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An Introduction to TOEFL

Tuesday | August 23, 2016 | by Kaitlin Ramby

A young woman studying for the TOEFL exam

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is one of the most widely administered and commonly accepted English language tests, particularly for students looking to gain admission into a U.S. university. Another common exam is the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), which is typically taken by students wanting to apply to U.K. universities. Although we will be focusing on the TOEFL in this post, you can read more in this blog for a comparison of the two exams.

Taking an official English language exam can potentially open many doors for you as an international student, so read on to learn some basics you should know when it comes to taking the TOEFL.

What is the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is a standardized test that measures the English language ability of non-native speakers looking to enroll in an English-speaking university or program. The test is made up of four components: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

How do I take it?

The TOEFL can either be taken online (internet-based testing, or IBT) where it is offered 50 times a year and administered in various locations around the world, or on paper (paper-based testing, or PBT) which is offered only in locations where the Internet version of the test cannot be administered.

How do I register?

Before registering, verify the location where you want to take the exam. Then, schedule the date you want to take the exam at least three months out because spots can fill up quickly. Registration for the exam is available online, by phone, in person, or by mail. When you go to register, you must have a current and valid form of identification, a method of payment ready (debit/credit card, electronic check, or PayPal account), and the names of institutions you want to send your scores to.

When should I begin studying for the exam?

The minimum recommended time to begin studying for the TOEFL is eight weeks before your exam date, although preparation even before that could be beneficial to students looking to achieve a high score.

How long is the exam?

The online exam takes a total of four and a half hours, with 30 minutes allotted for check-in. Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before the exam begins. Otherwise you may not be permitted to take it.

What should I expect the day of the exam?

You must confirm your identity to sit for the exam, so bring a current, valid form of identification with you (preferably the same one you used to register). A seat will be assigned to you; the only thing you are allowed to have at your seat is your identification (though test takers are sometimes allowed to keep cell phones and electronics in a bag under the chair). It is recommended that you dress in layers so you can be comfortable in different room temperatures.

When will test results be posted?

The results of the TOEFL exam are posted online about 10 days after the exam date, and if you are receiving your scores in the mail, you should see those about 13 days after your exam date.

Can the test be taken more than once?

Although there is no limit to how many times you can take the TOEFL, the exam cannot be taken more than once in a period of 12 days. You also want to make sure to take it on a date that gives you enough time to submit your scores to the universities you are applying to.

For more questions regarding the basics of taking the TOEFL exam, check the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website for more information. Be on the lookout for more articles about taking the TOEFL exam on our blog!

Want to know more about mastering the TOEFL? Be sure to read part two of this blog series, How to Study for the TOEFL Exam. Also, learn about how to prepare for the test day in part three, Best Practices for Taking the TOEFL Exam.

Did you like this article, or do you have insights for taking the TOEFL test? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Related Reading

How to Prepare for the IELTS Test

English Proficiency: Mastering the CELPIP Test

Kaitlin Ramby

Kaitlin Ramby is the former Digital Content Producer and a Contributing Writer for World Education Services.