What is the TOEFL?

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  • 0:01 The TOEFL
  • 1:12 What's on the Test?
  • 2:19 Why Take the Test?
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

If you're learning English as a foreign language, you've probably heard about the TOEFL: watch this lesson to learn what it is, who takes it, and whether or not it's the test for you.


TOEFL is an abbreviation that stands for 'Test of English as a Foreign Language.' It's a standardized test that includes multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and speaking tasks.

Almost all students take the TOEFL iBT, where the 'iBT' stands for 'Internet-based test.' This test is entirely online, but you have to go to a test center to take it; you can't just use your own computer. It takes about 4 ½ hours, including one 10-minute break in the middle.

The TOEFL iBT is administered several times a year. You can register for it on the TOEFL website. You can take it as many times as you want, but you have to wait at least 12 days between administrations. You'll be able to check your scores online about ten days after the test, and they'll be mailed to colleges or other institutions about 13 days after the test. If you asked for a paper copy of your scores, you'll also get it at that time.

A few students also take a paper-based version of the TOEFL, but the iBT is much more common. If you're watching this lesson online, you're probably in an area where you'll take the test online as well, so here we'll just focus on the iBT.

What's on the Test?

The TOEFL tests your English proficiency in four areas:

  • Reading: How well can you read and understand English?
  • Listening: How well do you understand spoken English?
  • Speaking: How well can you express your own ideas in spoken English?
  • Writing: How well can you express your own ideas in written English?

The test is divided into separate sections for reading, listening, speaking, and writing, but some sections combine two or more of these skills. For example, in one part of the writing section, you'll have to listen to a spoken conversation, read a passage, and then write about the information in the passage and the conversation.

On the reading and listening sections, you'll answer multiple-choice questions about reading and listening passages. On the speaking and writing sections, you'll have to speak or write in response to different kinds of prompts.

All the areas are focused on the kind of English you're likely to see in a school setting. So, for example, the reading passages cover material that you might see in a textbook.

Why Take the Test?

The TOEFL is taken by anyone who needs to demonstrate that they're fluent in English even though it's not their first language. For example:

  • Students who want to go to a school where classes are held in English
  • Students or workers applying for a visa in an English-speaking country

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