The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most popular English proficiency exam in the U.S. and is accepted at more than 10,000 institutions worldwide. It was designed by Educational Testing Service (ETS), an organization that specializes in standardized tests for higher education. The TOEFL has been taken by over 35 million international students to prove their English language skills in their admissions application for undergraduate and graduate studies in an English-speaking country.

Who has to take the TOEFL?

Some schools do not require the TOEFL and require another English proficiency exam instead, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Others do not require an English proficiency exam at all, for instance, if the applicant has studied at a high school where English is the primary language. Also, some universities will waive the TOEFL score requirement if the applicant has scored high on the reading and writing sections of the SAT (usually over 700) or ACT (usually over 29).

How is the TOEFL administered?

There are two versions of the TOEFL. The most common version by far is the TOEFL iBT which is an internet-based test administered online. Students answer questions using a computer, and a headset with a microphone. The paper-based version of the test is also offered in countries with limited internet access.

When and where is the TOEFL offered?

Both versions of the TOEFL are offered more than 50 times annually at authorized testing centers. There are approximately 500 testing centers in the USA, and over 4,500 globally.

How much does the TOEFL cost?

The cost of the TOEFL varies by country with an average cost between USD$215 and 245. The lowest cost is USD$180 and the highest cost is USD$300.

How long does the TOEFL take?

For the TOEFL iBT version, the exam is approximately 4 hours in total which includes a 10-minute break halfway through. The paper-based version is just under 3 hours without a break.

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How is the TOEFL structured?

The TOEFL iBT is structured into 4 sections. One main skill in English proficiency is tested in each section: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, and these skills overlap in the integrated tasks. These sections each have their own time limit and types of question/task. Here is a quick glance of the TOEFL iBT structure.

Sections (in order)Time LimitQuestions/TasksExplanation
Reading Section60-80 minutes36-56 multiple choiceBased on 3-4 passages
Listening Section60-90 minutes34-51 multiple choiceBased on 4-6 audio clips
Break10 minutes
Speaking Section20 minutes6 speaking tasksBased on 6 question prompts
Writing Section50 minutes2 writing tasksBased on 2 question prompts

The paper-based section is very similar to the iBT, but there is no Speaking section. Here is the paper-based TOEFL structure.

Sections (in order)TimeQuestions/TasksExplanation
Listening Section60 minutes34 multiple choicebased on 4-6 audio clips
Reading Section60 minutes36-42 multiple choicebased on 3-4 passages
Writing Section50 minutes2 writing tasksBased on 2 question prompts

How is the TOEFL scored?

Each section of the TOEL is first given a raw score. For the Reading section, 1 point is given per question for a raw score from 0 to 56 (in the paper based TOEFL, it is 0 to 42). For the Listening section, 1 point is given per question for a raw score from 0 to 52 (in the paper based TOEFL, it is 0 to 34). For the Speaking Section, each task is graded between 0 and 4 for a total raw score between 0 to 18. For the Writing Section, each task is graded between 0 and 5 for a total raw score between 0 and 10.

Then, for each section, the raw scores are converted to a scaled score between 0 and 30. Then these 4 scores are added together for a final score between 0 and 120. The Reading and Listening parts are scored by an automated grader while the Speaking and Writing answers are reviewed by human graders.

What is a good TOEFL score?

Each university has its own minimum score requirements, so the definition of a good TOEFL score depends on the university. However, there are some national average minimum score requirements depending on undergraduate or graduate admissions that prospective students can aim for.

According to US News, the average minimum TOEFL score for undergraduates was 78.1 for the 2016-2017 academic year. Generally speaking, national liberal arts colleges tend to require a higher TOEFL score. The average minimum TOEFL score for liberal arts colleges in 2016-2017 was 82.5.For Ivy League and highly selective schools, an even higher score is required.The average minimum score was 100 in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Graduate programs require higher average minimum scores than undergraduate programs. Most graduate programs set a minimum between 100 and 105, but most students apply with a higher score (between 108-112).

Note, some institutions have a minimum score for each section as well. The minimum average score for the Reading and Listening Sections was 22 out of 30. The minimum average for the Speaking Section was 26 out of 30, and for the Writing Section was 24 out of 30.

Even if you do not meet the minimum score, it is possible to still be offered a conditional admission if your grades and admission essay are strong. If offered a conditional admission, typically the school will require you to complete an intensive English language course before you are admitted into your desired degree program.

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How do I prepare for the TOEFL exam?

ETS is the company that administers the TOEFL, and they provide free and paid practice materials on their website for self-study. There are also many other online resources and practice tests available. Additionally, there are test prep courses from standardized test preparation companies like Kaplan, Magoosh and MOOC.

How do I register for the TOEFL?

Test takers can register for the TOEFL on the ETS website, and be directed to their nearest test center.

How long until I receive my results?

Electronic results are sent to test takers’ ETS accounts after 10 days. Students can log in to their account here. Printed scores are also mailed and arrive approximately 13 days after the test day.

How long are TOEFL scores good for?

TOEFL scores are valid for two years, and the TOEFL can be taken an unlimited number of times.

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