The basics
Study abroad : Essentials

Essentials: TOEFL - Test Of English As A Foreign Language

Read our guide to the TOEFL test, including the different TOEFL formats, the test structure and more...


If you want to undertake an undergraduate or postgraduate course in English, you will be asked to take an English proficiency test to make sure you have the required English language skills necessary for the course. TOEFL is one of the most relevant standardised tests in English Language.


Note: This is just a quick guide to TOEFL. You can read our full guide to TOEFL here.


What is TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The TOEFL exam is offered both as a paper-based (PBT) or internet-based (iBT) test. Its main purpose is to measure your ability to understand spoken and written English and to recognise appropriate written English structure at a university level.


Who recognises TOEFL?

The TOEFL test is recognised in over 130 countries by more than 7,500 colleges and other institutions around the world.

It was initially developed to measure the English proficiency of international students wishing to study at US and Canadian colleges and universities. Therefore, its testing format is heavily weighted to multiple choices, suiting the American university examining system (although nowadays most UK universities also accept it). Candidates will also notice that the language is closer to American English than British English, which is why it might be more beneficial for those wishing to study in America.

Not sure which test to take? Compare TOEFL with IELTS with our guide.


TOEFL test components

The PBT and iBT forms of the TOEFL test vary very slightly. Both forms of the test consist of four sections:


You will be asked to read a few passages of university-level articles and answer some questions presented in Multiple Choice format (MCQ). The questions are design to assess your reading comprehension, key facts, vocabulary and style.



In this section you are given few extracts of conversations or conferences. All these refer to university life like a conversation between a student and a teacher, or a lecture in a class. The questions are MCQs and question you about details, suggestions and vocabulary. These are very natural and informal as you can hear interrupting words like 'uh' or 'urmm' while they are talking.



This involves speaking into a microphone while being recorded. Later, an examiner will listen to your answers and mark you accordingly. Two questions will be more of a personal style, like asking about your town or your favourite teacher. Another two questions will see you condense information from a text/conversation while offering opinions. Further questions will just ask you to summarise information from a short conversation.



Finally, there will be two short essays to write for the TOEFL exam. For the first exam, you are given broad topics such as, ‘How has the internet changed our lives?’ or ‘If you changed one thing in your country, what it would be?’

 In the second one, you’ll need to analyse material from a text or lecture and you will have to produce an argumentative essay, analysing the information given.


What score should I aim for?

The Reading and Listening sections are scored by computer with a score range of 0 to 30. The Reading section has 36-56 tasks based on reading passages from academic texts and answering questions. The Listening section has 34-51 tasks based on listening to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, and then answering questions.

Find more information on how to prepare for the exam here.


How much does a TOEFL test cost?

A TOEFL test will vary slightly depending on where you are from and where you are taking the test. Approximately it costs $160-$250.

The amount you will have to pay for the exam varies considerably depending on where you are planning to take your test. Find out how much a TOEFL test is where you are.


Read more:

Find out more about the TOEFL test on the official ETS website.

Read one student’s TOEFL experience.

Search for a course

Choose a country
Study level*
About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.