What is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) Exam?

by Stephanie Small
Published May 31, 2013


International students who have not attended an English-language secondary school, who wish to attend university in an English-speaking country will likely be required to take the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, in order to demonstrate their level of language proficiency. The TOEFL assesses international students’ ability to speak, read, and understand the English language.  Depending upon where you’re located, the test may be administered either via the internet or paper. According to the Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the TOEFL, over 8,500 colleges and agencies in over 130 countries accept TOEFL courses.

Exam Composition

The TOEFL encompasses four sections and takes approximately four and a half hours to complete. Sixty to eighty minutes are allotted for the Reading section, which assesses reading comprehension. The Listening section, which students have 60-90 minutes to complete, involves listening to academically-oriented conversations and lectures and answering questions about their content. Test-takers then take a 10-minute break, followed by a 20-minute Speaking section and a 50-minute Writing section. International students planning to take the TOEFL should be aware the audio components of the test may include a variety of English-speaking accents including North American, Australian, South African, British, and others.


TOEFL takers can register online, via phone, via snail mail, or in person at a test center. The ETS (Educational Testing Service provide details on the various registration processes and locations where the TOEFL is offered. You can also take the TOEFL online. Test-takers with particular health-related needs or disabilities must register via mail.

Registration fees vary by country. Late registration carries a standard fee of $35, and rescheduling costs $60. On test day you’ll need to bring a valid form of ID, along with your registration number. Remember, your scores are only valid for two years.


There are a variety of TOEFL prep materials from which to choose, including books, sample tests, and audio recordings. In addition to these official materials, there are many informal ways you can practice your English, such as watching movies, reading books, and listening to music or radio shows. In addition, reading academic texts or attending college courses taught in English can help familiarize you with the kind of English language academic jargon that is likely to show up on the TOEFL.

Last-minute cramming is not ideal, and it’s best to have several months, to prepare. Using a structured study schedule can help you track your progress and ensure you’re not skipping study sessions.

Finally, your state of mind is crucial to your success! You’re more likely to do well if you’re confident you’ve had enough practice, and relaxed enough to focus. Remember to eat a good breakfast the morning of the test, and consider rewarding yourself with some kind of treat to celebrate once the TOEFL is over.

Learn More about the TOEFL


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