TOEFL Overview

Welcome to NoteFull's free TOEFL training program! back to top


This page will explain everything you need to know about registering for the TOEFL and the best way to prepare for the test center experience when you actually take the TOEFL.


To navigate through the rest of NoteFull's free training use the menu on the left and place your mouse over the section that you'd like to focus on. To help, we included an image below so that you can see this more clearly. Good luck and know that your dream TOEFL score is coming!



1) TOEFL test center street smarts for a higher score back to top


What you see below is what no one has prepared you for: the realities of the TOEFL test center experience. Sadly, your test center influences your score, more than you would like. A noisy, poorly run center can erase hours and hours of studying because of the distraction it causes. Here's how to avoid all of that.


Noisy neighbors and test center


A top complaint of many students is neighbors that speak too loudly during the speaking section and are in general, distracting. Also, noisy test centers that keep students too close together, register students loudly, and don't respect the quiet necessary for students to take the TOEFL.


Unfortunately, you can't do anything about this during your TOEFL. You can't move your seat or complain because you'll lose time for your own TOEFL. You must prepare for this before you take your TOEFL. How?


10% of your study time should be done with music playing in the background that's slightly distracting. For example, if you study 10 hours for the TOEFL one week, 1 of those hours should be spent studying with music playing in the background. It should be music you don't like at a volume that is not loud but loud enough to be distracting for you.


This small training will help you tremendously to deal with the reality of the noise you'll experience at the test center.  Rather than be shocked and distracted by the noise, with this exercise, you'll be prepared for it and at an advantage compared to other TOEFL students that didn't prepare with NoteFull.


Getting more note paper


During the listening, speaking, and writing sections, note paper helps a lot. Getting it can be tricky. Here's what you need to know:


You are only allowed to have 3 sheets of note paper at a time. When you need more paper, you have to give your old paper. For example, if you need 3 new sheets, you have to give your old 3 sheets. Some students run into trouble with this because they take notes with such big writing that they need 4 or 5 sheets of paper for a listening set. Bad idea. Take notes in a way that saves space.


Another tip is to make sure to get your paper before you need it. After each section, you should request fresh new sheets by raising your hand. The best time to do this is at the end of one section and the beginning of the next. That's when the instructions for the section are being read out loud to you and you have time to raise your hand, get the attention of the proctor (the person giving the TOEFL), get your new paper, and return your old paper.


Many test centers are poorly run, which can be an advantage. Some lazy proctors leave a big stack of paper around for students to take paper as they need it. Other lazy proctors won't be around when you need them. They'll be surfing the Internet in the distance; that's why you need to get paper before you need it to be safe.


Some crazy proctors will insist on giving you not 1 or 2 but 3 new sheets and force you to give all of your 3 sheets if you need more paper. Follow our tips though and it won't matter; you'll have the best experience possible no matter what.


Your 10-minute break


You'll take the 4 sections of the TOEFL in the following order: reading, listening, speaking, and then writing. Between the listening and speaking section is a 10-minute break.


Since you likely won't say more than a few words in the first two hours of the exam, you don't want the first time that you ever really speak to be on the TOEFL speaking section. Rehearse an example question of the speaking section (question 1 or 2) that you did before that was really easy for you to warm up during your 10-minute break.


Make sure to do this in a quiet, private place since some examiners (there are some ridiculous ones) might think you're cheating and give you trouble. This will help eliminate the build up stress you may have for the speaking section.


Other important tips 


1) Bring your passport! If you’re not a U.S. citizen, bring your passport. If you are a U.S. citizen, bring your id. Simple, so remember or else you won't be able to take the test.


2) Arrive at the test center 15 minutes early so you are comfortable and on time. Some test proctors won’t let you in after the scheduled start time (but they’re allowed to accept students up to 30 minutes after), but relax and start as late as you can. If you start early, you might be distracted by students coming in later. Be there early, relax, and start later.


3) Take a drink and a snack for your break. Trust me, this test is long and you will not do as well as you can if your stomach is making noises and distracting you with pains of hunger as you try to speak and write. A fruit bar and juice drink will do. Too much sugar probably won’t help.


4) Bring comfortable clothes because you will be sitting down for at least 3 hours.


2) TOEFL basics back to top


TOEFL stands for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Most school officials and business people need a way of learning just how much English a foreigner knows. Rather than create and grade their own specific English tests, these individuals and groups trust a non-profit organization, ETS, which stands for the Educational Testing Service, to do so. 


The first version of the TOEFL was paper based, and so it was called the pbT (paper based TOEFL). It was composed of three sections: reading, grammar, and listening. The test took approximately 2 hours and was used for a long period of time. The maximum score attainable was 677. This test was eventually replaced because it was obvious that non-native English speakers could achieve high scores while still being poor English speakers. In other words, the test received a lot of criticism for being inaccurate.


The second version of the test was the computer based TOEFL, or cbT. This test was short lived and also had three sections: listening, grammar/writing, and reading. Once the TOEFL hit the computer, it was a short step towards the internet.


The current version of the test is the internet based TOEFL, or ibT, and this test is a big step away from the previous two versions. Nearly every college and university accepts iBT scores. The pbT or cbT is rarely accepted and even more rarely given.


Here are the major reasons why you would have to take the TOEFL:


Entering Community College, Entering Undergraduate University, Entering Graduate School, Earning a Professional License


3) TOEFL registration, cost, and scheduling back to top




If you fall into one of the categories above or know that you must take the TOEFL, your next step is to register for the exam. To do so, you'll create an account (if you haven't already) on the ETS website. ETS stands for "Educational Testing Services" and is the non-profit company that creates, administers, and scores the exam (so make sure to send your hate mail to them). Registration is a simple process and once registered on the site you'll be able to pick a test date that works for you and pay online. The link below will take you directly to the site, where you can register for the TOEFL.


Click here to create your ETS TOEFL account


Then, once you've finished creating your TOEFL account, you'll be able to register for a specific test date. If you have trouble finding out how, click on the link below.


Click here to schedule a date for your ETS TOEFL test




The TOEFL costs $180 in US currency but can vary slightly according to your testing location. The website accepts many forms of payment, so it shouldn't be an issue whether you're using a credit card or your bank account.




The TOEFL is given all over the world. You will find 95% of test dates on either Friday or Saturday of nearly every week, so they are given very often. However, it's important to remember that depending on your location, TOEFL test centers can fill up fast, so make sure to schedule your test 2 to 6 weeks ahead depending on your location. Don't delay! I have students every now and then that wait too long to schedule an exam and miss important deadlines as a result.


4) TOEFL scoring and structure back to top




The TOEFL exam contains four sections:


Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing


Each section is worth a maximum of 30 points (we teach you about each section of the test and how to hit your maximum score in other blog posts [we provide links below]), so the highest TOEFL score that you can receive is 120 points. Sometimes students ask whether it's possible to achieve this score; it is and students do hit the top scores in every section, though it is quite a challenge to do so.




The TOEFL test can take anywhere from 3 and 1/2 hours to 4 and 1/2 hours to complete. Below, when we explain the structure, you'll learn why it varies. Let's talk about TOEFL in more detail. You'll be tested on 4 sections in the following order and manner.








3-4 academic passages; about 700 words long; 14 questions each.

60-80 minutes

42-56 questions



4-6 lectures, some with classroom discussion; 3-5 minutes long with 6 questions. 2-3 conversations; each 3 minutes long with 5 questions.

60-90 minutes

34-51 questions




10 minutes



2 tasks to express an opinion on a familiar topic; 4 tasks to speak based on what is read and listened to.

25 minutes

6 questions

0-4 points converted to 0-30 score scale


1 task to write based on what is read and listened to; 1 task to support an opinion on a topic.

55 minutes

2 questions

0-5 points converted to 0-30 score scale

In sum


210-260 minutes




TOEFL Reading: Why 60-80 Minutes


Some students (this may be you) will be given an extra experimental reading. This will give you a total of 4 passages to complete with 80 minutes on the timer for all 4.


This experimental reading won't count towards your score and will appear randomly among the other 3 readings, so there's no way to know which one it will be. This means that if you get 4, you must do your best on each. Don't waste time or energy trying to guess which one the experimental reading is.


TOEFL Listening: Why 60-90 Minutes


As with the reading, some students (this may be you), will receive an extra experimental set of 3 listenings, bringing the total to 9 listenings.


Again, the experimental set will not count towards your overall TOEFL score, but don't try to guess which listenings are experimental. They will be randomly spread throughout the section and it will be a waste of time and energy to try to figure out which listenings are experimental and which are not.


5) Your TOEFL score: what to do with it back to top


Understanding your score report


Your TOEFL score will appear in your ETS TOEFL account (the one that you have to make to schedule a TOEFL test at a testing center) within 1 to 2 weeks of taking the exam. You'll see your score for each section along with your total score. You'll find comments for each section from ETS on your English ability as well. 


You can ignore these comments because they are automatically generated for any student who received a specific score. For example, in the TOEFL speaking section, if you earn a 22 out of 30, you'll receive a breakdown of how you did on each question type. One comment you will see is that there was a limited use of vocabulary in your responses. The truth is that that's nonsense. It's like a doctor telling you what medicine to take because you told him your sick: the doctor doesn't know if the illness comes from a stomachache, toothache, or headache.


The comments from ETS are not helpful in your pursuit of success. When you're not sure how to improve, get a professional's help. Have someone work with you and assess you specifically. DO NOT rely on those ETS TOEFL comments. If you do, you'll sadly waste a lot of your time because they are applied to hundreds of thousands of students randomly.


Sending your score report


If you're going to take the TOEFL, you're likely going to want to send your score to an institution (such as a university). When you register for the TOEFL on the ETS site -- which you learned how to do above -- you will have the option of sending your score report automatically to up to 4 institutions for free (either electronically or by mail). The scores will be sent out 13 days after you take the exam and will take up to 7 to 10 days for US institutions to receive and up to 4 to 6 weeks for institutions outside of the US to receive. You must choose the 4 institutions to receive your scores before the day of your exam for them to be free. (you'll choose them when you register for the TOEFL through an online form on the ETS site [it's easy]).


If you want to send a score report after you've taken the exam, you'll have to pay 18 dollars for each score report that you want to send no matter what.


If you want to send your score report to more than 4 institutions, you'll need to pay 18 dollars for each additional score report that you want to send. 


Rescoring your speaking and writing for a higher score


About 10 to 25% of our students earn their goal scores in the TOEFL by rescoring the speaking and/or writing sections. Rescoring is a little tricky though. Here's the process for a general idea of how it works if you need to do this.


You can have the writing and/or speaking sections of your test rescored up to 30 days after you take the test. After 30 days, you can no longer request a rescore. The test can be rescored only once. If you want both sections rescored, they must be done at the same time. If the rescore results in a change in your score (lower or higher), the revised scores will become your official scores.


Your test cannot be rescored if your scores have already been sent to an institution or agency. This is also an important change. You must be careful if you're thinking about rescoring. Don't request that your scores be sent right away to your school or licensing board when you register for the TOEFL. After the reports are sent, you cannot request rescoring. If you're considering rescoring as a possibility because your speaking or writing score is important, don't ask the scores to be sent automatically, wait for your scores, decide if you need a rescore, and after those results, request that the score report be sent to your school or licensing board.


Each section costs US $80 to rescore. But, if your scores improve after rescoring, this money is refunded back to you. Rescores are reported about three weeks after your request for a rescore is received.


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