TOEFL, IELTS, SAT or Any Other Test of English: 4 Very First Steps

Article by Elvira Grinberg

Any test of English preparation starts from drawing a road map of the (self-)education process. So, here you can find fourvery first steps of the exam preparation.


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Read about the test structure on its official website: TOEFL, IELTS, SAT or any other.

Usually there are four parts of the exam and each of them tests your abilities to:

  • Read and understand articles
  • Write an essay
  • Listen lectures and dialogues
  • Speak about some topic and/or participate in a dialogue

Note: SAT doesn’t have Listening and Speaking parts but has MATH sections instead.

As each part is time consuming the test lasts for several hours. For instance:
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  • TOEFL iBT lasts about 3 hours 30 minutes
  • IELTS is 3 hours 45 minutes long. Speaking test can be scheduled on another day – up to seven days before or after the other tests
  • SAT is also 3 hours 45 minutes.

Learn test structure and exercise types well so that you don’t spend time on reading instructions during the test. After all that you are ready to move to the step 2 and write the trial test!


You can find practice tests online or in the preparation book if you have one. Paper test is more preferable as you can go through it and identify your weak places. 

Practice tests are shorter than the real exam but they help to define your knowledge level.

3. DRINK A CUP OF TEA and draw a roadmap to success

Now you know the level you begin from. To start preparing for the IELTS, TOEFL, SAT or state English exam is easy if you know four things:

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  1. Your Starting Point
  2. Your Goal
  3. Time at Disposal
  4. Gaps that You Have to Cover  

Goal and time are usually given. Starting point and gaps you define from experience of making practice tests. Now relax, drink a cup of tea, and write down list of gaps that you have to cover at the given time.

Consider that you cannot cover all gaps you have, so you have to close only the most viable ones. For example, you have to choose between two broad topics: Articles or Prepositions. Pay all your attention to the Prepositions because misunderstanding of them can distort the meaning of the text, while articles do not really change something.

Thus, drink another cup of tea and erase half of the points from the list.

After that divide time at disposal to the number of topics you have to learn. Your education plan is ready!  

Note: Usually one can improve his/her result by 20-30% via several months of intensive preparation. If you haven’t used the language for a long time, there is a chance that you dust it off and progress even better.

4. DO NOT LEARN ENGLISH: cover your gaps

Train necessary skills according to the structure of the exam and practice only those exercises which you’ll have on the test. Don’t waste your time on developing other skills. For instance if you watch movies with subtitles you should ask yourself: “What skill am I training now?”. You are developing skill of reading the dialogues except of listening. At the same time, listening is quite complex skill which includes distinguishing word boundaries, recognizing vocabulary, guessing meaning from context, recognizing grammatical word classes and even retaining chunks of language in short-term memory.

Hence, if you know what you want and have enough purposefulness, you’ll definitely succeed.

Good luck!

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