TOEFL iBT English test: what it is and how to prepare for it

Our guide covers everything you need to know about the TOEFL iBT English test, including the scores you should aim for, how to prepare and which universities accept it

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Seeta Bhardwa

Editor, THE Student
May 24 2021
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When applying to study abroad at university, almost all international students will need to take some kind of English language test.

There is a range of English tests out there that different universities around the world accept.

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The TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test) is accepted at thousands of universities around the world. Here is a guide to what to expect during the test and how to prepare for it.

Who accepts the TOEFL iBT?

The TOEFL is accepted by more than 11,000 universities in over 150 countries, and you can search on the ETS website to check whether your institution accepts it. The cost depends on your location and results usually take six to 10 days.


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What can you expect from the TOEFL?

The TOEFL, like most English-language-proficiency tests, is split into four areas: reading, listening, speaking and writing.

The reading test comprises three or four passages and each will be about 700 words long with 10 questions that you’ll have to answer relating to the passage. This part of the test varies from 54 to 72 minutes.

The listening test covers two types of recordings: lectures and conversations. Both use campus-based language. Participants will be played three or four lectures, around five minutes each, and will have to answer six questions. You will then listen to two or three conversations between two people and answer five questions per conversation.

The speaking portion is composed of four tasks that resemble situations that you might encounter at university. Question one is an independent speaking task that requires you to draw on your own ideas and experiences for your response. The final three questions are integrated speaking tasks, which require you to combine all your English language skills.

And finally you will have to complete two writing tasks. The first is an integrated writing task where you will have to read a short passage and listen to a short lecture, then write a response to both. The independent writing task requires you to write an essay based on your opinions and experiences.

How should you prepare for the TOEFL iBT?

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the TOEFL iBT. One of the best ways to prepare for any English language test is to surround yourself with the language as much as you can. Read books or articles written in English, watch films or TV shows, and watch YouTubers who have taken the test before and may be able to offer guidance on how they prepared.

Be sure to write down any words or phrases that you don’t understand and look them up, so you expand your vocabulary and improve your understanding of sentence structure. Also try to listen to a range of accents to ensure that you are familiar with the way words can sound different depending on whether the speaker is from the UK, the US, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or any other English-speaking country.

The TOEFL website has a range of courses and practice tests that you can sign up for. There are also guidebooks and talks, as well as the TOEFL Go! mobile app, which can help you study on the go.

What is a good score on the TOEFL?

On average, a score of 90 to 100 is considered good for TOEFL.

Some universities will stipulate a minimum score for each category. Different universities and courses will require different minimum scores, so it’s best to check the website of your chosen institution to find out what you should aim for. If it’s not clear on the website, you can contact the university’s international or admissions office directly and ask.

Remember, it’s always best to aim as high as possible because the better the score, the stronger your application will be. You can also use this tool to compare scores for the IELTS Academic and TOEFL against the common European framework of reference for languages (CEFR).


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