TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is one of the most important tests for every international student who wants to study in the United States. All students need to submit a TOEFL score as proof of their English ability.
If you visit this post, I assume that you have a problem with this TOEFL test. I was in the same boat. Ten years ago, I struggled to get an adequate TOEFL score to apply to my dream school.
Let me tell you a bit about my experience and provide some suggestions before listing the best TOEFL preparation courses.
What is TOEFL iBT?
TOEFL iBT is the internet-based version of the TOEFL test. Unlike the previous versions, you have to complete four parts: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.
The total score of the test is 120 (30 for each part.) If you are interested in Ivy League and other top schools, you should aim for at least 100. However, you may need as many as 110 if you plan to apply to the MBA program.
Based on my experience, I think colleges treat the score as a pass/fail. If you get more than 100, you are good to go. You don’t need to retake the exam to get 105,110 or 115.
However, they are serious about the cut-off. If yours does not exceed it, your application will likely be rejected. Though I have seen several exceptions, they are rare.
Thus, it is always best to get a score that exceeds the requirement.
Why Do You Need A TOEFL Preparation Course?
Why do you need a course? Should I study by books instead?
There are many prep books by top providers such as Mcgraw Hill, the Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barrons, and others.
Based on my experience, books could help boost TOEFL scores. However, they are far from optimal.
I did spend a lot of time and money on books. However, in the end, my TOEFL score did not improve much. After 6 months of studying, it went up from 91 to 96, increasing 5 points.
At that time, it was early December. I was left with one testing opportunity before the Common App deadline (due January 1st). I decided to abandon books altogether and study all through a self-paced TOEFL preparation course.
Within less than three weeks, my TOEFL score was up by 6 points. I got 102, which was more than the cut-off, and finally enrolled at Columbia University.
What did the online test preparation course give me that books did not?
- Video lessons by experts
- Interactive writing and speaking exercises (These are very beneficial. They help me increase my speaking score by as many as 5 points.)
- Simulated practice exams (100% similar to the actual TOEFL iBT test)
- Support from the instructor: Some even grade your TOEFL exercises
- Flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere
- and many more
Thus, I always recommend those who want to do well on the TOEFL exam to take the TOEFL prep course. Whether it is a self-paced or live online course, it is considerably better than books.
However, you still need to spend at least 50 hours on one of these TOEFL courses for your score to improve considerably. Otherwise, you won’t see a significant improvement in both your score and English skills.
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Self-paced TOEFL Prep Course
I will begin by discussing the self-paced TOEFL prep courses. You will learn at your own pace by following the online curriculum. The greatest strength of these courses is their flexibility. You don’t have to worry about missing classes at all.
1. Prep Scholar
If you want an online course to prepare for the TOEFL, PrepScholar could be one of the best options. This TOEFL course is comprehensive and excellent in general.
Course Content and Pricing
Prep Scholar’s TOEFL prep course is completely self-paced. You will learn from interactive and pre-recorded video lessons created by top instructors from Harvard and MIT.
Below is what you will get from the course
- 150+ hours of interactive and video lessons created by experts
- Diagnostic Exam
- 1000 TOEFL practice questions
- 1-on-1 Speaking and Writing Reviews (Limit to 8 for speaking, 4 for writing)
- Vocabulary courses and flashcards of 3000 words
- Detailed TOEFL strategies and admissions guides
- Unlimited Email Support
- 15-Point Increase Money Back Guarantee
- 5-day free trial
The pricing starts at $187 for one-year access and $385 for a lifetime. I don’t think you need a lifetime option. One-year access would suffice.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent 1-on-1 speaking and writing reviews: These will help you a lot on both parts of the TOEFL exam. Experts will tell you how you speak and write in English, your weaknesses, and many more.
- Tons of content, both interactive and video lessons, TOEFL practice questions, flashcards and many others
- Personalized study plan
- Value for money
- Unlimited Email Support
- The 15 point score improvement guarantee is the highest in the industry.
- No shorter-length courses
- No full-length practice tests
From an overall perspective, Prep Scholar is a solid preparation course for those who want to improve their TOEFL score. 1-on-1 reviews are game-changing. Utilizing them well will help you get much better scores on both parts.
I believe Prep Scholar’s course is one of the best TOEFL prep courses online. I suggest you sign up for a free trial to see whether Prep Scholar fits your learning style.
BestMyTest is not a major test prep provider. However, if you want a test prep for the TOEFL exam at a fantastic price, BestMyTest is 100% worth your consideration.
BestMyTest’s TOEFL course is totally self-paced. You can learn anytime, anywhere. The best thing is they have an application on iOS and Android, which will help you learn on smartphones and tablets comfortably.
What the preparation course will provide is as follows:
- 200 interactive and video lessons
- 1000 TOEFL practice questions
- 20 full-length practice tests
- Speaking and writing reviews (The instructor will send feedback in audio)
- 10-25 queries to your instructor
- 7-15 points score improvement guarantee
BestMyTest has three plans to select: Last Minute ($39), Custom (Starting at $69), and Premium ($189). Each plan will have access to all learning resources.
The Last Minute plan does not include speaking and writing reviews. It grants only 7-day access and has no guarantee.
The Custom plan will provide you with flexibility. You can choose how many months you need for content access. At $69, you can access the material for 1 month. This plan will guarantee only 7 points increase.
The Premium plan will grant you 6-month access, more speaking and writing reviews, more email support from the instructor, and guarantee 15 points improvement of your TOEFL iBT score.
I suggest you choose the Custom or Premium plan. I don’t think the Last Minute plan will help much. Mastering English language skills requires accumulation. You need time to practice and develop your skills.
Between the Custom plan and the Premium plan, I think you can choose either.
If your TOEFL score is low (below 70), I suggest choosing the Premium plan to get more assistance from your instructor. The Premium plan includes as many as 20 speaking reviews and 10 writing reviews, which is far more than the Custom plan (4 and 2, respectively)
Pros and Cons
- One of the most affordable test prep courses in the market
- Learning from a mobile app
- Numerous practice questions and tests
- The Premium plan offers as many as 20 speaking reviews.
- Guarantee 7 points, despite paying only $69
- Limited email support from the instructor
- No personalized study plan
In general, BestMyTest’s course is one of the best TOEFL preparation courses you should consider, especially if you have a limited budget or have no interest in spending much on prep courses.
Magoosh is another quality online prep course provider that offers TOEFL prep courses besides the SAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and many more. If you love learning from videos, you will be 100% fond of Magoosh’s test prep.
Magoosh’s curriculum focuses on self-paced video lessons. Even each practice question has an explanation video!
What is included in the course is as follows
- 120 Video lessons
- 420 practice questions
- 6 full-length practice tests
- Study plan
- Unlimited Ask-an-Expert Questions through Email
- 4 points score improvement guarantee
Magoosh offers two plans to consider. A one-month plan at $129 and a 6-month plan for $149. There is no difference in learning resources between both plans, except the 6-month plan has more essay credits for submitting your writing to experts to grade them.
I believe I will go with the Premium plan. Adding only $20, you will get another 5 months to use course materials for TOEFL test preparation. Furthermore, extra credits would be excellent to improve English writing skills.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent video lessons for TOEFL test preparation
- Every practice problem has explanation videos.
- Unlimited Email Support
- No speaking reviews from the instructor
- Guarantee only 4 points
The bottom line: Magoosh offers a remarkable TOEFL preparation course. If you love video lessons, Magoosh is probably your best bet. Otherwise, I think there are better alternatives such as PrepScholar or BestMyTest.
This post will not be complete if we skip Kaplan’s TOEFL test prep. Kaplan is a superpower in the prep course industry, providing numerous high-quality materials and courses to help you prepare for the exam.
Similar to other TOEFL prep courses, Kaplan offers self-paced training. You will learn mostly from video lessons, perfectly crafted by experts.
Below is what you get from their TOEFL preparation course:
- 190 video lessons
- 4 practice exams
- Smart Reports to pinpoint your weakness
- Feedback on writing samples
- Free Kaplan Course Book
- Higher score guarantee
This online course costs $349. You can access all the resources for 3 months.
Pros and Cons
- High-quality video lessons
- Free books are a plus
- Smart reports can help you find and get rid of your weaknesses.
- Very expensive compared to peers (probably the most costly for a self-paced TOEFL prep course)
- It only provides a higher score guarantee, not a point increase guarantee.
- Shorter time to access (3 vs. 6 months from Prep Scholar)
Based on my experience, I was always fond of Kaplan’s teaching approach. To be specific, the Kaplan TOEFL instructor breaks down each component well for students to understand the reading.
However, I think this prep course is hugely overpriced, as it provides fewer resources, access time, and subpar score guarantees. There are other affordable test preparation courses for the TOEFL that offer better value.
5. ETS Official TOEFL iBT Test Prep
TOEFL® Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide is an official TOEFL iBT test prep created by ETS, the provider of the TOEFL exam itself. Thus, I recommend everyone take it if you have never taken the exam before.
You can access this course via the edX platform.
The format of the course would be based on interactive lessons. Besides preparing you for the exam, this course will explain the test structure (through sample questions with explanations), how ETS grades your speaking samples, how you register for the test, how to improve English skills in general, and some tips to prepare for the exam.
However, don’t expect the course to have extensive course materials. This is what you have to find elsewhere.
You will still be able to access real test questions from past tests, collaborative discussion boards, and short quizzes to help you prepare for the exam. You will also receive feedback for your practice test responses in writing and speaking.
You are free to audit this course. However, if you want your assignments to be graded and receive a certificate, you need to pay $49.
Pros and Cons
- Free to audit
- ETS’s self-created course, thus highly reliable
- Feedback on TOEFL writing/speaking responses
- Good information for new test-takers
- Real test questions from past tests
- Basic teaching on all English language skills cannot compare to other alternatives.
Live TOEFL Test Preparation Course
Next, I will discuss the live TOEFL test preparation course. In this class, you will prepare for the TOEFL with instructors live and online.
Furthermore, live courses usually provide a personalized learning experience, which is much better than video lessons because you can choose what you want to learn.
For instance, if you did not do well in the speaking section, you can ask your tutor to focus on improving your English speaking skills solely.
The only drawback of these courses is fewer course materials. Thus, you might use this option as a supplement to the self-paced course or test prep books. However, this is not always necessary.
In other words, if you already used up your quota for speaking reviews or select courses that do not provide it, such as Magoosh, you can take a live class to practice TOEFL speaking with the instructor further.
However, this option could be much more pricey than the self-paced one. If you need 20 hours of TOEFL exam training, you should expect to pay $600 or more.
6. Live Lingua
Live Lingua is a platform that provides language live tutoring to students. Their courses include regular English courses and test prep ones for the TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT, and many more.
Course Structure and Pricing
Each live class will be 1-on-1 tutoring via video conference software and last 1 hour. You will learn with native English speakers, who are also certified language teachers. Many have spent more than a decade teaching international students.
Live Lingua will ask for your preference and select your instructor according to that information. However, you can change the instructor after the trial lesson if you are not satisfied with the teaching quality.
The pricing for the TOEFL prep class starts at $29 per hour. However, if you buy in a bundle, you will get a discount. For example, if you enroll in 10 hours, the price per hour will be $28.
You don’t have to buy more than 40 hours simultaneously as there are no extra discounts beyond that. The lowest price per hour you could get is $25.
The pricing is inclusive. You don’t need to pay more for course materials. Live Lingua will also have many free resources that you can use as well.
At this rate, I think the pricing is very reasonable. Many other 1-on-1 TOEFL preparation courses cost much more per hour and provide worse teaching quality than Live Lingua.
You can take a 30-minute trial lesson for free with no credit card required.
Preply is another tutoring platform that offers 1-on-1 tutoring for the TOEFL exam. However, unlike Live Lingua, you will start by choosing the tutor on your own.
You can select from the instructor’s profile, experience, hourly rates, reviews, numbers of lessons taught, and many other factors to find the tutor whom you believe is right for you.
As Preply’s screening is laxer than Live Lingua, I could not emphasize more the importance of choosing the right tutor. I hope you check their background well.
I recommend choosing only a native English-speaking tutor from the United States who has experience teaching international students, and the TOEFL in particular.
After you come up with a list of tutors, you can start a trial lesson. This lesson is not free. You must pay the hourly rates quoted by the instructor.
However, if you are not satisfied with that tutor, Preply will give you a refund or schedule a trial lesson with a new tutor with no further costs.
The great thing about Preply is that users will get a personalized learning experience. You can choose to focus on reading, listening, speaking, or anything else in the TOEFL exam of your own choice. I think it is an excellent supplement to typical TOEFL prep courses.
What you pay will depend on the hourly rates of each TOEFL tutor. Usually, experienced and popular tutors charge more. Please make sure you take this point into account as well.
Other Best TOEFL Courses?
Below are potentially the best TOEFL preparation courses. However, they do not make up my list for various reasons.
The Princeton Review – This leader in the test prep space once offered both self-paced and 1-on-1 online prep courses for the TOEFL. However, according to the website, currently, there are none available. You may need to contact them directly for custom pricing.
Manhattan Review – If you value expertise, Manhattan Review could be at the top of the list of the best TOEFL private tutoring courses. This educational services company provides complete 1-on-1 test prep courses for the TOEFL, GMAT, GRE, SAT, and many more.
For the TOEFL exam, Manhattan Review offers an online TOEFL private course, which will cost you $1,590 in total for 12-hour lessons. You can add more hours if you want.
You will learn with experts in the field with decades of experience teaching TOEFL. However, their hourly rates are five times higher than Live Lingua.
Udemy – Though there are several TOEFL prep courses on Udemy, I think the test prep courses’ quality is dubious.
Most courses only have video lessons and offer no interactive lessons or feedback. You will receive meager support from the instructor, as you can only post on discussion boards.
Still, if you want more techniques or strategies to tackle TOEFL iBT, taking one of Udemy courses may be a great idea. These are top-rated ones you might consider.
- TOEFL iBT (26+) Complete Preparation Course! by Keino Campbell. This step-by-step guide will teach every part of the TOEFL exam in detail. The course contains 46.5 hours of video lessons and receives 4.5/5.0 in ratings. (The instructor suggests that you should have a TOEFL score of at least 79 before taking a course.)
- The Complete TOEFL iBT Success Course (NEW VERSION) by Maria Guryeva: This course is much shorter than the first Udemy course. Most of its contents focus on improving speaking and writing. I like the tricks and tips that the instructor provides. The course receives 4.5/5.0 in ratings.
If you want Udemy courses, always buy them at a discount. Each test prep course will not cost you more than $15. If you are not satisfied with the class, Udemy has a 30-day money-back guarantee. I did use this warranty before with no problems. Thus, feel free to take advantage of it.
English Success Academy – The academy offers an online self-paced TOEFL course from an experienced tutor. You will learn from video and audio lessons supported by high-quality workbooks.
However, you have to buy all three separate courses to realize its full potential, which could be over $200.
Still, English Success Academy’s courses may be worth a try, as the instructor has her unique approach to the TOEFL exam. If you have taken other TOEFL courses but don’t do well on the test, English Success Academy could come to the rescue.
Free TOEFL Test Preparation Resources
Below are resources that can help every TOEFL student prepare for the TOEFL for free.
- ETS TOEFL Resources – ETS provides tons of helpful resources test takers can use for free. These include short skill-building programs, practice questions, and other information about the test.
- 4Tests– If you want more free TOEFL practice tests, you can get one there
- Manhattan Review – This academy also gives out a free practice exam.
There are other free practice exams or further resources for the TOEFL as well. However, you should always select only those with high credentials. Using low-quality resources will not help you much. You might waste your valuable time or even get your computer infected with malware.
Final Tips on the TOEFL exam
Based on experience, regular English learning resources will also help you prepare for the TOEFL, especially reading and listening.
You can read any newspaper, magazine, or academic journal in the English language. However, these are the ones that I prefer.
- The New York Times
- Wall Street Journal
- Business Insider
When you read, try to cover as many topics as possible. You should read politics, economics, science, and others equally. Remember that the TOEFL reading exam will include various topics in English. Reading them beforehand will help you become familiar with the language and vocabulary.
Furthermore, I think reading more helps me in the writing section as well. I learn many language structures, collocations, vocabularies from the reading and utilize them when taking the TOEFL exam.
Finally, I wish everyone good luck on the test day!