attention to the rules.

Practical Advice

Be prepared for extra assignments. Sometimes there are extra tasks in every chapter and additional time allotted for them as well, so the exam can last many hours.

Eat well and make sure you have something to drink and snack on during the break. The break is the last chance you have to ‘oil the engine’ before the speaking part.

No juices with lemon or orange acids or carbonated water. They burn calories way faster. And you need calories for the test. Chocolate, bananas, tomato juice, some light sandwich or pasta – anything with carbohydrates to stay energized. And not too much coffee – caffeine will dehydrate you!

Wear something you are going to be comfortable in, even if it comes down to sweatpants – no need for overdoing it.

Get enough sleep, because you want to wake up and get there on time.

Make sure you have several forms of ID with you, just in case.

Last Tidbit of Advice

With concentration and quick wits, TOEFL is easy!

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