Prep to Move Abroad


How to Prepare for the TOEFL/IELTS Exam as an International Student


If you’re thinking about applying to a top American university, you’ll need to show a strong command of the English language, which means taking either the IELTS or the TOEFL test. The admission committees use these exams to evaluate your English skills and determine your readiness for college-level studies. 

Image credit:

To be honest, IELTS and TOEFL tests can be pretty challenging, but there are several steps you can take to improve your chances of success.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the five essential steps you must take to prepare for the IELTS and TOEFL tests as an international student. 

Preparing for the TOEFL/IELTS Exam as an International Student

1. Have a Target Score

Before you dive into preparing for the IELTS and TOEFL exams, you need to set a “target” score you’re aiming for. That will guide you, keeping you motivated and on track throughout your study journey. To set this target score, research the requirements of the top US universities you’re eyeing for your applications.

Take a close look at the average scores these universities accept, and let that be your benchmark. Consider your current proficiency in English and the time you can allocate for preparation. Knowing your motivation for achieving a specific score will keep you focused and dedicated to your study regimen.

2. Find enough Study Materials

To get yourself well-prepared for the IELTS and TOEFL exams, you’ll need to gather the right study materials – it’s a bit like assembling the tools of the trade. Here’s your roadmap:

Start by hunting down reputable books and tailor-made study guides for IELTS and TOEFL preparations. These gems usually include practice tests, sample questions, and nifty strategies to level up your language game. Think of them as your trusty companions on this language-learning adventure.

But don’t stop there; the digital world is your oyster. Explore the vast realm of online resources like forums, blogs, and content on gem-packed websites like PTMA. You will find a treasure trove of both free and paid study materials. These digital troves often lay out comprehensive study plans, feature enlightening video tutorials, and serve up challenging practice exercises. They’re like your virtual mentors, guiding you through the twists and turns of IELTS and TOEFL preparation.

3. Stick to a Study Schedule

Planning your study schedule is crucial when preparing for the IELTS and TOEFL exams. It’s like plotting your course on a treasure map – you want to ensure you hit all the X marks. 

Begin by sizing up your time until the big exam day – be it weeks or months. Then, like a master strategist, divide that precious time into manageable chunks, each focusing on a specific skill like reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Now, tailor your schedule to your strengths and weaknesses. If, for some reason, wrestling with reading comprehension feels like a dragon’s challenge, carve out extra hours for mastering it. It’s all about playing to your unique tune.

To keep yourself honest and on track, consider enlisting the help of a trusty planner or the magic of online tools. They’ll be your loyal companions, helping you watch your progress and ensure you stick to the study path you’ve laid out. 

4. Get familiar with the Exam Formats

Image credit:

Let’s break down the formats of the TOEFL and IELTS tests. Understanding this is like getting the map before you embark on a journey.

The TOEFL and IELTS are two popular English language tests. The TOEFL is four hours long and has four sections, while the IELTS is two hours and 45 minutes long and has four sections. Both tests assess listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills.

TOEFL Test FormatIELTS Test Format
Reading SectionNumber of questions: 36-70 questionsNumber of questions: 40 questions
Duration: 60-100 minutesDuration: 30 minutes
Note: This part tests your knack for understanding and dissecting academic texts. You’ll need to answer questions based on the info in these passages.Note: This segment gauges your ability to grasp spoken English. You’ll listen to recordings and answer questions based on what you hear.
Listening SectionNumber of questions: 34-51 questionsNumber of questions: 40 questions
Duration: 60-90 minutesDuration: 60 minutes
Note: Here, your comprehension skills are under the spotlight. You’ll tune in to conversations, lectures, and discussions and answer questions based on your hearing.Note: In this section, your reading prowess will be tested. You’ll dive into passages and respond to questions that assess your comprehension and interpretation skills.
Speaking SectionNumber of tasks: 6 tasksNumber of tasks: 2 tasks
Duration: 20 minutesDuration: 60 minutes
Note: This section is about expressing your thoughts and opinions on various topics. You’ll respond to recorded prompts and tackle integrated speaking tasks.Note: The speaking segment evaluates your ability to communicate effectively in English. You’ll converse with an examiner and respond to various questions and prompts.
Writing SectionNumber of tasks: 2 tasksNumber of parts: 3 parts
Duration: 50 minutesDuration: 11-14 minutes
Note: Writing skills take center stage here. You’ll be given prompts and tasked with crafting well-organized and coherent essays.Note: This section showcases your writing skills. You’ll receive specific topics or situations, and your task will be to craft essays or reports.

One noteworthy detail: While the TOEFL is primarily computer-based, the IELTS test includes a face-to-face speaking section with a human examiner. So, it’s not just about the content but also the testing format.

5. Take as many Mock Exams as you can

To successfully pass the IELTS and TOEFL tests, you have to take mock exams very seriously in your preparations. They are like a dress rehearsal before the big performance. 

Mock exams let you step into the shoes of a test-taker and experience the exam’s ins and outs. Luckily, plenty of online platforms offer these mock exams and mimic the IELTS and TOEFL tests in format and difficulty.

When you dive into these mock exams, you’re not just testing your knowledge; you’re getting a taste of the time pressures, the types of questions, and the overall structure of the actual exams. It’s like getting a sneak peek behind the scenes of a magic show – it makes you more comfortable and confident when you finally step onto the stage of the actual test day.

But here’s the secret sauce: after completing a mock exam, don’t just brush it off. Dive into the post-game analysis. Scrutinize your performance, look for patterns in your answers, and identify those recurring mistakes or weak spots. 

What Next?

Achieving a top score in the IELTS and TOEFL exams and securing admission to the finest US universities is within your grasp with dedication, resilience, and intelligent preparation. But here’s the key – these exams are just one piece of the puzzle in your application journey.

In addition to acing these tests, remember the other crucial elements of your application. Craft a compelling personal statement that vividly describes who you are and why you’re a perfect fit for your chosen program. Gather strong recommendation letters that vouch for your abilities and character. And when the time comes, tackle the student visa application process diligently.

Another powerful thing you can do is subscribe to a PTMA professional package that specifically helps you prepare for opportunities as an international student.

Receive the latest news

Unlock Success!

Download your FREE guide on career secrets and discover remote job opportunities waiting for you NOW!