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Common Study Mistakes

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

Students often feel that the amount of work they’re putting into studying isn’t giving them the results they expected. If this happens to you, it’s possible that you’re just hitting a plateau, and that continuing what you’re doing will eventually allow you to move on. Even if you think that’s the case, though, you can turn your frustration into an opportunity to optimize your study habits and be sure that you’re getting the most out of each study session. Read on to find out some of the common study mistakes that slow students down and keep them from progressing.

Covering too much material at the expense of review

This is a mistake that the best students are particularly guilty of. Have you set a goal of taking two practice tests a week, or learning 50 vocabulary words every day? Do you spend 4 hours a day reading English media? While your work ethic is commendable (and a great asset), taking on too much at once will actually slow your progress. Just because you can force yourself to spend 6 straight hours on the TOEFL doesn’t mean that you can force your brain to absorb all the information you expose yourself to in that time. You want to see a little bit of quantifiable improvement every day: give yourself 5 new words, and practice them a couple of different ways spaced throughout the day. Unless you’re at a very high level (practice tests well over 100), limit yourself to one reading sample per day. Listen to the same recording  3 or 4 times in a day, rather than listening to an entire practice test.  And, more important, leave plenty of time to review what you learned on previous days, weeks, and months. Not only is repetition an important part of the learning process, but some believe that information that you forget and then re-learn is easier to recall than information that you learn for good the first time.

Ignoring the hard stuff

“I’m fine on writing. I need to focus on speaking and reading.” I hear this all the time, and I’ve found that although most students believe that their writing is fine, they often score lower on the writing section than on speaking or reading. I think this is because it’s harder to practice writing—there are no questions to guide you through the sections, so you have to exercise more self-discipline and self-regulation—, it’s hard to score your own essay. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort—not only are there the obvious benefits of preparing for all sections of the TOEFL, but also once you start your program, strong writing skills will be critical to your success. Use a social network like lang-8 to get grammatical corrections on your work, and/or get a tutor on an online English service like or to explain the grammar and talk about stylistics with you.


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