Joseph Larimore, TOEFL Expert

Joseph Larimore is a writer and an instructor of Manhattan Review based in New York City. He graduated from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature and Publishing. He has taught TOEFL test prep in California, Boston and NYC, and works with a variety of students.  He has been known to help students raise TOEFL test scores over 20 points.  

Who should take the TOEFL?
The TOEFL is for non-native English speakers who are applying to an English speaking academic institution. It is the standard test that schools consider as an admissions criterion to gauge a student's mastery of English for communication in academic settings.

What do TOEFL scores show?
There are four sections to the TOEFL: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. When you take the TOEFL, each of these areas will be measured on a scale of 0-30. These four are added together for an overall score. The highest possible overall score is 120. Each section tests a different aspect of English as it is used in academic settings and service interactions. If your score is 116, most likely you are in the 99th percentile. In evaluating your performance on TOEFL iBT, it is useful to compare your score with those of other students from your native country and with those of students who speak the same language as you.

Where can students take these exams?
As of September 2005, the TOEFL is offered as an iBT (Internet Based Test) and is given online at certified test centers around the world. You can locate a TOEFL test center directory of locations where the TOEFL is administered.

What should students expect from a TOEFL exam?

  • TOEFL iBT is not computer adaptive. Each test taker receives the same range of questions.
  • Test takers can take notes throughout the entire test. At the end of testing, all notes are collected and destroyed at the test center.
  • For the Speaking section, test takers speak into a microphone, and their responses are digitally recorded and sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • For the Writing section, test takers must type their responses, which are sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • Human raters, trained and certified by ETS, rate the Speaking and Writing responses.
  • TOEFL iBT has a fair number of integrated tasks testing all aspects of your English skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) in a single problem. For example, one type of the Speaking tasks asks you to (a) read a short passage, (b) listen to a response, and then (c) make an oral response. Furthermore, throughout the new TOEFL, students' integrated academic skills, such as analysis and synthesis and the ability to organize an argument, will be tested as well.

How should students prepare for the exam? Do you recommend a particular preparation method?
Although the TOEFL exam is largely a test of language ability, there are certain test-taking strategies that will ensure that you do your best on the exam. You can improve your English and your TOEFL score through expanding your vocabulary, listening and watching educational software programs, and concentrating on areas of grammar and usage that are particularly difficult for you. But the best way to make sure all of your questions and problems are addressed individually is to sign up for one-on-one tutoring with a TOEFL expert. For more advice, please read Manhattan Review Blog.

How much time should a student expect to devote to test preparation?
The preparation time necessary for each student is different. Depending on your language ability when you start preparing, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to become fully prepared for the TOEFL. Practice tests are the best way to measure how your score is coming along and how far you still have to go.

What other advice can you offer for TOEFL candidates?
Remember that the actual exam is on the computer. For many test-takers, this is not easy because reading large amounts of material on the screen not only dries out their eyes but also makes it hard to absorb the material. Simply practice reading on the computer to become better prepared for the test.

For more about the TOEFL, please read our TOEFL Guide. To find test preparation materials, please see our TOEFL directory.

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