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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language Explained

Read our guide to the TOEFL test including fees, exam structure and how to prepare.

TOEFL exam

In order to successfully enrol with a university abroad, you will need to demonstrate that you have the sufficient English language skills to study on that course and keep up with the course material. This proficiency in the English language can be tested by one of several English tests, though two are the most prominent.

While there is also IELTS, here we will take a look at the TOEFL test...

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is one of the two most popular standardised English proficiency tests in the world. As well as a means to proceed on to academic study, TOEFL can also be used when applying for employment with a company in an English-speaking country. When applying to a university, you will need to find out what TOEFL score they require and include this as part of your application to them once you have your TOEFL result.

TOEFL iBT is administered by ETS and is recognised in more than 130 countries around the world. TOEFL is accepted by 100% of universities in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, 80% in Canada and 9 out of 10 in the USA.  However, we recommend always confirming with the institution you are applying to as to which test they would prefer.

Check to see if an institution you’re interested in accepts TOEFL

One of the main differences between TOEFL and IELTS is that TOEFL was originally conceived for those seeking study in America; hence the language in the TOEFL test is more closely reflective of American English.

Types of TOEFL Tests

Type of TOEFL Test Description
Note: TOEFL iBT & TOEFL iBT Home edition are the same exam and seen as the gold standard
TOEFL PBT Paper Based Tests (PBT)
Limited to locations in Colombia, India, Mexico and the USA and only available once or twice a month.
TOEFL iBT Internet Based Tests (iBT) taken from a test centre
TOEFL iBT Home Edition Internet Based Tests (iBT) taken from home
TOEFL Essentials While iBT is entirely academically focussed, essentials are 50% academic English, 50% general English.


What is the process of taking the TOEFL iBT Test?

Step 1

First, confirm that the university you are interested in accepts TOEFL, and what score is required.  

Step 2

If you would prefer to do the test from your home, check the computer and environment requirements for taking the Internet based test from your home. Alternatively you can book a test at a testing centre.

Below are the requirements for TOEFL iBT home test.


  • Can be a Desktop or laptop but the desktop can only have one screen
  • The OS should be:
    • PC windows, 8 or 10
    • Mac OS X 10.5 or higher
  • Download and install the ETS Secure Test Browser on the computer you'll use to test. (PC version, Mac version)
  • Run the ProctorU Equipment Check from the computer you'll use for the exam, it must be compliant

Environment and Testing Space

  • Privacy, you must be alone in the room, with the doors closed. Public spaces like internet café’s are not permitted.
  • Table and seating: your table only have a keyboard and mouse, no cell phones, notes, or food or drink. Table and normal chare should be visible to proctor
  • Clothing & appearance: Your face and ears should be visible throughout the test, hair or hats blocking ears is not permitted
  • Note-taking materials: you are permitted a small white board or sheet protector with erasable marker. All notes much be shown to be erased at the end of the test

View the full list of home testing requirements at ets website.

However, you test you will need to provide valid ID

ID Document Requirements

Only physical, valid originals are accepted. They must include full name, photo and signature.

ETS provides a full list of ID document requirements

Step 3

Register and book your exam a testing centre for PBT

TOELF iBT are available 24 hours a day, 4 days a week. With appointments as early as 24 hours after registering.  

Sitting the TOEFL iBT exam

This depends on which test you take, TOEFL iBT or TOEFL iBT home edition, the only difference being the location of the test, a test centre or your home.

Taking the TOEFL test from home you will start with the “checkin” which takes approximately 20 minutes where the proctor will check your ID and environment and go through the rules.

It’s important that you comply with the rules throughout the test, you will be monitored throughout. Suspicious movement or activity could invalidate your test.

You can expect the TOEFL exam to be similar to a school exam in how you should conduct yourself. You should bring the following with you to the test centre on test day:

  • Registration Number
  • Form of identification (e.g. passport)
  • Clear water bottle
  • Pen (more than one)

Read more about what you should bring on test day, including further info about the above documents you will need.

Breakdown of the TOEFL iBT Test

The TOEFL iBT is the same length as the one you would find in a testing centre, which works out at just over 3 hours.

Section Time Limit Questions Task
The whole test will take 3 hrs – 3 hrs 30 mins
Reading 54–72 min 30–40 Read passages and respond to questions
Listening 41–57 min 28–39 Answer questions about brief lectures or classroom discussions
Break 10 min
Speaking 17 min 4 tasks Talk about a familiar topic and discuss material you read and listened to
Writing 50 min 2 tasks Read a passage, listen to a recording, type your response

Exam Structure


The reading section is between 54–72 mins long. It requires candidates to answer 30-40 questions about 3-4 passages of text. These will be multiple choice questions. The texts will be academic in nature and similar to those you can expect to come across at degree level study. It does not matter what subject you hope to study, as the texts in the reading section of the TOEFL test won’t be subject-specific and therefore will not require any specialist knowledge.



The listening section is 41–57 mins long. It requires candidates to listen to 4-6 academic lectures and 2-3 conversations, and then answer questions, 28–39, about what the content of what you have just heard. The speakers on the audio will be very natural in tone with English accents from North America, the U.K., New Zealand or Australia. Here is a sample of what you might be asked to listen to and ask questions about.



The speaking section takes just 17 mins to complete but can sometimes be the hardest as candidates are put on the spot with not as much time to think about their response. However, you only have to speak for about 45-60 secs in response to each question. You will get 15-30 seconds to prepare for each response. You should speak to appear “off-the-cuff” and spontaneous with appropriate vocabulary (i.e. without unnecessary, convoluted words). The first question will be about a familiar topic, while questions 2-4 will be “integrated speaking tasks”, speaking after listening, or speaking after reading.



The writing section lasts 50 mins. You will be asked to write responses to 2 writing tasks: an integrated writing task and an independent writing task.

 The integrated writing task is 20 mins long and is a written response to a short passage and lecture you’ll be asked to read/listen to. For example in this writing task, candidates are called on to write about how the points in the passage they have read conflict with those outlined in the audio they have listened to.

Meanwhile, the independent writing task is 30 mins long and requires you to plan and write an essay in response to a given topic. The question will be quite open-ended in nature, to allow you to demonstrate your English skills as fully as possible. An example of the kind of question you might have is:

‘Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship.” Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.’


How much does the TOEFL test cost?

The cost of a TOEFL test will depend on the location of the tester, even doing TOEFL iBT from home. You can expect to pay between US$160-US$265. Keep in mind that the paper-based test is usually cheaper than the internet-based version. Find out how much a TOEFL test is near you.

The general breakdown of the fees

Item Fees
TOEFL iBT (Fees vary by location) US$160-US$265
Late registration US$40
Rescheduling US$60
Reinstatement of cancelled scores US$20
Additional score reports (per institution or agency) US$20 each
Speaking or Writing Section score review US$80
Speaking and Writing Section score review US$160
Returned payment US$30


How is a TOEFL exam scored?

For each section of the TOEFL exam, candidates receive a score out of 30. In addition, these four individual scores, you will also receive an overall score of 120. Candidates also receive performance feedback, outlining what you can do.

How long does it take to get your TOEFL results?

It varies slightly depending on how the test was taken

Type of TOEFL Test Time for results
TOEFL iBT taken at a Test Centre 6 days
TOEFL iBT Home Edition 6–10 days
TOEFL iBT Paper Edition 11–13 business days


Not sure if TOEFL is the test for you? Have you considered IELTSRead our guide comparing the two tests


Now that you know what the IELTS test is all about, why not start browsing undergraduatepostgraduatevocational or doctorate courses abroad? 


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