Complete Guide to TOEFL Test

//Complete Guide to TOEFL Test


Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a four hour test that evaluates everyday English proficiency of non-native English speakers. It is made and administered by Educational Testing Services (ETS), the same company that administers GRE and TOEIC. The TOEFL is composed of four sections: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In TOEFL iBT, the highest score that you can score is 120 and 30 for each section.


Two types of TOEFL

There are two types of TOEFL: Internet-based Test (iBT) and Paper-based Test (PBT). TOEFL iBT is the most widely used type of TOEFL and is accepted at vast majority of universities. On the other hand, paper-based test is not administered widely and is becoming obsolete. According to ETS website, 97 percent of students take the TOEFL iBT while remaining 3 percent take the TOEFL PBT.  You should note that PBT test is only available in places where TOEFL iBT is not offered.

The primary reason for the decline of PBT is the lack of speaking section in PBT. While TOEFL iBT tests reading, listening, speaking, and writing, PBT only tests reading, listening, and writing skills. For this reason, many universities prefer TOEFL iBT over PBT.

However, if you are not familiar with computer or just don’t like the idea of computer tests, you have another excellent option which is International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This test is paper-based test and is widely accepted at universities around the world. If you don’t like TOEFL iBT, IELTS is another great option.


Recommended Scores on TOEFL

An English Proficiency Test (TOEFL or IELTS) is required by vast majority of universities in America for international students. Only few universities do not require TOEFL for international students, but you need to take an English Proficiency Test if you want to study in a good university.

Many universities have minimum required TOEFL scores. Although it varies from institutions, the minimum TOEFL score for community colleges is around 60, and the minimum TOEFL score for state universities and private universities is around 80.

If a student scores less than the minimum score, many community colleges will accept the student but that student has to take Intensive English Program or English as a Second Language courses. For state universities, you may be admitted if your score is below the minimum, but state universities are not as flexible as community colleges. In private universities, it is rare that they will accept students whose TOEFL score is below the minimum requirements. However, a student can always request that the minimum scores be waived.

Also, the recommended score and the minimum score are not the same. Although students who scored just above minimum scores will be considered for admission, they will not be competitive in the admission pool. Since community college accepts almost everyone who applies, their recommended score and the minimum score are the same. However, the recommended scores for state universities and private universities are usually above 100, and the recommended scores for selective universities are usually above 110.


TOEFL Exemptions

Many universities will allow students to not submit TOEFL scores if they have met some other requirements. Some common requirements for exemptions are the followings:

  1. High scores in the reading section of SAT or ACT
  2. Graduated from US high school
  3. Citizens of English-speaking countries
  4. Conditional offer where students have to take ESL program in the university in exchange for not taking the test

Since different universities have different criteria, check with each universities that you are applying to for their specific requirements. If you can be exempt from TOEFL, it is good for you because you will save both the time and the money by not taking TOEFL.


Cost of Taking TOEFL and Reporting the Scores

The cost of taking TOEFL is expensive because of the cost of equipment, security, and grading. Although it varies by country, the cost of TOEFL is around $170 USD. Also, there are also extra charges for late registration and rescheduling.

Other than the cost of taking TOEFL, there are reporting charges of $20 USD for each institution that you are sending the scores to. For example, if you are applying to 10 universities and have to send scores to all ten of them, you will pay $200 dollars for reporting fees. This cost needs to be paid because many universities won’t accept unofficial scores. So, official scores from ETS needs to be sent directly to different universiites.


TOEFL Test Taking Locations and Dates

TOEFL tests are usually offered every two weeks in every country. ETS has a page where you can search for TOEFL test dates, location, and the cost. To see the these information, visit Test Taking Locations.


Where to Register to take the TOEFL

If you are ready to take this test, you can register in ETS TOEFL Home Page.


General Overview of Four Sections

Reading Section 

The reading section consists of 36-56 questions, and students have 60-80 minutes to read and answer 3 or 4 passages. The reading section tests the ability of the student to analyze an academic text and comprehend the material by answering questions about the passages.

Listening Section 

The listening section consists of 34-51 questions, and students have 60-90 minutes to listen to 6-9 recordings and answer questions about those recordings. The listening section tests the ability of the student to understand spoken English in college campuses.

Speaking Section 

The speaking section consists of 6 tasks, and students have 20 minutes to answer those tasks. The speaking section tests the ability of the student to communicate correctly and succinctly.

Writing Section 

The writing section consists 2 task, and students have 50 minutes to answer those tasks. The writing section tests the ability of the student to write effectively and clearly to communicate his ideas on paper.


4 Study Tips for TOEFL

1. Plan ahead 

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” An important key to receive an excellent score is to make a schedule of the study assignment and study time.

Although you might be excellent in English, you need at least three months of preparation. Even the native speakers have a hard time getting above 100 without any preparation. If you want an excellent score, you will have to prepare at least three months to familiarize yourself with the test format, computer, keyboard, and headphones.

If you are not proficient in English, you need more than three months to prepare since you will need to study the basics of the English language. Achieving a high score in TOEFL is possible with hard work and efficient study methods.

2.  Stay Motivated 

After you have made your study schedule, there will be times when you just want to quit. It is important to stay motivated when you are studying TOEFL.

There are several ways to stay motivated but two methods worked best for me. First, write in BIG letters the reason that you are studying TOEFL and put it in place where it’s visible. For example, write “Study at American State University” in front of your door. Another idea might be writing your target TOEFL score instead of the reason. Just make the letters big and visible.

Second, give small incentives when you have met your goal along the way. If you’ve completed your schedule that week, give yourself small incentives such as an ice cream cone. Give bigger incentives for completing bigger goals. For example, give yourself bigger incentives such as going to an amusement park when you’ve completed your month’s schedule, and buy yourself a new phone when you’ve scored above your target score (By the way, my parents are actually promising my younger brother a new iPhone if he scores above a certain score).

Hopefully, these two ways will help you to stay motivated and to keep your schedule.

3. Practice, Practice, and Practice!

Winston Churchill stated, “They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you that practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.” In real life, practice does not make one perfect, but it does make one to make less mistakes. Practice is an important key to a good TOEFL score.

I want to emphasize the fact that you need to practice in actual test-taking conditions. Taking tests on paper and taking it on computer are totally different. There are many resources such as online and CD’s that you can use to simulate actual test-taking conditions. For list of 25 free TOEFL resources, read this article. For list of 5 recommended books, read this article.

4. Make a list of your mistake and learn from it 

While taking practice tests, you are going to make many mistakes. Making mistakes is a good thing because that means that you have room to improve. Practicing is important, but learning from mistake is much more important than solving problems.

Behind each mistake that you make, there are specific reasons why you’ve made that mistake. Students who just solve countless practice test without reviewing thoroughly why they’ve made that mistake are not going to do well on TOEFL. You should spend much more time reviewing your incorrect answers than actually solving test questions.

After taking a practice test, mark incorrect answers. Then, read the explanations in the back of the book and review why you have made your mistakes. If you don’t have an explanation on the back, try to figure out the reason yourself. After you figured the reason for the mistake, you need to write the question and the reason in a notebook. For me, writing down the questions and the explanations for each of my mistakes helped me to score much higher.


Free Resources

There are thousands and thousands of free resources such as guides and practice tests in the internet. Unfortunately, 99% of those materials are very low quality. However, there are extremely helpful, free resources in the internet. To be a help, I’ve compiled the list of the best-quality, free resources. Please visit this article for the complete list of helpful resources.

Please note that using just the free resources is not sufficient to receive a high score on TOEFL. You will need best-quality books to guide you through different strategies and methods to receive high scores.


Recommended Book List

There are many books that give great test-taking strategies, time management skills, and excellent practice tests. However,  many books on the market are inferior. To help you to leverage your money and more importantly, your time, I have compiled a list of 5 recommended books to help you boost your score.

Do you want to waste money on inferior books? If not, read this book recommendation article.


The Best and Affordable Online ESL Program

Try this ESL program to boost your scores! It includes 100 lessons and many other materials such as ebooks to improve your English proficiency. It even offers free trial which includes 10 lessons with no obligation and no credit or debit card numbers!