How to Study for the TOEFL and GRE at the Same Time

Need to take both the TOEFL and GRE to apply for U.S. grad schools? In an ideal world, you would have enough time to focus on studying for each test separately, but for most students, that’s not the case. Luckily, these tests have enough in common for you to kill two birds with one stone. You can study for these sections on each test simultaneously if you’re strategic:

1) Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension (RC) questions on both the GRE Verbal Reasoning and TOEFL Reading sections test for similar skills, including your ability to summarize main ideas, make inferences, identify relevant evidence, and understand vocabulary in context. The TOEFL Listening section also asks comprehension questions, which the RC skills you develop can help you answer.

The most efficient way to prepare for RC on both tests is by studying for GRE RC. The GRE RC questions range in difficulty from basic to advanced, whereas TOEFL RC questions hover between basic and intermediate. While preparing for the more difficult GRE RC questions, which you will need to study for anyway, you will simultaneously be preparing for less difficult TOEFL RC questions—and that will be a breeze if you can master GRE RC. I recommend studying using GRE practice passages and corresponding questions. Use the Ready4 GRE app to complete practice questions and hone those comprehension skills day by day.

2) Vocabulary

Certain intermediate vocabulary will overlap on both tests, but the TOEFL tests mostly basic to intermediate vocab and the GRE tests mostly intermediate to difficult. So, how do you double-dip your vocab studying? Cover the spectrum of difficulty! The more basic level of TOEFL vocab will show up on the GRE in some form or another—in reading passages, questions, or answer choices—so it’s crucial to master it. However, you must also practice the much more advanced GRE vocab; even though it probably won’t be tested on the TOEFL, you can incorporate it into your responses for the Speaking and Writing portions to show sophisticated language mastery.

Learning the vocabulary of a foreign language—especially when it spans the spectrum of difficulty—is a major undertaking. Consistency is key, so practice daily using the method that works best for you. For many students, this involves using flash cards. Write a vocabulary word on one side and the definition on the other, and test yourself on the word until you’ve mastered it. I recommend creating and rotating three decks of flash cards: one with basic to intermediate TOEFL vocab, one with intermediate TOEFL and GRE vocab, and one with advanced GRE vocab.

Reading English materials, such as academic writing or literature, can help you understand how vocab is used in context. In fact, practicing with actual materials can also help you practice your reading comprehension (if you reflect on your understanding of the material). Additionally, you could learn Latin and Greek roots—these show up often in English vocabulary across the difficulty spectrum.

3) Writing

Both tests have writing sections for which you must produce original English writing. Once again, the GRE Analytic Writing sections are more demanding than the TOEFL Writing because they require longer and deeper analyses, but parts of the sections are remarkably similar in structure. The GRE requires two essay-writing tasks: 1) Analyze an Argument and 2) Analyze an Issue. For the Argument essay, you’ll analyze a given argument, identifying logical reasoning gaps and assessing the argument’s strength. The Argument essay closely resembles TOEFL Integrated Writing, which asks you to understand and relate views on an argument, and several TOEFL Speaking tasks, which ask you to understand and analyze various arguments and the support and solutions offered for them. For the Issue essay, in contrast, you’ll advance an argument for your own view on a given issue. The Issue Essay closely resembles TOEFL Independent Writing, which requires you to construct and support an argument on a topic, typically a social or moral issue.

Practice is key when studying for the Writing sections. Under timed conditions that mimic the actual test, write essays in response to sample prompts for each test and compare them to high-scoring sample responses. The reasoning, argumentation, and writing skills you develop for either test will transfer over to the other—and to the TOEFL Speaking and Reading and the GRE Reading. Practicing English writing will help you recognize proper English usage and learn English vocabulary for both tests, and analyzing and constructing arguments will help you make inferences, recognize tone, identify supporting details, and analyze structure and function for GRE Reading passages.

Studying for two tests while also preparing an array of other materials for grad school applications can be overwhelming. Thankfully, you can master certain sections of the GRE and TOEFL at the same time if you’re strategic in your studying. Good luck!

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