Guide to Language Exams: TOEFL

Next, we are continuing our series of language exam introduction posts with TOEFL. TOEFL is probably one of the best-known English-language proficiency exams out there, so we are writing this short overview for people who are interested in finding out more or getting ready to take the test.

From this guide, you can find out what exactly TOEFL is, how to take it and some guidelines for achieving the best result.

TOEFL – What is it?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The acronym is sometimes confused with TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language), but keep in mind that these are two completely different things. TOEFL is one of the best known English proficiency tests and widely recognised by universities, academic, and professional institutions all over the world.

TOEFL is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service. This is a private non-profit organisation that is dedicated to creating and scoring various proficiency exams but TOEFL might be their most known trademark. You can read more about the ETS tests here.

TOEFL is now administered mostly in the Internet-based form (iBT). Since its introduction in 2005-2006, this form has become the prevailing one over the computer (CBT) and paper (PBT) based tests. In fact, the CBT was stopped in 2006 and its scores are no longer valid.

How to take TOEFL?

Like we’ve already mentioned, TOEFL is one of the most prevalent English tests. That means that finding a testing site and time near you should be very simple. There are over 4500 test centres in 165 countries and the exams are administered 50 times a year. Just use the ETS official website to find your closest testing centre.

To take the test, you need to register beforehand and pay the test fee. The fee differs from country to country but is in the range of 160-250 USD (for the iBT, the PBT is 160USD).

You can retake the test as many times as you want but only once in a 12-day period. You also have to pay the test fee for every new retake.

What does TOEFL look like?

As with most (if not all) language tests, you will be evaluated on your reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. The tasks given in the test usually combine more than one of these skills. For example, you might have to read, listen and then speak a response to a question. Similar to the IELTS exam, TOEFL also uses a range of different native accents in their exams. You might hear New Zealander, Australian, British or North American accents.

The time limit for the entire test is four and a half hours. You will first be given the reading (60-80 minutes, 36-56 questions) and listening (60-90 minutes, 34-51 questions) sections of the test, after which there is a 10-minute break. Speaking (20 minutes, 6 tasks) and writing (50 minutes, 2 tasks) parts take place after the break.

In the TOEFL iBT, you will be graded on a scale of 0-120, with each skill section counting for 30 points. The good news is that there is no passing or failing score – the test will simply determine your level of proficiency and the institution you want to apply to will set its own guidelines for the required score. The test results will be valid for years.

How to prepare for TOEFL?

Although ETS offers a variety of resources for preparing for the test, it might be just a good idea to keep practicing with your teacher. After all, TOEFL is an English-proficiency test which means that the best way to achieve a good result is to be good at English.

You can also use the various practice tests and questions from past exams available online to give yourself a confidence boost, though. Also, be sure to go through the practical guidelines ETS offers for test takers on the day of the test.