The test of English as a Foreign Language

The TOEFL is a test administered to students who plan on attending college or university in North America, and whose first language isn't English. It is designed to evaluate a person's potential success in using and understanding English at a college or university level. Many English-speaking colleges and universities require students from non-English speaking countries to pass the TOEFL.

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The TOEFL is developed by the Educational Testing Service, a global non-profit organization. Every year, nearly one million students from around the world take the test - and in consideration of this, it's important to note that the test reflects language skills used by all English-speaking peoples worldwide, not just those in the U.S. It tests vocabulary, syntax, reading comprehension and more.

Students should take the TOEFL at least a year (or ideally 18 months) before they apply to university or college in an English-speaking country. It is also a good idea to allow at least six months of study and practice time before taking the test.

TOEFL Formats

The TOEFL is administered in both paper and computer formats. The paper test takes roughly three and a half hours to complete (although times may differ for each candidate) and is divided into three sections:

  • The listening comprehension section measures your ability to comprehend spoken English;
  • The structure and written expression section tests your ability to recognize standard written English;
  • The reading comprehension section tests your ability to read and understand non-technical material in everyday North American English.

The paper TOEFL is accompanied by the Test of Written English (TWE). The TWE is a written test that takes about 30 minutes to complete.

The computer-based TOEFL is divided into four sections:

  • The listening section measures your ability to understand spoken English, as it is used in North America;
  • The structure section measures your ability to recognize language as it is spoken in North America;
  • The reading section measures your ability to understand short passages modeled on academic material from North American textbooks;
  • The writing section measures your ability to write in English. (In the paper test, this section is called the Test of Written English.)

Preparing for the TOEFL

Students who are worried that they won't be able to pass the TOEFL may want to look at coaching schools or other means of test preparation. These can be found in your local yellow pages or on the Internet. Look for well known names, such as local colleges, because they're sure to be legitimate - it is difficult to gauge the quality of private tutors, making it a risky venture. If you can, try to get recommendations from other students who have used a TOEFL coaching school.

There is no shortcut to passing the TOEFL. If you want to do well, it's important to properly prepare yourself. Remember, no amount of coaching can replace hard work and good study habits.

TOEFL Test Scores

To be accepted into an English-speaking college or university, you must have a minimum TOEFL score of 550 on the paper test or 213 on the computer test. If you fail the TOEFL, you can retake it, sometimes as soon as a month later. Once officially recorded, your scores are valid for two years.

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