Language Test-Taking Strategies

Tips to help you get great scores on standardized English tests, like the TOEFL test


Download the file

Language Test-Taking Strategies (.doc 37K)

You can skip to strategies for:


All Questions

Carefully read all directions, especially looking for the words that are essential to choosing the correct answer such as: chronological, synonym, opposite, frequently, always, not, never, except.

Look at every answer choice before making an answer.

If you think two or three options are correct, all of the above is a strong possibility.

If two options are opposite of each other, probably one of them is correct.

Always guess when there is no penalty.

Pace yourself if the test is timed, so you have time to answer all the questions.

Mark question numbers that you can’t answer right away, and continue working through the test. Save time to return to the skipped questions at the end, even if simply to mark a guess.

If you’re running out of time or have to guess at answers, always guess the same letter.

Back to top

Grammar Questions

Rarely choose correct as is.

Eliminate multiple choice proofreading answers that have more than one correction.

Substitute possible answers in to find the best one.

Back to top

Vocabulary Questions

Cover up the answers. Then:

  • Decide if the word is positive or negative and/or recall where you heard the word before to predict a possible answer.
  • Look for a word similar in meaning to your predictions.

If you’re still stuck, use the following elimination strategies to increase your chances of guessing the right answer:

  • If two answers mean the same thing, eliminate both of them.
  • If an answer choice means the opposite of your prediction, eliminate it.
  • If an answer choice looks or sounds almost the same as the vocabulary word in the question sentence, it can usually be eliminated.
  • If an answer choice is the wrong part of speech, eliminate it.

Look for context clues with vocabulary embedded in sentences.

Back to top

Reading Questions

Functional writing (like ads, schedules, and lists):

  • Quickly look at the title, main headings, and any graphics.
  • Go immediately to the questions.
  • Refer back to the passage by scanning for key words phrases only if you need to search for a specific detail.
  • For bibliography questions, remember that the specific order of information in a bibliography entry is:
Author A
"Title of Article, Poem, or Chapter" "Tough"
Title of Publication or Book Teacher
Place of publication Pleases
Publisher Parents with
Date of publication Daily
Page numbers Phonings

Paragraph passages:

  • Check out the title.
  • Read the first paragraph.
  • Read the first sentence of every following paragraph.
  • While reading, pay attention to the 5 W's (who, where, when, what, why).
  • Go to the questions.
  • Refer back to the passage by scanning for key words or phrases only if you need to search for a specific detail.

Order of attack:

  • Answer functional questions or detail questions first. The answers are the easiest to find quickly.
  • Answer questions that call for higher order thinking, like summarizing or drawing conclusions, last. They require more time and thinking.

Back to top

Not a SLESL student yet? You can get started now.

Return to Toolkit Menu