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TOEFL Guidance

by Sitaram Chilakamarry

Hello, everyone. I’m Sitaram Chilakamarry, an Intern at Kakatiya Medical College, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, India. I took my TOEFL test on 14th August, 2010. Received e-copy of my score online in my ETS account by the end of August (on the 12th Post-Op, oops, Post-Test day). By God’s grace and with blessings from Swami Vivekananda, I got a good score – 118. My Score breakdown:

Reading – 30

Listening – 30

Speaking - 28

Writing – 30

Having learnt from free and great advice given by previous test takers from all over the internet, I feel I have a duty to extend a small helping hand to the future test takers. So, here I am, writing this piece of advice. I’m breaking it down into concise points so that it is easy to take it all in.


       The test has 4 sections, READING, LISTENING, SPEAKING & WRITING. You’ll face these 4 sections in that same order. For further description, I suggest you read the official TOEFL guide and the Princeton Review book.  


I cannot speak for other students, but for those from India, immediately after your Final Year Part – 2 exams is the perfect time. You want to have your paper score card in hand before you apply for electives. The paper score card reaches your home usually 4 weeks after the day your e-copy of scores are available (which usually are posted in 2 weeks of the test date). This means, 6 weeks after you take the test. For e.g. I took the exam on 14th August, received my score online in my ETS account on the 26th of August, and the paper score report reached my home on the 25th of September.

Many universities accept a photo-copy of the paper score card. Some even accept a print-out of the e-score. Some may even go to the extreme of accepting only a score card sent to them by ETS. It is always advisable to check with the particular university.


a)    FOR READING SECTION: I recommend using the Princeton Review book. Many people I know recommended Barron’s to me, but I was very comfortable with Princeton. Their strategy to deal with the Reading section is priceless. Go through it carefully.  However, this book is not of much use for other sections of the test. Nonetheless, do go through it all once, to familiarize yourself with the test format and what to expect from the test. But, your strategy for the other 3 sections of the test will come from the following materials.  

b)    FOR LISTENING SECTION: For me, the listening section was very easy. I have the habit of writing running notes in my class, and anybody who has been in med school will agree that it is a necessary yet uncommon skill. If you don’t have such a habit, practice running notes while listening to the news – from a US channel, obviously. I found the speed of the conversations and lectures a little faster than in Kaplan practice CD. So, be sure to not miss any info. I couldn’t confidently answer one question in the listening section as my concentration wavered while noting down that particular point, and I ended up cursing myself after the test. But, by Swamiji’s grace, it all ended well.

c)    FOR SPEAKING SECTION: I’m about to reveal the secret to ace the most crucial and arguably the most difficult part of the exam. This is because, a score of >26 is required by many universities to apply for electives, and it is very easy to screw up in this section. With the following material, I can vouch that you will definitely get a competitive score in this section. So, what book am I about to recommend? The answer is that, there is no good book which discusses the speaking section in a practical way. The secret to ace the Speaking section is to watch video lectures by a great teacher, Mr. Joseph, who has kindly posted them for free on YouTube. PLEASE FOLLOW HIS ADVICE TO THE LETTER!!! YOU’LL NEED NOTHING MORE!!! You’ll definitely come out with flying colors. I take this opportunity to thank my classmate and good friend, Shashikanth Nagabandi, who introduced me to these lectures. 

Links to Mr. Joseph’s lectures: 

Speaking Section Overview:







There is another kind soul, Mr. John Renshaw, who too has posted free videos on YouTube. The only video of his that you definitely need to watch is:

The key to success for the speaking section is: PRACTICE!!! I used to record my responses on my phone and play back my responses and analyze my mistakes and correct them. Again thanks to my friend Shashikanth for this advice (he incidentally scored 102 on the test, with Speaking score of 27).

d)    WRITING SECTION: The material to learn from is again, lectures by Mr. Joseph. 

Writing section overview:



For the writing tasks too, I was lucky. During preparation, I found that I could type fast, which left me with enough time to proof- read my passages. If you are slow with the keyboard, practice for 45 minutes daily and you’ll pick up. Keep in mind the word count that Mr. Joseph discusses in his videos.


a)    DO NOT AIM FOR ANY SCORE!!!! Just try to do the best you can in all the sections. Thinking of scores will only make you more nervous, which in turn will bring down your performance.

b)    A preparation of 15-20 days is more than sufficient for the exam. You’ll realize as you practice that, for most of you, the challenge lies in the speaking section. Don’t get disheartened. Go on practicing and you’ll come out victorious.

c)    Book your slot early as there is always a huge demand from test takers.

d)    Find out about the local test center before booking your slot there. Find out if facilities are convenient with minimum distractions and no malpractices.

e)    It’s better to download the above mentioned videos to your computer. To do so, go to and paste the above given URLs. You’ll be given different video formats to choose from. Just download mp4 format with the quality that you can afford (e.g. if you have slow internet speed, go with low quality).

f)    Listen to sample answers of ETS and Kaplan. They’ll give you a good idea of a high scoring response.


I practiced from the following software and sources:

a)    Barron’s CD

b)    Longman CD

c)    Kaplan CD

d)    Official TOEFL Guide

e)    ETS TOEFL Sample Questions

f)    Speaking topics posted on many websites all over the internet.

Please practice sincerely and honestly.

NOTE: I found that the speed of conversations and lectures for the LISTENING SECTION in the Longman CD was very slow. The speed in the Kaplan CD was closer to that of the real exam, although, as I mentioned earlier, the real exam was probably a little faster than even Kaplan.

NOTE 2: Be mentally prepared to face 6 reading passages. Although you may be asked anywhere between 3-6 passages in the actual exam, only 3 will be graded and there is no way of knowing which 3. I had to face 5 passages and it was really stressful. Although I completed each passage well within the allotted time (I happened to find the advice in the Princeton book very helpful in this regard), the mental pressure of the exam forced me to review all my passages thoroughly, and I ended up using all my allotted time to review my answers. BOTTOM LINE: Energy will be used up and therefore, boost your stamina for the exam. 

NOTE 3: Here are some speaking topics for practice that I found on the internet:

1. Your favorite pet

2. Your dressing style

3. What do you do in your free time? (Your most favorite hobby)

4. How do you learn English?

5. Which sport do you like best?

6. Which dish do you like best?

7. Your most favorite/important subject 

8. Your future plan

9. Your best scholastic achievement

10. What kind of music do you like best?

11. What do you expect in your parents?

12. If you had a wish, what would you wish?

13. If you can change one thing in your university, what would you change?

14. Your best friend 

15. The person you like best

16. Your unforgettable day

17. What is unforgettable in your school life?

18. Your idea of a happy life

19. A type of book you enjoy reading

20. The fruit you like to eat most

21. Your favorite TV show

22. The movie you like best

23. The place you would like to visit

24. The strangest dream you have had

25. What would you do if you suddenly had a lot of money?

26. Your first attempt to gain 

27. Your ideal holiday resort

28. Your ambition

29. Your most influential person/teacher, and explain why you feel this person is a positive role model.

30. Where will you be professionally in ten/15/20 years’ time?

31. What quality do you like best in a friend?

32. What do you treasure most in life?

33. What are the qualities of a good citizen?

34. Your favorite time of the year?

35. Your favorite color?

36. What are the qualities of a good teacher?

37. What are the qualities of a good student?

38. What are the qualities of a good parent?

40. If you could change one thing in your country, what would you change?

41. The most inspiring person to you

42. Describe a job that you’ve had, and explain why it was important.

43. Describe a person you admire and explain why you admire him or her.

44. If you could have any job in the world, which job would you choose?

45. Describe a book that you have read and explain why it was important to you

46. what all u miss when u r away from ur home

47. Do you think children should always obey their parents, or are there times when it is not necessary for children to obey?

48. Do you make decisions quickly or do take your time making them?

49. It is better to learn about the news from newspapers or from television?

50. Do you think it is better to get up early in the morning or sleep until later? Would you prefer to go to a big party or a small gathering with friends?

51. Would you prefer to write a paper by yourself or with a group?

52. Do you think it is better to tell the truth and hurt someone’s feelings or tell a little lie and keep from hurting the person?

53. Some college students choose to take courses in a variety of subject areas in order to get a broad education. Others choose to focus on a single subject area in order to have deeper understanding of that area. Which approach to the course selection do you think is better for students and why? 

54. Do you like to try new food or eat the same kind of food?

55. Do you prefer to be in a large or a small class?

56. Would you prefer to go to dinner or stay home and cook a meal?

57. Do you think it is better to marry before the age of 30?

58. Do you prefer to take an essay exam or multiple choice exams?

59. Would you prefer to take a trip by plane or train?

60. Would you like to live in a big city or a small town?

61. Do you think it is better to study alone or study with friends?

62. Do you prefer to play sports or watch sports?

63. Would you prefer to go to the opera or to a football game?

64. Would you prefer to take the TOEFL test or a math test?

65. If your teacher makes a mistake, is it better to correct the teacher or ignore the mistake?

66. Is it better to take choices in life or play it safe?

67. Is it better to have a career that pays a lot of money but keeps you away from your family, or a career that does not pay you much but allows you to spend time with your family?

That is all I have to share about TOEFL. Go ahead and All the Best!!!

The best TOEFL guide

I consider myself lucky enough to come across this wonderful guide for TOEFL. I am greatly thankful to Sitaram.

My TOEFL scores
Reading 27
speaking 27
listening 30
writing 28
total 112.

Without this post may be i would not have scored anywhere near this.
Guys just follow it blindly and i can guarantee you that you would score above 100.

Additional tip: for writing section go to

toefl score

Hi umar sir,
I got my toefl score it is 82
Breaking down
Reading 18
Listening 21
Speaking 23
Writing 20
Should I retake the exam?or apply to universities?
Thanku sir,

TOEFL or Dean's letter for English Proficiency

Hello umar bhai...
I just got my TOEFL score 84..!


Should I retake TOEFL or go for Dean's letter of English Proficiency?
As I am going to apply for Harvard, Weil Cornell (New York) and UCSD..

Harvard says either Dean's letter OR toefl >100+ telephonic interview...

Cornell says English proficiency proof (I sent an email, they told me TOEFL is not required as my medical school's instruction language is English, just to send other documents.)

UCSD says NO TOEFL or Step 1 required but I am not sure about acceptance.

Please reply soon, as I've less time remaining for the application

 help me...which are the 4

 help me...which are the 4 universities to take their scores directly from toefl

Thank you

 Thanks a lot. Got my score today. 112 (R:28, L:29, S:27,W:28). Thank you for your valuable tips. The best tips I got from you was not to aim for a high score. This was really helpful.


 Thank you Sitaram for your

 Thank you Sitaram for your valuable advise..Received my score today..Followed your advise.

Toefl:109 R:26 W:30L:29 S; i need to retake the test bcoz of my low speaking section number??i will not apply to NIH.


Toefl scores

Thank you man!! i read ur post and followed the instructiions..recieved

my scores.... W28,R25,S26,L26....thamks for writing such a helpful sarticle..god blesss u...

Regarding TOEFL

Hello Sir,

I am from hindi medium school and my english is average> so please tell me how much time required to prepare for TOEFL exam plz respond me.I need to score 100.



I'm grateful for such an effort of yours.

I've completed my final year(awaiting the results). I'm new to this whole issue of PG in d US. I'm just about 2 begin my prep,  I would like to apply for clerkship and I found most of the universities requiring a STEP I score. But, I still haven't appeared for d exams & I don't have the time to complete step I as well as apply for d clerkship. Can you assist me in getting the list of col that don't require a Step I score.  

Do IB graduates need toefl

hi.. i graduated from the IB board before medical the toefl required for IB graduates...?

TOEFL score

Hello Umar sir,

I have been following your website regularly for some time now. I had a question please.

I just got my toefl scores. Got a score of 87.

Breakdown being: reading 25

                           listening 20

                           speaking 18

                           writing     24

Should i retake the exam or just apply to universities now?

Thank you sir

retake the exam...

umar's picture

retake the exam...

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

hi u people are doing a great

hi u people are doing a great job. i got my toefl score total of 103 with 26 in reading , 25 in listening 23 in speaking and 29 in writing, Is this score k to apply for electives or do u suggest that i retake the test. I know that NIH requires 26 on the speaking section.. i am going to skip applying there.. is this good enough for  the other univs? thanks in advance 

Hi! your score is great... Go

Hi! your score is great... Go ahead and start applying asap.


hello every one:

i m a third year medical student of india, i wants to knw options for clerkship, i will be having aprox 8 weeks at the end of this year after my exams,i hav my step 1 score with me (99/247)....

plz help me... ASAP

Visit the following link.

umar's picture

Visit the following link.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

Got toefl score

Hey all,

This is gargya, doing intern in AMC, Visakhapatnam, Andhrapradesh.LL b completing internship in september. recently  I got my toefl score 105.Break up is Reading-29, Listening -25, Speaking - 26, writing - 25. Is this a fine score..and how many universities accept this score..I wish to apply for clerkship for the months of october and november.. which universities do I apply. and do I have chance of getting in any university for Internal medicine

NIH is a good option with

NIH is a good option with this TOEFL score. Most universities I know of have a cut off of 26 on the speaking section, so you are fine. Apply to as many as possible. Good Luck!

speaking 23 ?

my toefl score breakdown

reading- 24
listening- 27

wat should i do now? retake test or apply with these scores?

which universities will accept this score?

You may not be able to apply

You may not be able to apply to NIH, but most other universities will gladly accept this score. Don't worry, apply to as many as you can, and all the best!!!!


Congratulations for ur superb performance!!

And.. thanx a lot for your gr8 piece of advice. I hv written my final xam in dec , and expecting results by first week of feb. I wanted to know if i could giv toefl around feb end..will that suffice.. scene is like.. i havnt yet started the preparation at all.. How many hours dialy should i devote for the preparation?

Thank you for your

Thank you for your appreciation. You'll find out as you go further that this score means nothing, except perhaps that I understood what the examiners were looking for. That is what I tried to share with everyone. 

Regarding your prep time, it is up to you. Just do what you are comfortable with and evaluate yourself constantly. You'll know when you are ready.

HELP PLSS i need to know how


i need to know how i cud get those cd's.. do i need to purchase it from a book store or do i download it.. if so .. can u provide me the exact site or link. 


hie.. i need some help. i


i need some help. i need to know how i can download barron, kaplan, longman cd . do i need to purchase them from a store.. or i should download from the internet, if so can u provide the links.. 

hey all... I tried

hey all...
I tried downloading the abovementioned videos using keepvid. however i had a few problems doin it, so i had to look for another way. And luckily my friend suggested a solution to it. 

You can download "downloadhelper" as an "add -on" on your firefox browser. So wen u open the link in youtube, u get an option at the left top where u can choose ".mp4" extension/format(best quality) and then "download" . its jus u matter of few minutes..hope this proves useful.

gr8 luck to all......

too much preparation

Hey Sitaram,
I honestly feel 20 odd days is way too much time for TOEFL. It's not that tough an exam.

I took the TOEFL about 6 months back or so and got a score of 119 / 120. All it takes is 4-5 days of preparation. I just did the Barron's CD / Printed material and gave the test.

I have a feeling that too much preparation might hamper your natural flow of thought in the exam.

what about students from hindi medium

hey i want to ask that how much preparation is required for a hindi medium students 

I agree with you. In my case,

ayaz's picture

I agree with you. In my case, I did absolutely nothing and casually walked into the exam room barely only knowing a bit about the pattern of exam. It was fun to take it that way. However I won't suggest doing this to the USMLE examinations.

Hi Saras, You had a great

Hi Saras,

You had a great score! Congrats. Well regarding the preparation time, not everyone has the ability to ace the exam with a prep of 4-5 days. I've heard of people who got 99 on step 1 with 2 months of prep. The bottom line is: Your mileage may vary. :)

hi...i have to apply 4

hi...i have to apply 4 electives ...some colleges require scores 2 b send via ets...wil b apperg 4 tofel in jan...only after ma scores ill b abl 2 no which colleges i can apply wen d option of wich col u wana send ur report come wen applyg 4 toefl comes..wat r u supposed to write???...

ETS allows us to enter up to

ETS allows us to enter up to 4 universities' address, to which the TOEFL score will be sent by ETS for free. We have until 10 p.m, the day before the test to enter the universities' addresses. For e.g. if your test is on 10th, you have till 10 p.m on 9th to enter the addresses of the universities.

Unfortunately, as we can't know which colleges we'll be applying to, we can't avail the facility of sending our TOEFL score report to the univ, via ETS for free. So what we need to do is request for an additional score report to be sent to the university. The last time I checked, ETS charges USD $17 for each university.

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