What is TOEFL?

Jaime Miller First-Time Test Takers, TOEFL: Advice for Studying 0 Comments

For many people, TOEFL is a monster.  Students (and many English teachers) don’t really understand the giant, beastly exam, and so of course everyone is stressed out.  If you understand TOEFL, you’re in a much stronger position to conquer the exam.

Watch my two short informational videos to learn the basics of the exam.

Welcome back! You’re watching video number two. Do you have your pencil and paper for note-taking?

Today I’m answering the question: What is TOEFL?! My answer is a little bit long, so I made two videos—video number three will finish our discussion.

The TOEFL exam was designed by a company called ETS. Students have been taking TOEFL since 1964 and there have been many versions of the exam. Obviously, technology has changed the exam.

Nowadays, there are actually two different kinds of TOEFL exams. The first kind is called the paper-based test. PBT. For the TOEFL PBT, you go to an exam center, you sit at a desk, you have your answer booklet, and your answer sheet. You read questions, or listen to conversations, then you write your answers on paper. For the second kind of exam, iBT, you go to an exam center, you sit at a computer, and you take the TOEFL exam in a computer program. You can take notes on paper but all your answers must be marked in the computer. There’s no booklet or answer sheet. Also, for TOEFL iBT the computers can’t go on the internet. You can’t visit google or dictionary websites.

The TOEFL PBT is only available in some cities, usually where the internet connection is not good. The TOEFL iBT newer and more popular so it’s the version you’ll probably take. On the TOEFL iBT, there are four sections: first, reading, then listening, then there’s a 10-minute break. After the short break you come back for the speaking and finally the writing section (on the writing, you type on the computer, you don’t write by hand). Each section has 30 possible points, so the exam has 120 points total. The exam has been designed to feel like university—the readings are about academic topics (science, art, history, geology); and the listening passages are also academic. Professors give lectures on academic topics, or students have conversations about campus issues. Don’t worry—you don’t need to learn extra things about science, art, history or geology. All of the answers are in the reading and listening passages. However, having a big vocabulary makes TOEFL much much easier.

At the TOEFL exam, they give you a pair of headphones for the listening and speaking sections. Everyone listens or speaks on his or her own computer. When you speak, you look at the computer and a microphone records everything you say. Again, you can make notes during the exam, but after the exam, the notes are collected and thrown away. The notes are not part of your TOEFL score.

Ok, that’s it for video number two. I’ll see you in video three where I finish discussing this topic.


Welcome back. This is video number three, and part two of my general discussion about TOEFL.

So, the TOEFL exam takes about 4 hours to complete. You start the exam at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning and finish at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I know. It’s a really long time, but I promise that if you study properly and regularly for the TOEFL exam, you can get through the four hours and have a good score.

After you finish your TOEFL, the computer sends your exam to an Online Scoring Network. A computer program checks your answers on the reading and listening passages. But, a human being checks your answers for the speaking and writing sections. You can see your score online [on the internet] 15 days later. You must pay to take the TOEFL exam. The cost changes depending on the country where you take it but right now, it costs between $150 and $185 US dollars. You can register online at www.ets.org. The company that makes and grades TOEFL, ETS, will send your score to four universities that you choose. You can send your TOEFL scores to more universities, but that costs extra.

If you decide that you want to take the TOEFL again, you can. You can take it as many time as you want. However, there is no special or cheaper price if you re-take the test—the registration cost is the same.

Ok, that’s it for this video. I’ll see you in number four.