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TOEFL Test: What Does TOEFL Stand for?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. If you haven't completed your secondary or university studies in an English-speaking institution, you will probably have to take the Test or English as a Foreign Language.

The Structure of TOEFL: What Type of Test Is TOEFL?

Let's check out the nuts and bolts of the test. There are four major sections: Listening, Structure (grammar), Reading and Writing which last a total of 2.5 to 3 hours. However, as with the GMAT, you can expect to spend more than that at the test site- count on about 4.5 hours. The test site is the same as for GMAT,  and so are the registration and scheduling procedures. Here's the overall breakdown of the test.

The TOEFL is scored on a scale from 0-300, though you may have heard about scores in the 600s. Don't be alarmed. These "TOEFL on steroids" scores refer to the old pre-CAT scale (used before July, 1998) which was 200 - 677. Some people still quote on that scale, so it's a good idea to have average score would be 213 (550). More competitive scores should be above 250 (600), which indeed are the scores requested by the top MBA programs.

Section Number of Questions Length Format Question Types
Listening 30 or 50 40 or 60 Minutes Adaptive Short Conversations

Long Conversations


Structure 20 or 25 15 or 20 Minutes Adaptive Fill-ins

Error Recognition

Reading 44 or 60 70 or 90 Minutes Non-Adaptive One Best Answer

 click on Text

Insert Sentence

Writing 1 30 Minutes Non-Adaptive Given Topic

The Difference Between GRE and TOEFL: GRE Vs TOEFL

Luckily, TOEFL scoring is built around computer adaptive principles similar to those on the GMAT or GRE, so you'll be wrestling the same type of animal. However, don't take the similarities too far. For instance, reading comprehension on the TOEFL is very different from what we saw for the GRE. And that's just the beginning...

In fact the greatest difference is one of purpose. The GMAT was originally designed for native English speakers (Americans specifically) headed for American business schools, whereas the TOEFL is designed to test the language proficiency of non-Anglophones who intend to study any subject at any level of the American university system. GMAT test-takers share similar goals - HBS, six-figure salaries, leather office chairs and lots of business class miles - while TOEFL people are as diverse as the world itself. Whether they want to study Italian opera at Julliard, ancient Chinese literature at Princeton, or underwater basket weaving at Bubba State, they all take the TOEFL. Even people with superb, beautiful, nay, Shakespearean English, have to take the TOEFL. You might be a fluent English-speaker, have a British spouse, work in an English-speaking environment, and spend every weekend down your local Irish pub, but you still need a secondary (high school) or university studies completely in English. Otherwise you'll have to take the TOEFL.

TOEFL Prep Strategies

But the wide variety and large number of test takers can work to your advantage. Remember, this is a standardized test, and so you'll have a limited number of variables to prepare. True, you won't have any contact with a real person to show off the fancy idioms you learned on your last trip to the U.S. nor will you have a chance to argue that, well, actually you've heard your cousin in Texas say it that way. You will only have four answer choices to choose from. And you may not agree with any of them! So, you'll need to learn what the test writers want to hear (which frankly, sometimes may not reflect everyday spoken English). They pull their questions from a specific pool comprising a limited number of grammar points and listening, reading, and writing question types. If you know what these are, you'll be able to anticipate them and answer them correctly. But don't expect to get them all right. Not even native English speakers can do that!

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