Jane Birkenhead, June 10 2022

25 Skills Building Exercises from the TOEFL Official Guide

It’s nice to get things for free. Sometimes though we need to spend money to make the important things in life, like TOEFL, happen. So, instead of asking if something is free, ask if it gives you value for money. 

For example, if you know that you need to improve your language proficiency for TOEFL, then investing in the TOEFL Official Guide could make a really big difference to your progress. 

It’s $25 but here are loads of skills building exercises you can use it for. Here are 25 of my favourites.

25 Skills-Building Exercises to Improve your English Proficiency

1. Use the transcripts from lectures and conversations for reading out loud practice.

2. Listen to the audio files of high scoring speaking responses. 

     -> Repeat them out loud and notice how the speaker has focused on the important points in the question.

3. Go vocabulary hunting in the reading passages. Look for:

     -> high frequency academic vocabulary

     -> subject specific phrases

     -> function word phrases

     -> make notes and learn this new vocabulary.

4. Choose an example of a lower scoring essay. 

     -> Read it, then retype it and improve it.

5. Check the Writer’s Handbook for English Language Learners.

     -> It’s Chapter 10 on p.613 and has lots of useful information.

     -> Study grammar constructions you’re not confident about using.

     -> Practice using them.

6. Use the audio files from the listening section for delivery shadowing.

7. Choose a reading passage about a subject from the past.

     -> Search for all the phrases that mention dates. 

     -> Make sure you understand exactly what they mean.

8. Listen to some low-level speaking responses.

     -> Read the rater comments to understand why they received that score.

     -> Try the response yourself and improve it.

9. Try a reading or listening practice test.

     -> Read the answer explanations even if you got a question correct.

     -> This will help you understand incorrect options for harder questions.

10. Search a reading passage for dependent clauses. Make sure you understand their function.

11. Practice note-taking for the listening section by choosing a lecture on a difficult topic.

     -> Play a few sentences then pause the audio.

     -> Write your notes.

     -> Click play and do the same thing again.

     -> Repeat in this way until the end of the lecture.

12. Find some good signal phrases in listening lecture transcripts. 

     -> Practice using them in your own speaking.

13. Read a reading passage then explain out loud what you understand.

     -> Imagine you’re telling a friend all about it.

14. Practice note-taking by listening to a speaking T4 lecture. Listen twice.

     -> The first time, take notes on the main points ONLY.

     -> The second time, take notes on details. Add them to your 1st notes.

     -> Then explain what you heard.

15. Listen to some T2 conversations.

     -> Write down all the different phrases speakers use for agreeing and disagreeing.

16. Find a friend and take turns reading a listening section conversation out loud.

     -> Use stress and pauses to sound convincing.

17. Read the transcript for a difficult listening lecture (like astronomy or geology).

     -> Make sure you really understand the concept the lecturer is talking about. 

     -> Look up anything you don’t understand.

     -> Study Tip: Google images of processes. They make everything clearer!

18. Hunt for useful, natural phrases in high scoring speaking T1 responses. 

     -> Practice using these phrases and incorporate them into your own responses.

19. Practice your typing by choosing a high scoring essay and typing it word for word.

20. Improve your listening comprehension by following the transcript as you listen to a lecture.

21. Use the Independent Writing Topics on p.210 as speaking T1 questions.

22. Read the text for some speaking T3 questions.

     -> Paraphrase the text by speaking out loud.

     -> Time yourself and aim to finish in 15 seconds.

23. Read the skills-building advice on p.26. Choose some of the exercises and try them out.  

24. Choose a reading passage you’ve read before.

     -> Read it again, but this time time yourself and read it faster to practice speed-reading.

25. Read the advice + explanations about how to answer the questions in each section. 

     -> This advice comes from the makers of the test, so it’s good advice.

And here's a bonus 26th exercise!

26. And of course, use all the practice questions to practice your skills and prepare for TOEFL.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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