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 109 other countries accept TOEFL scores. Students take the TOEFL at more than 4,000 test centers in 180 countries.

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 30 to 40 times per year and is offered in dozens of countries. The paper-based test, or PBT, is offered six times per year.
The TOEFL iBT and PBT examine many of the same skills. However, the format and scoring of each test is different.
The computer-based TOEFL is no longer offered and was last given in 2006.

Taking the Internet-Based TOEFL

The Internet-based TOEFL takes about 4 ½ hours to complete. It includes 36-70 reading questions, 34-51 listening questions, six speaking tasks and two writing tasks.
Participants receive a TOEFL score between 0 and 120.
The registration fee for the iBT varies by country but is generally between US $160 and $250. 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 Paper-Based TOEFL

The paper-based TOEFL is being phased out starting in mid-2012. In some regions, the last TOEFL PBT test administration was in May 2012.
The paper-based TOEFL is shorter – about 3 ½ hours. It includes 50 questions on listening comprehension, 40 questions on structure and written expression, 50 questions on reading comprehension and a Test of Written English. It doesn’t include a speaking section.
Students receive a total TOEFL score between 310 and 677 points, plus a separate Test of Written English score.
The registration fee is US $160. 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!