It seems unfair, doesn’t it? A native English speaker applying for a graduate program in the U.S. might spend months studying for the GRE, just the GRE, but if you aren’t a native speaker, you might have to devote some energy to the TOEFL, too. How do you study for two tests at the same time?
Ideally, you’ll just have a long time to study. That way, you can focus on one test first, then the other. But that’s not always realistic. And unfortunately, there’s no magic trick here, but there’s definitely some advice to give.
What the TOEFL and the GRE Have in Common
There is unfortunately little overlap between the two tests, but there is a bit, and something is better than nothing! The TOEFL reading section is similar to long reading comprehension passages on the GRE. It’s not exactly the same, but many of the questions look similar. For example, a question like this one could appear on either test:
“Which of the following can be inferred from the first paragraph?”
The biggest difference between GRE reading comprehension and TOEFL reading is that the GRE asks for more logical thinking. The TOEFL mostly only tests understanding. You don’t have to do much reasoning; knowing the meanings of the words and structures is enough for most of the questions. Of course, if you want to answer GRE questions correctly, you have to understand the vocabulary and structures in that test, too.
So if you’re studying for the GRE, the reading comprehension skills you build will help you on the TOEFL as well. In contrast, studying for the TOEFL reading section will only help you slightly on the GRE. Most GRE verbal questions are unrelated to the TOEFL (text completion questions, for example), are much more difficult, or require more analytical thinking.
Other than the reading comprehension, the writing sections also have something in common. The “issue task” on the GRE is very similar to the “independent task” on the TOEFL. In fact, the themes of many questions are common between the two tests. For example, you might see an essay question about education systems, government systems, role models, morality, arts, or technology on either test. And your goal is very similar: you need to choose a side and create an argument for your position. The GRE essay graders have higher expectations, but the basic writing methods are the same.
What Study Material to Use For the TOEFL
If you’re taking both the GRE and the TOEFL, it’s a good idea to have material to study for both tests. Your GRE preparation material can definitely help you a bit in studying for the TOEFL, but you’ll also want to learn about the TOEFL’s speaking section (especially) and listening tasks, which are completely different from anything on the GRE.
If you’re already expecting to score okay on the GRE verbal section and have a lot of experience speaking, listening, and writing in English, then you probably only need The Official Guide to the TOEFL or ETS’s book of five practice tests. That will give you a basic understanding of what to expect on the test. It won’t really help you to improve your English skills, though. It only helps with knowledge of the test format. If you need more than that, then I’d recommend the Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test and as much English listening and speaking practice as possible. But going through both the Cambridge book and GRE materials will take time! Know which one is more important for you. Which will require more work? Find your weaknesses and focus on them!
This post was written by Lucas Verney-Fink, resident TOEFL and GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For more advice on taking the GRE, check out Magoosh’s GRE blog.