The computer-based test has an introductory tutorial session and four mandatory sections which assess listening (30-50 questions), structure (20-25 questions), reading (44-60 questions), and writing skills (you will be required to write an essay). In total the test session is around four hours long.
There are some countries where the TOEFL is offered as a paper-based test. For further information, consult the TOEFL Website and the TOEFL bulletin.
You can register for TOEFL by mail, fax or telephone, and currently the test costs US$100. There are eight registration centres worldwide, whose details are in the TOEFL bulletin. To register by fax or telephone, you need a credit card. Payments by mail can be made by cheque in US dollars or a number of other currencies, by credit card or by other methods, all of which are detailed in the information bulletin.
Although you can theoretically register as late as two days before you wish to take the test, sometimes certain test centres are so busy that it is not possible to take the test for two months or more, so register as far in advance as possible. At a minimum, you need to take the TOEFL four weeks before the application deadline for your colleges in order for the scores to reach the school on time (longer if you want to handwrite rather than type the test essay).
At the time of registration you can indicate your first two preferences for a test centre, and your first five preferences for a test date. Once your registration has been processed, you will be told your actual test date and the full test centre address. In many countries there are strict security procedures on the day of the test, so make sure you know what identification you will have to take with you to the test centre.
Preparing for the TOEFL
At the very least, it is wise to familiarise yourself with the test format and practice some test questions before you arrive at the test centre. The amount of practice you will need to do will depend on your English language ability, the time available before you take the test, and how familiar you feel with the test format. While the TOEFL information bulletin provides some sample questions, there are also various TOEFL preparation materials produced by both the test administrators (the Educational Testing Service) and by independent test preparation companies. The test administrators' materials focus on practising actual past questions and complete tests, while the latter are independent companies which aim to help students improve their performance on the test using a variety of strategies and techniques. Materials are available for purchase on the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website, and may also be available in bookstores or from your nearest US educational advising centre. Before buying materials, check the contents to find out whether they provide preparation for the computer-based or paper-based TOEFL.
In addition, a number of organisations offer test training courses or private tuition for the TOEFL for a fee. US educational advisory centres can usually provide you with a list of test trainers, but many trainers advertise in educational publications. Some things to consider before signing up for a course include how many hours of tuition are provided, whether the tuition is provided on videotape or by a 'live' teacher, what training and experience the teachers have, and how they measure your improvement throughout the course. If the course is offered at an English language school, check what accreditation the school holds. If you are not sure about a course, ask if you can sit in on a class as an observer, or speak to past participants.
The scoring system for the TOEFL was changed in 1998 when the test moved from a paper-based to a computer-based format. You will now receive three scores, each from 0 to 30, for the listening, structure/writing, and reading sections of the test. An essay score from 0 to 6 is incorporated into the structure/writing score. You will also receive a total score for the TOEFL from 40 to 300 (equivalent to a range of 310 to 677 on the paper-based test).
On the day of the test you will be given the choice of viewing your scores or cancelling them. Unfortunately you cannot view the scores and then cancel them! If you view your scores you will only see a possible range for structure/writing, as the final score will be determined once your essay is marked.
At this point you can also designate up to four colleges to receive your scores free of charge, so it is a good idea to take with you the list of institution codes given in the TOEFL information bulletin. Alternatively, you can wait until later to see to see your final scores before designating any recipients.
Around two weeks after you take the test (five weeks if you handwrite your essay), your scores will be mailed to you and any institutions you have designated. For those candidates who can't wait for the scores to arrive by post, scores are available by telephone the day they are mailed, for an extra fee.
What score do you need for entry into a US degree programme? This will vary, with each college setting it's own minimum score usually somewhere between 133 and 250 (equivalent to between 450 and 600 on the paper-based test). Check in each college catalog or on the university website for specific requirements.
English language test scores are just one part of the admission process for colleges, but an important part. Plan ahead, read the registration information thoroughly and give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the test and for the scores to reach the colleges. For further information on the TOEFL consult www.toefl.org, or contact your nearest US educational advising centre for help with this and other aspects of applying to study in the USA.