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The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, evaluates the ability of an individual to use and understand English in an academic setting. It sometimes is an admission requirement for non-native English speakers at many English-speaking colleges and universities. Additionally, institutions such as government agencies, licensing bodies, businesses, or scholarship programs may require this test. A TOEFL score is valid for two years and then will no longer be officially reported[citation needed] since a candidate's language proficiency could have significantly changed since the date of the test.[citation needed] Colleges and universities usually consider only the most recent TOEFL score.

The TOEFL test is a registered trademark of Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is administered worldwide. The test was first administered in 1964 and has since been taken by more than 23 million students. The test was originally developed at the Center for Applied Linguistics under the direction of Stanford University applied linguistics professor Dr. Charles A. Ferguson.

Policies governing the TOEFL program are formulated with advice from a 16-member board. Board members are affiliated with undergraduate and graduate schools, 2-year institutions and public or private agencies with an interest in international education. Other members are specialists in the field of English as a foreign or second language.

The TOEFL Committee of Examiners is composed of 12 specialists in linguistics, language testing, teaching or research. Its main responsibility is to advise on TOEFL test content. The committee helps ensure the test is a valid measure of English language proficiency reflecting current trends and methodologies.

Formats and contents

Internet-based Test

Since its introduction in late 2005, the Internet-based Test (iBT) has progressively replaced both the computer-based tests (CBT) and paper-based tests (PBT), although paper-based testing is still used in select areas. The iBT has been introduced in phases, with the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy in 2005 and the rest of the world in 2006, with test centers added regularly. The CBT was discontinued in September 2006 and these scores are no longer valid.

Although initially, the demand for test seats was higher than availability, and candidates had to wait for months, it is now possible to take the test within one to four weeks in most countries.The four-hour test consists of four sections, each measuring one of the basic language skills (while some tasks require integrating multiple skills) and all tasks focus on language used in an academic, higher-education environment. Note-taking is allowed during the iBT. The test cannot be taken more than once a week.

  1. Reading
    The Reading section consists of 3–5 passages, each approximately 700 words in length and questions about the passages. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Passages require understanding of rhetorical functions such as cause-effect, compare-contrast and argumentation. Students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, sentence insertion, vocabulary, rhetorical purpose and overall ideas. New types of questions in the iBT require filling out tables or completing summaries. Prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer.
  2. Listening
    The Listening section consists of six passages 3–5 minutes in length and questions about the passages. These passages include two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. A conversation involves two speakers, a student and either a professor or a campus service provider. A lecture is a self-contained portion of an academic lecture, which may involve student participation and does not assume specialized background knowledge in the subject area. Each conversation and lecture stimulus is heard only once. Test-takers may take notes while they listen and they may refer to their notes when they answer the questions. Each conversation is associated with five questions and each lecture with six. The questions are meant to measure the ability to understand main ideas, important details, implications, relationships between ideas, organization of information, speaker purpose and speaker attitude.
  3. Speaking
    The Speaking section consists of six tasks: two independent tasks and four integrated tasks. In the two independent tasks, test-takers answer opinion questions on familiar topics. They are evaluated on their ability to speak spontaneously and convey their ideas clearly and coherently. In two of the integrated tasks, test-takers read a short passage, listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and answer a question by combining appropriate information from the text and the talk. In the two remaining integrated tasks, test-takers listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and then respond to a question about what they heard. In the integrated tasks, test-takers are evaluated on their ability to appropriately synthesize and effectively convey information from the reading and listening material. Test-takers may take notes as they read and listen and may use their notes to help prepare their responses. Test-takers are given a short preparation time before they have to begin speaking.
  4. Writing
    The Writing section measures a test taker's ability to write in an academic setting and consists of two tasks: one integrated task and one independent task. In the integrated task, test-takers read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker discuss the same topic. The test-taker will then write a summary about the important points in the listening passage and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. In the independent task, test-takers must write an essay that states, explains, and supports their opinion on an issue, supporting their opinions or choices, rather than simply listing personal preferences or choices.



Approx. time


3–5 passages, each containing 12–14 questions

60–100 minutes


6–9 passages, each containing 5–6 questions

60–90 minutes



10 minutes


6 tasks and 6 questions

20 minutes


2 tasks and 2 questions

55 minutes

One of the sections of the test will include extra, uncounted material. Educational Testing Service includes extra material in order to pilot test questions for future test forms. When test-takers are given a longer section, they should give equal effort to all of the questions because they do not know which question will count and which will be considered extra. For example, if there are four reading passages instead of three, then three of those passages will count and one of the passages will not be counted. Any of the four passages could be the uncounted one.

Paper-based Test

In areas where the internet-based test is not available, a paper-based test (PBT) is given. Test takers must register in advance either online or by using the registration form provided in the Supplemental Paper TOEFL Bulletin. They should register in advance of the given deadlines to ensure a place because the test centers have limited seating and may fill up early. Tests are administered on fixed dates 6 times each year.
The test is 3 hours long and all test sections can be taken on the same day. Students can take the test as many times as they wish. However, colleges and universities usually consider only the most recent score.

  1. Listening (30 – 40 minutes)
    The Listening section consists of 3 parts. The first one contains 30 questions about short conversations. The second part has 8 questions about longer conversations. The last part asks 12 questions about lectures or talks.
  2. Structure and Written Expression (25 minutes)
    The Structure and Written Expression section has 15 exercises of completing sentences correctly and 25 exercises of identifying errors.
  3. Reading Comprehension (55 minutes)
    The Reading Comprehension section has 50 questions about reading passages.
  4. Writing (30 minutes)
    The Writing section is one essay with 250–300 words in average.

Test scores

Internet-based Test

  • The iBT version of the TOEFL test is scored on a scale of 0 to 120 points.
  • Each of the four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing) receives a scaled score from 0 to 30. The scaled scores from the four sections are added together to determine the total score.
  • Each speaking question is initially given a score of 0 to 4, and each writing question is initially given a score of 0 to 5. These scores are converted to scaled scores of 0 to 30.

Paper-based Test

  • The final PBT score ranges between 310 and 677 and is based on three subscores: Listening (31–68), Structure (31–68), and Reading (31–67). Unlike the CBT, the score of the Writing section (referred to as the Test of Written English, TWE) is not part of the final score; instead, it is reported separately on a scale of 0–6.
  • The score test takers receive on the Listening, Structure and Reading parts of the TOEFL test is not the percentage of correct answers. The score is converted to take into account the fact that some tests are more difficult than others. The converted scores correct these differences. Therefore, the converted score is a more accurate reflection of the ability than the correct answer score is.

Accepted TOEFL Scores

Most colleges use TOEFL scores as only one factor in their admission process. Each college or program within a college often has a minimum TOEFL score required. The minimum TOEFL iBT scores range from 61 (Bowling Green State University) to 109 (MIT, Columbia, Harvard).A sampling of required TOEFL admissions scores shows that a total TOEFL iBT score of 74.2 ETS has released tables to convert between iBT, CBT and PBT scores.

for undergraduate admissions and 82.6 for graduate admissions may be required. It is recommended that students check with their prospective institutions directly to understand TOEFL admissions requirements.

TOEFL Junior

ETS (Educational Testing Service) also offers the TOEFL Junior, a general assessment of middle school-level English language proficiency, and a distinct product within the TOEFL family. The TOEFL Junior is available only to students of ages 11-14 and is not considered a predictor of a student's regular TOEFL score.


The first step in the registration process is to obtain a copy of the TOEFL Information Bulletin. This bulletin can be obtained by downloading it or ordering it from the TOEFL website.

From the bulletin, it is possible to determine when and where the iBT version of the TOEFL test will be given.

Procedures for completing the registration form and submitting it are listed in the TOEFL Information Bulletin. These procedures must be followed exactly.

See also

  • English as a Foreign or Second Language (EFSL)
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • International Student Admission Test (ISAT)
  • List of admissions tests
  • National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
  • Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)
  • Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)
  • PTE Academic Pearson Test of English Academic
  • Standardised test
  • UBELT University of Bath English Language Test.
  • University of Cambridge ESOL examination
  • LNAT
  • Trinity College London ESOL


  1. Stanford University, Memorial Resolution: Charles A. Ferguson (1921–1998), May 1999
  2. TOEFL iBT Locations and Dates
  3. TOEFL Scores for United States Universities, toeflnow.com

Further reading

  • Bailey, Kathleen M., "Washback in Language Testing", TOEFL Monograph Series, Educational Testing Service, June 1999

External links

  • ETS Official TOEFL Site
  • TOEFL related sites at the Open Directory Project
  • Comparison charts to convert scores between the three TOEFL variants (from ETS)
  • TOEFL Junior

About the TOEFL PBT Test

The TOEFL PBT, administered in a paper-based format, is a key step in your journey to study in an English-speaking country.

Who Takes the TOEFL Test?

Each year nearly a million individuals take the TOEFL test to show their English-language proficiency. Over 25 million people from all over the world have taken the TOEFL test since it was founded.

There are two formats for the TOEFL Test. The format you take depends on where your test center is located. Most people take the Internet-based Test (iBT). Test centers in locations where Internet-based testing is not available administer the Paper-based Test (PBT).

Who Accepts TOEFL Scores?

More than 7,500 universities and colleges in over 130 countries accept TOEFL scores. Other agencies and institutions rely on TOEFL scores as well:

  • Immigration departments use them to issue residential and work visas.
  • Medical and licensing agencies use them for professional certification purposes.
  • Individuals use them to measure their progress in learning English.

See the TOEFL Destinations Directory (PDF)

To learn more about how the TOEFL test can be your passport to study anywhere English is spoken, watch our new video, The TOEFL® Test: Your Passport to the World (Flash).

What Is the TOEFL PBT Test?

The TOEFL PBT Test is a paper-based test that measures your ability to use and understand English in a classroom setting at the college or university level. It accurately measures how well you can listen, read and write English while performing academic tasks.

What Is the TWE® Test?

The TWE Test is a 30-minute writing test required of everyone who takes the TOEFL PBT test. You will be asked to write a short essay on one topic from your TWE test book to show your ability to:

  • generate and organize ideas
  • support ideas in writing with examples or evidence
  • use standard written English formats

Where and When Can I Take the TOEFL PBT Test?

  • The TOEFL Paper-based Test (PBT) is offered six times a year.
  • See a list of TOEFL PBT test centers and dates or check the online registration system for the latest information. Not all test centers are open for every test date.

What Does It Cost?

The cost of the TOEFL PBT test is US$160. For information on registration, fees, test dates, locations and test formats, select the test location first to be sure the paper-based test is the right one for you.

What Resources Are Available to Help

Me Prepare for the Test?

ETS offers a variety of free preparation materials to help you get ready for the TOEFL test.

Get a Registration Bulletin Locally

Check with advising centers, test centers, libraries or your local ETS Preferred Network office.

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