TOEFL: what is it and where to start?

If English is not your native language and you want to enroll in English-speaking universities, then you probably heard of the TOEFL test. It is a test to measure the English language ability of non-English speakers. TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Easy peasy. But what is not so easy peasy is the test itself. You probably came here for answers, that we, hopefully, will provide in this blog.

What is the TOEFL test?

As explained above, the TOEFL test is an exam for non-English speakers that want to enroll in English-speaking universities. Scores from this test will be used by universities as part of the admissions process. Most of the time, those who take the TOEFL think about attending a graduate school or university abroad. But this exam is not just made for foreigners. Anyone who needs to demonstrate a mastery of English for an academic purpose can take the TOEFL. Mainly, the exam focuses on English in an academic setting. The TOEFLS contains four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing.

What will they test in the TOEFL?

The TOEFL test has four sections and takes 3 to 5 hours to complete. The four sections are reading, listening, speaking and writing. Every section is scored out of 30 points. The total score is the scores of these four sections combined. If you are the most perfect student, you will have a score of 120 points. If you want to know more about good (or bad) TOEFL scores, don’t look further. We have an amazing blog about ‘What is a good TOEFL score’. For now, let’s dive a little deeper in the four TOEFL sections. What are they and what tasks do they contain?

The reading sections is completely multiple choice. For some of us a relieve, for others a complete nightmare. It includes 3 or 4 reading passages, each approximately 700 words long, with 10 questions per passage. The reading passages are excerpts from university-level textbooks that cover a variety of different subjects. You don’t have to know anything about the topics. The information that you need to answer the question is all included in the passage.

This section is all about measuring your ability to understand conversations and lectures in English, such as basic comprehension, pragmatic understanding and connecting and synthesizing information. There are 2 types of listening tasks: lectures and conversations. You listen to 3 or 4 lectures and 2 or 3 conversations. After listening, you will answer questions about the things you just heard.

This will probably be the most complicated part of the exam. In this section they will measure your ability to speak English effectively in academic settings. You have 17 minutes to complete this section. There are 4 tasks that resemble real-life situations. The first question is an independent speaking task, in which you speak about your own interests, experiences and opinions or your thoughts about a particular topic. Questions 2, 3 and 4 are integrated speaking tasks. Here you combine your language skills, just like you would in regular life in grad school.

Just like the speaking section, the writing section has two parts too. One integrated writing task and one independent writing task. For the integrated task you listen to a lecture and read a short passage. Then you will respond to what you just heard and read. The independent writing task contains writing an essay based on personal opinion in respond to a writing topic.

Which schools ask for a TOEFL score?

The TOEFL test is accepted by more than 11.000 universities and institutions in over 150 countries across the world. If you will be an international student in an English-speaking school, you are required to take the TOEFL test. This doesn’t mean that all schools ask for the same results. Some schools will reject your applications immediately when you fail your TOEFL test. Whereas at other schools your lower TOEFL scores may still qualify you for an admission. Also, some programs or schools require higher scores than others. And at last: not all schools require a TOEFL. That is why we’d like to advise you to always check your information with you dream college, university or grad school. After all, they are the ones with all the information you need to attend their school. Or you can use TOEFL Destination Search to find who accepts TOEFL scores.


Good question. It seems like these two tests are the same. Well, we are here to prove you wrong. By now you know what the TOEFL exam is. The IELTS has the same four sections as the TOEFL, although the two exams test the sections in different orders. On the TOEFL you get a score between 0 and 30 for every section. On the IELTS, for each section you will receive a score from 0 to 9. Your total score is an average on those four scores and will also be from 0 to 9.

The IELTS scores are accepted by over 9000 institutions across the world. Although the IELTS is more popular overseas, such as in the UK of Australia. If you want to study in the United States, the TOEFL is more than fine for you.

So, how to decide which test you will take? The most important consideration is to get your information about which exam is accepted by the school you’re interested in. Both the TOEFL and the IELTS are widely accepted at schools around the world. The TOEFL is more commonly accepted by American institutions, while the IELTS is more commonly accepted overseas. But many schools accept scores from either exam. Be aware that a school can have a preference to which exam you take, so always get your information right. Our platform has tons of IELTS summaries and notes for students. Or you can help your fellow students by putting your own IELTS summaries out there! Put them on our IELTS exam page and help students across the world.

Help other students by uploading your TOEFL summaries

Did you decide to go for the TOEFL exam? Then head over to our TOEFL summaries page and find the summary that'll help you out. Or did you already take the TOEFL test and would you like to help other student and earn some easy money? Then check out our TOEFL exam page to download and upload TOEFL summaries and notes. You can do it, folks!