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Step-by-Step Guideline for the TOEFL

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Step-by-Step Guideline for the TOEFL

Jul 25, 2022Date Published
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Guideline for the TOEFL

Looking into studying abroad? In that case, there’s a high chance you have come across TOEFL requirements. Since many major study abroad destinations are English-speaking countries, institutions from immigration services down to universities want to verify your ability in the most widely-used medium of communication there. In some cases, your proficiency in the English language is what seals the deal for your application to study abroad. Since this is such an important component of the groundwork you need as an international student, we’ve put together a step-by-step guideline for the TOEFL to get you started!

What is the TOEFL?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is widely recognised by institutions and countries worldwide as a valid measure of a non-native speaker’s ability in English! 

So, what is the purpose of the TOEFL? English is the primary language of instruction in major study abroad countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. Plus, it’s the language most people speak to get around, in the workplace and in everyday life. In turn, this means that your ability with the English language gives higher education institutions an idea of how well you’ll do in an English-speaking academic environment. It also lets institutions like immigration services know how well you’ll be able to function as a regular member of society in that country. As such, over 11,500 institutions in more than 160 countries accept TOEFL scores as valid proof of your English language ability!

In fact, institutions in some countries show a strong preference for TOEFL scores over other English language proficiency tests. Nine of ten US universities have a preference for this test, accepting proportionately more TOEFL scores compared to scores of other English proficiency tests put together. The same goes for Canadian universities, with about 80% of graduate programs preferring TOEFL scores over their counterparts.

Elsewhere, too, the TOEFL is one of the key sets of test scores recognised as proof of English ability. All universities in Australia and New Zealand accept this test. Their respective immigration services do, as well. In the UK, nearly 98% of all universities recognise TOEFL scores, including all of the esteemed Russell Group universities.

Which TOEFL Option is Right for Me?

Alongside the widespread acceptance of TOEFL scores, another perk is the variety of options test-takers have available. You can choose from two types of tests:

  • TOEFL iBT - this version tests you on 100% academic content. The test is longer and has a greater focus on a traditional academic approach, compared to its alternative. If you’re aiming to pursue high academic standards and specialise in a technical field, this may be the right test for you. You can choose to take the TOEFL iBT at a test centre, at home, or a combination of both 

  • TOEFL Essentials - this test takes a more balanced approach in gauging your English ability. It splits the content in half between academic English and general English. It’s also much shorter than the iBT version and has different score boundaries. You can take this test in its entirety at home

Many universities accept test scores from both TOEFL versions. Nonetheless, some universities and programs specify which version of the TOEFL they prefer for their candidates. When doing your research, do take note of this information. Ultimately, this might be the deciding factor regarding which test you end up taking. The choice also depends partially on what’s available to you. So, let’s find out a little more about these two versions, shall we?

Breaking Down the TOEFL iBT

For serious scholars with solid ambitions to expand their higher education, this is typically the test you’d go for. The test is approximately three hours long, and evaluates your skills in four main areas:

  • Reading

  • Listening

  • Speaking

  • Writing

You can opt to take the TOEFL iBT test in one of three ways. The content and scoring of the tests stay the same across all three test-taking methods:

  • TOEFL iBT - you sit the test via computer, at an authorised TOEFL test centre

  • Home Edition - you can sit the test via a computer in your home, under the supervision of a proctor

  • Paper Edition - you take a written, paper-based test for the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections at an authorised TOEFL centre. You then complete the Speaking portion via computer at home

Here’s the overview of the content you can expect across these tests:




You will read passages and answer corresponding questions

Components: 30-40 questions

Duration: 54-72 minutes


You listen to audio excerpts of lectures or classroom discussions and answer questions based on what you hear

Components: 28-39 questions

Duration: 41-57 minutes

10-minute break


You’ll verbally discuss items you’re familiar with, including material you’ve read or listened to, while speaking into a microphone

Components: 4 tasks

Duration: 17 minutes


You will read the given text, listen to an audio excerpt, and write up your corresponding answers or responses

Components: 2 tasks

Duration: 50 minutes

What to Expect from the Computer-Based TOEFL iBT

An upside of this version is that you get to sit the test in one go, rather than two separate sittings. It’s also the ideal option if you don’t have the hardware available for the Home Edition. When you complete your test, you get to see the unofficial results for the Reading and Listening sections right away. A combination of AI-driven scoring and several human raters look over your Speaking and Writing sections. This balance of machine- and human-rating helps remove bias and ensure fair, standardised grading. 

What to Expect from the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition

The Paper Edition of the test is available only at limited locations. At the time of writing, Colombia, India, Mexico, and the USA will start holding the revised paper-based tests starting at the end of 2021. Other countries are due to join the list soon!

So how is the paper-based test different from the computer-based test? Rather than sitting the full thing in one sitting, you need to sit for them in two. You’ll take the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections at the test centre. And of course, you’ll answer these sections on paper, rather than on a computer. Unlike the computer version, human raters exclusively score the Writing section for the Paper Edition. 

The Speaking portion of the test happens at home, within three days of the rest of the test. To make sure the test is taking place under the right conditions, a proctor will remotely monitor the full process. For the revised paper-based test, each section has a maximum possible score of 30, with no total score.

What to Expect from the TOEFL iBT Home Edition

You undertake the same test as you would at the test centre, but on a computer at home. The full process happens under the supervision of a proctor, like the Speaking section of the Paper Edition. 

This is one of the advantages of the TOEFL compared to other major English proficiency tests. Because you have the option to do a part of the test, or the full thing, at home, the options you have for taking the test are wider. You essentially take the same test as you would at the test centre, but through a computer at home, under full supervision of a proctor.


  • You’ll have to run several ProctorU Equipment Checks to make sure your computer is suitable and ready for the test

  • During the test, you have to keep all other windows, browsers, and apps, except those you have authorisation for, closed

  • You’ll give your proctor access to your computer screen, so they can monitor what you’re doing as you take the test

  • Before you begin the test, you have to show your proctor that your surroundings meet exam-room standards:

    • You will need to show your proctor your ID proof. The name on your ID must be the same as the name of your ETS account

    • There must be nothing on, around, or below your desk or the walls surrounding you. Your proctor will ask you to move your camera or webcam-enabled laptop around 360-degrees to inspect this

    • Your computer and screen must not have any authorised item on or around them. You will confirm this with your proctor by holding up a hand-held mirror, or your phone, to show your proctor your screen

    • The room you’re in must be well-lit, so your proctor can see you. You must also be in a quiet, private location, with the door in the proctor’s line of sight

  • During the exam, you must stay in full view of the camera. Any movement the proctor can’t catch might count against you

  • The test begins once the proctor launches the test browser and helps you access the test through the ETS ID and password

If there isn’t a convenient test centre near you, the Home Edition is a great alternative. You’ll have to make sure your computer and internet connection are up to par, though, to make sure you don’t run into any technical difficulties. You also need to make sure you check in within 12 minutes of your scheduled appointment time. If you miss this slot, your test expires and you can’t get a refund.

Again, before you select which version of the test you’re going to do, check which tests your university or program accepts! And speaking of university requirements - 

Understanding Your TOEFL iBT Score

The TOEFL iBT score breakdowns are different from the TOEFL Essential Scores. The overall score of all three versions of the TOEFL iBT falls between 0 and 120. Each of the four sections, meanwhile, will have scores falling between 0 and 30. Your proficiency level in English corresponds to the range within which your score falls. Take a look at the breakdown below for each of the four sections:


Proficiency Level 


24-20 - Advanced

18-23 - High-Intermediate

4-17 - Low-Intermediate

0-3 - Below Low-Intermediate


22-30 - Advanced

17-21 - High-Intermediate

9-16 - Low-Intermediate

0-8 - Below Low-Intermediate


22-30 - Advanced

17-21 - High-Intermediate

9-16 - Low-Intermediate

10-15 - Basic

0-9 - Below Basic


24-30 - Advanced

17-23 - High-Intermediate

13-16 - Low-Intermediate

7-12 - Basic

0-6 - Below Basic

Depending on which version of the TOEFL iBT you took, you can get your results anywhere between less than a week and a fortnight. If you took the test at:

  • The test centre - you’ll get your results on your ETS account within six days of taking the test

  • Home (Home Edition) - you’ll get the results on your ETS account within six to ten days of taking the test

  • The test centre and at home (Paper Edition) - you’ll get your results on your ETS account within 11 to 13 business days of taking the test

Breaking Down TOEFL Essentials

This version of the test is pretty different from the TOEFL iBT. Nonetheless, a growing number of universities and other institutions are accepting TOEFL Essentials scores! Take a look at a breakdown of this test pathway, to see if you prefer this version.

The TOEFL Essentials version is entirely home-based and takes half the time as TOEFL iBT. The 1.5-hour test evaluates the same four skills as the iBT version:

  • Reading

  • Listening

  • Speaking

  • Writing

Alongside these four sections, you record a five-minute Personal Video Statement. This isn’t a graded component, but rather a great opportunity to spotlight your personality and potential to your chosen university’s admissions officers.




You’ll listen to audio excerpts of conversations and scenarios in various settings and answer corresponding questions

Components: 30-45 questions

Duration: 21-34 minutes


You’ll answer questions based on short texts, both academic and non-academic 

Components: 30-45 questions

Duration: 22-33 minutes


You will structure sentences and respond to academic and non-academic, everyday scenarios

Components: 15-19 questions, 2 tasks

Duration: 24-30 minutes


You answer questions verbally in a simulated virtual discussion, responding to a pre-recorded interviewer for a more interactive experience

Components: 3 tasks, with 19 responses

Duration: 13 minutes

Personal Video Statement

In this ungraded segment, you respond to questions about yourself, and express your ideas and opinions on given prompts

Components: 2

Duration: 5 minutes

The scoring system is rather different from the TOEFL iBT test as well. Each of the four sections falls within a score of 1 to 12. The overall score is the average of the section scores, also expressed between 1 to 12. 

To get an idea of what the equivalent score bands compared to the TOEFL iBT scores look like, here’s a chart for reference:

CEFR Level

TOEFL Essentials Overall Band Score (1-12)

TOEFL iBT Total Score (0-120)



















Below A1



How Can I Meet Specific TOEFL Requirements?

In some cases, universities will ask for a specific minimum score requirement for each of the four sections. Say that you took the test once already, but missed the target score by a bit. Here’s where the MyBest Scores option comes in! 

Also known as superscores, this option lets you combine your best scores across the tests you take. This way, you have the opportunity to pick the section scores best matching the target requirements you’re trying to meet! There’s no limit to how many times you can sit for your TOEFL. The earliest you can sit for another session is after three days of one test date.

How Can I Prepare for the TOEFL?

With all these TOEFL guidelines out of the way, the next thing to tackle is actually sitting for the test. Looking at all the questions you’ll be answering, you might be wondering, “Is the TOEFL difficult?” The answer to this is rather subjective. Remember, firstly, that the TOEFL isn’t quizzing you on your knowledge and background of the topics you’ll come across. The test looks at your understanding and skill of the language - how well you grasp and communicate information and ideas in English. Ultimately, it often comes down to how prepared you are when doing the test.

Whether or not you’re confident in your English abilities, our biggest recommendation is to practice. There are lots of resources available, both from ETS and from us, to help you get familiar with the TOEFL format and content. Since the structure of the exam is so specific, getting used to it early on means you’re not thrown off when you begin the test. Plus, growing accustomed to the format helps you stay calm and think critically about the actual contents of the test, instead of trying to adjust to the test medium.

Here are a couple of the best resources on how to prepare for the TOEFL:

TOEFL Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide

This free course contains a plethora of resources to help you prep. The course helps you get familiar with each section of the test and contains quizzes for practice. You can even check the scaled-score ranges for your practice Speaking and Writing questions! This gives you a good grasp of the level you’re at already, and where you need to go. The course contains videos, expert tips, and discussion boards to give you all-around support as you prepare for your TOEFL.

TOEFL iBT Free Practice Test

This great resource lets you get a taste of the real thing by answering past TOEFL questions as often as you like. You can compare your answers with the correct ones for the Reading and Listening sections, and look into sample responses for the Writing and Listening sections too! This handy practice tool is great at helping you get familiar with the test format, as well as pick up strategies to score better.

TOEFL iBT Practice Edition Practice Test

This downloadable test comes complete with audio files and transcripts as well as real past questions for the paper-based test. Practicing these quizzes for the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections helps you become familiar with the format of the test as well as how best to answer for the best scores.

TOEFL iBT Practice Sets

Struggling with a particular section? Or want to practice each section in turn? You can download free practice sets for each TOEFL iBT section! As these are also real past questions, you can work on maximising your scores for each section one by one.

TOEFL Practice Online

All the other options on this list involve a measure of self-scoring. If you want to go all out though, the TOEFL Practice Online resource is perfect for you. You can take this test on a computer with an internet connection at any time of the day. This practice test perfectly simulates what sitting for a real TOEFL iBT test is like. And best of all, you get your scores for each section, as well as feedback on your performance, within 24 hours. This is immensely helpful in giving you a good idea of how you’ll perform even before you sit for the test. 

TOEFL iBT Books and Guides

ETS also offers several collections of practice test books as well as handy test prep guide books for purchase. These exhaustive resources cover hundreds of practice questions and insider tips for success!

Workshops and Other Resources

From eLearning courses and ebooks to live workshops, both online and offline, UniSearch offers a range of options for students preparing to sit for their TOEFL.

How Can I Register for the TOEFL?


First things first, you need to create an ETS account. You can then look into the test locations and dates available to you, and book yourself a test! Test centres hold TOEFL iBT tests over 60 times a year

If you don’t find a test centre nearby, or a time slot that works for you, you can also opt for the Home Edition. This test is available 24 hours a day, four days a week. You might get an appointment for your test within a day of registering!

Lastly, the Paper Edition is currently available in limited locations, namely: Colombia, India, Mexico, and the USA. They’re also less frequently available, with around 1-2 sessions a month. If you choose this option, you have to register for two separate sessions - one for Reading, Writing, and Listening, and the other for Speaking. 

If you’re opting for either the Paper or Home Editions, do make sure that the hardware you’ll be using meets ETS requirements before you register!

TOEFL Essentials

Currently, TOEFL Essentials is only available one day a week, for 24 hours. You may register through your ETS account, with your ID on hand. Like the Paper and Home Editions for the TOEFL iBT, you also need to make sure you meet the Equipment and Environment Requirements to qualify for taking the test at home. 

Registering for the TOEFL does cost a fee, but this varies depending on your location and the test you’re taking!

Our Concluding Thoughts on the Step-by-Step Guidelines for the TOEFL

At a glance, this might feel like a lot of information to unpack and a lot of steps to take. But do this right, and you bring yourself a massive step closer to living out your study abroad dreams. Hopefully, our comprehensive TOEFL exam guidelines have covered all the bases for you. Stay calm, take advantage of all the free or otherwise resources available, and make sure you’re taking the test with your goal in mind. A great TOEFL scorecard isn’t just a requirement to get into your dream school. It could be critical in getting your travel documents, jobs, and even further education opportunities too!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do my TOEFL results expire after a while?

Yes, they do. Your TOEFL scores will be valid for up to two years after you get your results. 

How do I get my TOEFL results?

You can check your TOEFL score online through your ETS account, between 6 days and 2 weeks after sitting the test. You can also request a physical copy of the results in the mail.

When do I get my IELTS results?

If you sit for the TOEFL iBT option at a test centre, you’ll get your results within six days. For the Paper Edition, the results may take between six to ten days. And lastly, for the Home Edition, you can expect your results after 11 to 13 business days after the test.

If you take the TOEFL Essentials instead, you can expect your results within six days of taking the test!

Can I redo my TOEFL?

Yes! You can retake your TOEFL as many times as you need to, to hit your target scores. Through the MyBest Scores option, you can also combine your best section scores across different tests to hit specific score combination requirements!

Which TOEFL test should I take?

This depends on several factors. If you’re aiming for high academic qualifications and specialising in a scholarly or technical field, TOEFL iBT might suit you best. This features 100% academic content in its testing and specifically evaluates your ability in English against academic standards. For students seeking a more balanced approach between educational and social contexts, the TOEFL Essentials test may work better. This balances out the content between academic and non-academic material. 

Nonetheless, which test you need to take might ultimately come down to what your chosen university or program is looking for. In some cases, schools exclusively ask for TOEFL iBT scores. Be sure to look into the requirements before making your choice