Language is the first barrier you encounter when you visit a new country and is an especially important one if you’re going for school. To overcome this barrier and help you make the most of your time at universities and colleges, many English-speaking institutions require non-native English speakers to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). This standardized test measures how well you speak English.
The TOEFL measures your mastery of both conversational English and academic English. It is just one of many factors in the admissions process. If you score poorly on the TOEFL, it does not eliminate your chances of getting accepted. Still, it goes without saying that the higher your TOEFL score, the higher your chances of being accepted into the English-speaking university of your choice.
To that end, a test prep course is the best way to maximize your score!
There are two major forms of the test. Each has a different format, and their scores are measured differently.
Since 2005, the TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) has gradually become the most popular platform to take the test. The test is monitored and taken in a testing facility. In most countries that offer the TOEFL iBT, students only need to wait a few weeks to claim a seat.
The TOEFL iBT is 4 hours long, 1 hour for each section. Each section tests students on a basic field of language acquisition, including:
All four sections test the sort of English you can expect in an academic environment. Each section is worth 30 points, so the highest score possible on the TOEFL iBT is 120 points.
Test-takers enjoy a mandatory 10-minute break after completing the first two sections.
The TOEFL Paper-Delivered Test (PDT) is the official version of the test, to be used when the online test is unavailable. This is usually due to internet unavailability or computer problems.
The TOEFL PDT is exactly the same as the TOEFL iBT, with a key difference. It consists of only three sections: Listening, Reading, and Writing. There is no Speaking section, which is difficult to proctor without the internet, and qualified individuals are usually unavailable. Each section is scored along the same scale as the internet-based version.
As you scroll through the ranking, remember there is no such thing as the best course, and no course can guarantee a perfect score. Much depends on your situation, schedule, budget, and aptitude. Some prep courses offer private tutoring. Others are self-paced and can connect motivated test-takers to the resources they need. Others give you hybrid options.
In any event, this is a good era to be a test-taker. There has never been a more varied and high-quality selection of review materials in history.
Don’t feel like slogging through our ranking? No worries. Here are our recommendations for the best TOEFL test prep courses:
If you want to score high in every section of the TOEFL exam, look no further. Produced by a bus of PhDs, PrepScholar has days of study material logged away and hundreds of quizzes and activities, all set in a personalized study plan. Plus, for topics like Writing or Speaking that need a more personal touch, PrepScholar offers one-on-one sessions with an expert. The workload is heavy, but the results are peerless.
Magoosh is the new kid on the block, but they’ve earned a reputation with flexibility and user-friendliness. Study anytime, anywhere with the Magoosh mobile app, which enjoys one of the highest customer review ratings in both the Play and App Store. Stop and start when you need to: Magoosh still promises a score increase of at least 4 points on your next TOEFL exam, or your money back.
Udemy is one of the leaders in the global marketplace of online learning. They offer a broad selection of learning tools for anyone with an internet connection. They prioritize expert feedback, and even if their course does not have one-on-one sessions, there are several contact points between students and a live expert. And, their email response time is unparalleled, to boot.
This one is a no-brainer. Simple, elegant, and old-fashioned, CIE is traditional private tutoring for the online era. There is no pre-written curriculum. Everything is customized around the needs and aptitude of the student. This approach is completely personalized, challenging, and guaranteed to boost your score!
Not all prep courses are created equal. For this ranking, we weighed a number of factors, including price and the type of study resources available. Read each one to find the option that best fits your needs.
PrepScholar has one goal: to offer the most effective online courses at the most affordable prices. Launched by PhDs from Harvard and MIT in 2013, PrepScholar has risen to offer what is, in our humble opinion, the industry-standard TOEFL prep test course.
Aside from the highly limited 5-day free trial, PrepScholar offers two major packages. These do not differ in content, but in the allotted time. The first package gives you access to the full scope of study materials for a full year. The other package gives you permanent, lifetime access. Of the two, the first is the bigger seller.
The package includes:
This course is, to say the least, substantial. To make the most of these study resources, a full year of advance study is recommended.
The folks at PrepScholar do their homework. They know the TOEFL inside and out. They know that most students struggle with the Speaking section of the exam, so they make it a point to focus on this area. What makes PrepScholar so effective is that they emphasize the two keys to test-taking success: full-length practice exams and personal, one-on-one feedback.
For both packages, you have 5 days of free access. You can tamper with the course before committing to a purchase. PrepScholar’s test score improvement guarantee is also the most generous in the industry: If you don’t improve your score by an astounding 15 points, you get your money back!
PrepScholar is our best TOEFL test prep course for any student who can afford it. The full-length practice exams, combined with the ample one-on-one review time with an expert tutor, are the perfect recipe for walking into the exam room with total confidence. If you want to get the highest score possible, look no further.
For students prepping for the TOEFL, no company has a better track record than Magoosh. Magoosh was founded in 2009, so as far as test prep services go, they are the new kid in town. But they have quickly built up a reputation with their results and affordability.
Magoosh offers a remarkable test score improvement guarantee: They promise a score increase of at least 4 points on your next TOEFL exam—or your money back!
Magoosh offers three different plans. No matter which plan you purchase, you get the same study materials. The only difference is how long you have access to them. The plans are divided into 1 week, 1 month, or 6 months. Obviously, the first plan is the best for last-minute study, but the third and longest plan is required to get the most of the study resources.
The package includes:
These packages are wonderfully accessible and easy to use. All video lessons and practice questions are available on their website as well as the Magoosh mobile app. You can study from your desk or from your phone while you wait in line at the grocery store.
Once you register, you’ll get a personalized dashboard that charts your progress. It makes it easy to see exactly where you are and what you need to do next. When you’re ready, you can use the optional “timed quiz mode” to practice your pace.
When you miss a practice question, Magoosh customizes a written explanation or video lesson that targets your weak points. Magoosh invested a lot into the quality of your online experience, and it shows.
There is no live classroom experience with Magoosh, but an expert is available by email to answer any questions. For the best results, we recommend this course to students who thrive on independent study, have exhausted other free study materials, and who only need the occasional question answered. The strongest deficit in this package is the absence of any full-length practice tests. In any event, Magoosh will give you a higher score—or your money back.
Udemy is one of the leading lights in the global marketplace of online learning. They offer a broad selection of learning tools for anyone with an internet connection. And no matter what your first language might be, Udemy’s materials are available in over 60 different languages. Most likely, they’ll have you covered.
Here’s a breakdown of the classes they offer for TOEFL test-takers:
This is Udemy’s flagship TOEFL test prep course and its biggest seller. It is the most in-depth, and students get to work with a live instructor. The package guarantees a score of 100 or higher. By the end of the course, you will be able to pass the TOEFL with a score sufficient to get you into the most prestigious American universities.
The package includes:
This is a challenging course that will stretch your mastery of English and drill you in the best test-taking strategies. It covers any problem a non-native English speaker can expect to come across during the TOEFL.
This is Udemy’s stand-in for those who can’t attend a real-live test prep course. It tests on all four sections of the TOEFL exam. But it doesn’t just cover the test material. It goes deep into the best test-taking tactics and hacks for each section, so even if you don’t know the answer, you at least have a strategy.
This package includes:
This package promises to give you a score over 100. Students who take this course on average score 15-20 points higher.
Short on time? Taking the TOEFL in a matter of days? Maybe you just need a quick refresher? Udemy’s got you covered. With this short, high-intensity crash course, you will be able to walk into the TOEFL exam room with total confidence.
This package gives you:
For such a small package, it delivers a lot of goodies. You will learn how to score yourself, take short-form notes, build your English vocabulary, and much more. And it takes less than 2 days to complete.
For students who want to score in the top percentile on the exam, Udemy is highly recommended. Its courses are economical and convenient, and they prioritize practice tests, expert feedback, and test-taking strategies—all of which are essential for success. Udemy can definitely help you boost your score.
Chelsea International Education (CIE) is a throwback to a more traditional (but by no means less effective) model of test prep. The entire package is completely personalized one-on-one tutoring via video stream. This program is highly innovative and feels a lot like private tutoring. Only it’s all online!
Unlike other test prep courses, CIE does not include any standardized test-prep package. CIE matches you with a single Chelsea Tutor who fits your personality, academic needs, and schedule. Your tutor then assesses your level of proficiency and plans a customized curriculum for you.
The two of you will work together for as long as you like. There are two basic packages: a shorter, 90-minute package and a longer, 10-hour package. You can purchase as many packages as you want, and it’s up to you how long each individual session lasts. Between sessions, you’ll do homework and practice tests to help consolidate your skills.
CIE is a great choice for test-takers who learn best through direct human interaction or have a limited time to prepare. Because tutoring is expensive (though CIE’s rates are reasonable), we recommend you use tutoring time to focus on a specific section of the TOEFL exam, like Speaking.
Kaplan is one of the most recognized online test prep corporations out there. Kaplan devotes itself to making test prep accessible to students all over the globe. They are known for the flexibility and user-friendliness of their well-designed courses.
Plus, they have a money-back guarantee if you don’t improve your score after graduating from their course (that, or you can choose to retake the course for free).
For the TOEFL iBT, Kaplan offers a single self-paced online course. At first glance, it may seem meager. But this course is streamlined, and targets the most effective ways to boost your score. No flab here. Only the stuff that is proven to improve your test-taking abilities.
The package includes:
The course materials are available for 3 months after enrollment. In addition to the online materials, the package includes a course book, which contains most of the practice problems. So if watching a lit-up screen is distracting for you, don’t worry.
The Kaplan self-paced course is a wonderful option for students who are motivated, self-disciplined, and well-organized. It’s a little pricey, so make the most of those 3 months. However, its emphasis on full-length practice exams is the single best way to improve your score and walk into the exam room with confidence.
Developed by industry experts, this online program has one goal: to help you enhance your test-taking skills. The package itself may not be much to look at, but supplement it with ETS’s other free online resources, and BOOM—you have a substantial prep course.
This package covers all four sections of the TOEFL exam. It incorporates a Personalized Learning Path that advises your next area of study based on the results of prior exercises. This feature helps you target your weaknesses and gives you a route to overcome them. The course unfolds at your pace.
The package includes:
All materials are available for 6 months, which should be all the time you need to work through them. The activities are peppered with excellent tips on how to succeed at the test, how to study productively, and test-taking strategies for those times when you don’t know the answer.
ETS offers a large backlog of free study resources. If you choose to enroll in this course, we recommend exhausting these resources first. As for the course itself, it is severely limited. This is not a good course for boosting your score so much as for sharpening your test-taking skills.
BestMyTest was founded in 2014 by TOEFL takers, for TOEFL takers. Students will find a lot of empathy for the position in which they might find themselves—most likely, their tutor has been through something similar. What’s great about BestMyTest is they are attuned to the particular concerns or obstacles facing this special group of test-takers.
There are three major packages for students. Each differs in the extent of study materials and the duration of access time allotted. Students will most likely find a package that fits their particular situation, needs, and budget.
This package is designed for students who have strong (if basic) English skills and thrive on independent study. This package includes:
Access is limited by semester periods. The Custom package comes with a 7-point score improvement guarantee—or your money back.
The Premium package is better suited to students who either have weaker English skills, need a degree of tutor support, or want to maximize their TOEFL score. This package is basically the custom on steroids:
Access to these study materials lasts for 6 months. The score improvement guarantee is 15 points, one of the more generous in the industry.
For the student who wants a last-minute refresher, this package gives a substantial chunk of study materials. But you’ve got to work quickly because you only have access to them for 7 days.
As far as last-minute prep goes, you can’t do better than this one. There’s no score improvement guarantee, but that’s to be expected.
BestMyTest really understands what TOEFL test-takers need. All of their packages are seasoned with experience. The Last Minute package might be the best of its kind in the industry, and the Premium package is a great choice for test-takers who rank in the 99th percentile.
The English Success Academy (ESA) is the brain-child of a single individual, Jaime Miller. She boasts over 8,500 hours of private tutoring experience, all for the TOEFL iBT. She knows her stuff and even helps students with the finer points of language acquisition, like accent neutralization!
Jaime has personally produced four different packages, each of which targets a specific section or skill for the exam. All of the courses are self-paced, so they require a lot of motivation and an established study routine.
This course focuses exclusively on expedient and effective note-taking skills, which is an important skill for success in the Listening and Writing sections. The package includes:
Students will have lifetime access to these skills after purchasing.
This package prepares you for the newly updated Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT (as of August 2019). It narrows on the three areas of scoring criteria graders use: Topic Development, Language Use, and Delivery (accent). The package includes:
It takes 4-6 weeks to get through this course. But then, you have lifetime access after purchase.
This course polishes your writing skills so that you consistently score highly in this section. The package includes:
The workbook includes nine model essays from test-takers who scored 27 or higher. This resource is great for students who want to maximize their Writing score.
This is, in essence, a diagnostic test to determine your strengths and weaknesses. The course assigns quizzes that simulate an actual test. The goal is to sharpen your skills in all four sections of the TOEFL iBT by targeting the areas where you need the most improvement, guiding you through embedded audio files and exercises. The package includes:
This bare-necessities test prep course is self-paced, but the whole thing takes about 15 weeks to complete. But then you will have access for life. The course is well-designed and user-friendly, and many students appreciate the innovative approach.
CIE is a great choice for targeted skill-set development for students on a budget. All of these materials, while narrow in focus, are extremely effective. It pays attention to skills that tend to be neglected in other online courses.
Since the Speaking section tends to give test-takers the most anxiety, we highly recommend the Advanced Speaking package.
Since 1997, hundreds of students have used TestDEN to prepare themselves for standardized exams. As far as TOEFL test prep courses go, this one is the oldest on the internet. The course is as basic as they come, but you don’t get to be this old without doing something right.
The TestDEN, as its name suggests, operates by a simple principle: The best way to improve your test-taking skills is to actually take the test—a lot! The package includes:
The process is straightforward: You take a test. It is graded by TestDEN experts. You get the results. For every wrong answer is a detailed answer explanation. You review these, study the model responses, and try again. Do this often enough, and you start to improve and build confidence.
Each test is a near-identical simulation of the real TOEFL iBT. As every tutor and coach will say, full-length practice tests are one of the top two ways to study.
TestDEN is a good supplement for another test prep course that maybe doesn’t include full-length practice tests. But on its own, it is not very effective. We recommend students work through one of the other test prep courses in this ranking and then conclude their studies by taking TestDEN’s practice tests.
Many test-takers can achieve great success by working through a good TOEFL prep book. The advantage of this approach is the minimal financial investment. However, the best results rely on excellent study habits, strong self-discipline, and a motivation to supplement the prep book with other free online resources like forums and ETS.
The disadvantage is the feedback problem. Students are not given solid checkpoints charting their progress, nor do they have that oh-so-valuable expert eye that can identify weaknesses and deliver the most fruitful challenges. The intrinsic problem with independent study is that test-takers can’t push themselves beyond their current level—at least, they can only do so up to a certain point. Eventually, every independent student hits a threshold. Even for motivated and high-aptitude students, a prep book stops being fruitful after about 2 months. At that point, an outside tutor or teacher is required.
For TOEFL students, the sections of the test where students tend to need the most improvement require a live instructor. I am referring, of course, to the Speaking section. There is virtually no substitute for live simulated conversations with an expert in English. Most TOEFL test-takers tend to have the most anxiety about this particular section. If you are going to do even a minimal amount of online coursework, you might consider paying for a course that just narrows on Speaking.
In conclusion, a course or a study program that involves live interaction with a tutor or teacher can push you beyond your limitations, make your study schedule more productive, and target and strengthen key weaknesses. A book-only approach, even when it takes advantage of free online study supplements, ceases to be beneficial after a month or so—even for self-disciplined and high-aptitude students.
An online TOEFL prep class imitates a traditional classroom setting. Here, you are one student in a group. Most of the time, there are no students physically in the same room as the teacher. All are streaming online. An online tutor may also have multiple students, but he or she will meet with each individually for one-on-one sessions.
Tutoring is the oldest educator-student relationship in history. It is highly personalized. Both student and educator have each other’s full attention, and the result is a highly productive time. The tutor can more effectively identify key weaknesses in the student—as well as gaps in knowledge or bad habits—than a traditional teacher. The con is tutors are more expensive.
An online course, on the other hand, takes place in a group setting. This limits the accessibility of the teacher’s expertise for the individual student, as well as that fruitful one-on-one attention. If you are having difficulty with a problem or need more information on a topic, you might have no one to consult. The teacher is inevitably less cognizant of the student’s particular needs and preferences.
The upsides to classes are that they are usually more affordable than private tutoring, materials tend to be included, and students will be exposed (at the very least) to something similar to what they will see on test day.
With these considerations in mind, the best approach is for test-takers to begin with a class or a self-paced program, and then look into private tutoring to really hone their skills. In-person tutoring can be rewarding, but it is often less flexible.
If you can commit to taking the TOEFL multiple times, it is a good idea to complete an online course, take the exam, and then assess your strengths and weaknesses when you get your scores back. A private tutor will be more effective at targeting your particular weaknesses than a teacher. After purchasing a few private lessons, retake the TOEFL.
If you have decided to take an online TOEFL course, you will (usually) have two options: a scheduled online class or a self-paced course that has no instructor.
An online class functions in a similar way to traditional classrooms. Students simply log into a virtual classroom remotely. But like a traditional classroom, you will share a session with other students under a single instructor. The instructor will conduct a lesson and assign problems. Throughout, the instructor will engage with students in turn and offer opportunities to answer questions in real-time.
There is a strong difference between someone who knows the right information and someone who can convey that information in a clear and engaging manner. Just because an instructor knows how to get a perfect score on the TOEFL does not mean he or she is a good instructor. For a student to progress, the instructor has to be effective.
It is important to learn your instructor’s teaching style as well as credentials. The best way to do this is to make a phone call for a quick chat. Prepare a series of questions in advance. Look for instructors who are generous with their time, are passionate about their work, and value having fun. Ask questions such as: Is there a balance between content and test-taking strategies? What do you expect students to learn by the end of the course?
The curriculum is also a priority in any class that is worth taking. Make sure you know what books or online resources are included in the course before you enroll. There should be a heavy emphasis on working through practice questions similar to those that appear on the TOEFL. The best curriculums feature at least one full-length TOEFL practice test.
Self-paced courses do not include a live instructor. However, they feature a series of recorded lessons with accompanying assignments or tasks. There will also probably be a number or chat-box so you can talk to an expert tutor for the occasional question. Personal interaction is severely limited.
Since these recorded lessons are the backbone of a self-paced course, they need to be high-quality. The information should be presented in an organized and clear manner. Some programs offer interactive presentations, which are valuable and can keep you more engaged. A reputable test-prep company will allow you to sample the lectures prior to purchasing the course.
You want a self-paced TOEFL course that tracks your progress and gives you frequent notices on your level of mastery. This is essential, since a self-paced course is basically a glorified form of independent study. Feedback is a rare (but vital) commodity. The best self-paced programs continuously update and display your strengths and weaknesses somewhere on the dashboard.
So you decided to go beyond independent study. Whether you enroll in an online TOEFL class or self-paced TOEFL program, there are a few things you should expect. That is, if the course or program is any good.
First, you should expect a large amount of practice materials. Most of these should be questions, problems, quizzes, games, or tests that resemble the ones you will encounter on the actual TOEFL exam. For an online class, these practice materials will probably be assignments you must complete between classes. Their form can depend on the style of the instructor. In a self-paced program, you will need to complete the practice material before moving into the next lecture. There is less diversity here. Practice materials will likely look the same from lecture to lecture—usually a series of problems or a quiz.
If you choose to enroll in a TOEFL test prep class, there will be a greater burden on your time. You will complete practice materials at the pace of the class. There may also be a greater variety of work to be done. You should be willing to study between classes.
If you choose to enroll in a self-paced program, you still need to be prepared to study. More of your quality of studying depends on strong study habits and self-discipline. It is up to you to make the most of your time. However, students who do not put in at least several hours of studying every week will not see their TOEFL score increase much.
The first order of business to make the most of your course and maximize your score is to establish excellent study habits. Set aside a non-negotiable time each day to study and complete practice materials. Sometimes, it helps to designate a single workspace (maybe your computer desk) and set a timer for 45 minutes to an hour and refuse to stop working until the timer goes off. In any event, putting in a lot of time does not necessarily translate into mastery. It must be time well spent. After all, 30 minutes of focused study is better than 1 hour of distracted study.
Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know. Be willing to rewatch videos or reach out to a tutor with questions. Also, know what you do know. Conduct self-tests by reciting important information in your own words or memorizing formulas.
Finally, take advantage of full-length TOEFL practice tests. They are a critical component of your progress. In fact, it might help to think of a practice test not as a test, but as just another homework assignment. Success on the TOEFL comes from doing TOEFLs. Try to complete one a month. With an online course, there is no accountability to anyone but yourself. Don’t cheat yourself. Do those practice tests!