What Is the TOEFL Test?

Nearly all U.S. colleges and universities use the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in their admissions process for students whose primary language isn't English. Read on to find out more about the TOEFL.

TOEFL Overview

The TOEFL measures international students' ability to read and write in English. This test is accepted by approximately 9,000 learning institutions around the world, according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS). TOEFL results are used for many areas of higher education, including admissions, graduation requirements and scholarship eligibility.

Important Facts about the TOEFL

How long are TOEFL scores valid? Two years from date the TOEFL test is taken
Can the test be retaken? The test can be taken as many times as desired, but not more than once in a 12-day period
What are the eligibility requirements for the test? There are no age restrictions or eligibility requirements for TOEFL
Who accepts TOEFL scores? In addition to universities and educational institutions, immigration departments use them for resident and work visas and medical and licensing agencies use the scores for professional certification purposes

Taking the Test

The TOEFL evaluates a student's ability to not only write and read the English language, but to demonstrate English speaking skills as well. The TEOFL IBT® (internet-based test) has four sections including reading, listening, speaking and writing. The TEOFL PBT (paper-based test) has two parts, the TWE® (Test of Written English™), which requires that the test-taker write an essay, and the TSE® (Test of Spoken English™).

ETS reports that approximately 96% of students take the TOEFL via the Internet at a designated testing center, although a paper-based test is available for those who need it. Students can register for the exam online, by phone or mail, or in person at one of the over 4,500 testing centers around the world.

As of 2015, the cost of the paper-based test was $170, while the Internet-based test cost between $160 and $250, depending on the country where it was taken. Valid identification and a registration number must be provided the day of the test.

Preparation Options

There are many online tools to help students prepare for the TOEFL. Study guides, practice tests, flash cards and sample questions are provided on study-aid websites. Online and live courses that offer practice in reading and writing are also available. Some of these courses and online tools are provided by colleges and universities. Students also might purchase preparatory tools, such as books and DVDs.

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