Crush Your TOEFL Test: Tips and Strategies to get 120 on TOEFL

Ace the TOEFL with our guide to Reading, Listening, Speaking & Writing strategies. Learn proven techniques to boost your score and confidence.

Sherzod Gafar
August 17, 2023
12 MIN
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Crush Your TOEFL Test: Tips and Strategies to get 120 on TOEFL

So English is not your first language, and you plan to study in an American university or college. In that case, you'll likely have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL test. The TOEFL is designed to evaluate the English proficiency of non-native speakers. Navigating the test can be challenging, but intermediate to advanced English learners can succeed with the right hacks and strategies. Here's a comprehensive guide with tips, hacks, techniques, and verified resources to help you crush your TOEFL test ūüĒ•.


  1. What score should you aim for?
  2. Understand the TOEFL structure
  3. General Strategies and Tips
  4. Strategies for the reading section
  5. Strategies for the listening section
  6. Strategies for the speaking section
  7. Strategies for the writing section
  8. Verified Resources for TOEFL preparation

1. What score should you aim for?

The TOEFL score requirements vary widely depending on the university tier, the level of study (bachelor's or master's), and whether you are seeking a scholarship. Here's an overview to give you a clearer picture:

Top-Tier Universities

Such institutions are often recognized globally and are highly competitive. For example:

  • United States:¬†Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University
  • United Kingdom:¬†University of Oxford, University of Cambridge
  • Canada:¬†University of Toronto

For prestigious, top-tier universities, TOEFL score expectations are typically high. 

  • Bachelor's Programs: A score of 100 or above (out of 120) is commonly expected. Some may even require a score as high as 110.
  • Master's Programs: Expectations can be even more stringent, often requiring scores between 100 to 115.
  • Scholarships: If you're aiming for a scholarship, you might need to score towards the higher end of these ranges, as scholarships are often highly competitive.

Mid-Tier Universities

These universities offer a wide range of programs and have solid reputations but may not have the global prestige of top-tier institutions.

  • United States:¬†University of Maryland, Boston University, University of Florida
  • United Kingdom:¬†University of Leeds, University of Southampton
  • Australia:¬†University of Adelaide, Macquarie University

Mid-tier universities tend to have more flexible TOEFL requirements.

  • Bachelor's Programs: Scores usually range from 80 to 100.
  • Master's Programs: Similar to bachelor's, but some may require slightly higher scores, especially for competitive fields.
  • Scholarships: Higher scores will generally increase your chances of obtaining a scholarship. A score above 100 may strengthen your application.

Lower-Tier Universities and Community Colleges

These institutions often provide more accessible entry points and may focus more on teaching rather than research.

  • United States:¬†Portland State University, DeAnza College, Broward College
  • Canada:¬†Lakehead University, Capilano University
  • United Kingdom:¬†University of Sunderland, London South Bank University

These institutions often have the most flexible TOEFL requirements.

  • Bachelor's Programs: Scores might range from 60 to 80.
  • Master's Programs: The expectations might be slightly higher, but generally, the flexibility continues.
  • Scholarships: While the score requirements may be lower, demonstrating proficiency through a strong TOEFL score can still boost your scholarship prospects.

Note on Individual Departments and Programs

It's essential to recognize that individual departments or programs within a university may have specific TOEFL requirements. Highly technical or language-intensive courses might have higher requirements compared to others.

2. Understand the TOEFL Structure

Before diving into preparation, knowing the TOEFL test's layout is crucial. Familiarize yourself with the four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, and understand the question formats and timing.

Here's a detailed outline of the TOEFL test structure with durations for each section:

Reading Section

  • Duration:¬†60 to 80 minutes
  • Tasks:¬†3 to 4 reading passages, each followed by 12 to 14 questions
  • Purpose:¬†To assess the ability to understand and interpret academic reading material

Listening Section

  • Duration:¬†60 to 90 minutes
  • Tasks:¬†6 to 9 passages, each followed by 5 to 6 questions | 4 to 6 lectures, with 6 questions each | 2 to 3 conversations, with 5 questions each‚Äć
  • Purpose:¬†To evaluate the ability to understand spoken English in academic and everyday settings

Speaking Section

  • Duration:¬†20 minutes
  • Tasks:¬†6 tasks in total. 2 independent speaking tasks: Express personal opinions on familiar topics +¬†4 integrated speaking tasks: Speak based on reading and listening tasks
  • ‚ÄćPurpose:¬†To measure the ability to speak English in an academic environment

Writing Section

  • Duration:¬†50 minutes
  • Tasks:¬†2 tasks in total. 1 independent task: Write an essay expressing personal opinion (30 minutes) +¬†1 integrated task: Write based on reading and listening tasks (20 minutes)‚Äć
  • Purpose:¬†To gauge the ability to write in English in a clear and coherent manner

Total Duration

  • 3.5 to 4 hours, including a 10-minute break after the listening section


  • Each section is scored on a scale of 0 to 30
  • The total TOEFL score ranges from 0 to 120

3. General strategies and tips

1. Don't Overthink

Avoid over-analyzing the questions or answers. Stick to what the passage states, as TOEFL questions are usually fact-based.

2. Eliminate Wrong Answers

Use the process of elimination for multiple-choice questions. It increases your chances of choosing the correct answer if you're unsure.

3. Utilize Official Practice Materials

Practice with official TOEFL materials to get familiar with the question formats and task complexity.

4. Review Incorrect Answers in Practice Tests

Learn from mistakes in practice tests. Understanding why an answer was wrong will help avoid similar errors in the real test.

5. Stay Calm and Concentrated

Maintain your focus, and don't get stuck on a single question for too long. If you're unsure, make your best guess and move on.

6. Don't leave blank answers

Using your 25% chance to get extra points is better than leaving blank answers.

4. Strategies for the reading section

The TOEFL Reading Section assesses your ability to comprehend and interpret academic reading material in English. Here's a collection of winning strategies and techniques to score high:

1. Understand the Question Types

The Reading Section has various question types, including multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching. Understanding how to approach each question type will save time and improve accuracy.

2. Skim and Scan

  • Skimming: read the passage quickly to get the main idea. Look for keywords, headings, and the first and last sentences of paragraphs.
  • Scanning: search for specific information quickly, like names, dates, or terms.

3. Take Notes

Jot down brief notes on the main ideas, arguments, or concepts. It helps keep track of the content without going back to reread the entire passage.

4. Use Context Clues

If you encounter an unfamiliar word, look for clues in the surrounding sentences. The context might reveal the word's meaning.

5. Practice Time Management

The Reading Section is time-bound, so practice answering questions within a limited time. Consider spending about 1-2 minutes skimming and 1 minute per question.

6. Focus on Transition Words

Words like "however," "therefore," "in contrast" can guide you to the author's argument or the relationship between ideas.

5. Strategies for the Listening Section

The TOEFL Listening Section evaluates your ability to understand spoken English, especially in academic settings. It can be challenging, but here's a guide to conquering the Listening Section:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Format

Understanding the types of questions and tasks will help you know what to expect, from multiple-choice questions to categorizing information.

2. Take Careful Notes

You'll only hear the audio once, so jot down keywords, names, dates, and main ideas. Keep it brief and legible.

3. Listen for Main Ideas and Details

Focus on the main points the speaker is making, but also pay attention to supporting details that might be asked in the questions.

4. Pay Attention to Signpost Words

Words like "firstly," "on the other hand," "consequently" signal the structure of the information and can help you follow the speaker's thoughts.

5. Use the Time Wisely

Utilize the time given to read questions before listening to the audio. It helps you know what to listen for.

6. Practice Active Listening

Try to predict where the conversation or lecture is going. Engaging with the material helps in better comprehension.

7. Watch English Media with Subtitles

Listening to English movies, podcasts, or lectures with subtitles can improve your listening skills.

8. Beware of Distractors

TOEFL often includes incorrect options that sound plausible. Always refer to your notes and what you remember from the audio.

9. Improve Your Vocabulary

A robust vocabulary aids in comprehension. Note any new words you encounter in practice sessions and learn their meanings.

6. Strategies and tips for crushing the speaking section

The TOEFL Speaking Section can be one of the more nerve-wracking parts of the test for some examinees. Here are the best practices for mastering the Speaking Section:

1. Understand the Question Types

The Speaking Section consists of tasks requiring summarizing information, expressing opinions, and integrating information from different sources. Familiarize yourself with these tasks.

2. Practice with Timers

Each speaking task has strict time limits. Practice answering questions within these limits to effectively manage your time during the test. Literally set a timer on your phone and answer TOEFL sample speaking questions.

3. Develop a Structure

For each response, quickly plan a clear beginning, middle, and end. This will make your answers more coherent and easier to follow.

4. Focus on Pronunciation and Intonation

Clear pronunciation and natural intonation can greatly impact your score. Practice speaking English aloud and consider working with a native speaker if possible.

5. Use Transitional Phrases

Phrases like "In my opinion," "Firstly," "On the other hand" help your speech flow smoothly and sound more organized.

6. Avoid Long Pauses and Fillers

Practice speaking fluently without unnecessary pauses or fillers like "um," "uh." It's better to pause briefly and gather your thoughts.

7. Practice Summarizing and Paraphrasing

You may need to summarize reading or listening passages. Practice these skills to ensure you can convey the main points accurately and concisely.

8. Speak Clearly, Not Quickly

Rushing can lead to mistakes and unclear speech. Focus on speaking clearly rather than quickly.

9. Record Yourself

Recording and listening to your responses can reveal areas for improvement in pronunciation, grammar, and fluency.

10. Focus on the Question Asked

Answer exactly what is asked without going off on tangents. Stick to the point to make the best use of your time.

7. Strategies for acing the writing section

The TOEFL Writing Section tests your ability to write in English in an academic context. It consists of two tasks: the Integrated Writing Task and the Independent Writing Task. Here are strategies and tips to help you excel in both:

1. Understand the Task Requirements

  • Integrated Writing Task: You'll read a passage, listen to a lecture, and write a response. Focus on summarizing and synthesizing information from both sources.
  • Independent Writing Task: You'll write an essay expressing your opinion on a topic. Focus on presenting clear, well-supported arguments.

2. Plan Before You Write

Take a few minutes to outline your ideas. Having a clear plan will make your writing more organized and coherent.

3. Write Clear and Detailed Thesis Statements

Your thesis statement should clearly state your main point or argument. It serves as a roadmap for the reader.

4. Use Varied Sentence Structure

Avoid monotony by varying sentence lengths and structures. It makes your writing more engaging.

5. Support Your Ideas with Examples

Use specific examples to support your points. They make your arguments more convincing.

6. Practice Time Management

You have limited time for each task, so practice under timed conditions. Allocate time for planning, writing, and revising.

7. Be Mindful of Grammar and Punctuation

Errors can distract the reader and lower your score. Practice proper grammar and check your work.

8. Stay on Topic

Stick to the prompt and avoid irrelevant tangents. Every paragraph should support your thesis.

9. Write Clear and Cohesive Paragraphs

Use topic sentences and transition words to guide the reader through your essay.

10. Revise and Edit

If time allows, review your work to catch errors and make improvements. Focus on clarity, coherence, and correctness.

11. Read Academic Texts in English

Reading well-written articles, essays, and academic texts can improve your writing style and vocabulary.

12. Use the Active Voice

The active voice often makes sentences clearer and more direct. Use it when appropriate.

8. Verified Resources for TOEFL preparation

Here's a list of some websites, YouTube channels, and blogs that can aid in your preparation:


1. ETS (Educational Testing Service): The official TOEFL website offers practice tests, sample questions, and preparation materials.

2. Magoosh: Known for its TOEFL prep courses, video lessons, and practice questions.

3. Kaplan Test Prep: Offers various TOEFL prep courses and resources.

4. BestMyTest: Provides TOEFL simulation tests, speaking and writing reviews, and other study materials.

YouTube Channels

1. TOEFL TV: The official YouTube channel for TOEFL, featuring tips, sample questions, and strategies.

2. Notefull TOEFL Mastery: Offers detailed strategies, lessons, and tips for all TOEFL sections.


1. Heylama Blog: we regularly post articles on how to master English, including guides on TOEFL and IELTS preparation

2. PrepScholar TOEFL Blog: Offers guides, tips, and resources tailored for TOEFL preparation.

3. TST Prep Blog: Features articles on TOEFL strategies, study schedules, and experiences.

4. Magoosh TOEFL Blog: Regularly updated with TOEFL tips, study plans, and practice questions.

Online Communities and Forums

1. Reddit's TOEFL Community: A space where learners can share resources, ask questions, and interact with fellow TOEFL takers.

Mobile Apps

1. Heylama app: offers English language practice with an AI tutor.

2. TOEFL Prep by Magoosh: Offers lessons, quizzes, and practice questions on the go.

Good luck,
Sher from Heylama