Table of Contents Hide
- What is the TOEFL Exam?
- Why Take the TOEFL Exam?
- Eligibility Criteria for Taking the TOEFL
- When to Take the TOEFL?
- How to Register for the TOEFL Exam?
- How Much Does the TOEFL Exam Cost?
- How is the TOEFL Exam Scored?
- What is a Good TOEFL Score for Universities?
- How to Prepare for the TOEFL Exam?
- What to Bring to the TOEFL Exam Center?
- Familiarizing Yourself with the TOEFL iBT Format
- Day Before the Exam
- At the Test Center
- After Taking TOEFL – Scores, Retakes and Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Q1. Can I take the TOEFL exam online from home?
- Q2. Where can I find TOEFL sample papers and free practice tests?
- Q3. Is the TOEFL exam only a multiple choice test?
- Q4. How is the TOEFL exam scored?
- Q5. Is the TOEFL exam very difficult?
- Q6. Does the TOEFL exam have negative marking?
- Q7. How long are TOEFL scores valid?
- Q8. Can I cancel my TOEFL exam?
- Q9. What ID documents can I use for TOEFL exam?
- Q10. Can I get accommodations for disability in the TOEFL?
- Q11. How can I prepare for the TOEFL while working?
- Q12. Which is easier – IELTS or TOEFL?
- Q13. Can I switch from TOEFL to IELTS exams?
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL Exam) is a standardized test used by many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada to assess the English language proficiency of non-native speakers applying for admission. As an international student planning to study abroad in North America, you will likely need to take the TOEFL exam as part of your application process. Here is a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about taking the TOEFL exam.
What is the TOEFL Exam?
The TOEFL exam measures your ability to use English at the university level. It evaluates your reading, listening, speaking and writing skills in academic settings. The test is accepted by more than 10,000 colleges, universities and agencies in over 130 countries. The TOEFL exam is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
There are two formats of the TOEFL exam:
- TOEFL iBT (Internet Based Test): This is the most common TOEFL exam format, administered on a computer at official TOEFL testing centers. It has four sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
- TOEFL PBT (Paper Based Test): This is an older version of the TOEFL administered as a paper-based exam. It has three sections – Reading, Listening and Writing. Very few testing locations still offer the PBT.
The TOEFL iBT is the preferred and recommended format. It provides a more accurate evaluation of your English skills for academic purposes. This guide will focus on the iBT format.
Why Take the TOEFL Exam?
As an international student, you will likely need to prove your English proficiency in order to be admitted to colleges and universities in the US, Canada, UK and other English-speaking countries. The TOEFL exam serves this purpose and is the most widely accepted English test globally.
Here are some key reasons to take the TOEFL exam:
- It is required for admission by most undergraduate and graduate programs in North America.
- It fulfills English proficiency requirements for obtaining student visas in the US, Canada, UK and other countries.
- Your TOEFL scores are valid for two years, so you can apply to multiple institutions with one test score.
- It evaluates all 4 key English skills – reading, listening, speaking and writing.
- The exam pattern simulates real-life academic scenarios.
- The TOEFL exam is convenient to take with test centers available in most major cities worldwide.
In short, a good TOEFL score opens doors for international students to qualify for admission and scholarships at English universities. It represents an investment into your academic future.
Eligibility Criteria for Taking the TOEFL
Before you register for the TOEFL, ensure you meet the eligibility criteria:
- You must have a valid passport.
- Your native language cannot be English. Candidates from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada need to take IELTS instead.
- There are no age restrictions but you must have completed high school.
- You cannot take the exam if you have been banned from taking the TOEFL by ETS.
When to Take the TOEFL?
It is advisable to take the TOEFL 3 to 12 months before the application deadlines for the programs you are interested in. Here are some tips on when to take the TOEFL:
- For fall intake: Take the TOEFL between February and July of the same year. This ensures your scores reach well in time for fall deadlines.
- For spring intake: Take the test between August and November of the previous year.
- If re-taking: You can take the test again after 12 days. Allow 2-3 months between attempts to improve your scores.
Keep in mind it takes 10-15 days to receive your official scores. Also, TOEFL scores are valid for 2 years.
Related to: How to the the IELTS Test
How to Register for the TOEFL Exam?
Follow these steps to register for the TOEFL exam:
1. Know the Available Test Dates and Centers
Check the TOEFL website for test dates at your nearest test center. TOEFL exams are conducted almost year-round with upto 50 test dates per center. Make sure to register well in advance as slots fill up fast.
2. Create an ETS Account
Go to the TOEFL website and create an ETS account. You will need to provide your contact information. This allows you to register for tests and access your scores.
3. Choose Exam Date, Center and Format
Log in to your ETS account and select your preferred exam date, test location and exam format – TOEFL iBT or PBT. Make the payment using a credit/debit card to complete registration.
4. Receive Admission Ticket
You will receive an admission ticket via email 2-3 weeks before your test date. This ticket has details of your test center address and reporting time. You must carry a printed copy of this ticket along with your ID to the test center.
How Much Does the TOEFL Exam Cost?
The TOEFL exam fees depends on the country you take the test in. The cost ranges from USD 160 to 250. Additional services like rescoring also have separate fees. Check the TOEFL website for detailed fee structure for your test location.
Many students take the TOEFL exam more than once to improve scores. You can save money by opting for the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition test which allows you take the exam online from home for a lower fee.
How is the TOEFL Exam Scored?
The TOEFL iBT exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 120 points. Here is how scoring works for each section:
- Reading: Scored from 0 to 30. You have to answer questions based on 3-4 academic passages of approx. 700 words each.
- Listening: Scored from 0 to 30. Tests your ability to comprehend classroom lectures, conversations and other academic audio.
- Speaking: Scored from 0 to 30. Tests your skills in speaking fluently and coherently in English through 6 tasks.
- Writing: Scored from 0 to 30. Evaluates 2 independent writing tasks – one integrated task and one argumentative essay.
Your overall TOEFL score is the sum of your scores in the 4 sections. To qualify for admission in most universities, you need a total TOEFL score of 80-100.
Apart from your total score, your sectional scores are also important to assess your skill levels. A well-balanced score across sections is looked upon favorably.
What is a Good TOEFL Score for Universities?
The TOEFL scores required by universities vary widely. Top-ranked colleges generally need higher scores of 100+ while smaller universities may accept scores as low as 71.
Here is a rough guideline on good TOEFL scores for universities:
- Ivy League (Harvard, Yale etc.): 100+
- Top Public Universities: 90-100
- Other National Universities: 80-90
- Regional/Community Colleges: 71-79
However, the score requirement also depends on the program you are applying to. Make sure to check the specific TOEFL score needed by your desired university and program on their website or application guidelines.
How to Prepare for the TOEFL Exam?
It takes diligent preparation of 2-6 months to succeed on the TOEFL exam. Here are useful tips for TOEFL preparation:
Learn the Exam Format
Thoroughly go through the exam pattern, types of questions asked in each section, time limits and scoring guidelines. Being familiar with the format will help you strategize and budget time efficiently.
TOEFL tests academic English vocabulary. Make flashcards of common words and take quizzes to expand your vocabulary. Refer the academic word list. Listen to English news, podcasts and audiobooks.
Brush up on English grammar rules for sentence construction, verb tenses, subject-verb agreement, parallel structure and more. Use ESL grammar books for reference.
Practice Reading Skills
Read English newspapers, journals, research papers and textbook excerpts to get accustomed to academic text. Underline key points; make notes. Retell and summarize texts in your own words.
Enhance Listening Comprehension
Listen to online lectures, news broadcasts, podcasts, audiobook snippets and practice taking notes. Focus on listening for key information rather than understanding everything.
Bolster Speaking Ability
Record your spoken English responses to measure fluency. Ask friends to correct your pronunciation. Watch sports or news debate shows to learn how native speakers articulate opinions and arguments.
Practice writing high-quality essays within the time limit. Brainstorm ideas, plan, organize, edit and proofread your writing based on prompts. Get your essays reviewed by teachers.
Take Full-Length Mock Tests
Take official TOEFL mock tests on the ETS website under realistic timed conditions. Identify strengths and weaknesses. Work on improving weaker sections.
Join a TOEFL Preparation Course
Consider joining an online or offline coaching class. TOEFL prep courses provide structured study plans, expert guidance, mock exams and personalized feedback to help you get your desired score.
What to Bring to the TOEFL Exam Center?
You must carry the following when going to take your actual TOEFL exam:
- Printed TOEFL admission ticket
- Valid passport
- University ID card (if applicable)
- Non-verbal items like wallet, keys, medication etc.
Do not bring mobile phones, electronic devices, notes, paper etc. They will be kept outside the test room. Food and beverages are also not allowed inside.
Familiarizing Yourself with the TOEFL iBT Format
Now let us look at the TOEFL Internet Based Test format in detail:
TOEFL Reading Section
- 3-4 passages of approx. 700 words each
- Passage types: factual, argumentative, historical, scientific etc.
- 12-14 questions per passage. Total 36-56 questions.
- Time Limit: 60-80 minutes
- Assesses: vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, summarizing
- Identifying factual information, inference, negative facts
- Sentence simplification
- Insert text, sentence, phrase
- Paragraph/passage organization
- Author’s purpose, stance, tone
- Make connections between different parts of text
Tips for Reading Section:
- Quickly skim passage to understand main idea
- Carefully read first and last sentences of each paragraph
- Focus on textual evidence to answer questions
- Manage time by solving easier passages first
- Do not get stuck on unknown vocabulary
TOEFL Listening Section
- 4-6 lectures (2-3 min) and 2-3 conversations (1 min)
- Listen for main topic, key points, organization, speaker purpose
- Take notes while listening; especially for main ideas
- 34-51 questions
- Time Limit: 60-90 minutes
- Main topic, major details, implied information
- Organization – sequence, comparison, causation
- Speaker purpose, tone, attitude
- Connections between ideas from talk
- Make inferences from content
Tips for Listening Section:
- Concentrate fully; don’t zone out
- Identify words that signal key points – “first”, “in conclusion” etc
- Do not get distracted if you miss some information
- Use structure of talk to anticipate content
- Do not get stuck on difficult vocabulary
TOEFL Speaking Section
- 6 speaking tasks: 4 integrated tasks + 2 independent tasks
- Speaking into microphone and recorded
- Time to prepare response before speaking
- Time Limit: 20 minutes
- Integrated – Read/listen passage/lecture and then speak
- Independent – Express opinion on familiar topics
- Speak clearly and coherently
- Show ability to summarize, hypothesize, make comparisons
- Display appropriate vocabulary, structure
- Be concise – don’t ramble
Tips for Speaking Section:
- Outline key points before speaking
- Speak at a natural pace; not too fast or slow
- Vary tone, pitch and emphasis
- Use transition words – “although”, “in addition”
- Avoid grammatical mistakes
- Complete response; provide example if needed
TOEFL Writing Section
- 2 tasks: 1 integrated task + 1 independent task
- Type answers on computer
- Time Limit: 50 minutes
- Integrated: Read short passage, listen to lecture, summarize lecturer’s opinion
- Independent: Write essay in response to question
- Organize, synthesize information coherently
- Display clarity of thought, grammar, vocabulary
- Avoid spelling, punctuation errors
- Adhere to word limit
Tips for Writing Section
- Manage time between tasks
- Create quick outline before writing
- Stick to prompt; answer question directly
- Link paragraphs coherently with transition words
- Allow time for proofreading
- Vary sentence structure, vocabulary
Day Before the Exam
Make sure to relax and free your schedule the day before your actual TOEFL exam. Here are some tips for the D-day:
- Confirm the test center location, reporting time and carry your ID/admission ticket.
- Eat a healthy filling meal and hydrate well before the test. Avoid heavy meals that may make you lethargic.
- Get adequate sleep (6-8 hours). You need to be mentally alert for this long test.
- Review your notes/flashcards to jog your memory but avoid last minute exhaustive prep.
- Practice breathing exercises, meditation to reduce anxiety and stress before the exam.
- Visualize yourself succeeding on the test. Be positive and confident!
At the Test Center
Once at the test center, relax and focus on giving your best performance. Here are some tips for test-day:
- Reach the center well before time due to security procedures.
- Do not bring any unauthorized items inside the test room.
- Listen carefully to instructions from the test invigilator. Clarify any doubts.
- Sit comfortably, adjust computer screen, keyboard etc. to your convenience.
- Carefully read and answer each test question. Budget time wisely.
- Stay calm and composed if you face any technical glitches or distractions. Alert the invigilator.
- Take breaks between sections to refresh yourself. Have a protein bar/water during breaks.
Stay positive and give the exam your best shot! Remember your TOEFL score is just a number and does not define your true potential.
After Taking TOEFL – Scores, Retakes and Tips
Once you have given the test, here’s what happens next:
You will be able to immediately view your unofficial scores on the test center computer screen. Your official scores will be available online within 10-15 days.
Desired Scores Not Achieved? Retake Options
If your scores are lower than target, you can retake the TOEFL after a minimum gap of 12 days. You can take the test as many times as you want. While planning a retake, analyze your performance to identify areas of improvement. Continue practicing to strengthen skills.
Sending Score Reports to Universities
Once your official scores are available, send your TOEFL score reports directly to the universities/programs you are applying to via your ETS account. The first 4 score reports are free.
Be Proud of Your Achievement!
Taking the TOEFL exam is a milestone achievement for any international student. Regardless of your scores, appreciate yourself for your hard work. Stay positive and keep working towards your academic dreams. The right opportunities will come to you at the right time!
I hope this detailed guide helps you understand how to succeed on the TOEFL exam! Feel free to reach out if you have any other queries. All the best!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are answers to some common TOEFL-related questions:
Q1. Can I take the TOEFL exam online from home?
Yes, you can opt to take the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition test online from the comfort of your home. The pattern is identical to the center-based TOEFL. Due to Covid-19, at-home testing has become widely popular.
Q2. Where can I find TOEFL sample papers and free practice tests?
The official TOEFL website provides free sample questions, practice sets and full-length mock tests. You can also find practice tests published by third-parties like Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s etc.
Q3. Is the TOEFL exam only a multiple choice test?
No. The TOEFL has different types of questions. Apart from multiple choice questions, the test also includes tasks that require you to fill in blanks, complete summaries, highlight incorrect words, write essays and speak responses into a microphone.
Q4. How is the TOEFL exam scored?
Each of the 4 sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing is scored on a scale of 0-30. Your overall TOEFL score ranges from 0-120 and is calculated by adding scores of all 4 sections.
Q5. Is the TOEFL exam very difficult?
The TOEFL tests academic English skills so you need thorough preparation to get a good score. It is not extremely difficult but does require hard work. With 2-3 months of smart prep, it is fairly achievable to get your target score.
Q6. Does the TOEFL exam have negative marking?
No, there is no negative marking on incorrect answers in the TOEFL exam. You are scored only for the questions you answer correctly. Hence, attempt all questions and make educated guesses rather than leave any blank.
Q7. How long are TOEFL scores valid?
Your TOEFL scores are valid for 2 years from the test date. Colleges and universities accept scores that are not older than 2 years at the time of application.
Q8. Can I cancel my TOEFL exam?
Yes, you can cancel your TOEFL registration if you do it within the cancellation deadline set by ETS for that registration. You will receive a partial refund of your test fee based on when you cancel your test.
Q9. What ID documents can I use for TOEFL exam?
You must bring a valid, original and unexpired passport as your ID proof for the TOEFL exam. If you do not own a passport, very few government-issued IDs may be allowed.
Q10. Can I get accommodations for disability in the TOEFL?
Yes, ETS provides accommodations for candidates with disabilities or health-related needs. You will need to formally request accommodations by submitting medical documentation of your needs. If approved, you may get extra time, screen magnification, wheelchair access or other assistance.
Q11. How can I prepare for the TOEFL while working?
If working full-time, create a study schedule to practice 1-2 hours daily and 4-6 hours over weekends. Set realistic weekly goals. Opt for online coaching classes that allow flexibility. Maintain motivation levels through the long prep time.
Q12. Which is easier – IELTS or TOEFL?
Both tests are reputable English proficiency exams. IELTS evaluates a wider range of writing and speaking, while TOEFL focuses more on academic English skills. Difficulty level depends on individual strengths. Review both formats and choose one that matches your skills.
Q13. Can I switch from TOEFL to IELTS exams?
Yes, you can take either IELTS or TOEFL exam for your university applications. Many students take the IELTS first and switch to TOEFL later or vice versa based on their score needs. Universities accept scores from both for admission.