How to Prepare for the TOEFL

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an English language proficiency test accepted by more than 11,000 English-speaking universities and institutions in the UK, US, Australia, and many other countries.

This guide walks you through the key information you need to know about the TOEFL and how you should prepare for the test. Our TOEFL experts have helped students improve their English language skills and meet the ever-increasing entry requirements of top universities. If you’re in need of support with preparing for the TOEFL or your wider university application, reach out to our team today.

What is included in the TOEFL?

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a language proficiency test which assesses your ability to read, write, listen and speak in English. The test is divided into these four sections with a different number of questions and time limit allocated for each. All of the questions in the Reading and Listening sections of the TOEFL are multiple-choice. The total test takes around 3-3.5 hours to complete.

Section No. of questions Description Time allocated
Reading 30-40 questions You will be required to read a selection of passages and respond to questions about those passages. 54-72 minutes
Listening 28-39 questions You will need to listen to brief lectures or classroom discussions and then answer questions about what you hear. 41-57 minutes
Break 10 minutes
Speaking 4 tasks You will be asked to talk about a familiar topic and discuss the material you read and listened to in the first two sections. 17 minutes
Writing 2 tasks You will need to read a passage of text and listen to a recording, then type out your responses. 50 minutes

Which universities accept the TOEFL?

All UK universities, including top Russell Group institutions, accept the TOEFL (iBT) as an English language proficiency test. However, some universities may prefer other language tests such as the IELTS, so make sure you check on your chosen course page before deciding which language test to take.

How is the TOEFL scored?

You will be given an overall score and four scaled section scores for the TOEFL. Each section has a score range of 0–30, and these are added together to form a total score from 0–120.

The TOEFL is only marked by a centralised scoring network, never at the specific test centre where you take your test. The Reading and Listening sections are scored by computer, while the Speaking and Writing sections are scored by a combination of automated AI scoring and multiple human markers. This ensures that your score is as accurate and fair as possible and presents the truest picture of your language ability to your chosen universities.

What is a good TOEFL score?

A ‘good’ TOEFL score is relative depending on your current language ability and the minimum scores required by your chosen universities. The table below shows the categories that ETS (Educational Testing Service), the organisation that runs the TOEFL, grades scores by. Top UK universities typically require scores in the high or advanced range.

Skill Basic/below intermediate score Low intermediate score High intermediate score Advanced score
Reading 0-3 4-17 18-23 24-30
Listening 0-8 9-16 17-21 22-30
Speaking 0-15 16-19 20-24 25-30
Writing 0-12 13-16 17-23 24-30

The most helpful measure of what a ‘good’ TOEFL score is is the entry requirements of your chosen universities. Always check directly on your chosen course page to find out what overall TOEFL score and individual section scores are required. The table below shows the TOEFL score requirements of some of the most competitive UK universities.

University TOEFL score required
Oxford Standard level score: 100 overall (Listening: 22, Reading: 24, Speaking: 25, Writing: 24).
Higher level score: 110 overall (Listening: 22, Reading: 24, Speaking: 25, Writing: 24).
Each course will specify either the standard or higher level score requirement.
Cambridge 100 overall (minimum 25 in each element) for undergraduate and most postgraduate courses.
You can also search for specific TOEFL requirements for postgraduate courses.
Imperial College London Standard level score: 92 overall (minimum 20 in all elements).
Higher level score: 100 overall (minimum 22 in all elements).
Each course will specify either the standard or higher level score requirement.
LSE Standard level score: 100 overall (Reading: 23, Listening: 22, Writing: 24, Speaking: 22).
Higher level score: 100 overall (Reading: 25, Listening: 22, Writing: 24, Speaking: 22).
Research programmes: 100 overall (Reading: 25, Listening: 22, Writing: 27, Speaking: 22).
D. Law programmes: 100 overall (Reading: 25, Listening: 24, Writing: 27, Speaking: 22).
UCL Level 1: 92 overall (24 in Reading and Writing and 20 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 2: 96 overall (24 in Reading and Writing and 22 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 3: 100 overall (25 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 4: 109 overall (27 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 5: 110 overall (29 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Each course will specify a score requirement from level 1 to level 5.
UCL Level 1: 92 overall (24 in Reading and Writing and 20 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 2: 96 overall (24 in Reading and Writing and 22 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 3: 100 overall (25 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 4: 109 overall (27 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Level 5: 110 overall (29 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening).
Each course will specify a score requirement from level 1 to level 5.
Warwick Band A: 87 overall (minimum 21 in Listening, 21 in Writing, 22 in Reading and 23 in Speaking).
Band B: 92 overall (minimum 21 in Listening, 21 in Writing, 22 in Reading and 23 in Speaking)
Band C: 100 overall (minimum 21 in Listening, 21 in Writing, 22 in Reading and 23 in Speaking).
Each course will specify a score requirement of either band A, B or C.
Durham Band G: 72 (Writing and Speaking, 20; Reading and Listening, 16)
Band E: 92 with no component under 23
Band C: 102 with no component under 23
Band B: 102 with no component under 25
Band B+/A: 102 (with 27 Writing and no other component under 25)
Each course will specify a score requirement from band G to band A.
Edinburgh Most degree programmes: 92 overall (minimum 20 in each section).
Business degree programmes: 100 overall (minimum 20 in each section).
Note that Nursing and Social Work courses may require higher scores. Each course will specify its own minimum requirement.

Where is the TOEFL taken?

You can take the TOEFL at either a test centre or online at times throughout the year. If you’d like to book a test at a test centre, you can find a local TOEFL test centre. If you’d rather take the test online, you can schedule a test at a time that works best for you.

How much does the TOEFL cost?

The TOEFL typically costs between $180 and $325 depending on your testing location. There are also additional costs to consider which are listed in the table below.

Action Cost
Registration fee Typically varies between $180-$325 depending on testing location. This covers your registration for the test, your score report, and 4 score reports sent to your chosen institutions.
Late registration fee $40
Rescheduling test $60
Additional score reports (per institution) $20 each
Speaking or Writing Section score review $80
Both Speaking and Writing Section score review $160
Returned payment (test cancellation) $30

5 tips on preparing for the TOEFL

1. Prepare for the specific sections you’ll encounter

Each section of the TOEFL looks slightly different depending on whether you are taking the internet-based version or the paper-based version of the test. The internet version of the test, for example, contains between 36-56 questions in the Reading section and gives you 60-80 minutes to answer them, whereas the Reading section of the paper-based test contains 50 questions which you must answer in 55 minutes.

Make sure that when you are preparing for the TOEFL that you are preparing for the right version. This will ensure that you don’t encounter any surprises when you come to take the real exam and that you are able to complete the right amount of questions in the allotted time.

2. Practise speaking, reading, listening and writing in English

One of the best ways to prepare for an English proficiency test like the TOEFL is ultimately to immerse yourself in the English language. This includes reading and writing in English whenever you can, as well as listening and speaking to other English speakers.

You can practise your English skills by reading English literature and news, watching TV shows and films in English, and digesting other English media. However, the best way to improve your language skills is to engage and converse with English speakers in real life situations. This will help you to learn how to think on your feet and allow you to quickly identify any words or features of English that you could improve on.

Note that for most people, speaking is one of the most challenging aspects of learning another language, so it’s particularly important to make sure you are prepared for this aspect of the test.

3. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Like most tests, the TOEFL is taken under timed conditions and it is crucial that you complete as much of the test as possible within the allotted time you are given (usually 3 hours).

Taking practice TOEFL tests under timed conditions is the best way to simulate the environment you will be faced with in the real exam. It also allows you to identify areas that you may struggle with more under time pressure (e.g. the Speaking section) and try out strategies to help you stay calm and perform well.

Good quality practice tests and preparation resources are not always reliable or easy to find. ETS (Educational Testing Service), the organisation that administers the TOEFL, offers some paid and free practice tests you can use as part of your preparation, and you may be able to find other mini practice tests elsewhere. However, when it comes to resourceful preparation, nothing compares to The Profs’ specialised TOEFL tuition.

Over many years of successfully tutoring university applicants whose native language is not English, our tutors have developed a wealth of knowledge and resources to help you prepare for every element of the TOEFL, from time management strategies to fast, simple ways to learn complex grammatical structures and vocabulary in English. Get in contact with our team today to find out how we can help you.

4. Know what score you’re aiming for

Each university has its own minimum TOEFL score requirements (see the table in the section above for some examples). When researching your chosen universities, make sure you find out what TOEFL score you’ll need in order to qualify for entry so that you can aim for this during your preparatory practice tests.

Most UK universities also specify individual component scores that you will need to meet. Knowing what these are will allow you to prioritise which sections to focus your preparation on. For example, if you’re applying to UCL’s MBA programme, you will need to meet UCL’s Level 3 TOEFL requirement: 100 overall, with 25 in Reading and Writing and 23 in Speaking and Listening. If you are currently scoring 20 in all sections in your practice tests, it may be beneficial to focus slightly more time on the Reading and Writing sections as you will need to improve those scores by 5 points, while your Speaking and Listening scores only need improving by 3 points.

5. Work with an expert TOEFL tutor

Preparing for the TOEFL can be stressful, especially if there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain score in order to get into your dream university. Unlike school or even university exams, you won’t receive a structured learning plan that ensures you are prepared for all of the content in the TOEFL, or teachers who understand the test specifications – that’s all down to you. The solution to this is to work with a qualified TOEFL expert.

Working with a TOEFL tutor will provide so many benefits to your preparation, including:

  • Identifying and focusing on areas in which you need extra support.
    It can be tricky to identify your own weaknesses when mastering the English language, especially if you don’t have regular contact with native English speakers and expert guidance on exactly what skills the TOEFL requires. Our experienced TOEFL specialists can help you tailor your preparation to areas where it’s most needed.
  • Offering insider knowledge on the test and what the assessors will be looking for.
    The Profs’ language test tutors have first-hand experience of the specific TOEFL structure and content, as well as the wider admissions process for top universities, all of which will be invaluable to your preparation.
  • Making the preparation more fun and engaging.
    It can be difficult to stay self-motivated and engaged when you’re juggling learning a language, preparing for the specific TOEFL test, and the rest of your university applications. Ensuring the language learning and preparation process is enjoyable will take some of the pressure off while still maximising your chances of success.

The level of English language proficiency required by top UK universities is ever-increasing. However, with the right support, you’ll be able to reach the high level of English needed to succeed in the TOEFL, IELTS, and other language tests. In fact, thanks to our expert support, 95% of students who work with The Profs get into their first or second choice universities. To get started with your preparation, get in touch with our team today.

FAQs

What is the difference between the TOEFL iBT and TOEFL Essentials?

TOEFL iBT is the full, three-hour long test that is preferred by most universities. TOEFL Essentials is a shorter, 90-minute version of the test that is accepted by some, but not all, universities. We typically recommend that you take the TOEFL iBT to ensure that you are able to provide the most accurate and true picture of your English language proficiency.

How long does your TOEFL score last for?

Your TOEFL score is valid for 2 years. If you have taken the TOEFL more than two years ago, you will typically be expected to retake the test and submit a more recent score to your chosen universities.

Should I take the IELTS or TOEFL?

Both the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test your proficiency in the English language and most UK universities will accept both tests. The differences between the two tests include:

  • Length: the IELTS is 2 hours 45 minutes long, which is slightly shorter than the TOEFL at around 3-3.5 hours.
  • Scores: the IELTS is scored on a scale from 0-9, while the TOEFL is scored on a scale from 0-120.
  • Time per section: the IELTS gives you slightly more time than the TOEFL for the Writing section (60 minutes versus 50 minutes), while the TOEFL gives more time per question for the Listening and Reading sections.
  • Question style: the IELTS consists of various different question styles, whereas TOEFL questions are mostly multiple-choice.

Some universities list a test preference (either the IELTS or TOEFL) on their website/on specific course pages, so make sure you check before registering.