The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, exam is used to measure the English-language proficiency of non-native speakers at a college or university level. The TOEFL measures proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
The exam was originally developed in the mid-1960s by the Center for Applied Linguistics. In 1973, a cooperative was formed to manage the test that included ETS, The College Board, and the Graduate Record Examinations board of advisers. ETS administers the exam under the direction of the TOEFL board.
There are two versions of the TOEFL, the Internet-based version (TOEFL iBT) and a paper version (TOEFL PBT) that is administered where a computerized version cannot be. Each version is divided into four sections: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Here is a breakdown of what to expect in each section of the TOEFL iBT:
Reading: Examinees will have between 54 and 72 minutes to read 3-4 passages and respond to 30-40 questions (approximately 10 per passage). Writing: Examinees will have 50 minutes to read a passage, listen to a recording, then type a response. Listening: This section contains between 28 and 39 questions about brief lectures or classroom discussion. The time limit for this section is between 41 and 57 minutes. Speaking: Examinees have 17 minutes to talk about a familiar topic and discuss material you read or listened to.
The TOEFL test is scored between 0 and 120, with 30 points allocated for each section. ETS introduced a new feature in 2019 that allows only your top scores from any session in the past two years to display on your score report. Getting a great score on the TOEFL requires preparing and doing well on all four sections of the exam.
The Listening section of the TOEFL test requires you to gain meaning from oral lectures and conversations. You will listen to one of these, then answer multiple-choice questions about what you heard. Some questions have more than one correct answer and others may ask you to put events in sequence or place information in the proper place on a chart or table.
The Reading section of the TOEFL test assesses your ability to read passages in English about a variety of topics at a college/university reading level. You will need to be able to understand what the passage is saying and answer multiple-choice questions about things it says directly and things that can be inferred from the author’s words. The key to success on this part of the TOEFL test is your ability to note key words and phrases as you read. You’ll need to be able to pick out details and determine the organization of the passage, as well.
In the actual TOEFL iBT test, you will have 20 minutes to read the passage and answer the questions. Test takers with disabilities can request a time extension before the test date.
The total test takes approximately 3 hours to complete, but examinees should plan to be at the testing center for at least 3.5 hours to allow time for registration, exam instructions, and a break. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 30 minutes before your test time to allow for check-in and to get familiar with the layout of the testing center. It’s also a good idea to review the testing center’s policies and procedures before you arrive so that you are familiar with what is allowed and what isn’t.
You will need to bring at least two forms of valid, legal identification that contain a photograph and signature. They cannot be copies and cannot be expired. The name on the documents must match the name used to register for the test exactly.
You will be given noise-reducing headphones and a microphone to be used in different areas of the test. Testing centers also have scratch paper for examinees who need it. Aside from the materials provided and your identification, no other personal items are allowed in the testing room.
Languages are difficult to learn, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes to listen, speak, read, and write in a non-native language. While taking the TOEFL can be incredibly stressful, one way to reduce stress and ensure you are ready to perform well is by taking plenty of practice exams. These exams serve as practice to help you master all aspects of the English language. Further, they can help examinees understand what to expect on the exam itself and become more comfortable with the format of the questions.
Using alternative study methods can be another way to reinforce information that you will need to know for the exam. Flashcards for the TOEFL can be especially helpful in recognizing the difference between words that sound the same or look the same, but have a different meaning in different contexts. Study guides for the TOEFL can also come in handy as a way to ensure that you don’t overlook any of the material you should review to prepare for the exam.
The TOEFL is a timed exam, which can add to the stress of taking it. For many examinees, it is helpful to simulate the overall testing experience at least a couple of times before exam day. These simulations can help individuals understand how to best pace themselves to complete all of the questions and how to overcome any mental fatigue that may set in as time goes by.
The more you use a language, the better you will understand it. Reading is a great way for non-native English speakers to build their vocabulary. Reading aloud can help with pronunciation and will also help with the Speaking section of the TOEFL.
While many people watch the news or consume entertainment materials in their native language since it is more comfortable, while preparing for the TOEFL, it is helpful to read or watch in English. Watching or listening to others speak in English is another great way to get comfortable with the language.
Comprehension is only part of the equation when it comes to doing well on the TOEFL. Many responses must be typed. Non-native English speakers who are unfamiliar with the QWERTY keyboard should spend time learning it well before the exam.
In most areas of the country, the fee for the TOEFL is $205; however, specific states may have additional fees. There are also additional costs for late registration, rescheduling, additional score reports, and reviews of specific scores.
Most test centers allow examinees to view their scores in the Reading and Listening sections once they have completed the entire exam. The remaining scores are generally available online approximately one week after taking the test.
TOEFL scores are valid and will be reported by ETS for two years after the test date.
Yes, although you must wait at least three days before taking the exam again. There is no limit on the number of retakes.
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