Jane Birkenhead, August 31 2022

Break your Big Goal into Smaller Steps

If you’ve been studying for TOEFL or IELTS for a while, and you don’t think you’re making progress, it’s understandable to feel frustrated and confused. 

Instead of carrying on as usual and practicing past questions over and over again, my advice is: 

Take a step back and consider your overall goal. Break it down into smaller steps. Then work on each of those steps in turn.

Let's look at how this works in practice.

The Exams

TOEFL and IELTS are English language proficiency exams. To be successful, you need to demonstrate very good or excellent (depending on your target score) language proficiency. You do this by:

Your Starting Point

If you're frustrated and feel that you're not making any progress then start by looking at your current score and your target score for each section of the exam. Then consider what you need to do to improve your current score.

At this point, it’s important to be really honest with yourself about your current level. It's worth paying for a score review, or taking a lesson with a teacher, to work out exactly where you are. A teacher will also be able to offer advice about how to improve.

The Steps

Then, you work out what you need to do to achieve your target scores in each area.

This is where you should break everything down into small steps as much as possible. For example, if your current TOEFL reading score is 19 and your target score is 25 then your overall goal is to improve your reading. The steps to achieving that goal depend on your strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps you need to:

Whatever you've identified as gaps that are missing in your knowledge, work out the steps to take to eliminate those gaps.

Also, consider the connection between language skills. For example, if you know you struggle with essay writing, you may need to improve your:

Making your Steps Contribute to your Overall Goal

When you've worked out the steps you need to follow, consider the order you're going to tackle them in. Depending on your steps, it may be logical to work on some before others. Or you may prefer to work on the most challenging first. It's up to you how you do this but it's important to have a plan.

Think of your overall goal as a lake you have to get across and your smaller tasks are the stepping stones that will help you get there. Each time you get to a new stepping stone, you'll feel a sense of achievement. That will motivate you to keep going and to achieve your target TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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