If you think about it, taking the TOEFL is really a relatively quick and painless way to prove your level of English. It allows schools to outsource the vetting of international candidates, which ultimately frees up the resources for them to consider more candidates; it’s cheaper than an interview, and less time-consuming (for you and for the admissions office) than putting together a portfolio; it’s more reliable and consistent than each institution creating its own placement test (imagine having to take not just one English proficiency exam, but five or ten or twenty)! That being said, it’s not a perfect solution. Although Internet access has greatly improved matters, the test is still neither cheap nor convenient for you, the student. Here are some things to consider if you’re debating whether or not you should retake the TOEFL.
1. Don’t get tunnel vision
When preparing applications, we’ve all been tempted to obsess over a turn of phrase here, a point or two there. But with an investment of at least $150 and four hours (and that’s if—god forbid—you don’t study at all), you really don’t want to take the test any more times than you have to. Below are a few things to consider before you decide whether it’s worth taking the TOEFL a second (or third) time.
2. Think practically
As tempting as it can be to get caught up in an endless quest for a perfect or near-perfect score, try to keep your eye on the prize: acceptance into your school you want to go to. How does your score compare to posted statistics? Are you above the minimum requirement? Are you scoring near the average score for accepted students? You can find the score requirements for many top universities (as well as how to find your particular requirements) in our TOEFL Scores Infographic. If your scores don’t meet these requirements, a retake (and some targeted studying) may be in your future. If, on the other hand, you can answer yes to these questions, then move on to #2; a retake—and the few points it may win you— could be more trouble than it’s worth.
3. Look back.
Remember what test day was like. Was anything unusual going on? Were you sick? Had you slept very poorly before the exam? Did you arrive flustered and late, or were there other things going on in your life that distracted you during the exam? Of course, no one can take the test under perfect conditions. But if you think that unusual circumstances had a significant impact on your score, you may benefit from another try.
4. Look forward
Take a look at your calendar. You probably have a job. You may have classes. You have activities and hobbies and chores and friends who won’t be happy if you drop off the face of the planet for three months to prepare for a test you already took. So before you go and register, stop and decide how much time you’ll really be able to commit to studying. If you can’t be confident in at least a few hours of consistent study time each week, you may not get the boost you’re looking for. If that’s the case, then return to step #3. If you have a lot of room to improve, and you really need it to get into the school of your choice, then work out a study schedule, and plan on catching up with your friends and hobbies after test day. If retaking the test would just put a feather in your cap, then you can probably use your energy best elsewhere.