I know people who tried to study alone, but ended up taking TOEFL over and over again – 15 or 20 — even 32 times. Yes, they spent $2,700-$3,600 USD just to sit at the TOEFL exam, feel stressed in front of a computer, get low score reports, feel bad again, and then repeat the same actions again and again. (Not to mention all the money they lost because they couldn’t start working earlier.)
Before they came to me, they didn’t know what their problems were and sometimes they worked with English teachers who couldn’t give advice about the best ways to answer the TOEFL iBT’s speaking and writing sections.
These people didn’t learn very much from taking TOEFL. It’s not their fault, though — 99.99% of the population is not an expert on TOEFL.
Why you can’t improve from just taking TOEFL:
In 2012, taking TOEFL cost $180 USD ($45 an hour) and you get 4 hours of very stressful English practice and a TOEFL score, but you will get zero advice about how to fix your problems with reading, listening, writing or speaking — and you won’t improve much from these 4 hours of practice.
You can’t take your notes home from the exam with you, so you can’t study later very easily.
You won’t see the transcripts for the dialogues and lectures on the listening or speaking sections, so it’s really hard to learn new vocabulary at the TOEFL exam.
Click to make the picture bigger. Look at the sample score report from ETS.
What kind of information does it actually tell you about your spoken or written English — or how to fix it?
Does it tell you what kind of reading questions is difficult for you?
Does it give suggestions for improving your listening?
No. Not really.
ETS scores your English, but they don’t tell you the specific mistakes – and you can never listen to or see your speaking or writing responses again – so you can’t study your mistakes.
If you take TOEFL before you’re ready, then taking TOEFL is a very expensive way to experience English.
Why it’s cheaper to study before TOEFL:
Taking classes with a TOEFL teacher, learning difficult vocabulary, understanding the exam and fixing your specific problems with speaking and writing – these are smart, cheap alternatives to taking the TOEFL exam.
(Even if I look at my students score reports, it doesn’t tell me a lot of information. This is actually the reason that all of my students take another practice test before they start lessons with me – when I see the right and wrong answers, I can make a plan for their improvement. However, if I can’t see their answers, I don’t know what their specific problems with TOEFL are.)