Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

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What is TOEFL?

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL is a test of English proficiency. It stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. International students need to show a certain amount of comfort with English as the primary language of communication. TOEFL is conducted to check the student’s capability during Teaching Assistantship (TA). TOEFL ibt, generally preferred by all international students, is the new internet based test which has four sections, each which would constitute a certain form of student interaction with the education system.

When should I take TOEFL?

As the TOEFL score is valid for two years, choose your date wisely. Usually, students take TOEFL in the month of September, as it is the ideal time when a student applying for MS is done with his GRE and has no other academic commitments.

Conditional admit: If you are applying to a university without your TOEFL score, it’s perfectly ok but it’s always better if you’re done with it. When you apply to a university without a TOEFL score, it gives you a conditional admit which means that you have take your TOEFL exam for the confirmation of the admission. If your TOEFL score is low, then the respective admission committee will either tell you to repeat the exam or take up a course in their institution and complete it. The course isn’t a part of your regular curriculum and it becomes hectic. Moreover, it’s very expensive. So repeating TOEFL is the right choice.

Note: TOEFL is a MUST for International Students.



Structure of TOEFL

TOEFL comprises of four sections:

  1. Reading
  2. Listening
  3. Speaking
  4. Writing
Task Description Time

Short format: 3 passages, each with 12-14 questions

Long format: 5 passages, each with 12-14 questions

60 mins

100 mins


Short format: 2 conversations & 4 Lectures, each with 5-6 questions

Long format: 3 conversations & 6 Lectures, each with 5-6 questions

60 mins

100 mins

BREAK - 10 mins
SPEAKING 6 tasks and 6 questions 20 mins

Integrated Essay

Independent Essay

20 mins

30 mins


Note: If you get Short format in Reading, then you will get Long format in Listening or the other way round.


This section is very similar to the RC section in GRE, with the only difference being that this one is VERY simple. There can be two formats in Reading: Short format or Long format.

-Short format consists of 3 passages each approximately 700 words in length and with 12-14 questions and overall time is 60 minutes. The passages are on academic topics

-Long format is 100 minutes duration and has 5 passages each approximately 700 words in length and with 12-14 questions. Of the 5 passages only 3 will be evaluated to get your score, the other 2 are experimental and do not matter at all. However, you have no idea which ones will matter and which ones won’t, so you have to give your best in all.


This is a new section for most of the students and it tests the student’s listening skills. In this section you have to listen to entire conversations (A conversation involves two speakers, a student and either a professor or a campus service provider) or lectures at one go (which can be very boring). Again there can be two formats: Short or Long

-Short format consists of two conversations and four lectures each having 5-6 questions. Overall duration is 25-30 minutes.

-Long format consists of three conversations and six lectures each having 5-6 questions, of which two conversations and four lectures only will contribute to your score. The remaining are redundant but again you are kept in the dark about this, so give your best in all. Overall duration is 100 minutes.

NOTE: If you get Short format in Reading, you will get Long format in Listening or the other way round.


Speaking sections tests the ability to communicate in English in an academic setting. It has six tasks. Tasks 1 & 2 will prompt you to speak on some familiar topic like a personal experience. You are given 10-15 seconds to think and another 30 seconds to speak on each of the questions. Tasks 3 & 4 require you to read a paragraph, followed by listening to a short conversation and then respond to a question about what you read and heard. In the next two questions you have to listen to an audio clip, remember the important points in it and then answer the questions based on it in 45-60 seconds. Overall duration of this section is 20 minutes.


Although this is quite a different section, it should be comfortable section for those who have already appeared for GRE. You are required to write two essays: Integrated Essay and Independent Essay

Integrated Essay: You have to read on an academic topic for two minutes and listen to a speaker discuss the same topic for the next few minutes. You get 20 minutes to plan, write an revise an essay of around 150-225 words based on what you read and listened. The earlier paragraph is also made available to you while you write. However, the audio clip is available only once.

Independent Essay: In the independent task, you must write an essay that states, explains, and supports your opinion on an issue, supporting your opinions or choices, rather than simply listing personal preferences or choices. You are given 30 minutes for writing this in about 300-350 words.



Preparation for TOEFL

If you ever want to test your patience level, try and give the TOEFL exam. It’s a bloody four hours long examination and often the time duration will increase due to technical errors. The longer the examination, the lesser is its preparation.

Preparing for Toefl isn’t as tedious as GRE. A week or 10 days is more than sufficient. There is no need to solve any books for TOEFL. Directly, start off with the computer tests like Barron’s, Kaplan and Cambridge.  Each of these tests will have individual section of reading, listening, speaking and writing. Solve each section independently and get a hang of all the questions. Notice the type of questions as it is important to get familiar with the type.

- Reading section is pretty simple as it asks you basic questions which can be solved in less than 15 seconds. The only exception in reading is the last question. This question is pretty complicated, time consuming and difficult. But it offers you 3-4 points as well unlike the other questions. GET IT RIGHT!

- Listening is altogether a new section. You haven’t been exposed to this section in any part of any exam. So preparation is also required. It isn’t a difficult section but all you need to do is CONCENTRATE. You need to understand the accent in which they speak. If you are a regular follower of Hollywood movies or Star World shows, the ball is in your court.  You will hear a series of conversations or lectures and you will be asked questions based on it.

Important: Jot down points while listening to the conversation as you don’t get a second chance to hear the same.

- Speaking is one of the important sections and preparing for it will be fun. It’s the shortest section of TOEFL but requires enough preparation. On presenting the 6 tasks to you followed by the questions, WRITE DOWN SOME POINTS while reading or hearing the questions in this section. They expect you to repeat some of the IMPORTANT words. Solve all the questions from Barron’s. If time and mood permits, solve Kaplan and Cambridge.

Note: Students generally score less or sometimes the least in this section. Make sure you do well here as the university often grants you TEACHING ASSISTANTSHIP (TA) based on your speaking exam.

- Writing section doesn’t require you any preparation. You will be happy to reach this section as the horrible 3 hours will soon be over.  It’s the same part which you have been preparing since childhood days - ESSAY. Just see the type of the essays from Barron’s. If your writing and expressing skills are brilliant, you can excel in this section.



Q. What should be the ideal score for TOEFL?

A. Ideally, you should score 100 or above, but a score of 79 is a must, failing which you will have to repeat it.

Q. How do I register for it?

A. You can register online or by phone or by mail. The detailed information about registering for the TOEFL can be found at www.toefl.org

Q. What is the cost of the exam?

A. The cost of the exam is USD 160.

Q. Should I repeat TOEFL, if I get less than 80?

A. Yes, you should repeat TOEFL. Generally universities want a toefl score of +79 but some ask for 100. You might want to identify your universities and their score preferences before you take the exam.

Q. Is TOEFL necessary during the time of application?

A. It’s good if you have already finished your TOEFL exam. TOEFL score matters at the time of VISA and Teaching Assistantship. While filling the forms, they often ask you when you plan to take the TOEFL.

Q. How long is the TOEFL score valid?

A. The score is valid for two years.

Q. How do I report my scores?

A. You have to send your score officially through ETS which will cost you USD 17.

Q. How soon I get my scores?

A. You get your scores online within 2 weeks.

Q. Which other exam I can take, if not TOEFL?

A. You can appear for IELTS, if not TOEFL

Q. Do universities consider photocopies of the GRE scorecard? Do I have to send scores through ETS?

A. No. Photocopies are not accepted. You have to send your scores only through ETS.

Structure of the GRE :

The computer-based General Test is composed of 3 sections:

  1. Verbal Reasoning (English)
  2. Quantitative Reasoning (Math)
  3. Analytical Writing sections (Essays)
Test Pattern :
Section Revised Pattern Changes from previous pattern
Quantitative - Data Sufficiency
- Data Interpretation & Statistics
- Problem Solving
- 2 Sections (20 Q's/35 Minutes per section)
- Calculator Allowed
- No Choice for Problem Solving
- Statistics part of new pattern
- 2 Sections instead of 1 but less time
Verbal - Reading Comprehension
- Sentence Correction
- 2 Sections (20 Q's/30 Minutes per section)
- Stress on Comprehension and Less on Etymology
- 2 Sections instead of 1
- Less Questions but more time as it involves RC
AWA - Issue essay - 30 minutes*
- Argument Essay - 30 Minutes**
Time reduced for Issue essay by 15 minutes rest is all the same
Test Format - No Computer Adaptive Test
- Skipping Questions Permitted
- Skipping questions are NOW ALLOWED.
- Scores not based on Solving the first few questions Correctly.
Scoring Scale 130 -170 with 1 point Increment.  
Score reporting to University 5 Years Validity  

From August 2011, the GRE structure has changed completely.

The AWA section is always first, followed by two Verbal sections and two Quantitative sections, in any order. Basically, you will have two verbal sections and two quantitative sections and will contribute towards your final score.

Note: You will not be informed prior to or during the exam about which section will be taken into account and hence you must give cent percent effort in all the sections.

* For the Issue task, two essay topics will be presented and you will choose one. In this type of essay, you usually agree and disagree with the author. There is no need to take a stand. You can state the pros and cons of the topic.

** The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead, one topic will be presented. In this type of essay, you should disagree with the author. As the name suggests, you should argue with the author’s views.

After all the verbal and quant sections, a research section follows. This section is like essay writing on a topic presented to you. However, it IS NOT evaluated towards the final score. Hence, a lot of people skip this section and proceed to the last part of checking their score.