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How to prepare for the TOEFL

What is the TOEFL exam all about? This article provides students with TOEFL preparation tips and a clear understanding of the various demands of the test.

Mahesh Ramani

The ‘listening module’ of the test can be a bit tricky; listen to news broadcasts on international channels like the BBC and watch English movies to grasp the finer aspects of diction.

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All non-native speakers of English have to demonstrate their English language proficiency when applying to study for a course abroad. The popular English language tests that Universities consider for measuring an applicant’s English skills are:

  • Pearson’s Test of English

What is the TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for ‘Test of English as a Foreign Language’. Traditionally the TOEFL is offered in two modes — paper-based (where internet connectivity is very poor) and internet-based or iBT. In India, the internet-based test is in vogue, with the test being conducted in major cities on pre-scheduled dates.

Registering for the TOEFL

The easiest and most convenient method to register for the TOEFL is by visiting the official website. Step-by-step instructions are provided on how to create a profile and register for the test.  

Students can register for a test on a date of their choice from the list of available dates listed on the official website.

The fee for the test varies from country to country and is regularly updated. Students are advised to visit the official website for the latest fee information. Currently the TOEFL fee varies from S160 to $250.

Structure of the TOEFL

The TOEFL combines the following skills — listening, reading, speaking and writing. The test is for a duration of around 4 to 4.5 hours with a 10-minute break in between. The order of the test modules is as follows:

  • Reading: 36 to 56 questions — read 3 or 4 passages and answer questions based on the passages.
  • Listening: 34 to 51 questions — listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, and then answer questions.
  • Speaking: Speak on a prescribed topic.
  • Writing: Write essays on the prescribed topic; the topic is generally linked to the content used in the reading and listening modules.

Scoring Pattern

Each module of the test is for a maximum of 30 marks; so students may secure a total score of anywhere from 0 to 120. In addition to a numerical score value; performance feedback on the modules is also provided. TOEFL scores are valid for two years after the test date and there is no limit to the number of times you can take the test.

Official score reports will be sent to designated recipients as indicated by students approximately 13 days after they take the test. 

Average Scores for Admission

The exact TOEFL scores prescribed vary from institution to institution and from course to course. The average prescribed scores are as follows:

  • For undergraduate courses: Varies from 68 to 80 on the iBT.
  • For postgraduate courses: Varies from 79 to 95 on the iBT.

Crack the TOEFL

If you have a clear idea of when you are taking your TOEFL; give yourself a minimum of six months to prepare for the test. There are a number of online resources available, which allow you to take up mock TOEFL tests. These let you get a feel of the real thing and help you analyze and find your strong and weak points. The ‘listening module’ of the test can be a bit tricky; listen to news broadcasts on international channels like the BBC and CNN; watch English TV serials and movies and try to grasp the finer aspects of British and American pronunciation of English words. This will definitely be very helpful!

Read international newspapers and journals; the quality of writing in publications like: ‘The Economist’, ‘The New York Times’ and ‘The Guardian’ will help you improve your vocabulary. Write a lot of practice essays on multiple topics. This will help you clear the essay module with ease.

On Test Day

Reach the test-venue at least 30 minutes before the test; be calm and confident and answer the questions with care. If you are not sure about a question; skip it and go to the next question. Use your 10-minute break properly and take special care when working on the essay/writing module of the test. Do not be disappointed if you do not get a good TOEFL score; learn from your mistakes and prepare with more passion and dedication for your next test attempt.

For the sake of preparation and improved performance; a three-month gap is advised for students who want to retake the TOEFL. As per rules, a fortnight is all that is needed in case you want to retake the test.


Both tests are accepted across most leading institutions across the world; it is imperative for the student to verify, which test score is required by the institution, where the student aspires to study. The chief difference between the two tests is the speaking component. For IELTS, students are required to take this with an IELTS examiner face-to-face. For TOEFL, the speaking test consists of speaking on prescribed topics. The audio is recorded and sent to an examiner for evaluation. The past couple of years have seen that more universities are actually recommending students to submit a TOEFL score rather than an IELTS score as proof of English language proficiency. 

The Pearson Test of English is another test, which is gaining prominence. The TOEFL and IELTS continue to remain the most popular English language tests and a good score in either of the tests should suffice; unless specifically required, a student does not have to take both the IELTS and the TOEFL.

TOEFL training classes

Are you thinking about signing up for a TOEFL coaching class? Hotcourses India conducts TOEFL training classes taught by qualified English language experts.

We provide in-class training sessions for students based in Chennai and Delhi, and online training sessions for students based in other cities.

These classes, which are held six days a week, are conducted by experienced tutors.


The TOEFL score is accepted by more than 9,000 institutions in over 130 countries worldwide. As an applicant to a course requiring a specific minimum TOEFL score; you should aim to score a bit higher than the prescribed TOEFL score mandated by the institution where you aspire to study.

The TOEFL is a long test that runs for more than four hours and first-time test takers seem a bit overwhelmed by the test. If you prepare well enough and take a good number of mock-tests; you should be able to clear the TOEFL with a good score.

Have you written the TOEFL? You can share your experience of preparing for the TOEFL and writing the test in the comments section.

Have doubts regarding the TOEFL??

Priyanka G Priyanka G,
Study abroad expert.
We offer in-person and online TOEFL training sessions at our office. Request a call from our advisors for more information on test-prep guidance. Or call 1800 103 2581 / 1800 103 9634 (toll-free) today!