Should You Study for the TOEFL or the SAT First?

iStock_000007086493_MediumIf you are not a native English speaker, applying to American colleges can be a pain. To be fair, it’s a pain for American high school students, too, but it’s one step more difficult for international students. The TOEFL is a great example of that extra challenge. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the exam, a quick link for reference: what is the TOEFL?). The number of things you need to do in order to apply to schools can be overwhelming. That’s why I highly recommend spreading out the process over a longer period of time. If you can, study for the TOEFL and the SAT separately—don’t take them both in a short time.

And how to start? That can change, depending on your situation, but it’s usually better to take the TOEFL first.

There are a couple reasons I recommend this. First, the TOEFL is just an easier test than the SAT. In order to get a high TOEFL score, you need to be able to communicate well in English. That means reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English, using advanced vocabulary and grammar. In order to get a high SAT score, you need to use many of those communication skills for logical tasks. The TOEFL doesn’t test logic, only language. Granted, the SAT doesn’t include all the skills—there’s no speaking or listening—but the level of language you need is higher. The reading has more advanced vocabulary, and the writing questions require very high-level grammar.

So first, do some TOEFL practice and improve those language skills. They will be useful later when you take the SAT. The improvement you make in your vocabulary and grammar will boost those verbal SAT scores.

But as I mentioned, there is a second reason I recommend taking the TOEFL first: if your TOEFL scores are very low, the rest of your application might not matter. Even if you are a fantastic student, a English-speaking college cannot accept an applicant who will not be able to function in an English environment. Make sure your English skills are good enough first before you spend the time and energy on the other parts of your application.

Written by Lucas Fink, TOEFL expert at Magoosh. For more help with your TOEFL prep, check out Magoosh’s TOEFL blog!

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