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FAQS: PREPARING FOR THE TOEFL

Find answers to frequently asked TOEFL questions including testing options, registration requirements, and where to find an approved testing center — in the U.S. and abroad.

What does the test measure?

TOEFL measures the candidate’s overall ability to function effectively in a variety of academic settings, both in and out of the classroom. Test questions are designed to assess how students handle conversations, communicate with others and understand academic materials written in English.

How are test scores used?

Test scores are used to assess and measure the ability of international students to use English in educational settings.

What is the difference between TOEFL iBT® and TOEFL PBT tests?

The TOEFL iBT examination is administered online and the TOEFL PBT is a paper-based examination. The PBT is currently being phased out and is only offered at testing centers where Internet access is not available. According to ETS, approximately 96 percent of TOEFL test takers take the iBT test, with most universities preferring students submit iBT test scores.

The PBT examination also includes the Test of Written English (TWE) test, a 30-minute writing examination that requires test takers to complete a short essay on a single topic. This essay measures the test taker’s ability to organize their ideas, support those ideas with concrete examples, and write in Standard English formats.

What are the requirements to register?

Prior to taking the TOEFL, students should be prepared to demonstrate they are able to read, comprehend, write and speak English.

How do I register for the TOEFL?

ETS does not allow for registration at its various testing centers. Test takers may register for the TOEFL online, by phone, or by mail.

Online Registration.

To register online, test takers can use the TOEFL iBT registration site. The site requires users to create a profile, select a test center location, choose a test date, select score recipients, and make a payment for their registration.

Phone Registration.

Test takers must call their Regional Registration Center to register by phone. They are advised to review the registration form prior to calling and having their form of payment available. When registering by phone, test takers must also manually enter their TOEFL registration codes, including score recipients, country and region codes. Acceptable forms of payment include debit/credit card, PayPal or electronic check.

Mail Registration.

Download and complete a paper registration form. ETS advises test takers to spell their name exactly as it appears on the identification they will use at their testing center. Mailing a registration requires manually entering test registration codes, including their region and score recipients. Paper forms must be received at least four weeks prior to the testing date. Test takers in the U.S. mail registration forms along with an approved payment directly to ETS:

ETS-TOEFL iBT Registration Office P.O. Box 6151 Princeton, New Jersey 08541-6151
When and where is the TOEFL administered?

The TOEFL is administered at ETS-authorized testing centers throughout the U.S. and abroad. ETS provides a searchable database of TOEFL testing locations. The exam is offered more 50 times per year on fixed testing dates that vary by ETS-testing center. Test takers are advised to sign in to their TOEFL iBT account to check registration times and availability at a center near them.

REVIEW THE TEST

The TOEFL is a comprehensive examination with a unique structure and scoring system. Test takers can use the sections below to understand what they will find on the test; how the test is scored; what the scores mean; how to request testing accommodations; and how to prepare for the exam.

Length of Test

The TOEFL is a four-hour examination with a 30-minute check-in. Test takers should plan on spending at least 4 1/2hours at their testing center.

  • Reading 60 – 100 minutes
  • Listening 60 – 90 minutes
  • Break 10 minutes
  • Speaking 20 minutes
  • Writing 50 minutes

TOEFL Testing Content

The TOEFL is designed not only to measure the candidate’s individual skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening, but how well they integrate those skills together. The exam is divided into four different sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

Section Description
Reading The reading section assesses reading comprehension skills. Passages are academic focused, like those found in college textbooks. Subjects vary, ranging from philosophy to literature, science to psychology.
Listening The listening section measures the test taker’s ability to understand English conversations. These conversations include academic lectures and dialogues, conversations similar to what a student may encounter on-campus. Conversations are traditionally divided among physical science, the arts, life science, and social science topics.
Speaking The speaking section evaluates the test taker’s ability to communicate effectively in educational environments. Divided across different tasks, test takers read passages aloud, answer questions after reading a short passage, speaking on a topic prompt, and answer questions about different conversations.
Writing The writing section gauges the test taker’s written abilities in academic settings, including grasp of language, organization, grammar, and argument development. Test takers write two essays, one based on a reading passage and the second based on an individual prompt.

TOEFL Score Delivery

TOEFL produces a score report for each test taker. This score report includes a total score and scores for each individual section. The score report is available online approximately 10 days after the testing date. Test takers may access their score reports by logging into their TOEFL online account. ETS also provides a PDF copy of the score report within three days of receiving an online score.

Test scores are sent to the test taker’s selected institutions approximately 13 days after testing. In the U.S., delivery usually occurs seven to 10 days after the mailing date and four to six weeks for locations outside the U.S. To ensure timely delivery of scores, ETS recommends test takers take the test at least two to three months prior to their application deadlines.

TOEFL Score Reports

ETS provides up to four official TOEFL score reports that test takers select when registering for the examination. For an extra fee, additional score reports can be requested. All test takers receive an online score report and may ask for a paper copy during registration. TOEFL testing scores are valid for two years after the testing date.

Rescheduling or Canceling

In order to reschedule, test takers have until up to four full days before their scheduled test date. Rescheduling and canceling can only be done by phone (1-800-468-6335) or online by logging into your TOEFL iBT account and rescheduling or canceling on the order summary page.

Test Taking Limits

Test takers can take the TOEFL as many times as they like to improve their scores. However, they can only take the exam once every 12 days. If the test taker has an existing test date, they cannot register for an examination within 12 days of that date.

Disabled or Individuals with Health-Needs

Individuals with disabilities or health-related issues can request testing accommodations prior to registering. Each request is reviewed individually and ETS offers a broad array of testing support assistance and technical accommodations. ETS divides these accommodations into three categories: Specialized Assistance, Technical Accommodations and Adaptive Accommodations.

Some examples of accommodations include:

Specialized Assistance
  • Sign language interpreter
  • Test reader
  • Oral interpreter
Technical Accommodations
  • Ergonomic keyboard
  • Screen magnifier
  • Touchpad keyboard
Adaptive Accommodations
  • Extended testing time
  • Braille test
  • Additional test breaks

In order to request accommodations, test takers must register by mail and submit additional required paperwork. They can review the Registration Bulletin to access the additional forms:

  • Applicant Information Form
  • Testing Accommodations Request
  • Certificate of Eligibility or Disability Documentation

If the request is accepted after receipt, test takers will receive a confirmation approval letter within six weeks. They can then register for TOEFL at their local testing center.

TOEFL FEES

The TOEFL is a flat-rate examination and test takers must pay their fees in full when registering. Find an overview of the fee structure and information about the financial assistance program for eligible candidates.

Examination Fees

TOEFL examination fees by testing location and country. In the U.S, the standard registration fee is typically $190 with an additional $40 for scheduling after the registration deadline. Payments are due upon registration and ETS allows for payment with credit/debit cards, electronic (e-checks), PayPay, and paper checks.

In order to receive a refund, test takers must cancel their exam registration at least four full days prior to their test date. If canceling within that window, ETS refunds half of the original test fee. If a test taker fails to cancel after that window, they will not receive a refund. It cost $60 to reschedule the test and the fee must be paid before being able to schedule a test date.

Other Fees
Item Fee Description
Reinstatement of canceled score $20 Test takers can cancel their scores after finishing the test. If scores are canceled, they will not be reported to selected institutions or the test taker. Test fees are not refunded and canceled scores are not placed on a permanent record. While there is no fee to cancel scores, there is a fee to reinstate those scores. After submitting a request and making a payment, scores are typically reinstated three weeks later.
Speaking and Writing Score Review $180 A test taker can request a score review for their writing and/or speaking sections of the examination. A request can be made up to 30 days after taking the test. Scores cannot be reviewed if they have already been sent to an educational institution. They can only be reviewed once and if the scores are changed (for better or worse), the revised scores become official.
Speaking Score Review $80 See above
Writing Score Review $80 See above
Financial Assistance

ETS offers the TOEFL Fee Reduction Service for non-native speakers who are in their senior year of high school in the U.S. Foreign exchange students and U.S. high school students in their junior year are not eligible for the fee reduction service. To qualify, students must meet financial need guidelines (see table below) and eligibility criteria, which includes: 1) a family member receiving public assistance; 2) living as a resident in a federally subsidized public housing project; 3) be enrolled in a program that supports the economically disadvantaged (e.g. Upward Bound).

The table below outlines the income thresholds to be eligible for fee reduction service.

  • Number of Dependents Family Income
  • $21,775
  • $29,471
  • $37,167
  • $44,863
  • $52,559
  • $60,255

TOEFL STUDY GUIDE

The TOEFL examination measures important skills required for non-native speakers to be successful in an academic setting. The test employs independent and integrated tasks that asks questions aligned with experiences students would have both in and out of the classroom, such as reading, listening, and speaking a response or listening and writing an answer in response.

Below is an outline of the test format, an explanation of each major section, and a review of the types of tasks test takers are asked to complete in each portion of the examination.

Preparing for TOEFL

Developing a study plan and preparation schedule can help pave the way for exam success.

ETS recommends starting the TOEFL preparation process at least eight weeks prior to the test date. ETS offers a range of test prep materials to help test takers strengthen their English skills and prepare for TOEFL.

The best place to start is with the official TOEFL iBT Test Prep Planner. The planner includes a weekly calendar with organized objects, tasks and resources to get ready for each section of the examination. Test takers are encouraged to use real TOEFL questions when preparing and can do so through the following ETS testing materials.

TOEFL iBT Interactive Sampler. The sampler provides unlimited, no cost access to past TOEFL iBT questions from all sections of the examination.

TOEFL iBT Test Questions. A free collection of TOEFL iBT questions used on previous tests.

TOEFL iBT Quick Prep. A TOEFL iBT practice tool with questions from real TOEFL examinations.

Section One: Reading

Reading is the first section of the TOEFL examination. This section is designed to measure the candidate’s reading comprehension. Test takers read and review between three and five separate reading passages — each about 700 words long — and then answer a series of questions about each academic passage. Questions are presented in different formats (e.g. multiple choice, insert a sentence) which test different competencies, such as vocabulary, inference, and idea comprehension.

1
Skills Analysis

Number of Questions: 36 to 56 questions

Time Allotted: 60 to 80 minutes

Tasks: Read three to five passages of prose and answer a series of questions in different formats.

Sample Question:

  • According to the passage, who conducted investigations about the current dangers posed by large meteorite impacts on Earth?

Section Two: Listening

The listening section assesses the test taker’s ability to comprehend English conversations, academic lectures, and classroom discussions. ETS uses different native-speaker English accents from North America, the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand to better reflect the range of accents a student may encounter while studying abroad. There are generally between six and nine listening passages, with a set of questions for each passage. Questions may ask about the speaker’s intent, the passage’s main idea, or ask listeners to identify specific or implied details within the passage.

2
Skills Analysis

Number of Questions: 34 to 51 questions

Time Allotted: 60 to 90 minutes

Tasks: Listen to a variety of passages from academic lectures, classroom conversations and campus conversations and answer questions about each passage.

Sample Question:

  • What are the speakers mainly discussing?
  • a. How the woman should prepare for the next game
  • b. The woman’s responsibilities as team captain
  • c. Things that happened while the woman was away
  • d. The style of the new team uniforms

Section Three: Speaking

The speaking section is the shortest portion of TOEFL. It is 20 minutes long and test takers are required to complete six tasks. Speaking into a microphone, test takers answer two different types of questions: independent and integrated speaking. Independent speaking measures the candidate’s speaking skills, while integrated speaking examines the candidate’s ability to integrate reading, listening and speaking. For each task, test takers receive short preparation time (between 15 and 30 seconds) and then provide a spoken response 60 seconds in length.

3
Skills Analysis

Number of Questions: 6 tasks

Time Allotted: 20 minutes

Tasks: Summarize lectures and conversations, report on other people’s opinions, and provide personal opinions.

Sample Question:

  • Talk about a pleasant and memorable event that happened while you were in school. Explain why this event brings back fond memories.

Preparation Time: 15 seconds

Response Time: 45 seconds

Section Four: Writing

The final section of TOEFL, the writing portion requires an hour to complete. It is designed to assess the test taker’s writing ability in an academic setting. There are two writing prompts. The first is based on reading a written passage, listening to a lecture and writing an essay based on the relationship between the two passages. In the second, test takers write an essay based on a prompt and use personal experience to support their opinion on the topic.

4
Skills Analysis

Number of Questions: 2 tasks

Time Allotted: 50 minutes

Tasks: Write an essay based on reading and listening passages and compose a second essay based on personal opinion.

Sample Question:

  • Question: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
  • A teacher’s ability to relate well with students is more important than excellent knowledge of the subject being taught.
  • Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Exam Scoring

TOEFL scores range from zero to 120. However, there is no passing or failing score as each individual university or institution determines their TOEFL score requirements. Below is an overview of how the exam is scored and the scales used in each section.

How is the test scored?

ETS uses both automated (computer-based) and human raters to determine TOEFL scores. Human raters score the writing and speaking portions of the examination. They are certified and participate in scoring calibration tasks to ensure they meet quality benchmarks.

What are the TOEFL scoring scales?

Each individual section is scored between zero and 30, for a total possible score of 120. Reading and listening scores are determined by the number of correct answers provided by the test taker. Speaking and writing scores are evaluated slightly differently, based on assessment rubrics. The tables below outline the proficiency level by questions answered correctly and further explains the scoring methods for speaking and writing sections.

  • Section
  • High
  • Intermediate
  • Low
  • Reading
  • 22-30
  • 15-21
  • 0-14
  • Section
  • High
  • Intermediate
  • Low
  • Listening
  • 22-30
  • 15-21
  • 0-14
  • Section
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Limited
  • Weak
  • Speaking
  • 26-30
  • 18-25
  • 10-17
  • 0-9

In the speaking section, each task receives a rating from zero to four. ETS converts scores into a scale of zero to 30. ETS-certified test scorers evaluate how well test takers develop their thoughts and provide a well-spoken answer in English. For more information, ETS offers a TOEFL Speaking section scoring guide.

  • Section
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Limited
  • Writing
  • 24-30
  • 17-23
  • 1-16

Each essay is scored on a scale of zero to five. Those scores are converted by ETS into a scale of zero to 30. Scores are evaluated on different features, such as grammar, vocabulary, and organization. ETS uses both human raters and automated scoring technology to assess linguistic features, along with human judgment for essay material. A writing section scoring guide is available from ETS.

Exam Day: What to Expect

It is important to understand what is expected of them prior to arriving to the test center. The testing process is regimented, monitored, and controlled. Plan on arriving at the test center at least 30 minutes or more before the scheduled start time of the examination.

The check-in process requires several steps and typically includes the following procedures:

  • Provide ETS-approved identification and registration confirmation form

  • Provide signature and handwriting samples

  • Sign a confidentiality and testing policies agreement

  • Take a photo that will be embedded into score reports

  • Pass through security measures (e.g. metal detector)

What to Bring

According to ETS, test takers are only required to bring a few items with them to the test center: their registration number, acceptable forms of identification, and water/snack. Cell phones and other electronic devices are not allowed to be brought into the test center. Personal items (e.g. purse, wallet, car keys) can be stored in a locker (if available) or in a plastic bag placed under your chair.

Registration Number.

The registration number can be found on the registration conformation. The day before the test, students should log in to their TOEFL iBT online account to view the test order and print the registration confirmation.

Acceptable Identification.

Bring at least two forms of approved identification to the testing center on test day. The name on the identification and registration must match exactly. If they do not match, you will not be allowed to take the test and testing fee will not be refunded. General identification requirements include the following:

  • Be an original form of documentation (photocopies are not allowed)

  • Be valid, non-expired document

  • Includes the test taker’s full name that matches registration confirmation

  • Includes a recent photograph

  • Includes a signature that matches the name on the identification

Acceptable forms of identification include:

  • Passport

  • Government-issued driver’s license

  • Military identification

  • State or provide identification car

Water and Snack

It is recommended test takers bring some water and a snack to eat during the mandatory break period.

Exam Period

After checking in to the test center, a test administrator will assign you a seat, provide a pencil, paper for notes, and headphones with an attached microphone. The exam period starts on time, is highly regulated, and controlled by a test administrator. Note: the computer is the official timekeeper. Be sure to monitor the time on the computer screen, to ensure you complete each section on time.

Test Monitoring

Once the exam has started, test takers may not access their personal items, such as backpacks or electronic devices. Test takers may be videotaped while taking a test for security reasons and test administrators monitor each step of the testing process.

Breaks

After completing the Reading and Listening portion of the exam, test takers are required to take a 10-minute break. Upon returning from a break, test takers must again present their identifications to test administrators. Using the restroom or taking breaks are allowed throughout the examination, but it is important to remember the clock does not stop for any reason. Test takers should use personal discretion if they need to take an additional break, so they can finish each section on time.

Testing Exemptions

There are a series of exemptions for individuals for individuals who submit and receive an approved testing accommodations request forms, such as additional breaks in testing time (e.g. to take medication), technical support items (e.g. screen magnifiers, ergonomic keyboard), as well as personal readers or scribes for the blind or deaf.

Guidelines for answering questions

TOEFL is administered on a computer through a secured Internet-based network. Test takers are provided instructions for answering questions on each section of the examination. Note taking is allowed throughout the test.

Speaking

The speaking section is delivered on the computer and for speaking tasks, test takers use a headset with a microphone. Test takers will read passages on the computer screen and listen to passages or conversations through the headset.

Writing

For the writing portion, test takers type their responses into the computer.

Prep & Practice Resources

There is a variety of test preparation materials available to individuals interested in taking the TOEFL. Ranging from test questions to practice tests, skill-building resources to full prep courses, test takers can leverage these materials to achieve the highest score possible.

TOEFL Quick Prep

ETS offers TOEFL iBT® Quick Prep, a tool that provides questions from previous TOEFL examinations. A free resource, there are four volumes of Quick Prep available. Each volume includes questions for each section of the test: listening, speaking, writing, and reading. Volumes one and two include transcripts of the audio portion of the listening, writing and speaking sections of the examination. Volumes three and four include embedded MP3 files in the downloadable PDF.

TOEFL iBT® Test Questions

To help test takers familiarize themselves with the structure of the examination and types of questions asked, ETS provides a free collection of TOEFL iBT® test questions. These question are actual questions used in previous examinations and can be downloaded in a PDF.

TestDen

An online education resource, TestDEN provides multiple TOEFL preparation materials, including in-depth overviews of each section of the test, an online study course, grammar guides, speaking tutorials, and writing practice resources.

Learn4Good

Learn4Good provides free interactive examples of TOEFL test questions including similar computer-based questions, details on the layout of the test and lessons on basic English grammar.

4Tests

Find full-length practice questions on the four sections of the TOEFL: reading, structure, listening and writing.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University features a variety of free writing resources and materials to help strengthen and improve English grammar and writing skills.

New York Times — The Learning Network

Improve reading skills and vocabulary, learn a new word of the day and participate in crossword puzzles through the New York Times Learning Network. Find lesson plans, writing questions, contests and a variety of interesting and thoughtful blogs and stories.