We Know: All About the TOEFL Test

What is the TOEFL test?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is a multiple-choice test administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to non-native English speakers who wish to attend American colleges and universities. The test evaluates a prospective student's ability to understand standard English within an academic setting. It is required for admittance to most American-speaking colleges and universities.

What does content areas do the TOEFL tests measure?

The TOEFL test evaluates English proficiency at four levels:

  • Listening comprehension - tests listening comprehension based on spoken passages between two people in an academic environment. This section takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete.
  • Structure - tests English language grammar. The grammar test will no longer be offered after 2006.
  • Reading comprehension - tests vocabulary and reading skills, based on a person's ability to understand the content and intent of short passages. This section takes 60 to 100 minutes to complete.
  • Writing - consists of a 30 minute essay based on two tasks.
  • Speaking comprehension - added in September 2005 for Internet-based testing. Requires the completion of six tasks.
Each section is scored on a scale of 0 to 30. The individual scores are compiled to create a composite score ranging from 0 to 120.

How does one take the TOEFL test?

Registration is required to take the TOEFL test. Registration may be complete by phone, online, or by mail. ETS, which administers the test worldwide, charges a fee of $140.

The TOEFL test is offered in four formats that depend on the location of the test site. The formats offered are:

  • Computer-based tests (CBT) - an electronic version of the paper test that covers the reading and writing sections.
  • Paper-based tests (PBT) - Was the original method of testing and is now offered at locations which do not have access to computers or the Internet.
  • Computer-adaptive testing (CAT) - questions are given based on the ability of the test taker, with more difficult questions given when a question is answered successfully and easier questions if answered incorrectly. This format was given on the listening and structure sections.
  • Internet-based tests (IBT) - this format is currently being phased in at testing locations in the United States, Canada, and some European countries beginning in September 2005, replacing the other methods completely in 2006.

How does one prepare for the TOEFL test?

The ETS offers free materials and sample questions on its TOEFL website (www.toefl.org). Test takers can purchase additional materials online or at most retail bookstores.

Is the TOEFL absolutely necessary?

Whether or not the TOEFL test is necessary for college admissions depends on the circumstances of the prospective student. Most American universities require the test for non-native speakers. The exceptions are:

  • International students with postsecondary degrees from English-speaking countries.
  • International students who have completed a two-year course in English.
  • Transfer students from within the United States or Canada.
  • International students who have taken the TOEFL test within the past two years.
  • International students who have taken coursework at English-language institutions for at least two years.

Can the test be taken more than once?

Test takers are only allowed to cancel test scores immediately after the test. A notation is placed on the score report if the test score is cancelled.

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