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On preparing for the TOEFL

TOEFL could well be regarded as a mandatory exam for all students who apply for education abroad (mainly in the US). As the full form of the abbreviation suggests, it is a test that determines the ability of the test taker’s fluency and grasp over the English language. That being said, it covers those most essential and basic components of the language which help universities determine how you can understand their teaching, respond actively and write at a collegiate level.

The TOEFL iBT® test, delivered via the Internet, is the type of exam most widely taken and accepted but it is worth noting that there are two other formats namely, TOEFL CBT and PBT.

Conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the  standardised examination consists of four components: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.


Q. Should I take the TOEFL and why?

TOEFL is an exam that is taken by students all over the globe where they demonstrate their English proficiency. You may consider taking the exam if you are aspiring to pursue higher education abroad. TOEFL is the exam widely accepted in North America so it’s the exam most US-going students tend to take, irrespective of whether they are planning to attend graduate school, business school or anything else.


Q. Can I take the IELTS instead?

All universities expect students to submit test reports that can showcase their English proficiency and specify the examination/s that they will accept. The IELTS is quite similar to the TOEFL and is accepted/required by those schools in the UK, Australia and so on. It’s best to determine which exam you need to take based on the universities you have in mind as they sometimes may be very particular about this. Choose wisely and apply to either or even both!


Q. How can I register?

The TOEFL iBT costs anywhere between $160 to $180, and can be taken in Chennai or any of the cities of your choosing as specified in the website.

To register yourself, visit the official ETS website https://www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/register where all the necessary details about available dates and testing locations are given.


Q. How do I prepare?

In accordance with popular belief, the TOEFL examination is a much easier ordeal and the preparation process and time required is lesser than that of GRE/GMAT.

To start, familiarise yourself with the test format as that remains the same in the actual examination.


Time Limit




60–80 minutes

36–56 questions

Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions.


60–90 minutes

34–51 questions

Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions.


10 minutes


20 minutes

6 tasks

Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.


50 minutes

2 tasks

Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing.

The TOEFL iBT examination can range anywhere between 3 hours and 4 hours as sub-sections can vary within each individual’s exam.

If you think your English is quite reasonable and you don't have too much time to spend on the test, now all you have to do is check out some sample questions in the website and take the test itself!

Sample test: https://magoosh.com/toefl/toefl-practice-test/?utm_source=SideBar&utm_medium=Blog&utm_campaign=Widget2

For those who prefer to diligently chart their work, you can also begin with the samples and move on to working out more examples from other resources. 


Buy the books if you can afford it as ETS is the only authentic source as always, but there is plenty of material online that can help you out and save you precious bucks.

Tip: Some books and materials online tend to deviate from the actual content of the test so beware. As an alternative, you can try to get the Cambridge TOEFL iBT preparation book and CD, which are very much in line with the actual examination itself.

The speaking section of the TOEFL can be the tricky part where you are timed for a short while and asked to talk in detail so you may need to prepare beforehand. For this, you can see the speaking templates available online (http://www.toeflresources.com/index.php?id=toefl-speaking-templates) and try it out with a timer. For the most effective way, get a friend or family member to listen to you as it can help tremendously.

Still anxious ? Check out what you can expect on test day - https://www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/test_day/expect/


Q. Can I take the TOEFL before the GRE/GMAT?

Yes. The TOEFL can be taken at anytime and is valid for a period of 2 years from the test date. So as long as your scores are valid while applying for universities, you can take it before or after any other exam. I say this more so because TOEFL is the lesser devil and can boost your confidence and joy before tacking the monstrous GRE/GMAT, or the application process itself of course!


Good luck!

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