TOEFL: The Essentials

Find out if you should take the TOEFL test and how test success is measured.

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The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most accepted test of English proficiency for college admissions at American schools, accepted by more than 6,000 colleges and universities worldwide. International students who apply for admission to American colleges and universities will most likely be required to include scores on the TOEFL test with their education transcript. TOEFL is a factor in admissions for both bachelors degrees and graduate degrees, and it may be reviewed by employers depending on the types of careers you plan to pursue. Online schools and online degrees are less likely to require standardized tests, but check with each school to be sure.

How to Prepare for the TOEFL Test

Depending on your testing location, the TOEFL test is either offered as an Internet-based test, which is referred to as the TOEFL iBT, or as a paper-based test. When you register for the test, you can find out which are offered at your nearest testing location.

TOEFL iBT scores range from zero to 120 points. You can get up to 30 points in each category: reading, listening, writing and speaking.

To prepare for the test, students in the United States may want to enroll in a TOEFL preparation class or an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. When you are doing your college search, find a college or university that offers a TOEFL preparation class or ESL class; many community colleges and universities offer these courses for non-native speakers.


If you are an English language learner (ELL) living abroad, there are a number of options: Private schools in other countries offer preparation classes, for example. ELL students seeking TOEFL test help can get more information on international test preparation opportunities at sites such as Kaplan, Peterson’s or Princeton Review. If you do not find a college near you that offers test prep, try distance learning programs and online colleges. You will also find test preparation materials on the TOEFL website.


What Does the TOEFL Test Measure?

The paper-based TOEFL test tests your English skills by focusing on reading, writing and listening. The TOEFL iBT tests in all of these areas as well as your speaking skills, in order to allow admissions officers to better determine your ability to communicate in an English-speaking college or university.

How the TOEFL Test Is Scored

TOEFL iBT scores range from zero to 120 points. You can get up to 30 points in each category: reading, listening, writing and speaking. The paper-based test scores range from 310 to 677.

There is no passing score on the TOEFL. However, the colleges and universities you’re applying to may have minimum score requirements for acceptance into their college programs. How heavily they weigh the TOEFL test may depend in part on the major or degree you’re pursuing. Your ability to communicate is more vital for certain majors, such as those in the humanities, than it may be in other fields.

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