TOEFL: The Basics | Top Universities

TOEFL: The Basics

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Sabrina Collier

Updated Mar 05, 2016



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Need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for university admissions or student visa applications? Find out what to expect and how to prepare for this English language test, with our quick guide.

What is the TOEFL?

Short for Test of English as a Foreign Language, the TOEFL is an English language test administered via the internet. It tests the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers who wish to study at universities in English-speaking countries. As such, it assesses your ability to use and understand English at university level, evaluating how well you combine listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks.

Since 1964, more than 30 million people from all over the world have taken the TOEFL to demonstrate their English-language proficiency.

How does it differ from other English language tests?

Though not taken by as many candidates each year as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the TOEFL is accepted by more universities than either the IELTS or the PTE Academic. It also has many more test centers. Part of the reason for this is that the TOEFL is primarily academic in focus, whereas the IELTS is often taken for non-academic purposes such as emigration.

With the TOEFL, you will also receive a more detailed breakdown of your results than you will from IELTS, with scores out of 30 and ratings (‘low’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘high’) for individual sections as well as an overall score. On the other hand, there’s a slightly longer wait for results – 15 days to get TOEFL results, compared to just five working days for the PTE.

Who is it recognized by?

The TOEFL is recognized by more than 9,000 universities in over 130 countries, more than any other English language test. A full list can be found at the official website. Before taking any English language tests, make sure you contact the universities you’re applying to, to check their specific English language requirements and which test they prefer.

When and where can I take the test?

There are over 4,500 test centers worldwide, with opportunities to take the test on more than 50 dates each year. You can find your nearest test center and dates here.

How much does it cost?

Fees vary by country, and generally range from US$150-225, though in most places it’s in the range of $160-180. For full fee details, contact your nearest test center or visit the official website.

Can I retake the test?

There are no restrictions on retaking the test, so you can take it as many times as you wish. However, you cannot take it more than once in a 12-day period.

How long will my score be valid for?

As with the IELTS and PTE English language tests, a TOEFL score is valid for two years. After this period you will need to take another test, as it is likely that your level of language proficiency will have changed significantly. If you have taken the test more than once in two years, universities will normally only accept your latest score.

When will I receive my results?

There is generally a 15-day wait for your results, and it’s advisable to take the test well in advance of your university application deadlines. There is also a large demand for test places so this is another reason to make sure to book early.

This article was originally published in February 2010. It was updated in August 2015.

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