The TOEFL is how we commonly refer to the Test of English as a Foreign Language. A qualifying score on the TOEFL (pronounced ‘toe-fel') is required by many U.S. colleges and universities before non-native speakers of English can be admitted to their schools.  Theoretically the test measures the ability of the test-taker to understand and function successfully in an English-speaking college-level academic setting. 

The test has been used since 1964 and is now offered world-wide. It has been taken by millions of students.  It was developed and is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

It currently has three distinct formats: 


The Internet-based exam is the newest and features a speaking section that tests the applicants’ ability to convey information, defend opinions and explain ideas clearly coherently and accurately.  Note-taking is permitted.  Although some tasks may require that the test-taker know and use multiple skills each test section addresses the following general language skills:

After reading academic passages, the student is expected to answer questions related to the passages’ content and the author’s intent and inferences.  Paraphrasing, completing summaries and tables may be required as well.  Some topical knowledge may be helpful.

Using conversations and lectures, this section tests the student’s grasp of content, intent of phrases and the speaker’s attitude and meaning.

This new section asks the test taker to respond to written and spoken passages and conversations orally.  The student may also be expected to relate personal experiences and preferences.

A short essay is expected to be written by the test taker defending a specific position introduced in the context of a general topic.   Another task may ask the student to elaborate on issues introduced in a lecture and a written passage.


The computer-based test is computer-adaptive, meaning that the difficulty level of each question depends on the correctness of previous responses.  It consists of:

Listening Comprehension
Tasks in this section may involve short conversations in an academic setting between students or students and a lecturer.  Understand what is being said and be prepared for ‘who said what’ questions.

Structure (grammar)
The test taker is asked to identify sentence errors and fill in the blanks with the appropriate word or phrase.

Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary
After having read 3-4 passages, the student is asked questions about the content of the reading, the author’s intent and what can be inferred from what was written.

Essay Writing
The test taker is expected to write an essay on a given general topic.  Take a stand and explain (defend) your position. 


The paper-based test is essentially the same as the CBT (but not computer adaptive, of course) and is given where the iBT and CBT are not offered. It is rarely used and is being phased out.

As with any successful generally-accepted standard, the TOEFL has attracted much criticism.   It is not the role of this website to evaluate each criticism but to make you aware that they exist and may make valid points.  The fact that the TOEFL is widely accepted means that, in many cases it must be completed and the results submitted to the test taker’s choice for a university.  The goal of this website is to help the test taker become better prepared to enter the U.S. or Canadian university.

For more information about the TOEFL exam click here.



Last Updated: November 10, 2016