TOEFL : Complete Guide to The Test (2020)

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The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardized examination to assess the English language capability of non-native speakers who wish to apply to English speaking universities.

It is one of two international standardized tests, the other being IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and therefore provides certification to the candidate which can be used globally. TOEFL is conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), based in the United States.

It is the world’s largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment agency. TOEFL tests English predominantly for academic purposes, that is, it measures the candidate’s proficiency in applying English language skills at the university level, and assesses how competently the candidate is able to combine skills such as reading, writing, speaking and listening to accomplish academic responsibilities.

  • Approximately 9000 academic institutions in more than 130 countries accept TOEFL scores as part of standard admission procedures for undergraduate or graduate courses.
  • The immigration departments of various English speaking countries use TOEFL scores as a basis of evaluating the ease with which a prospective worker/immigrant will be able to work and integrate into local communities.
  • TOEFL can also be used by candidates who wish to test their proficiency and progress in learning the English language.

Almost 2.5 million candidates appear for the TOEFL annually. They come from all walks of life, and usually fall into the following categories:

  • Students who wish to apply for undergraduate or post graduate courses in universities of English speaking countries.
  • Economic migrants who require visas to work in countries where English is the predominant language of the workplace. For example:
  1. Australia requires TOEFL iBT scores to issue business and skilled migration visas.
  2. The UK requires TOEFL iBT scores to issue student visas under certain circumstances.
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Note: International students who are citizens of certain commonwealth countries, which are part of the English speaking world, or are former colonies of the British empire such as Hong Kong SAR, or previous protectorates of the United States, such as Puerto Rico or the Philippines and those of Canada (excepting QUEBEC) are exempt from the requirement of appearing for the TOEFL test for university admissions as their countries’ official language is English.

The same does not apply to some other nations such as India, Pakistan or Bangladesh where English may be only one of the languages used for communication. Candidates are advised to verify the requirements of their particular institution.  

  • It tests English language skills across the board that is, speaking, writing, reading and listening skills.
  • It enables candidates to maximize opportunities as most Australian, Canadian, British and New Zealand academic institutions, as well as the ones in the United States give credence to this test. Various professional organizations worldwide also accept TOEFL test scores.
  • TOEFL fulfills requirements for professional certification employed by licensing and medical agencies.

Candidates may appear for TOEFL in two ways, either of which can be chosen depending on high speed, continuous availability of internet and whether any computer issues exist:

  • The first is the TOEFL iBT (Internet based test) – candidates appear for TOEFL iBT on computers located at official test centers. It is conducted in several countries around the world more than fifty times annually. Most candidates appear for TOEFL through this route.
  • The second is the TOEFL PDT (Paper delivered test) – for candidates who live in areas where internet testing is unsuitable or not realistic, or areas with poor infrastructure such as Syria, Libya, Nigeria etc. Test dates are much more infrequent as compared to the iBT, and may be conducted perhaps once a month. Candidates receive scores within five weeks from the test date.
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For iBT: it consists of four sections:

  • Reading – three to five passages of about seven hundred words are given, and questions must be answered on these in about sixty to eighty minutes.
  • Listening – candidates must answer questions after listening to two student and four academic lectures, each around three to five minutes in length in about sixty to ninety minutes.
  • Speaking – candidates must complete six tasks, two independent and four integrated which involve expressing one’s opinions spontaneously and answering questions based on what they heard in about twenty minutes.
  • Writing – consists of two tasks – summarizing a lecture and writing an essay in about fifty minutes.

For PDT: it consists of the same sections as the iBT, and scored on the same scale, however in this case there is no total score.

Exam scoring system

Each section of the test consists of 30 points, which totals to 120 points overall which shows proficiency from extremely limited to expert user. For TOEFL iBT, all four section scores are individually provided.

Note: There is no minimum pass marks for the TOEFL, as score requirements vary across institutions and agencies.

The test scores are valid for a period of two years from the test date, and there is no maximum number of times a candidate can appear for the test.

The registration fees for appearing for the test varies from country to country but is on an average $170. This amount is exclusive of taxes and other charges for late registration, rescheduling or score reviews.

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There are approximately 4500 TOEFL locations in over 165 countries. The candidate may visit the official website to locate the nearest centre. Registration closes seven days before the test date.

Register online at

Before appearing, judging your level of preparation is crucial. The ETS offers official study materials including free sample questions, practice tests, and a free online course – TOEFL: Test preparation: The Insider’s Guide. There is also the official app TOEFL GO to revise on the move.

Some other resources available for purchase are:

  • TOEFL value packs
  • The official guide for the TOEFL test
  • Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volumes 1 and 2

Some free resources are also available for download on

Must Check: Important articles on TOEFL Test:

What is a good TOEFL Score?

TOEFL vs IELTS: Similarities, Differences and Which One to Consider

PTE vs TOEFL: A Comparative Analysis

Recommended Books and Online Resources for TOEFL

TOEFL Syllabus, Test Pattern, Exam Dates and Application Form

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