What to Expect when Taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language

Every year thousands of students around the world will be taking the TOEFL to prove their English is fluent enough to attend a college in the US or another English-speaking country.

But what exactly is the TOEFL? Find out what to expect – and if you should take it – if you plan to attend a US college or university.

What is the TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It quizzes non-native speakers of English on their reading, listening, writing and (usually) speaking skills.

Taking the TOEFL requires the same skills that students need to succeed in a US college or university. That includes the ability to listen and respond to lectures, read textbooks, write papers and communicate with professors and other students.

More than 6,000 institutions in the US and 149 other countries accept TOEFL scores.

Who Should be Taking the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is for students who are at the 11th-grade level or above. Many colleges and universities require a minimum total score for admittance.

Taking the TOEFL is not always required, even if you are a non-native speaker. Check with the colleges and universities that you are thinking about attending. For example, if you earned a degree or diploma from a college or university in an English-speaking country, taking the TOEFL might not be necessary.

(If you earned your diploma from a non-English speaking country, you will also need a certified diploma translation when applying to a US college.)

TOEFL Choices

The Internet-based TOEFL, or iBT, is now given weekly and is offered in dozens of countries. The revised TOEFL paper-delivered Test is offered four times per year and is only available in locations where internet-testing is not an option.

Both tests examine many of the same skills. However, the format and scoring of each test is different.

Taking the TOEFL iBT

The TOEFL iBT takes about 3 hours to complete. It includes 30-40 reading questions, 28-39 listening questions, four speaking tasks and two writing tasks.

Participants receive a TOEFL score between 0 and 120.

The registration fee for the iBT varies by country. The score can be sent to four institutions – or more if you pay an additional fee. Your TOEFL score is valid for two years.

The test is given with a QWERTY keyboard, so-called because the first six letters in the top left corner are Q-W-E-R-T-Y.

Taking the Revised TOEFL Paper-delivered Test

The revised TOEFL Paper-delivered Test is only offered in locations where internet is not available.

The revised TOEFL paper-delivered Test is shorter – about 2 ½ hours. It includes 28 questions on listening comprehension, 30 questions on reading comprehension and 2 writing tasks. It doesn’t include a speaking section.

There is no passing or failing score for the revised TOEFL Paper-delivered Test. Score requirements are established by individual institutions. Each section of the revised TOEFL Paper-delivered Test has a score range of 0–30. No total score is reported.

Like the Internet-based TOEFL, the score is sent for free to four institutions, or more with a fee. This score is also valid for two years.

Final Thoughts

Taking the TOEFL— or any other English proficiency test— can be stressful. You can relieve some of your anxiety by understanding your options, the English-language skills you must demonstrate and how to prepare for the TOEFL. Good luck!