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What is TOEFL Exam: Everything You Need To Know Before Applying

Unlocking the Essentials: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the TOEFL Exam

Embarking on your journey toward higher education in an English-speaking country can be exhilarating yet daunting, especially when faced with the TOEFL exam. In this guide, we offer a comprehensive overview of the TOEFL, shedding light on its significance for securing admission into top B-schools. From understanding the exam format to mastering test-taking strategies, we equip you with the essential knowledge to ace the TOEFL and pave your way to academic success.

Introduction to the TOEFL Exam: What is TOEFL Exam?

The TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, serves as a benchmark for assessing English proficiency across four core skills: reading, speaking, listening, and writing. This standardized test, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), holds significant importance for international students aspiring to pursue education in English-speaking nations.

Recognized by over 130 countries, TOEFL scores validate language proficiency for academic endeavors, visa applications, and scholarship opportunities. With a validity period of two years, TOEFL accommodates various stakeholders, including students, scholars, and English language learners, offering a gateway to educational pursuits abroad. Costs for the exam vary by location, emphasizing the necessity to review specific requirements outlined by target institutions to ensure alignment with admission criteria.

Who takes the TOEFL test?

Typically, those people who are planning their education abroad and are applying to a foreign university or a graduate school take the TOEFL examination. Also, if you are applying for scholarships abroad, you will have to submit your TOEFL scores. However, this examination is not only limited to this. Anyone who needs to showcase their English ability can undertake this test. This includes:

  • Those looking to attend an exchange program in an English-speaking country.
  • Those applying for visas in English-speaking countries
  • Those looking for employment abroad, especially for client-based roles in English-speaking countries
  • Those whose primary language is not English
  • Those whose primary language of instruction hasn’t been English for at least five years.
  • Those who simply want to assess their English language skills in a formal setting.

 TOEFL Exam Format and Structure

So, till now you must have gotten an idea of your question 'what is TOEFL Exam?'. Conducted by ETS, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a pivotal assessment for candidates aspiring to study abroad. Comprising four sections—Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing—this exam evaluates proficiency in a university context. Essential for applicants targeting English-speaking nations, the TOEFL's holistic approach ensures thorough evaluation of reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills. Explore the TOEFL exam pattern and optimize your preparation for success.

Section Description
TOEFL Reading Section Duration: 35 minutes
Questions: 20
Exam Pattern: Read passages and respond to questions.
TOEFL Listening Section Duration: 36 minutes
Questions: 28
Exam Pattern: Answer questions about brief lectures or classroom discussions.
TOEFL Speaking Section Duration: 16 minutes
Questions: 4 tasks
Exam Pattern: Talk about a familiar topic and discuss material you read and heard.
TOEFL Writing Section Duration: 29 minutes
Questions: 2 tasks
Exam Pattern: Read a passage, listen to a recording, and type your response.
State and support an opinion in an online classroom discussion.

Breakdown of the TOEFL Sections

Reading Section:

This section is designed to assess the reading and understanding ability of the candidate. It includes three or four reading passages from university level textbooks, each of which is 700 words and consists of 10 questions per paragraph.

The questions may ask you to define a word, identify an argument or find a false statement. Further, these passages cover a variety of different disciplines: scientific, historic, philosophical, etc.

Deep knowledge of the subject or topic is not necessary. All the information needed to answer the questions are included in the texts itself. However, the texts are often complex with a vocabulary not easy to understand. Hence, prepare yourself with unfamiliar words and long reading passages. 54 to 72 minutes are given to answer all the questions.

Listening Section:

This section evaluates your ability to understand conversations, dialogues and lectures in English. There are two parts in this section. The first part includes, three to four lectures, each of which is 3-5 minutes long.

The candidate has to answer 6 questions per lecture. The second part includes two to three conversations with 2 speakers, each of which is 3 minutes long. In this, there are 5 question per conversation that needs to be answered.

The questions may ask you what were the contents of the recording. Note that you will not be able to hear the audio repeatedly which adds to its complexity. The test centre administrator will provide the candidate with paper and pencils and you would be allowed to make notes while listening to the audio and would be given 41 to 57 minutes to complete the section.

Speaking Section:

This section measures your ability to speak and express your thoughts in English effectively. It is composed of four tasks which is a blend of independent speaking and integrated speaking. It prepares you for real-life situations. This section combines your listening, reading and speaking skills.

The candidate is given 15- 30 seconds to prepare for each response. Note that this is not a face-to-face session with any individual. There will be no interviewer asking you questions. You have to speak over the microphone on your headset provided at the test centres and someone will listen to your answers later. For recording your answer, you are given about 45- 60 seconds and the record time stops automatically.

The candidate is evaluated on the following criteria: vocabulary used, verbal fluency, your understanding of the topic, your ability to express thoughts clearly within limited time frame etc. The candidate has 17 minutes in total to complete this section. 

Writing Section:

This section is designed to measure the ability to present your thoughts and ideas in a clear and well-organized manner. It judges you on your writing ability, grammar knowledge and the usage of vocabulary.

There are two writing tasks: Integrated and Independent. In the first task (Integrated), the candidate has to read a short text, listen to a short lecture on the same topic, and then write their responses (150-225-word) based on their understanding. You have 20 minutes to complete this part of the section.

In the second task (Independent), the candidate has to write an essay (300-350 words) based on a personal experience or your opinion on any casual issue. You have 30 minutes to complete this task. Since, you have been allotted more time for the independent essay, you are expected to deliver a very well written, perfectly grammared essay.

The total time taken to finish the test is usually 3.5 to 4 hours. There is a 10 minute break given to the candidate after completion of the first two sections. Students resume to undertake the other two sections post that. It is mandatory for students to take this break and you may not opt to skip this. In fact, use this break to recharge yourself and pace for the remaining part of the exam. Also, if you wish, you can take other breaks in between the test but you will not be able to pause the timer for these.

Modes of TOEFL Exam

Explore the diverse modes of the TOEFL exam. From the widely preferred TOEFL iBT, conducted online, to the interactive TOEFL Essentials Test, and the phased-out TOEFL PBT, discover the format that suits your needs for demonstrating English proficiency.

TOEFL iBT (Internet-Based Test)

The most common format, taken on a computer, assessing reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills at designated test centers worldwide.

TOEFL Essentials Test

A newer, interactive format for both academic and general English proficiency, featuring a personal video statement component.

TOEFL PBT (Paper-Based Test)

An older paper-based format largely replaced by TOEFL iBT, now available only where internet-based testing isn't feasible.

TOEFL Exam Scoring and Reporting

Scoring Scale

The TOEFL exam is graded on a scale of 0 to 120, with each of the four sections—Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing—scored individually from 0 to 30.

Total Score Calculation

The total score is derived by summing up the scores from all sections.

Scoring Methodology

While the Reading and Listening sections are solely computer-scored, the Speaking and Writing sections undergo evaluation by a combination of AI algorithms and certified human raters.

Interpretation of Scores

There's no universal standard for a "good" or "bad" score; requirements vary across universities. Generally, scores of 100-110 are competitive for top institutions, while 80 or above is acceptable for many programs.

Score Reporting

TOEFL scores remain valid for two years. Test takers can access their scores via their ETS account, which provides a PDF score report detailing section-wise scores, total score, and MyBest scores, which amalgamate the highest section scores from all test dates within the preceding two years.
  

Unlocking Success: TOEFL 'My Best Scores' and Retake Options Explained

‘My Best Scores’ is a new introduction to the TOEFL by ETS since August 2019. It will be valid for a period of 2 years. 

So, if you have retaken the exam one or more times, the TOEFL score report will include my best scores, sometimes also known as a ‘super score,’ that combines the best scores on each section from all of the valid TOEFL scores taken by the candidate in the last two years. This approach helps candidates leverage their best performance in each section.

If you have not understood how ‘My Best Scores’ actually work for the candidate, here is an example of a candidate who took the test thrice:

Section Test 1 Test 2 Test 3 My Best Score
Reading 25 23 24 25
Listening 19 20 23 23
Speaking 20 21 20 21
Writing 21 24 23 24
Total Score 85 88 90 93


As can be seen, the candidate’s highest score on the reading section is 24 from test 1; the highest score on the listening section is 23 from test 3; the highest score on the speaking section is 21 from test 2; and the highest score on the writing section is 24 from test 2. ‘My Best Score’ has combined all the highest section scores making it a sum total of 93 which is higher than the total score for any individual test.

So, in short, even if you boost the score in just one part of the exam, your overall score will increase which will provide you higher level of proficiency in the language.

TOEFL Eligibility Criteria

There is no specific eligibility criteria decided or declared by the conducting body. Also, there is no specified age limitation to appear for the exam. However, typically, it is undertaken by students who have passed their 10+2 examinations and are planning to move abroad for further education. 

If the candidate is 15 years or younger, he/ she must be accompanied by a parent or a guardian who will be required to complete and sign a release form at the test centre.

TOEFL Score Requirement Across the Globe

Explore the varying TOEFL score requirements worldwide. From undergraduate to graduate programs, discover the minimum scores needed for admission, ensuring international students are well-prepared to meet the language proficiency standards of their desired institutions.

TOEFL Score Requirement in USA

The TOEFL score requirements for universities in the USA vary based on the program type. Here's a summary:

Program Type TOEFL Minimum Score Requirement Additional Information
Undergraduate Programs 61-80 on the iBT Some programs may require higher scores (e.g., 90 or above) for competitive programs.
Graduate Programs 79-100 on the iBT Some programs may require higher scores (e.g., 100 or above) for competitive programs.
English Language Programs Varies; may have their own requirements International students may need to take English language programs if their TOEFL scores don't meet minimum requirements.

Note: TOEFL requirements can vary widely by university and program. Research specific requirements for your intended institutions and aim for scores above the minimum for better chances of admission.

TOEFL Score Requirement in UK

Here's a summary of TOEFL score requirements for universities in the UK:

Minimum Score Requirement Additional Information
92-100 on the iBT Typical range for admission to UK universities.
Around 79-80 on the iBT Accepted by some universities, but less common for top institutions.
Varies; may be 100 or above Requirements differ based on university and program competitiveness.

It's crucial to research specific requirements for desired universities and programs, aiming to meet or exceed minimum TOEFL scores for enhanced admission prospects.

TOEFL Score Requirement in Germany

Here's a summary of TOEFL score requirements for universities in Germany:

Minimum Score Requirement Additional Information
75-80 on the iBT Typical range for admission to universities in Germany.
90-100 on the iBT Considered competitive for top German universities.

Specific requirements vary by university and program. It's essential for applicants to thoroughly research the criteria for their desired institutions.

TOEFL Score Requirement in Australia

Australian universities typically accept an average TOEFL score of around 80 on the internet-based TOEFL (iBT). Here's a summary. It's advisable for applicants to verify specific requirements with their chosen universities for accurate information.

Minimum Score Requirement Additional Information
For Australian Permanent Residency (PR) Overall minimum score: 65
For top-ranked Australian universities Typically require an average score of 100 or above
For Tier I universities cut-off score of 110 and above is recommended

TOEFL EXAM Practice: Tips and Strategies

Preparing for the TOEFL exam requires strategic planning and diligent practice. Here are five key pointers to enhance your preparation:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Format: Understand the structure of the TOEFL exam, including its sections on reading, listening, speaking, and writing, to allocate your study time better.

2. Utilize Official Practice Materials: Make use of official TOEFL practice tests, sample questions, and study guides provided by ETS to simulate exam conditions and gauge your readiness.

3. Focus on Weak Areas: Identify your areas of weakness, whether it's vocabulary, grammar, or time management, and allocate more time to practice and improvement.

4. Improve English Skills Holistically: Enhance your English language skills through daily reading, listening to podcasts or audiobooks, writing essays, and engaging in conversations with native speakers.

5. Practice Under Time Constraints: Mimic real exam conditions by practicing with timed practice tests, focusing on completing each section within the allocated time limits to build endurance and confidence.

By implementing these tips and strategies consistently, you can maximize your preparation and perform your best on the TOEFL exam.

Conclusion

To summarize, the key to preparing for this test is having abundant knowledge and lots of practice. Yes. A lot of it! Register for the exam well in advance and start preparing for it at least three to four months before your chosen date.

Regardless of whether you have just started out and appearing for the exam for the first time or if you are about to take the test for the 10th time, the more you stay informed about the test, the better prepared you will be.

There are plenty of online resources that can benefit you. Also, there are a number of excellent textbooks that you can buy or borrow for practice tests and tips. The good news is that the format and the structure of the exam never changes and therefore once you learn about the test thoroughly, you will not face a problem. The help and resources are available abundantly, making your exam preparation easier. Of course, the only way to prepare for the exam is making sure that you undertake a lot of practice tests before you appear for the actual exam.

Good Luck!

Is TOEFL a difficult exam?

The TOEFL exam is commonly perceived as challenging, even for individuals with advanced English proficiency. Nevertheless, grasping the test structure and question formats significantly influences achieving a favorable score. On average, test-takers score around 81 on the TOEFL exam, with scores typically ranging between 85 and 95.

Is TOEFL harder than IELTS?

The difficulty level of TOEFL versus IELTS largely depends on individual preferences and strengths. Both exams assess English language proficiency but have distinct formats. TOEFL emphasizes academic English and includes sections on reading, listening, speaking, and writing, with a focus on multiple-choice questions and integrated tasks. IELTS, on the other hand, offers a broader range of accents and writing styles, with sections on listening, reading, writing, and speaking, featuring a mix of question types, including multiple-choice, short answer, and essay writing.

In essence, neither exam is inherently "harder" than the other; rather, they cater to different learning styles and preferences. Some test-takers may find TOEFL more challenging due to its academic focus and reliance on American English, while others may prefer IELTS for its diverse question types and broader cultural representation.

Ultimately, choosing between TOEFL and IELTS depends on factors such as the requirements of the institution or organization you are applying to, your familiarity with the exam format, and your personal strengths and preferences.

Who is eligible for TOEFL test?

The TOEFL test is open to individuals worldwide who are seeking to demonstrate their English language proficiency for academic, professional, or immigration purposes. There are no specific eligibility criteria based on age, educational background, or nationality. However, it is essential to note that the TOEFL test is primarily designed for non-native English speakers, and native English speakers are generally not required to take the exam.

Whether you are a high school student planning to study abroad, a college graduate applying for graduate programs, a professional seeking career opportunities overseas, or an immigrant applying for visas or residency in English-speaking countries, you can take the TOEFL test to showcase your English language skills.

Know Your Author
Photo of Abhyank
Abhyank Srinet
Study Abroad Expert
Abhyank Srinet, the founder of MiM-Essay.com, is a globally recognized expert in study abroad and admission consulting.His passion lies in helping students navigate the complex world of admissions and achieve their academic dreams. Having earned a Master's degree in Management from ESCP Europe, Abhyank's expertise in data-driven marketing strategies has driven growth for some of the most competitive industries. As the founder of MiM-Essay.com, he has helped thousands of students get into top business schools with a strong emphasis on research, shortlisting, and applying to schools from a single platform. His dedication to education has also led him to create MentR-Me, a free-to-use social platform that simplifies the study abroad process for students, while providing universities with a powerful recruitment tool. As a leader in the field of admission consulting, he is constantly researching and implementing the latest strategies to ensure that his clients receive the best possible guidance. He leads the Business Development and Digital Marketing side of both companies, and has grown both ventures to 7 figure revenue.His unique insights, experience, and dedication to his clients make him a valuable resource for anyone seeking to advance their education or career.
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