Sometimes we call it due diligence. Other times we call it doing your homework. Or being proactive. In each case, the essential idea is this: take charge, be responsible, and do what needs to be done in advance of a significant event.

In my experience, many international students who want to attend a university in the U.S. fail to do this. It seems to be a common problem for students who need to take the TOEFL or other qualifying exam. Sometimes they don’t how or what to do. Other times they simply fail to do their due diligence.

In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to outline some important considerations and processes to help you do your due diligence so you’re prepared for the TOEFL and, beyond that, for an education where classes are taught in English.

What are the TOEFL requirements?

Many students seem to be unsure about the admissions requirements of the universities they’re interested in. A Google search can quickly solve this problem. If you want general information about admissions requirements for international students, use these search terms:

  • (name of the university) admissions international

If you want to know the TOEFL requirement, try this:

  • (name of the university) admissions TOEFL

In many graduate programs, such as MBA, each department has its own requirements. In that case, I would use “MBA” as one of the search terms.

These searches have worked almost 100% of the time for my students and me.

What do you know about the TOEFL?

If you need to take a test – any test – it’s important to know what’s on the test and how the test is constructed. One of the most important investments a student can make is an investment in the time it takes to become familiar with the TOEFL. And the best place to do that is at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) web site. ETS is the organization that is responsible for the TOEFL.  You should be sure to look at:

  • TOEFL at a Glance – a brief introduction to the TOEFL.
  • TOEFL Tips – a complete description of the TOEFL, including descriptions of each section, the kinds of questions that are asked, the academic skills required, and the grading system used in the speaking and writing sections of the test.
  • Take the TOEFL Tour – a tour of the TOEFL, which will show you exactly what you will see and experience when you take the TOEFL.

It’s important to look at the ETS information before you look anywhere else. There is a lot of wrong information about the TOEFL on the Internet and among certain groups of people. Just this morning one of my students said, “One of my friends told me that….” Unfortunately, his friend was wrong. If you don’t do your due diligence, you may be confused or misled by some of the information you find.

What’s the significance of the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is different than any of the tests you’ve taken in high school or at the university. It’s not a test to pass.

It’s a test that measures how much your academic English has developed. The purpose of the TOEFL is to assure you and the schools you’re interested in that your academic English is good enough for you to succeed at a university where classes are taught in English.

Too many students are so concerned about getting a certain score that they fail to think about the meaning of the score.

Students with good English skills will take the TOEFL and do well with very little special preparation. If it’s going to take a lot of last-minute work for you to prepare for the TOEFL, it might be a good idea to wait a semester, or even a year, and to spend that time developing your English skills.

TOEFL requirements are set by the schools according to the level of English ability they believe students need to succeed at their school. If you can’t achieve that level with relative ease on the TOEFL, you may struggle when you finally get to the classroom.

Several of my students, after evaluating their academic English skills, have decided to wait. They took the time to improve their English naturally, and they were happy they did.

How can I tell if I’m ready?

The TOEFL iBT is especially good because it measures all aspects of academic English.

It is much better than the older forms of the TOEFL at measuring students’ ability to use English in an academic setting. This is important because the language requirements – the ways language is used – in an American classroom are greater than in many other countries.

And the importance of language skills is growing rapidly. The first thing I would do is to look at the description of academic language skills on pages 6-25 in TOEFL Tips and honestly evaluate whether or not my English is good enough to do what they describe.

The best way to be sure you’re ready for the TOEFL is to take the TOEFL Practice Test.

When you get the results, you will receive your scores and a general description of your strengths and weaknesses. I ask all of my new students to do this, and it has helped us identify areas they need to work on. Some of them have even taken it more than once to measure their progress during the preparation process.

Another way to find out if you’re ready to take the TOEFL is to work with a good, experienced tutor. A good tutor will take time to learn your strengths and weaknesses and, then, create a personal program to help you build up your weak areas.

TOEFL Study Guide

Success on the TOEFL requires three things: good academic English, good academic skills – essay writing, etc. – and good test-taking skills. Each one requires a certain kind of preparation.

Final thoughts

Do your due diligence. Find the correct information. Create a preparation plan based on a realistic evaluation of your English skills. And carry through with it. Don’t waste a lot of time, effort, or money on things that, in the end, won’t benefit you.

Warren Ediger is a former college/university instructor, adult ESL specialist, ESL tutor/coach, and creator of the Successful English web site.


  1. pallavi on September 6, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    I am planning to go for PhD in Management. To know about my current English level,I took a free test from TestDen. I got 70/120. Now, just because of financial constraints, I will prefer self-study mode. I have purchased Barron’s TOEFL, Kaplan’s, Advanced level Grammar by Martin, Word Power made easy by Norman Lewis, last but not the least Wren & Martin’s High school English Grammar. I have started watching Discovery Science, BBC & MGM for listening section & Reading newspapers and novels for Reading section.My main problem is Speaking section where I face problem in articulation.Please suggest me some good books, strategies to beat TOEFL in first attempt & good online resources. I am planning to give my TOEFL in January 2013(If dates will be available).
    I hope the request would be considered at your end.
    Pallavi Shukla

  2. aslavanyaa on October 27, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    just to improve the english

  3. leila b a on June 11, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    i am from iran.i dont have toefel and i applay for esl,i gave admission of esl but i heard usa embassy dont issue visa for this i-20. i dont how i could pass this in usa.

    • machbio on August 22, 2010 at 11:52 PM

      it is very difficult with your spelling mistakes and the country you come from. Try other countries, so that you will stand a chance to go there..

    • Meba on September 14, 2011 at 9:39 PM

      please tell us about you decide?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.