Standardised Tests – UG

about the toefl exam

What is TOEFL?

Students who wish to study abroad in an English-speaking country are required to take a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). This test assesses one’s ability to speak and understand English by analyzing his/her English language skills in terms of reading, speaking, listening and writing. It evaluates how well one can combine these skills to perform well in academic tasks. TOEFL is accepted as proof of English proficiency across 9,000 colleges and it is conducted more than 50 times in a year by Educational Testing Service (ETS) – a US-based non-profit organization.

TOEFL test format:

TOEFL has two versions: TOEFL IBT (Internet-based Test) and TOEFL PBT (paper-based test). Both the versions of TOEFL test has four sections- Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing and takes about 4-hours to complete. Students can retake the TOEFL test as many times as they wish. It uses both human raters and automated scoring methods for evaluating a student’s performance.

  1. Reading Section– It consists of questions based on 4-6 passages, each approximately 700 words in length. The passages are based on academic topics, and it tests the student’s understanding of concepts such as cause-effect, compare-contrast and argumentation. 36 to 56 questions are asked in this section which must be answered within 60-80 minutes.
  2. Listening section– It consists of questions on six passages which are 3–5 minutes in length. It includes two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. Each conversation and lecture passage can be heard only once. Students are allowed to take notes while they listen, and they may refer to their notes when they answer these questions. The questions measure the ability of the student to understand ideas, important details, implications, organization of information, the speaker’s purpose as well as attitude. 34-51 questions are asked in this section which must be answered within 60-90 minutes.
  3.  Speaking section– It consists of six tasks: two independent and four integrated, which must be completed within 20 minutes. In the two independent tasks, students answer opinion questions on familiar topics. They are evaluated on their ability to speak spontaneously and convey their ideas clearly and coherently. In the four integrated tasks, students are required to read a short passage and listen to an academic course discussion or a conversation about campus life and answer the questions based on what they read and heard. In the integrated tasks, students are evaluated on their ability to effectively convey information from the reading and listening material. Students can take notes as they read and listen and can also refer to them while preparing their responses. The responses are then digitally recorded, sent to ETS’s Online Scoring Network and evaluated by three to six raters.
  4. Writing section– It measures a student’s ability to write in an academic setting and consists of two tasks: one integrated and one independent which must be completed within 60 minutes. For the integrated task, students are required to read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker. The student has to write a summary of the important points and explain how they relate to the key points of the passage. For the independent task, the student has to write an essay that states his opinion or choice and then explain it. The students’ answers are sent to the ETS OSN and evaluated by at least three different raters.

Registration and fees: TOEFL Registration can be Online, by mail, by phone and in person; however, a majority of candidates apply for TOEFL online.

  • Registration is available three to four months before the test date. It is advisable to register early to reserve a seat and prevent last minute rush.
  • The test fee depends on the location where the student will be taking the test.
  •  Generally, the registration deadline is seven days prior to the test date (not including the day of the test).
  • The last date for registration is three full days before the test date (not including the day of the test or the day of the request).
  • Registration payment methods:
    • Credit/debit cards (American Express, Discover, JCB, MasterCard or Visa)
    • Electronic check (e-check)
    • PayPal About the TOEFL Exam
    • TOEFL voucher

What to bring on the test day? 

Students must bring two things to the test centre:

  1. Registration Number: The registration number is given on the Registration Confirmation in the online account the day before the test.
  2. Valid, acceptable identification (ID) document(s): It is advisable to bring at least two forms of acceptable ID each time students report to a test centre.

The ID document must include:

  • Original document; photocopies are not acceptable
  •  Student’s full name that matches the name they have used while registering
  •  A recent photograph of the student
  • Student’s signature

If a student does not bring a valid and acceptable ID, or if the name on the ID does not match the name given during the registration, then the student will not be permitted to take the test, and the test fee will not be refunded.

TOEFL Scores:

 Scores are based on the students’ performance in the test. They must answer at least one question each in the Reading and Listening sections, write at least one essay, and complete at least one Speaking task to receive an official score. The scores will be posted online approximately ten days after the test date.

  • Students will receive a score ranging between 0 to 30 for all the four sections and a total score ranging between 0 to 120 for the entire test. These scores will be valid for two years after the test date.  The scores will be available in 10 days, and students can view them online easily.
  • A paper score report is also mailed if a student selects that option when he registers.
  • Scores can be sent for free to maximum four institutions which students select prior to their test day.
  • Students can take the test again to improve their scores. There is no limit to the number of times they can take the test, but they cannot take it more than once within a 12-day period.

Cancellation of Scores: 

  • If a student cancels his scores, the scores will not be reported to him or any of the institutions and his test fee will not be refunded. Cancelled scores are not added to the student’s permanent record. A student cannot cancel his scores for one section and have scores for other sections reported. However, there is no fee for cancelling the scores.
  • Cancelled scores can be reinstated for a fee, if a student’s request is received at ETS within 60 days after his test date. Reinstated scores are reported online about three weeks after receipt of his request and payment. His scores will then be provided to him and the designated institutions.

TOEFL scholarships are also awarded to students from Mainland China, India, Japan, Korea or Taiwan for achieving academic excellence and demonstrating English-communication proficiency.


What is IELTS?

The International English language testing system (IELTS) is a popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. IELTS assesses the test taker’s English skills with respect to reading, writing, listening and speaking. It is accepted by over 9,000 organizations worldwide, including schools, universities, immigration authorities, and professional bodies.

The two versions of IELTS are – the Academic IELTS and the General Training IELTS. The Academic IELTS is for people who wish to study abroad and the General Training IELTS is  for people who want to follow a non-academic course or for immigration purposes.

IELTS Test Format and Scores:

The duration of the IELTS exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it consists of four sections, which tests the candidate’s listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

  1. The Listening Test:

In the listening test, students have to listen to a pre-recorded passage. This test is the same for both the IELTS versions – Academic as well as General Training. The duration of the test is approximately 30 minutes and students are allowed an extra 10 minutes to write their answers in the answer sheet provided.

 The IELTS Listening test assesses a wide range of listening skills, including how well the students –

  • understand the main ideas as well as the specific information
  • recognize the opinions, attitudes and purpose of a speaker
  • follow the development of an argument

The IELTS Listening test has four sections, wherein students answer questions based on –

  1. A conversation between two people.
  2. A monologue set in an everyday situation.
  3. A conversation between some people set in an educational or training context.
  4. A monologue on an academic subject.

However, each section can only be heard once.


40 questions are asked in this test, and students may have to answer multiple choice questions, fill in the blanks, complete a table or a flow chart or give short answers.


Every correct answer is awarded one mark. The scores out of a total of 40 are then converted into the IELTS 9-band scale.

  1. The Reading Test:

Students are required to read three different passages and answer questions based on them. The content of the Reading test is different for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests. The duration for this test is 60 minutes.

The Reading test assesses a wide range of reading skills, including how well a student can –

  • Read and obtain a general sense of a passage along with the details and main ideas.
  • Understand inferences and implied meaning
  • Recognize a writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose
  • Follow the development of an argument

The IELTS Academic Reading test has three sections, and each one contains one long text, which is taken from books, magazines or newspapers. The text might be accompanied by diagrams, graphs or illustrations, and students are expected to understand both.


40 questions are asked in this test and students may be asked to answer multiple choice questions, fill gaps in a passage of written text or a table, complete sentences or give short answers to open questions.


Every correct answer is awarded one mark. The scores out of a total of 40 are then converted into the IELTS 9-band scale.

  1. The Writing Test:

The writing test is designed to assess a wide range of writing skills, including how well a student can organize ideas, write meaningful and relevant answers, and use a range of vocabulary with grammatical accuracy. The duration of the Writing test is 60 minutes.

The writing test has two tasks, wherein students will be asked to write at least 150 words for the first task and at least 250 words for the second one. In the first task, students will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and they have to describe, summarize or explain it in their own words. In the second task, they have to write an essay based on a point of view, argument or problem.


The scoring for the Writing test is done by a certified IELTS examiner. The scores are reported in whole and half bands.

  1. The Speaking Test:

In this test, students have to talk to a certified examiner. The test is interactive and as close to a real-life situation as possible. The test is recorded and a variety of accents may be used. The content of the Speaking Test is the same for both the IELTS test versions. The Speaking test takes 11-14 minutes.

The Speaking test assesses a wide range of skills. The objective of this test is to see how well students can –

  • Express opinions and communicate information on everyday topics by answering a range of questions.
  • Speak on a given topic using appropriate language
  • Express ideas coherently and justify their opinions
  • Analyze and discuss issues.

The Speaking test has three sections:

Part 1– In this section, the examiner will introduce himself and ask the student to introduce himself and confirm his identity. The examiner then asks general questions about the student’s family, work, studies and interests. The duration is 4-5 minutes.

Part 2– In this section, the examiner gives a task card and asks the student to talk about a particular topic, giving him one minute to prepare notes. Then the student will be asked to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic and the examiner will ask a few questions on the same topic.

Part 3– In this section, the examiner will ask the student further questions, which are connected to the topic of Part 2. The questions are designed to give the student an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas.


Certified IELTS examiners assess the students’ performance in this test. Students will be marked on the following four criteria –

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammar
  • Pronunciation

The scores are then reported in the form of a 9 band scale.

Cost of IELTS:

The IELTS test fees vary from country to country, but it is the same for both the versions of the test (Academic and General Training).

IELTS Test Day:

Students can apply to take the IELTS exam at any IELTS Administration Centre. They must ensure that they have the right ID with them. If they bring the wrong ID, they will not be allowed to take the test. Students must carry two recent identical passport-sized photographs as well. Only a pen or pencil, eraser and the ID will be allowed in the exam centre.

Understanding IELTS Scores:

Students receive a score for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The individual scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score. IELTS is scored on a nine-band scale; wherein each band signifies a student’s competence in the English language. The overall band scores are then reported to the nearest half band. This means that the score is rounded up to the next half band if it ends in .25 and it is rounded up to the next whole band if it ends in .75. Students must note that most of the ivy league colleges in the U.S. require a minimum score of around 7.0.

IELTS Results:

IELTS test results are provided 13 calendar days after the test date. An Overall Band Score from 1-9, along with a band score for each of the 4 sections of the test is provided.

If a student has nominated institutions to provide copies of the IELTS test results during registration, then the results will be sent automatically on his behalf. Students must note that the Test Report Forms will be valid for two years only.

If a student wishes to take the exam again, he does not have to wait for any mandatory period to elapse in order to re-take the exam. Also, there is no limit to the number of times a student can give the IELTS exam.

If a student is not happy with his result, he can apply for a re-examination, which is known as an Enquiry on Results, within six weeks of the test date. However, he will have to pay an inquiry fee, which will be fully refunded if the band score is changed post the re-examination.

How to register for the TOEFL iBT exam

TOEFL Vs IELTS – Which one is better for me?

Effective communication in English involves much more than understanding grammatical conventions. The education system in most western countries is highly collaborative and research oriented.  Therefore, students are required to understand the contextual and colloquial usage of English. This is why most acclaimed universities expect students to have a strong command over the communicative aspects of English.  Being able to express your ideas cogently in succinct language is a sought-after skill.  Moreover, the ability to read, comprehend and respond to huge volumes of library reference material ensures a student’s success in academic and research undertakings.  Hence higher education aspirants from countries where English is not the first language need to exhibit the required proficiency in English in order to become a part of an international classroom setting.

On this account, the two standardized English language testing systems, which are widely accepted in most of the foreign universities i.e. IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) are sought out by students and professionals alike. The IELTS and TOEFL are similar in many ways. Both IELTS and TOEFL gauge the student’s skills in the four linguistic competencies — Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing.  Both are widely accepted all over the world. So the on-going debate of which test to take has become a moot point amongst aspirants.

Simplifying the matter, the choice between TOEFL and IELTS depends on the following criteria:

  1. a) Your destination
  2. b) Your purpose
  3. c) Your specific strengths and weaknesses

Firstly, if you are going to the US or Canada for higher education, then TOEFL should emerge as your first choice.  The reason for this is pretty simple. TOEFL is administered by ETS (English testing service) and lays special emphasis on testing a student’s understanding of US English, specifically in an academic context. For instance, the audio recordings in the TOEFL listening section are mostly in the North American accent. The TOEFL integrated writing and integrated speaking sections test how well a student can grasp and work within the usage of English in an academic setting. So performing well in TOEFL would not only clear your pathway to a top school in US or Canada, it would also boost your confidence in your ability to communicate well in US English and to be able to flourish specifically in the US or Canadian Academic environment.

However, if you are headed for UK or Australia for higher education, you might want to consider taking IELTS instead of TOEFL. Again, the reason is closely related to the test content. IELTS is jointly conducted by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British Council, and IDP Education Australia.  It predominantly focuses on testing a student’s understanding of UK English. The listening section consists of audio clips that are in Australian, UK or other European accents.

Furthermore, The IELTS proves to be the correct choice for those who wish to immigrate permanently to Canada, Australia, and any European country via the direct work permit route. The IELTS- General Training is designed especially for such candidates. The questions in the IELTS General training test are more relevant to everyday social interactions. They focus on ‘Social Survival’, ‘Workplace Survival’ and ‘General Reading’. Thus, such students, whose prime focus is immigration may find IELTS more suitable for developing ‘social’ linguistic skills as opposed to TOEFL which might be more useful for developing skills required to adapt to an ‘academic’ setting.

Apart from these major factors, the following minor considerations in terms of format may also help you make the right choice.

  • The primary difference between IELTS and TOEFL lies in the way speaking capabilities are tested. IELTS requires you to speak to a human voice, and there is a real-time communication happening between the examiner and the examinee. TOEFL necessitates your answer into a microphone and the conversation is recorded and subsequently reviewed by a panel of examiners. So if you prefer actual conversation instead of speaking to a computer then you should choose IELTS. Moreover, students who face speaking challenges such as stammering or stuttering may choose IELTS.  Since the IELTS speaking test is a face to face conversation, the speaking disability would most probably be noticed and accounted for. In the TOEFL test, however, the student’s speaking challenge may go unnoticed and be considered as a skill related problem.
  • TOEFL questions are all multiple choice questions, whereas IELTS has various types of questions like sentence completion, true or false, match the following etc. While some may find the TOEFL monotonous, others may like it specifically because they don’t have to worry about different question types.
  • Time taken for the TOEFL exam is close to four hours, and IELTS takes two hours 45 minutes. While the duration of the test is in no way indicative of its level of toughness, students with weaknesses in a particular skill- sets may benefit from choosing a particular test over the other.  For example, if a student has problems reading huge passages in quick succession and cannot sustain interest for a long time, the IELTS test might be a good choice for him/her.  The TOEFL reading section may require him to read the 4th passage while the IELTS academic reading test contains only 3 passages.

To conclude, whether you should take TOEFL or IELTS is mostly a matter of opinion and individual preference. While TOEFL is more popular in North American countries, IELTS has wider acceptance globally especially in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  You must do a thorough research on the testing requirements of the universities you intend to attend. While some may accept both, others may give preference to one over the other. It is always a good idea to get a clear picture before you seal your decision.

What is a good score in TOEFL

This article is about understanding the TOEFL requirements of the Universities and thereby answering “What is a Good Score in TOEFL?” 

TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language is a standardised test to measure the applicant’s proficiency in English. TOEFL is recognized by more than 9,000 colleges, universities and organizations and other TOEFL participating institutes across 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States.

Each section has a score of 30, for a total overall score of 120. You don’t pass or fail the TOEFL. Sometimes universities require a specific score for each section of the test, for example, 24 out of 30 in the speaking section. The score levels for the various sections are as mentioned below:

Sections Score Range Level
Listening Section 0–30 High (22–30)
Intermediate (15–21)
Low (0–14)
Speaking Section 0–30 Good (26–30)
Fair (18–25)
Limited (10–17)
Weak (0–9)
Reading Section 0–30 High (22–30)
Intermediate (15–21)
Low (0–14)
Writing Section 0–30 Good (24–30)
Fair (17–23)
Limited (1–16)
Total TOEFL Scores 0–120

The best definition of a good TOEFL score is that it should get you into your school of choice. Most colleges have a cut off TOEFL score, or a minimum score that you must meet in order for your application to be considered. Sometimes meeting this cut off score is enough for the school to feel confident about your English skills, but there are cases where it is recommended that you score higher than the cut-off score to improve your chances of being admitted. Some schools are more accommodating and flexible and ask for alternative requirements if you fail to meet their TOEFL cut-off score. Hence, before you begin studying for the TOEFL, it’s a good idea to know the score that you need to achieve. Here is a list of the minimum score required by some colleges in the USA.

College Name Minimum Score
Arizona State University 61
Boston University 95
Carnegie Mellon University 100
Case Western Reserve University 80
Clemson University 79 – 80
Columbia University 100
Cornell University 100
Florida Institute of Technology 71
George Mason University 88-100
George Washington University 80
Georgia Institute of Technology 79
Harvard University 100
Illinois Institute of Technology 80
Purdue University–Indianapolis Undergraduate: 61

Graduate: 79

Johns Hopkins University 100
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 100+
Michigan State University 79 (No section below 17)
Michigan Technological University 79
New Jersey Institute of Technology 79
North Carolina State University–Raleigh 80
Northwestern University 111
Ohio State University–Columbus 71
Pace University Undergraduate: 88/89

Graduate: 90

Purdue University–West Lafayette
77* (*Writing 18 Speaking 18 Listening 14 Reading 19
Note that in addition to required minimum scores for writing, speaking, listening, and reading, the Graduate School also requires a minimum overall score that is higher than the minimums for the four area tests combined.)
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–New Brunswick 83 (*Writing 22 Speaking 23 Reading 21 Listening 17)
Stanford University 100
Stevens Institute of Technology 61
SUNY–Stony Brook 80
Syracuse University 80
Texas A&M University–College Station 100
University at Buffalo–SUNY 79
University of California–Berkeley 78
University of California–Irvine 80
University of California–Los Angeles 87 (Writing: 25 Speaking: 24 Reading: 21 Listening: 17) 

 Now that you have figured out what your minimum score should be here are some tips that will help you in your prep –

  • TOEFL is a physically taxing exam. Since it involves constant listening through headphones, some students who are not used to this, may find it exhausting.  Hence, students must take at least 5 mock tests in order to accustom themselves to the fatigue that might set in.
  • When you are preparing for the TOEFL, it is not good enough to just listen to and read things that you enjoy and are interested in. You need to read extensively to build your vocabulary. Three excellent resources on the Internet are BBC News, NPR, and VOA News.
  • Learn how to take good notes.

As you can hear the clip only once – take down the essential points. Try symbols and shorthand

  • Practice pronunciation. There are lots of videos freely available over the internet that will help you improve on your pronunciation.
  • Practice writing essays in the English format
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Take the test at least twice, if not more.

The above information would help you understand, plan and systematically work towards meeting your desired TOEFL scores. This would increase your eligibility for the desired program and help you get admission in your dream university.

References: What is a good score in TOEFL

The Wikipedia Article What is a good score in TOEFL

The Test Magic TOEFL FAQ

Score Use: Setting Score Requirements for the TOEFL iBT


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