Understanding the TOEFL Test: Comprehensive Guide to Academic and Professional Success

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardized test that assesses your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It plays an important role in academic and professional contexts as a gateway to universities, scholarship programs, and even certain job opportunities where English proficiency is essential.

In 1962, a national council comprising representatives from various government and private organizations was established to tackle the challenge of assessing English language proficiency for non-native speakers seeking admission to U.S. universities. This council proposed the creation and implementation of the TOEFL exam during the 1963–1965 period.

Under the guidance of Stanford University applied linguistics professor Charles A. Ferguson, the TOEFL test was initially developed at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

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The first administration of the TOEFL test took place in 1964, facilitated by the Modern Language Association and supported by grants from the Ford Foundation and Danforth Foundation.

By 1965, The College Board and ETS jointly took over the management of the TOEFL testing program.

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In 1973, ETS, The College Board, and the Graduate Record Examinations Board of Advisers established a cooperative agreement to oversee and administer the TOEFL exam.

Certain international students from Commonwealth nations are exempt from taking the TOEFL exam for college admission. This exemption applies to English-speaking nations within the Commonwealth, former British colonies, and territories where English is the de facto official language. However, some exceptions exist, such as residents of Quebec in Canada who are required to take the TOEFL. Additionally, certain Commonwealth nations outside the Anglosphere, like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, may still be required to take the IELTS exam despite having English as a de facto official language.

Over time, the test format has evolved from a paper-based exam to a computer-delivered format (TOEFL iBT) in 2005, offering a more flexible and efficient testing experience.

Why Take the TOEFL?

The TOEFL serves multiple purposes. Universities worldwide rely on TOEFL scores to ensure students own the necessary language skills to succeed in their academic programs. Similarly, professionals seeking international opportunities may need to demonstrate English proficiency through TOEFL scores.

According to the ETS official report, more than 11,500 colleges, universities, and licensing agencies rely on and accept TOEFL scores. These institutions come from 160 countries worldwide. Additionally, this test is widely accepted by governments and scholarships and exchange programs worldwide.

Explaining the TOEFL Test Type and Format

With over 35 million test takers since its inception in 1964 (Per The General Information TOEFL iBT Information Bluttetin 2023-24), TOEFL scores hold wider acceptance than any other English-language test. Available to all properly registered individuals, regardless of background (subject to U.S. sanctions), the test offers three convenient options for testing:

  • TOEFL iBT test: Computer-based testing at authorized centers.
  • TOEFL iBT Home Edition: Test from home on a computer.
  • TOEFL iBT Paper Edition: This is a two-session test: Reading, Listening, and Writing on paper at centers and speaking on a computer at home.

The TOEFL iBT test assesses integrated skills necessary for effective communication in academic English. Tasks require combining multiple skills, including reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Here’s a concise overview of the test structure:

Sections and Timing for 2023-24:

Below are the highlighted bullet points of the TOEFL iBT Test updates; please check it for updates periodically:

  • Reading: 20 questions, 35 min.
  • Listening: 28 questions, 36 min.
  • Speaking: 4 tasks, 16 min.
  • Writing: 2 tasks, 29 min.

You cannot revisit completed sections or exceed the allotted time. However, within the Reading section, you can review previous passages. Answer all questions to the best of your ability, even if uncertain.

TOEFL iBT Home Edition

Identical in content to the center-based test, it’s available four days a week, allowing flexibility. Ensure your equipment and environment meet the requirements outlined on the website. You can take this test from your home’s comfort zone.

Note: Remember to check if your desired institution accepts this type of TOEFL Test.

TOEFL iBT Paper Edition

You should conduct the test in two sessions, with Reading, Listening, and Writing at a test center and Speaking at home, monitored online within three days. Refer to the website for locations and additional information.

Paper Edition Structure:

  • Reading: 30–40 questions, 54–72 min.
  • Listening: 28–39 questions, 41–57 min.
  • Break: 10 min.
  • Writing: 2 tasks, 50 min.
  • Speaking: 4 tasks, 17 min.

Some questions in Reading or Listening may not count toward your score, used for comparison or testing purposes. Ensure compliance with equipment and environment requirements for the Speaking section at home.

Preparing for TOEFL Success

Adequate preparation is necessary to achieve the desired score. Fortunately, numerous resources are available to help you on your journey:

  • Official TOEFL Materials: The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which created the TOEFL, offers a wealth of official study guides, practice tests, and sample questions.
  • Third-Party Resources: Numerous third-party companies and organizations provide study guides, practice tests, and online courses tailored to the TOEFL’s specific format and content.
  • Develop Section-Specific Strategies: Each section requires a unique approach. Focus on building vocabulary, improving reading comprehension, honing listening skills, and practicing writing clear and concise essays.

Test Preparation Tips

  1. Familiarize yourself with test question types by using free practice tests at www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/prepare/practice-tests.
  2. Optimize your preparation with TOEFL Practice Online, covering reading, listening, speaking, and writing, providing scores and feedback within 24 hours. Explore options at www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/prepare.
  3. When registering for the test, save up to 40% by purchasing a TOEFL Value Pack or other discounted preparation products. Find them at www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/prepare.
  4. Access free practice questions for all test sections at www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/prepare/practice_sets.
  5. Discover additional free and paid test prep resources at www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/prepare.

Alternate Format Materials

For alternate format test prep materials, contact ETS Disability Services directly. Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs:

  • Testing accommodations are available for eligible individuals. Ensure approval before registering.
  • Submit accommodation requests early; the review process takes four to six weeks.
  • Refer to the 2023-24 TOEFL iBT Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Related Needs for contact information, approved accommodations, and request procedures. Download at www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/register/disability-accommodations.

Additional Resources

 Explore more resources on the TOEFL website at www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/prepare. Connect with TOEFL on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Sina Weibo, TikTok, and YouTube.

Registration Process and Requirements

Registering for the TOEFL is a straightforward process. You can sign up online through the ETS website, choosing a test date and location that best suits your schedule. You can find fees and payment methods clearly on the registration page. Read more about the registration process and requirements as follows:

Registration Information Checklist

Prepare for your TOEFL iBT test efficiently by following these steps:

  • Review Accommodation Procedures: If you require special accommodations, refer to the “Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs” section for instructions.
  • Understand Fees and Policies: Familiarize yourself with test fees, payment methods, cancellation, and rescheduling policies outlined in the bulletin.
  • Check Equipment and Environment Requirements: Ensure your computer and testing environment meet the specified standards for at-home or paper-based tests.
  • Create an ETS Account: If you don’t already have one, register online at www.ets.org/mytoefl or the TOEFL Official App. Ensure your account details match your identification document.
  • Register Early: Be proactive and register beforehand to secure your preferred test date. Refer to “Registration Deadlines” for details.
  • Prepare with Test Resources: Utilize free test preparation materials and consider purchasing additional resources for comprehensive study.
  • Familiarize Yourself with Test Day Procedures: Review the bulletin’s regulations and guidelines outlined for the test day.

Registering with Your ETS Account

  • Complete all required fields accurately when creating your account.
  • Utilize your account for various services, including registration, rescheduling, viewing scores, and updating personal information.
  • Keep your account details secure and ensure they match your identification document.

Registration Methods

You can register for TOEFL iBT in several ways:

Online or via TOEFL Official App:

  • Complete registration online with ease, available 24/7.
  • Note payment methods and deadlines for regular and late registration.

By Phone:

By Mail:

  • Download and fill out the registration form.
  • Include payment information and mail it to the specified address at least four weeks before your desired test date.

Understand the rescheduling process and ensure timely confirmation of registration.

Note: For specific instructions in Mainland China, visit the provided links.

Test Dates

TOEFL iBT tests are available globally, offering flexibility with up to six days a week for testing at authorized centers or from home. When you register, choose your preferred testing option – center, home, or paper. Check available dates in your ETS account, noting that not all dates are available in every location.

Two appointments are necessary for the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition, with Reading, Listening, and Writing sections available twice a month at centers and the Speaking section taken at home within three days of the center appointment.

Test Locations

Find updated test center information in your ETS account, as ETS adds centers regularly, and seat availability may change. The at-home test is available worldwide, while the Paper Edition is limited to select locations. Visit www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/about/testing-options for details.

Registration Deadlines

Register early as test dates fill quickly. Registration opens around six months before the test, with regular online registration closing seven days before. Late registration options are available with corresponding fees. Select up to four score recipients for free until 10 pm local test center time the day before your test, after which a fee applies. Remember, recipients cannot be changed or added once the deadline passes. Visit www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ for institution codes and more information.

TOEFL Test Fees

The TOEFL iBT test fee varies depending on your location. For Afghanistan, it is $230 (USD). To check the fee for your test location, visit the TOEFL website or mobile app and choose your country or area.

Additional Services Fees:

  • Late registration: $40
  • Rescheduling: $60
  • Reinstatement of canceled scores: $20
  • Additional score reports (per recipient): $25
  • Speaking or Writing section score review: $80
  • Speaking and Writing section score review: $160
  • Returned Payment: $30

Payment Methods

ETS accepts different payment methods. You can choose the acceptable payment methods based on how you register:

  • ETS account: Credit, debit card, e-check, PayPal® or Alipay®
  • Phone: Credit, debit card or e-check
  • Mail: Credit or debit card

TOEFL iBT Test ID Requirements

Ensure Name Accuracy: When registering for the TOEFL iBT test, your name must precisely match your I.D. Any difference may prevent you from taking the test, with no refund available. If in doubt, contact TOEFL Services before registering.

Entering Your Name: Review your I.D. requirements for existing accounts, which vary based on test location and citizenship.

General ID Document Guidelines:

  • An original physical government-issued I.D. listed below is required
  • It must not be expired.
  • The name and date of birth on the I.D. must match the registration details exactly (Very Important).
  • Recent, recognizable photographs and signatures are required

Note: Test Takers Aged 15 and Below: Specific ID requirements vary by test location and country.

Examples of Acceptable Primary ID Documents in Afghanistan:

  • Passport
  • National ID
  • Government-issued driver’s license
  • State or Province ID card
  • Military ID

Testing Outside Country of Citizenship:

  • A valid passport is necessary as a primary I.D.
  • Non-English passports require at least one Supplemental ID Document in English.
  • Diplomatic and embassy I.D.s are not acceptable as primary identification.

Test Day: What to Expect?

Be prepared to arrive on test day with a valid I.D. and any documents the test center requires. Familiarize yourself with the test center’s rules and regulations to avoid any last-minute hiccups.

Preparing for your TOEFL iBT test at an authorized test center? Here’s what you need to know:

  • I.D. Requirements and Procedures: Familiarize yourself with the I.D. requirements and test procedures outlined in the TOEFL iBT® Information Bulletin. It includes prohibited items, check-in procedures, and testing protocols.
  • Preview of Test Day: Learn about check-in procedures, test security measures, equipment use, test taking, score viewing, and official score release dates.
  • Double-check Appointment Details: Log into your ETS account 24 hours before your test to ensure there are no changes to your registration details.
  • What to Bring: Bring valid identification and adhere to local mandates regarding masks or proof of vaccination. Avoid bringing food or drink into the testing room unless you have health accommodations.
  • Valid ID: Bring at least two forms of valid ID to the test center. Failure to provide an acceptable ID may prevent you from taking the test or receiving a refund.
  • Personal Belongings: Leave electronic devices and other unauthorized items outside the testing room.
  • Checking In: Arrive at least 30 minutes before your test to complete check-in procedures.
  • Test Security: Follow all test center instructions to ensure fair and secure testing. Violations may result in dismissal or cancellation of scores.
  • Canceling Scores: Decide whether to report or cancel your scores after completing the test. Consider the implications outlined in the Information Bulletin.
  • Official Score Date: The date for receiving official scores will be provided at the end of the test and displayed in your ETS account.

Understanding Your Scores

The TOEFL scoring system uses a scale of 0 to 30 for each section, with a total score range of 0 to 120. Your score report will detail your performance in each section and provide valuable insights into your strengths and weaknesses.

TOEFL iBT Score Retrieval:

  • Timing: Expect your scores within 4–8 days post-test. The precise date will be available at the test conclusion.
  • Delivery: Access scores via your ETS account; receive email notifications.
  • Validity: Scores last two years; consider downloading a PDF copy for your records. This document is not applicable in Mainland China.
  • Queries: Contact TOEFL Services for score-related inquiries.

Score Delivery Time

  • By Mail: If opted for pre-test, expect mailed scores in 11–15 days or sooner, depending on location.
  • Express Option: Available in 75 countries; delivers in 2–5 business days. A $25 fee applies.
  • Recipient Timing: Timing for score recipient receipt varies based on test method and delivery choice.
  • Reinstatement and Review: Manage score reinstatement and review via your ETS account; details in the TOEFL iBT® Information Bulletin (PDF).

Sending Scores

Once you receive your scores, you can electronically send them to universities and institutions through the ETS score reporting service (for a fee).

Your test fee comprises up to four free official TOEFL score reports for your chosen recipients. You can manage recipients via your ETS account until 10 pm (local test center time) the day before your test.

If you select recipients before the test, you waive the option to request a score review for the Writing or Speaking sections.

Delivery times to institutions vary depending on test method and recipient preference:

  • ETS® Data Manager: 4–8 business days
  • Server feeds: 8–10 business days
  • Postal mail: 10–12 business days plus shipping time (7–10 days in the U.S., 4–6 weeks elsewhere).

Your scores remain valid for two years. You can request additional score reports via your ETS account for US$25 per recipient during this period. Refer to the TOEFL iBT® Information Bulletin (PDF) for more details.

Understanding Your TOEFL iBT Scores

Your TOEFL iBT scores consist of four scaled sections and a total score. Each section score is on a scale of 0–30, with a total score range of 0–120. Your score within each range indicates your proficiency level for that skill:

Reading:

  • Advanced (24–30 score)
  • High-Intermediate (18–23 score)
  • Low-Intermediate (4–17 score)
  • Below Low-Intermediate (0–3 score)

Listening:

  • Advanced (22–30 score)
  • High-Intermediate (17–21 score)
  • Low-Intermediate (9–16 score)
  • Below Low-Intermediate (0–8 score)

Speaking:

  • Advanced (25–30 score)
  • High-Intermediate (20–24 score)
  • Low-Intermediate (16–19 score)
  • Basic (10–15 score)
  • Below Basic (0–9 score)

Writing:

  • Advanced (24–30 score)
  • High-Intermediate (17–23 score)
  • Low-Intermediate (13–16 score)
  • Basic (7–12 score)
  • Below Basic (0–6 score)

Enhanced score reporting offers personalized feedback and insights into your performance, including proficiency levels for each section, specific question types mastered, and areas for improvement in Speaking and Writing. This reporting is available for tests taken after October 28, 2023.

Passing Mark in TOEFL

TOEFL or ETS sets no pass or fail scores; institutions set their score requirements. Score reports feature a modern design and include MyBest® scores, which combine your highest section scores from the past two years to showcase your best overall performance. MyBest scores are mostly acceptable by institutions. You can check it with your desired institutions.

The TOEFL test is scored centrally, with Reading and Listening sections scored by computer and Speaking and Writing sections scored by a combination of A.I. and human raters to ensure accuracy and consistency. The Home Edition scores are accepted by various institutions, excluding Mainland China.

Retaking the TOEFL: A Chance to Improve

If you’re unsatisfied and happy with your initial score, you can retake the TOEFL after waiting. Analyze your previous attempt, identify areas for improvement, and implement targeted strategies to enhance your performance on the next try.

Alternatives to the TOEFL

While the TOEFL is widely accepted, other English proficiency tests are available. Consider factors like test format, acceptance by your target institutions, and personal preferences when choosing the best test.

Alternative tests to the TOEFL include:

  1. IELTS (International English Language Testing System): Widely accepted by universities and institutions globally, IELTS assesses proficiency in English through four skills: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.
  2. Cambridge English Exams: Tests like Cambridge English: First (FCE), Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE), and Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) assess English language proficiency across various levels and enjoy recognition by universities and employers worldwide.
  3. PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English Academic): A computer-based English language test that assesses listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills. Universities, colleges, and governments worldwide accept it.
  4. TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication): Focuses on English language skills in a workplace context, particularly for business professionals. It assesses listening and reading comprehension skills.
  5. Duolingo English Test: An online English proficiency test that assesses reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Various universities and institutions accept it as an alternative to traditional English proficiency tests.
  6. LanguageCert International ESOL: Recognized by universities and employers globally, LanguageCert offers English language proficiency exams at various levels, including A1 to C2, on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) scale.

Note: When considering an alternative to the TOEFL, you must check the specific necessities of the institution or organization you are applying to, as preferences may vary.

Conclusion

The TOEFL is an important stepping stone for international students and professionals seeking opportunities abroad. By understanding the test, preparing effectively, and performing your best, you can use the TOEFL to unlock doors to academic and professional success. Remember, with dedication and the right resources, you can achieve the desired score and confidently pursue your goals.

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