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WHAT IS TOEFL?

When you hear the term TOEFL, your brain begins to process multiple questions. You want to know what exactly is TOEFL? Why should you take it? Who accepts TOEFL scores? What is the exam structure? And there are multitudes of other questions.

Well, before you plan to sit for this exam, you should know everything about this exam. So, read on!

TOEFL is an acronym for ‘Test of English as a Foreign Language’ and is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is a standardized examination that measures English proficiency in terms of reading, speaking, listening, writing and understanding, especially of non-native English speakers. TOEFL scores are accepted by more than 1100 universities, organizations and other institutions such as immigration departments, medical and licensing agencies, etc. It is widely accepted in over 150 countries that are best to study abroad which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, the U.K., all across Europe and Asia.

Who takes TOEFL test?

who take toefl test

Typically, those people who are planning their education abroad and are applying to a foreign university or a graduate school take 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.

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Modes of exam

The TOEFL exam is conducted in two formats. These are:

  • iBT (Internet Based Test) – 

    As the name suggests, TOEFL Internet Based Test is conducted online and is the most preferred medium of the examination. Around 97% of TOEFL takers choose to undertake iBT. This test is conducted very frequently throughout the year at multiple locations. It is made of four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. All the four sections are completed at a test centre with internet facility. You will read from the screen, listen from your headset, record speech into a microphone, and type written responses on a keyboard. So, it is completely computer based with no usage of pen or paper.

 

  • PBT (Paper Based Test)- 

    This type of test is very rarely taken by the TOEFL applicants. It is generally conducted in areas that do not have access to the internet and is offered 4 times each year. Also, this examination differs in structure. It is not similar to iBT in the sense that it consists of only 3 sections, namely reading, listening and writing. The test is about 2.5 hours long unlike the iBT which is 3.5- 4 hours long. The structure of the test is as follows:

    Reading Section: There are 3 passages with 10 multiple choice questions from each passage. You do not have more than 54 minutes to answer these questions.

    Listening Section: This section contains 2 conversations and 3 lectures and about 28 questions that needs to be answered in approximately 41 minutes.

    Writing Section: This section demands you to write two constructed responses in about 50 minutes.

    It does not have a speaking section because of the lack of technological requirements. Therefore, most universities do not prefer TOEFL PBT scores.

TOEFL iBT Exam Structure

Understanding the exam pattern is the most crucial aspect as it helps you to prepare for the exam and manage your time efficiently. The examination consists of four main parts namely: Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. Let us discuss what each part comprises of:

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 and 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.

TOEFL iBT Scores

TOEFL scores are calculated out of 120 points. Each section consists of a total of 30 scores and the final score is the sum of scores from each section. The scores are declared approximately 6 days after the date of your test and is made available online to your ETS account. You will also receive your scores on your registered Email-id within 11 days after your test date. If you wish to receive a paper copy of the test scores, log in to your TOEFL account, go to the ‘Select Scorecard Preference’ tab, check the box for a paper copy of the score report and Save the changes.

TOEFL score is valid for 2 years because it is believed that language proficiency changes very quickly with time. However, if you are not satisfied with your result, you can retake the examination, provided that there is a 12-day gap between your retakes. Also, there is no limitation on the number of times you can appear for the test, so you can register for TOEFL endless number of times. The test is conducted more than 60 times a year at authorized test centres around the world. 

The candidates receive the overall TOEFL score along with the scores of each section individually. For each section, there are 4 or 5 proficiency levels, which determines your understanding of the language. These are:

Reading

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

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

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

Writing

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

While the reading and listening sections are evaluated and marked entirely by the computer, the speaking and writing sections are marked by both human raters and automated artificial intelligence. This is to ensure that there are no errors in the scores and the candidate receives the best possible outcome. 

Along with the TOEFL scores, you will also receive a performance feedback report. This report provides you with the average test takers’ score range, which will give you a better indication of how you performed on your exam compared to the average. 

While there is no set score that determines whether you have passed or failed, it all depends on the requirements of each university, institution or agency. While, some schools require a TOEFL score as low as 70 points, there are other institutions that allow candidates at a high TOEFL score of 110 points. So, it is recommended to check directly with the institution to know about their TOEFL score requirements.

TOEFL “My Best Scores” and Retaking the exam

‘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 number of 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 in the last 2 years by the candidate. This approach helps candidate to leverage their best performance on each section.

If you have not understood how ‘My Best Scores’ actually work for the candidate, here is an example of the 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.

Document requirements

When you register for your TOEFL exam, you are required to present your identification documents. The requirements depend on where you plan to undertake the test and your citizenship. So, it is recommended to review your country specific general Id document requirements from the official page of the ETS.

However, each document presented must fulfil the following:

  • It should be an original document. Photocopied, scanned or E-documents are not acceptable
  • It should be a government issued document
  • It should be valid at the date of the test
  • It should include your full nameexactly matching the name you used to register
  • It should include a recent, recognizable photograph
  • It should include your signature
  • It should be written in English language and the test centre administrator must be able to read it. If this would not be the case, you will not be allowed to appear for the exam and your test fee will not be refunded.

If you are unable to meet the document requirements, you must contact the ETC Office at least 7 days prior to your registration.

TOEFL iBT Cost

The registration fee for the TOEFL examination varies, depending on the testing location. The registration fee for TOEFL in India is US $180. There are additional fees for special services. These include:

 

  • Late Registration Fee: If a candidate registers in less than a week before the exam date, he is charged an extra US $40.
  • Rescheduling or Cancellation of test date: If a candidate has booked a test date and wishes to cancel or reschedule the exam, he shall not do it later than 3 days before the examination. For example, if the exam date is Friday, the candidate can cancel or reschedule it no later than Monday. He would also be charged an addition US $60 for rescheduling.
  • Reinstatement of cancelled scores: If the candidate wishes to reinstate the cancelled scores, he would be charged US $20.
  • Additional score reports: If a candidate wishes to send his/ her TOEFL scores to a greater number of institutions, he shall pay US $20 for each additional score report.
  • Score Review: If a candidate wishes to review the speaking or writing section of the test, he shall pay US $80. If he wants to review the scores for both the sections, he would have to pay US $160

How to Register for TOEFL?

One can register for the TOEFL examination via three modes- online, phone or mail. The easiest and the most convenient way to register is via online. This way, you are able to take advantage of a test centre search powered by Google Maps. Also, you would have the ability to register 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

 

Registration Online:

  • Visit the official website of ETS and create your account.
  • Input all the information (name, address, etc) correctly as it appears on the identification document you would bring to the test centre. Note that once the information is saved, you cannot make any changes. You will have to contact the TOEFL officials to get it done.
  • Select a test date at available test centres.
  • Then choose the time that works best for you.
  • Proceed to pay for the application fee.

 

Registration by Phone:

 

You must call your Regional Registration Center (RRC), if you wish to register via phone. This type of registration is care free as the executives of TOEFL will handle your registration process. They will confirm your seat at the test centre over the call itself. Here’s what you need to do to book your seat for TOEFL exam:

  1. Visit the official ETS website.
  2. Select your region and test location.
  3. You will find a phone number allocated to your region.
  4. Provide the needed details over the call with an interactive expert.
  5. Pay the application fee as directed. The most widely accepted forms of payment are: Credit Card, Debit Card, PayPal or an E-check.

Also, you can register by phone until 5 p.m.- local test centre time only on business days. Registration closes seven days before your test date. If you wish to apply after that, late registration fee will apply.

 

Registration by Mail:

Registration by mail is another convenient method but make sure that you register for your TOEFL exam at least a month before your chosen date.

To register for the exam by mail, you first have to download and fill out the registration form available at the official website of ETS. After filling all the details, mail your completed form along with the payment to the appropriate email ids. Forms must be received at least 4 weeks before your test date. If you don’t receive a confirmation, call the location where you mailed your paperwork at least 3 business days before your registration deadline.

TOEFL vs IELTS

TOEFL and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are the two most popular and widely accepted English proficiency examinations. Although, both the exams test your English language abilities, they differ in their structure, approach and teaching criteria. The TOEFL, is entirely multiple choice, while the IELTS has a mix of short answers and essay questions. Also, the duration of the IELTS exam is shorter than the TOEFL exam. IELTS take approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to finish while on the other hand, TOEFL completes in about 4 hours.

Both the exams have 4 sections namely, listening, writing, reading and speaking but they differ in their structure. Below is the breakdown of each section:

Listening Section: For TOEFL, the time limit for this section is 60-90 minutes. The candidate needs to answer 34-51 questions in this section after listening to 2-3 conversations and 4-5 lectures. For IELTS, the time limit for this section is 30 minutes. Candidates listen to 4 recorded texts, monologues and narratives and write their answers to a series of questions.

Writing Section: The writing section for both exams consists of 2 parts. However, under TOEFL, you require to write a five-paragraph essay between 300-350 words and for the second task, you will need to take notes from an excerpt on the same topic and use them to construct a 150-225-word response. On the other hand, in the IELTS exam, the first task involves summarizing graphical information provided and the second task involves you to write a 200-250-word response.

Reading Section: This section is similar for both examinations. The candidate has to read multiple sections given and would have to answer different questions based on how well you have understood the excerpts.

Speaking Section: The IELTS speaking section is conducted by a person and you have to make conversations in a face-to face session while in the TOEFL exam, there is no face-to-face conversation. The student has to record his answers over a microphone which is later assessed.

Further, these two examinations differ in their grading system. While IELTS is graded entirely by an individual, TOEFL is graded by both humans and by using artificial intelligence. Since, TOEFL is conducted online, there is an automated scoring system that grades you.

Now, that you have all the information, it is totally up to you which exam you opt for.

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 which will make your preparation for the exam 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!

 

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