Many college students from non-English speaking countries attend college in the United States. To assure they are ready for classes conducted in English spoken at an advanced level, the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) rates their fluency in English.
The standardized test measures the English language skills of non-native speakers who want to attend academic and professional institutions. Here is some basic information about TOEFL and tips for taking the test.
What is TOEFL and how is it used?
Begun in 1964, TOEFL is a trademark of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which says, “The TOEFL test is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by more than 9,000 colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries.” TOEFL gauges the person’s English ability in reading comprehension, structure and grammar, speaking and listening, and writing. Over the years, the test has been revised due to advances in theories of language ability and changes in English teaching practices. The most recent change was in 2005 with the launch of the TOEFL iBT test, which uses integrated tasks that engage multiple language skills to simulate language use in academic settings. The TOEFL test is conducted on paper or by Internet and can last two to four hours. The test is given in 165 countries, and score reports are issued for two years.
TOEFL test implications for students
As more and more foreign students are enrolling in American colleges, the schools are faced with students who are not proficient in English. One school, Denver University (DU), which was seeing an increase in students from China, instituted a requirement for non-native English speakers to achieve an overall TOEFL score of at least 80 (out of 120), with a minimum of 20 (out of 30) on the writing, reading, speaking and listening subsections. DU also required foreign students to take the university’s own English language proficiency test upon arrival. Students who scored poorly on this test were required to enroll full-time in the university’s own English Language Center instruction.
Requiring these strict language skills was a risk for DU, which could have seen students go to other schools with more lax requirements. “It was a big risk we took,” said Marjorie S. Smith, an associate dean and the director of international student admission, in “Teaching International Students,” posted by Elizabeth Redden in Inside Higher Education December 1, 2014, “but we were willing to take it because we wanted to make sure that the classroom experience was what it needed to be.”
The Gale*Cengage Learning Testing & Education Reference Center offers “Need-to-Know TOEFL Tips & Strategies” for taking the test. First, have a strategy for taking the test. Gale advises: “Spend enough time preparing that you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie.” This helps you determine what areas you might need to spend more time on. Practice ahead of time, and speak and write English often to prepare. You can even take a sample test, sitting and concentrating for a few hours to prepare for the actual TOEFL test. For the test, wear comfortable clothing. Wear layers so you can take off a sweater or sweatshirt if it gets too hot during the test. Bring water to stay hydrated.
When taking the test, skim the questions first to get an overall sense of the structure of the test. Answer easy questions first, then move on to more difficult questions. When doing the writing portion of the test, organize your thoughts in your mind before writing it down. Develop your ideas and express them clearly, using examples to back them up.