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TOEFL Exam Preparation – Everything You Need to Know

English language proficiency is a standard requirement for university admissions abroad. Universities want to know that you can understand and communicate in the main language of learning. This is why most study abroad universities ask you to take English language proficiency tests. And since you’re here, you already know one of the popular ones – the ETS TOEFL exam! Gradstar experts break down everything you need to know about TOEFL exam preparation below.


What is the ETS TOEFL Test and Why Do I Need it To Study Abroad?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language, which you probably know better as the TOEFL, evaluates the ability of non-native speakers in the English language. Over 12,000 universities globally accept TOEFL test results as proof of your English proficiency.

Proving your ability in the English language is a necessary part of your study abroad application. Universities and immigration authorities want to know that you can succeed in class and daily life in the major language of learning and communication. English proficiency test scores are an indicator of your potential for success.

Alongside IELTS Academic and PTE Academic, TOEFL iBT is one of the most popular English tests worldwide. Testing is available in over 200 countries and territories around the world.


Types of TOEFL Tests


The TOEFL iBT measures your ability in English in a classroom environment, accurate to the language you’ll encounter in a university setting abroad. The test covers four skills: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.

There are three main ways you can take the TOEFL iBT:


You will take the test at a test centre, on a computer

TOEFL iBT Home Edition

If you do not have access to a test center close to you, you can also take the test at home. You will do so on a computer – this device will need to meet ETS’ device specs to run the test. You will also need to meet other requirements, like securing a quiet and private place to take the test, having a good quality webcam and headset with microphone, etc.

TOEFL iBT Paper Edition

This paper-based test takes place in two sessions. You complete the Reading, Listening, and Writing sections on paper at a test center. You will take the Speaking section on a computer, at home. Like the Home Edition test, your devices and testing environment will need to meet ETS requirements.


TOEFL Essentials

The TOEFL Essentials test scores your ability in the English language across four skills: Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking. Unlike the TOEFL iBT, this test evaluates language use in both academic and daily life settings.

The Essentials version of the test has the perk of being shorter (1.5 hours overall) and more affordable than other competing tests. More and more universities are accepting TOEFL Essentials scores as proof of your English ability. Before you commit to this version of the TOEFL, be sure to check if your chosen university accepts TOEFL Essentials scores.


Comparing the TOEFL iBT Versions



TOEFL iBT Paper Edition

TOEFL iBT Home Edition



Paper- and computer-based


No. of Questions

Reading: 20 Questions

Listening: 28 Questions

Speaking: 4 Tasks

Writing: 2 Tasks

Reading: 30-40 Questions

Listening: 28-39 Questions


Writing: 2 tasks

Speaking: 4 tasks

Same format and content as the TOEFL iBT test

Time Limit

Reading: 35 minutes

Listening: 36 minutes

Speaking: 16 minutes

Writing: 28 minutes

Reading: 54-72 minutes

Listening: 41-57 minutes

Break: 10 minutes

Writing: 50 minutes

Speaking: 17 minutes

Same duration as the TOEFL iBT test


Test center

Test center: Reading, Listening, Writing

At home, computer-based: Speaking

At home, under the supervision of an online proctor and on a device that meets the specifications of the test


At test centers worldwide, 6 days a week

At test centers in India, Columbia, Mexico, and the USA, 1-2 times a month

Worldwide, available 24/7, four days a week

Results Available In

4-8 days after the test

11-13 days after the test

4-8 days after the test


Understand the TOEFL iBT Test Format

To jump into TOEFL exam preparation, you will need to know the format of the test. A range of different questions test your skills and strengths in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the English language. Below, we briefly break down the components of the TOEFL iBT test:

Test Component

Question Types

What Do the Questions Test?


2 Reading Passages

·        Around 700 words each

·        10 questions per passage



·        Factual information & negative factual information

·        Inference & rhetorical purpose

·        Vocabulary

·        Sentence simplification

·        Insert text question

·        Prose summary


3 Lectures

·        Around 3-5 minutes each

·        6 questions per lecture


2 Conversations

·        3 minutes each

·        5 questions per conversation


·        Gist-Content and Gist-Purpose

·        Detail

·        Function

·        Attitude

·        Organization

·        Connecting Content


Q1: Independent Speaking Task

In your responses, you will communicate and develop your own ideas, opinions, and experiences


Q2: Integrated Speaking Tasks

You will concurrently use different skill areas in the English language (listening and speaking, or listening, reading, and speaking)

·        Independent Speaking

·        Integrated Speaking


2 Writing Tasks


Task 1: Integrated Writing Task

You will read a passage, listen to a lecture, and write your responses to these


Task 2: Writing for an Academic Discussion Task

Outline an opinion and support it in an online classroom discussion

·        Integrated Writing

·        Writing for an Academic Discussion


TOEFL Score Breakdown

Different universities will look for different TOEFL score bands for their programs. The same university might ask for different score bands for different programs too. This is why, before you shortlist the programs you want to apply for, be sure you know the minimum TOEFL scores they require.

To understand how to target specific scores during your TOEFL exam preparation, you need to understand how TOEFL scoring works. For each section of the TOEFL, you can receive a score between 0 and 30. Collectively, your total score for the TOEFL iBT test will be between 0 and 120.

ETS groups score bands into 4 or 5 proficiency levels by section. Have a look at our breakdown below:

Proficiency Level

Score Boundaries by Skill


Reading: 24-30

Listening: 22-30

Speaking: 25-30

Writing: 24-30


Reading: 18-23

Listening: 17-21

Speaking: 20-24

Writing: 17-23


Reading: 4-17

Listening: 9-16

Speaking: 16-19

Writing: 13-16

Below Low Intermediate

Reading: 0-3

Listening: 0-8


Speaking: 10-15

Writing: 7-12

Below Basic

Speaking: 0-9

Writing: 0-6

A computer scores the Reading and Listening sections – in fact, you can view these scores as soon as you finish the full test. The Speaking and Writing sections go through both AI scoring and human examiners.


Sending Your TOEFL Scores to Your Chosen Universities

Once you register for the TOEFL iBT Test, you can send up to four official TOEFL score reports to your chosen universities for free. You will need to shortlist which institutes you want to send your scores to before you sit for your test. If you need to order additional score reports, you can do so for USD 20 for each institute you want to send them to. These scores will be valid for two years from the date of your test.

Preparing for the TOEFL iBT Test

Now that you understand the TOEFL iBT test inside and out, let’s have a look at the resources out there for TOEFL exam preparation.

TOEFL Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide

This official course is a free resource that lets you pace your learning. The course walks you through the different sections, curates expert tips, and helps you practice with quizzes and sample questions.

Official TOEFL iBT Prep Course

There are two tiers you can choose from: the standard course, and the Prep Course PLUS. Although you will need to buy this course, it comprehensively covers all the test sections with lessons and activities to get you test-ready. You can track your progress accurately, as the same automated scoring of the real test generates your practice test scores.

TOEFL iBT Free Practice Test

This free resource lets you trial run a full TOEFL test to get an idea of the test format and how you’d perform in a real TOEFL exam. It compiles real past test questions and includes answer grids and sample answers to guide your TOEFL exam preparation.

TOEFL iBT Practice Sets

ETS offers a variety of practice sets for the four TOEFL exam sections. These free-to-download sets help you narrow your focus and practice for the specific sections you want to polish your performance in.


TOEFL Practice Online

You can purchase volumes of this practice resource online. TOEFL Practice Online lets you simulate sitting the real computer-based TOEFL test. This includes complete score reports and feedback about your performance within 24 hours of your test completion.

Rounding Up

Getting ready to register for the TOEFL exam is a sign that you’re jumping into your study abroad journey to succeed. We hope our breakdown of both the test and TOEFL exam preparation equips you for this exciting journey ahead! If you want to learn more about the TOEFL iBT or other English language proficiency tests to study abroad, contact Gradstar Global Education for personalized advice!