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TOEFL Guide – everything you need to know about the TOEFL exam

Everything you need to know about the TOEFL

Among the many acronyms in the world of EFL (English as a Foreign Language), TOEFL is one that will be on your radar if you are applying to study at an English-speaking university.  

So, what exactly is the TOEFL test? Who needs to take it? And what does it test? 

Here, we have summarised all the essential information. 

What is the TOEFL test? 

First, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Along with the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and Cambridge English Language assessments, it is taken by students whose mother tongue is not English and who want to study at university in an English-speaking country. 

student listening through headphones

Who recognises the TOEFL? 

Second, over 9,000 higher education institutions worldwide recognise the TOEFL. In fact, American institutions prefer the TOEFL over equivalent assessments. Therefore, it is often taken by students wishing to study in the U.S.

However, this does not mean that the IELTS and other English language tests are not accepted by U.S institutions. Actually, it depends on the individual university and so it is always important to check with the university you are applying to. 

How is the test carried out? 

Actually, the actual exam is straightforward, you can take the TOEFL test online or in paper format. By far the most common method is the internet-based test which you can take either from your home or in a testing centre.

So, if you take the test from your home, you will have to meet certain requirements. Mainly this is in terms of equipment and privacy and you will be monitored on video throughout the test by a ‘proctor’.  

You can also choose to take the internet-based test or the paper-based test at one of the many authorised test centres around the world –  click here to find your local centre 

english book and pencils

What is tested? 

Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. 

In the reading section, you will be given three or four passages of approximately 700 words taken from academic texts.  You must answer 10 questions per passage. 

Follow this link for a super helpful video explaining the types of questions you may be asked, as well as tips on how to answer. 

The speaking section is composed of 4 tasks. Task one requires you to express your opinions, and ideas and talk about your experiences. Questions 2 to 4 are referred to as “integrated speaking tasks” because they require you to use a combination of skills.  

You have 15 seconds of time to prepare before giving your response (it’s longer than you might think!) 

Take a look at this video for more information: 

The listening section tests your ability to understand lectures and conversations. Firstly, you will listen to 3 or 4 lectures and answer questions on them, then you will hear 2 or 3 conversations and answer 5 questions per conversation. 

You guessed it – there’s a very informative video here about the listening section too!   

The writing section comprises 2 tasks. The first is an integrated task for which you need to read a text & listen to a short lecture then respond in writing. This part lasts 20 minutes.

The second question is an ‘independent writing task.’ This means you will be asked to write an essay based on your views or experience on a given subject. This part lasts 30 minutes. Click here to view a video giving further details. 

student reading english dictionary

How is the test scored? 

Well, each section of the TOEFL test scores students out of 30 giving a total score out of 120.  

There are no passes or fails with the TOEFL. Instead, students work towards a specific score. To give you an idea, top universities usually look for a score of 100 or higher. Whilst other institutions may accept scores of 90 or sometimes even 80 or lower.  

What is ‘My Best Scores’? 

This system combines scores from several different TOEFL tests to showcase your best scores.

So, if you take the test 3 times, you can combine your highest-scoring sections. This then gives you the ‘best’ overall score. Although, not all universities accept ‘My Best Scores,’ but many do so it’s well worth checking. 

How much does it cost to take the TOEFL test?

The cost in Geneva, Switzerland is between 250-350 USD

By Liz McKewan

Liz is originally from the UK and now lives in Geneva where she combines her work as a Client Manager for TutorsPlus.
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