I HATE the Time Limits on TOEFL / IELTS Exams!

Most students find the time limits on the English exams like TOEFL and IELTS to be one of their major stress points.

Unfortunately these time limits are here to stay, so you need to prepare yourself the best you can to be ready to face them when it comes time to take the exam.

The first step is to know what to expect.  I have worked with students who took one of these exams and had never practiced using a time limit.  EEK!


The IELTS exam has four parts – Listening (30 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes) and Speaking (11–14 minutes). The entire test takes 2 hours and 45 minutes.

During my IELTS prep sessions with students, we focus on the speaking and/or writing portion of the exam (that is decided by you!)

Part 2 of the IELTS speaking exam is the only portion of the speaking section that has a time limit.  Many students like to focus on practicing this section of the exam, because the time limit stresses them out.

  • Part 1 (4-5 minutes)- the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a variety of other topics- usually dealing with daily life.
  • Part 2 (3 minutes) – the examiner will give you a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have 1 minute to prepare and then up to 2 minutes to give your response.
  • Part 3 (4-5 minutes)- you will be asked additional questions about the topic in Part 2. These is a more free flowing portion of the exam and a chance for you to discuss more abstract ideas.


As with the IELTS, the TOEFL exam has four parts – Listening (60-90 minutes), Reading (60-80 minutes), Writing (50 minutes) and Speaking (20 minutes).  The whole process usually takes about 4.5 hours to complete.

The TOEFL Ibt is taken completely using a computer, so the time limits are always shown to you on the screen.

  • Task 1 & 2 – Independent Speaking Questions – Preparation time = 15 seconds, Response time = 45 seconds
  • Task 3 & 4 – Integrated Reading, Listening and Speaking Questions – Reading time = 45 seconds, Preparation time = 30 seconds, Response time = 60 seconds
  • Task 5 & 6 – Integrated Listening and Speaking Questions – Preparation time = 20 seconds, Response time = 60 seconds

How can I prepare for these horrible time limits?

There is only one answer.  PRACTICE

  • Do English exam preparation with a teacher online
  • Practice using the time limit speaking to a friend.  Even if your friend can not understand English (!!) they can start and stop the timer so you can get a feeling for the time limit.
  • Answer the questions OUT LOUD to yourself (in the mirror if you are feeling brave) using your mobile phone timer.

While you are giving your answer…

  • Use your preparation time wisely
  • Take notes that focus on key points of your answer
  •  Be sure to speak in a calm and smooth manner
  • Stay focused

Feeling prepared before you take the exam can really help with your anxiety about the time limits and the general stress of taking a test.

To feel prepared, you must feel confident with your English level.  It all comes down to how well you have prepared yourself in a well rounded manner.

Contact me and I’ll help you plan out your English exam preparation!

TOEFL Practice Sessions On Skype

The TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a very popular English proficiency exam taken by people from around the world.

Most of the TOEFL students I have worked with have needed the test for their university application.  Others have had to show a potential employer an official test score to prove what their English level is. The TOEFL iBT (Internet Based Test) is done fully on a computer and measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. If you are planning to study abroad, it is important to check with the school and find out which exam you need because different programs have different requirements. The TOEFL exam has 4 parts – listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

SkypEnglish4U TOEFL sessions

There are endless resources online for TOEFL, books, pdfs and all sorts of things that you can pay for to help you prepare for this exam. Every student learns differently, some are more book oriented, while others need a more hands on approach. Regardless of which type you are, you need to practice what you will do during the actual exam. No E-Book can correct your essay or give you feedback on your speaking. Some students only prepare for the exam and don’t focus on improving their general English. If you are taking the exam to get into a University in the USA, you are going to need English once you get there, so if you just focus on TOEFL practice questions, that isn’t really going to help you in the long run.

During my sessions with TOEFL students, we focus on the speaking part of the exam and some people also want to work on their writing skills. Any and all speaking that you do before the exam will help you, so general conversation and small talk are also part of preparing for the big day.

TOEFL Speaking

There are 6 different parts to the TOEFL speaking exam, some of which integrate reading and listening as well. I focus on the first 2 sections and will go through actual exam questions with students while using the time regulations from the exam – 15 seconds to prepare, 45 seconds to answer. It is not a lot of time and many students find it difficult to answer in such a short time. The more you do it, the easier it gets. We will go over many different possible exam questions and make sure that you are comfortable with the question format and the time limits.

Doing the speaking practice out loud is a very important part of preparing for the exam. On the test day, you will be sitting in front of a computer and when it tells you to start, you have to start. Some students find speaking to a computer more difficult than speaking with a person and others have the opposite opinion. Regardless of your stance on this, you are going to have to speak- so it is a good idea to practice it with someone who can give you feedback.

TOEFL Writing

If TOEFL writing is something that you are interested in practicing, I will send you the topic before our session and you write the essay on your own time and then we review it together using Google Documents (if you can not access this in your country, there are other ways to do it).

Using this ‘reviewing/editing together’ process, you will really see quick results. Doing it this way is an active learning process as opposed to if you just send your document to someone and they correct it. Then YOU are not a part of the reviewing process. It is much better to be actively involved and be able to ask questions and discuss the changes we are making.

Writing is an active process. You are using your knowledge to create something. Many students don’t practice writing essays enough because they think since they can read well and understand most things, that then they can write a proper essay. Another common mistake that students make is to not practice writing with the time you are allowed during the test. I suggest that students start to practice writing with no time limit and once they start to feel comfortable with the essay format, start to keep track of the time.

Be Prepared

The TOEFL Ibt is the lovely product of technology, so there is no way to know what type of questions you are going to be asked. You can thank the programmers behind the scene for the algorithm they have developed. You need to be ready to speak about anything and everything (not just the practice questions from a TOEFL prep book).

Taking a test is stressful all on it’s own. Taking a test in a foreign language takes it to a whole other level. Put your mind at ease and invest some time in practicing for the exam with me online and feel more comfortable with your level when you walk into the exam.

, ,

italki Instant Tutoring

Do you want to practice your English (or any other language) NOW?

Click here > Sign up to italki and once you are all logged in, you can find native speakers who are available to speak with you immediately, no scheduling in advance necessary.

You’ll see FIND A TEACHER on your top menu of your homepage.

italki instant tutor
There are different filters for you to select when searching for the right teacher.  The language you would like to practice is the first on you need to select and then there are some other optional filters such as where the teacher is originally from, what other languages the teacher speaks, price and tags (such as IELTS, TOEFL or business).

Another filter is Availability.  If you want to speak with someone NOW, click on Availability and select ‘Instant Tutoring Available Now’.

italki instant tutoring

You’ll see all of the teachers available at that time listed.  You can adjust the filters according to what you are looking for and then select the teacher for instant tutoring.  Perhaps you prefer to speak with someone from the UK who also speaks Spanish, you can enter that into the filter, but that particular combination may not be available at that exact time.  The instant tutor feature is something that teachers can turn on and off based on their schedule.

instant tutor

The request will be sent to the teacher and they have 10 minutes to accept it.

This feature is GREAT because it allows you to speak to a native speaker at your convenience.  So many of us have busy lives and scheduling in advance can be difficult.  Instant tutoring gives you the freedom to practice your speaking when YOU have time.

I’ve helped people prepare for job interviews, IELTS, TOEFL and even done some proof reading/editing while on ‘Instant Tutoring’.

Remember, the only way to improve your English is to use it, so go ahead, try it out!