The TOEFL (pronounce toy-full or toe-full) or Test of English as a Foreign Language is an American test designed to establish how well a person speaks English. It is often used by students wishing to attend American universities, etc. Since it was introduced in 1964 almost 20 million students have taken the exam.
It is the American equivalent of the IELTS exam which are more popular amongst students wanting to go British or Australian universities.
These days the TOEFL test consists of 4 papers corresponding to the 4 language skills.
Reading 60 minutes
The reading section consists of 3–5 long passages and questions about the passages. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, sentence restatements, sentence insertion, vocabulary, function and suchlike. New types of questions require paraphrasing, filling out tables, or completing summaries. Generally prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer, though it may help.
Listening 50 minutes
This consists of 6 long passages and questions about the passages. The passages consist of two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. The questions ask the students to determine main ideas, details, function, stance, inferences, and overall organization.
Speaking 20 minutes
This consists of 6 tasks, two independent tasks and four integrated tasks. In the two independent tasks, students must answer opinion questions about some aspect of academic life. In two integrated reading, listening, and speaking tasks, students must read a passage, listen to a passage, and speak about how the ideas in the two passages are related. In two integrated listening and speaking tasks, students must listen to long passages and then summarize and offer opinions on the information in the passages. Test takers are expected to convey information, explain ideas, and defend opinions clearly, coherently, and accurately.
Writing 55 minutes
The Writing Section consists of two tasks, one integrated task and one independent task. In the integrated task, students must read an academic passage, listen to an academic passage, and write about how the ideas in the two passages are related. In the independent task, students must write a personal essay.
Versions & Scores
There are 3 versions of the test: Internet Based (iBT), Computer Based (cBT), Paper Based (pBT).
The iBT has a score between 0 – 120; the cBT is 0 – 300; and the pBT 310 – 677. It costs $130 US to take the cBT; the pBT can be taken be taken at different locations and costs more.
As a rough idea, entry to a prestigious university would require a score of 280 (cBT) or 650 (pBT). Most universities will require a minimum score of around 150 – 250 cBT or 450 – 600 pBT.
There is also the ITP version which is essentially a placement test offered by ETS but used within a university or school to test students and judge their level. It is linked to the CEFR and for internal use only.
The TOEFL test is common and used as a valid indication of ability in English. The score, however, is valid for 2 years only (unlike the IELTS and other similar exams which do not expire).
Amongst students the TOEFL exam has a reputation of being harder than the IELTS.