Using Authentic Materials for TOEFL iBT® Test Preparation

There are many resources available that can be used when preparing for the TOEFL iBT test. From practice tests to AI scored practice questions, the test comes with a suite of preparation products designed to address test takers’ and teachers’ needs. But did you know that some Authentic Materials can also make excellent resources when preparing students for the TOEFL iBT test? 

Let’s look at how you can make use of Authentic Materials for your TOEFL iBT preparation classes. 

But first… What is Authentic Material? 

Authentic Material is anything that is not edited for language teaching purposes. From newspaper articles to books, videos to podcasts, it is an original production targeting a specific audience. It is created with the primary aims of conveying information and communicating a specific message. Therefore, it accurately represents the source language appropriate to the context it is used.  

Some other examples for Authentic Materials are: 

  • Websites 
  • Magazine articles 
  • Academic journals 
  • Blogs 
  • Brochures 
  • TV and radio programs 
  • Interviews 
  • Advertisements 
  • Letters and emails 

Why include Authentic Materials while teaching English as a foreign language? 

Since Authentic Materials are not produced for language teaching purposes, they are not levelled, providing learners with an opportunity to be exposed to English as it is used in real life.

Tasks designed around Authentic Materials also give learners a chance to use language to communicate in contexts that simulate real life.

They make useful resources for communicative language teaching where learners are expected to use the target language for meaningful communication. They generate more interest because students are more motivated to accomplish tasks that involve real communication. 

Authentic Materials also encourage active reading, a process involving reading to understand the written text. Using authentic texts gives students a drive to really understand them to complete tasks that are likely to appear in real life. This helps them be more focused when reading and think actively throughout the reading process, encouraging them to monitor their own comprehension. 

What are the benefits of using authentic resources to prepare for the TOEFL iBT test? 

TOEFL iBT assesses test takers’ academic English proficiency across all four skills — reading, listening, speaking, and writing — the way they are actually used in a classroom.  

Including Authentic Materials in the TOEFL iBT preparation process exposes students to language that is used in real life, which appears in the test. The fact that TOEFL iBT includes authentic texts in the Reading section and that it simulates the kind of language and situations that take place in campus environments makes it meaningful and useful to practice with authentic resources when preparing for the test. 


Here are some tips on how to use Authentic Materials for TOEFL iBT test preparation: 

For the Reading section:

1- Expose learners to authentic reading texts 

The passages in the TOEFL iBT Reading section are taken from real books and entry-level university textbooks. Therefore, it is a good practice to expose learners to authentic reading texts taken from similar sources. These sources can be 

  • Uuniversity course books, 
  • Articles from scientific magazines and journals, 
  • Newspaper articles, 
  • News websites, 
  • Bbook clippings. 

Creating basic comprehension, summary and inference questions using authentic texts can help improve your students’ reading skills needed for success in university education and in the TOEFL iBT test. 

2- Practice active reading  

Since the use of authentic materials encourages active reading, it contributes to a better understanding of the source material and facilitates the process of making connections among different ideas presented in a text. Active reading, which is a skill needed for academic success, is also important in the TOEFL iBT since the test assesses real-world academic language skills. Practicing with authentic texts that will encourage active reading will contribute to success in the Reading section. 

For the Writing section: 

1- Make use of a variety of sources 

The first writing task, Integrated Writing, involves a short reading passage and a short lecture on the same topic, presented either from a different perspective, or with additional information. For this task, use of short authentic newspaper articles or blog posts about current issues combined with short news broadcasts, videos, or audio/video interviews on the same topics can make useful practice resources. Such materials can easily be found through a quick Google search, especially if you look for hot topics or current news stories that are broadcast and written about in many different media outlets. 

2- Imitate the task for practice 

Writing for an Academic Discussion task replicates an academic discussion forum, involving a professor’s question about a topic, and two fellow students’ posts responding to the professor’s question. Test takers should contribute to the discussion by writing their own response to the professor’s post. Since the task is a direct representation of an academic discussion forum, creating a similar online forum and posting questions that your students can respond to can make a perfect practice opportunity.  

For the Listening section: 

1- Podcasts: anytime, anywhere  

Authentic listening resources such as podcasts, radio programs, news broadcasts, interviews and debates can be used for practice for the TOEFL iBT Listening section. Available anytime and anywhere, podcasts are also good for general listening practice. Start with short, easy-to-understand podcasts that will also help your students with vocabulary building. BBC’s “The English We Speak” podcast series is a useful resource for learning and practice with its short episodes that introduce phrases or slang frequently used in the English language. You can later move on to other podcast series with longer episodes, such as the ones you can find on BBC Sounds

2- Introduce both formal and informal language 

For the listening questions that include academic lectures, audio or video recordings of actual lectures can be useful for preparation. The actual monologic and dialogic nature of university lectures are authentically represented in the TOEFL iBT Listening section, so using authentic lecture recordings including both professor monologues and student-professor interaction will make good resources to prepare for these tasks. For the listening questions that involve informal campus conversations, using campus interviews with university students that can be found on video streaming services will be very useful for exposure to colloquial language. 

For the Speaking section: 

1- Use materials that represent university context 

For the Integrated Speaking tasks that involve reading and/or listening and speaking, authentic written and audio materials representing a university setting or university studies can be used to design integrated speaking tasks. An example would be using two authentic posters, or two short blurbs about university student clubs to have students compare and contrast them for speaking practice.  

A similar practice can be done with a video of a brief student interview or an introduction of a student club that can be found in online video streaming services or university websites.   

2- Encourage peer work 

For the Independent Speaking task, some hot topics or campus-related topics can be selected for practice. You can even adapt some opinion essay prompts to practice with since these require the use of similar language.  You can pair up students to practice together with suitable speaking prompts and give each other peer feedback. Introducing the TOEFL iBT speaking task rubrics to students and asking them to use these to evaluate each other’s performance will be helpful in reflecting on their own performance, too. 


When choosing authentic resources, consider these points: 

Colloquial language is commonly found in Authentic Materials, but it might be good to watch for some not commonly used colloquial language appearing in Authentic Materials. Sources including unknown vocabulary or unknown cultural references might make it unsuitable for such authentic resources to be used for test practice. If possible, editing certain parts can make them more suitable for use. However, to keep the material as authentic as possible, shortening a text or excluding certain parts would be better than changing the language.  



Possibilities are endless, as are authentic materials. The abundance and ubiquitousness of authentic resources will decrease your dependence on textbooks, and help you start developing your own creative materials for test preparation. Since the TOEFL iBT test includes the very same skills and language that is already used in academic settings, Authentic Materials, especially those from academic sources and university contexts, will reflect the test content appropriately and make good practice materials.