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If you’re applying to an undergraduate program, you will probably have to submit scores for both the TOEFL and the SAT (or ACT). In some ways, this system is redundant: as I mentioned in my post on standardized test writing sections, there’s practically no difference when you compare the independent task on the TOEFL vs. SAT essay. Nevertheless, most programs require international students to report their scores on both.


What’s the point of requiring two test scores?

To choose which applicants should be admitted, the admissions office has to compare all the applicants to each other.  They do this by looking at each candidate’s transcript, test scores, admissions essay(s), resume, and references. Test scores are the only one of these criteria that is standardized—that is, the only criterion that allows for easy comparison of all applicants. But it’s not really fair to compare international students with all the other candidates without taking into consideration that many of them may have no experience with American-style education or may have limited English skills. So to make things more fair, international students are compared not only to the general pool of applicants (with the SAT), but also to other international students (with the TOEFL). This way, the admissions department can compare your TOEFL vs. SAT scores and get an idea of your reasoning abilities without putting you at a huge linguistic disadvantage.

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What information does each test give the admissions department?

The SAT is designed to determine how well you think. In theory, you don’t need any background information to complete the test (although if you don’t have a fairly advanced vocabulary and know some algebra and geometry, you’re going to have a bad time). It has three sections:  verbal, math, and writing. Each section is worth 800 points, for a total of 2400 possible points.


TOEFL vs. SAT Reading and Vocabulary Comparison

The verbal section of the SAT tests your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. The vocabulary (fill-in-the-blank) questions sometimes use pretty difficult words.  The goal of the TOEFL is to see whether you will survive in a college classroom; the goal of the SAT is to see how you deal with advanced vocabulary that may not be in everyday usage, even in an academic setting. The reading passages are less likely to be scientific in nature on the SAT than on the TOEFL, although both tests will require similar skills of interpretation and inference. The best way to develop and strengthen these skills is to practice as much as possible.


TOEFL vs. SAT Writing Comparison

Unlike the current TOEFL, the SAT has a section that tests your grammar and editing skills. You’ll be asked to improve sentences and paragraphs that may contain fragments, hanging modifiers, and other incongruities that can interfere with communication. In some questions, you will be asked to indicate the part of a sentence that contains an error, but you will not have to say what that error is. It may seem strange that the test for all college applicants tests your grammar whereas the test for non-native speakers does not, but this may work to your advantage: because you’ve been studying English as a second language, you may find it easier to identify and correct sentence errors than many native speakers, some of whom pay little attention to advanced grammar and stylistics.


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24 Responses to TOEFL vs SAT

  1. Raphael adedeji April 26, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    Hi. I am Raphael Adedeji from Nigeria. I want to sit for the next SAT and TOEFL but i have not made any effort to study nor prepare fop the exams. I want to know if i can still make it and how to go about it/ meet up in order to have a high score in both The SAT and TOEFL exams.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 30, 2016 at 10:07 am #

      Hi Raphael,

      You’ll certainly want to get in some study before you take both tests, of course. I’d say your best course of action would be to study for the TOEFL and the Reading/Writing and Language/Essay portions of the SAT at the same time.SAT Reading focuses a little more on structure and inferences than the TOEFL, but is similar in many ways, with main idea and vocabulary-based questions that are especially TOEFL-like.

      SAT Writing appears to be less TOEFL-like on the surface. But the kinds of grammar and style questions you’ll answer deal with the same skills you need to give good Speaking and Writing responses on the TOEFL. The SAT essay is optional— if you take it, use your TOEFL essays as a kind of warmup for the SAT essay, which is a lot harder than TOEFL.

      And of course, make sure that you study for SAT Math– this part of the SAT has little in common with the TOEFL. But the story problems are written in North American English, just like the TOEFL. So TOEFL study can boost your story problem comprehension skills.

  2. PAUL August 2, 2016 at 5:02 am #


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 6, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Paul 🙂

      No, the SAT is currently not offered online. That said, I’d recommend checking out College Board’s website for more information about international registration and test dates.

  3. plam August 20, 2016 at 3:24 am #

    Could you please tell me if toefl exam can be replaced by sat test? Because i took toelf that the score is not the score that universities requiere . I consider to take one subject test and not to retake toefl test . What do you think ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

      Hi Plam,

      In most cases, the TOEFL score cannot be substituted for anything else if it is on the list as required. You would have to check with individual admissions teams to find out for sure, but the TOEFL is to test English and the SAT is to test college aptitude. Typically admissions committees want to see both.

      Good luck! 🙂

  4. Umesh Raavi August 22, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    I am Umesh from India.I am preparing for upcoming SAT test and even planned on taking TOEFL also.So,with the SAT preparation do I have chances of making it in TOEFL?


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 22, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      Umesh, you definitely can do well on the TOEFL even if you also have to devote time to studying the SAT. In fact, the TOEFL and SAT have enough things in common that you can study them together. You can treat TOEFL Reading and Writing as a warmup for SAT Reading and the SAT Essay. (Assuming you take the essay.) Similarly, the SAT Writing section is a good warmup for the TOEFL essay, because the SAT writing section requires you to know the fundamentals of grammar and style. The only part of the SAT that doesn’t line up all that well to the TOEFL is Math. But even then, SAT Math gives you a good chance to practice basic English reading comprehension skills, since the whole SAT Math section is written– of course– in English.

  5. oreoluwa Adeola September 8, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Hello my name is oreoluwa Adeola am a Nigerian, and am about applying for Near East university but the Exam under west African is Waec/Neco/Nabteb.. I have both Waec and Neco.. wanna know if I still need to do any international exam…

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      I believe you’ll also need the TOEFL or IELTS, but I’m not 100% sure. Near East University has different testing requirements for different degree programs. And their requirements also vary depending on which country you are from. So you may want to double check with Near East to confirm that you really will need the TOEFL or IELTS. But like I said, I’m pretty sure they require this.

  6. Ramraja Rayamajhi November 10, 2016 at 8:09 am #

    Do I need to give IELTS or TOEFL if i have already done SAT?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 10, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

      That depends a lot on the university you’re applying to. Some universities consider an SAT score to be a substitute for an English proficiency score. Other schools may require both the SAT and an exam like the IELTS or TOEFL. But even in that case, you might not personally have to take the TOEFL if you are from a country the school treats as a TOEFL exempt country.

      To make a long story short, you need to check with the schools you’re applying to. Read through their admissions requirements, and contact them by email or phone if you’re still not sure whether you need an exam like the TOEFL or IELTS.

  7. Ram Paudel January 10, 2017 at 7:52 pm #

    Hey. I’m currently a high school student of 1st year. I’ve been panning to study in the USA for my further studies. What do you recommend in taking the SAT and TOFEL exams preparation ? Should I start the preparation classes this year or the next year ? Or maybe after completing my high school ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Ram,

      Your test prep can be a slow, steady journey! If you have some time here and there, I recommend building the base through grammar, basic math, etc. These will all serve you well for the tests. You can look at some sample materials for each test and do some practice to see where your weaknesses are and then slowly build those competencies. Then you will be able to focus on test skills specifically in the 6 months before you need to actually take the tests. I recommend taking the test during your final year of school sometime so they are out of the way when you transition to working on exams. Keep in mind that TOEFL scores are only valid for 2 years. 🙂

  8. Ariori deborah April 3, 2017 at 7:47 am #

    I’m Deborah from Nigeria and I wanna know if I can use only my TOEFEL test score to gain scholarship in d US?

    • David Recine
      David Recine April 4, 2017 at 12:45 am #

      Great question, Deborah! Actually, many different factors are used to grant scholarships. Your TOEFL score is just one thing that scholarship foundations consider. Scores on other exams, past academic performance, your chosen field of study, financial need, etc… are all possible criteria for scholarships.

  9. Rashik Gorkhali July 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

    Hello, should I take both the TOEFL and Sath1 &2 to get into a renowned U.S university like Harvard or MIT?

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 10, 2017 at 7:19 am #

      Having both a TOEFL score and an SAT score can certainly increase your options, in terms of where you can apply to school. Some schools actually require both exams. Harvard and MIT, on the other hand, do not absolutely require the TOEFL. Harvard only asks for the SAT or ACT. They will look at TOEFL scores, but they treat the TOEFL as optional. And MIT asks international students to either take the TOEFL or the SAT– but you don’t need to take both.

      If you have a good TOEFL score, certainly submit that score to Harvard or MIT. But again, it’s optional, and in the case of MIT, you have a choice between TOEFL and SAT. A good TOEFL score will likely help you– and perhaps actually be required– at other top schools as well. Check the requirements for each school you apply to, but consider taking the TOEFL regardless.

  10. Mohammad July 12, 2017 at 8:42 am #

    I want to apply for one test because I have limited time. So which one should I focus on SAT or TOEFL ?

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 13, 2017 at 9:54 am #

      That really depends on which university you apply to, Mohammad. Some universities only require the SAT, some only require the TOEFL, others let you choose between the SAT and TOEFL, and some require both exams. If you take just one test, take the one that gives you the best shot at your target schools. But I’d definitely advise taking both exams if you can– having both a TOEFL score and an SAT score will give you the most possible opportunities as an international student. 🙂

  11. davies alexsandra August 12, 2017 at 4:53 am #

    my name is alexsandra from Nigeria, i want to ask if i was given a scholarship to study in America am i the one to pay for flight to America

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 14, 2017 at 10:46 am #

      Hi Davies,

      That depends on who is giving you the scholarship. If it is from the university, you’ll be paying for your own flight usually. If it is from some other entity, you’ll have to read the details. 🙂

  12. Juan Camilo November 11, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

    Hello, I’m from Colombia. I already took the SAT and I got a 480 Reading and Writing score, Do you think I would do good on the TOEFL?

    Thanks for your help.

    • David Recine
      David Recine November 15, 2017 at 9:57 am #

      A 480 is on the lower end for SAT Reading and Writing. My guess is that this would translate into a lower TOEFL score, especially since the TOEFL requires listening and speaking skills, two additional English skills not tested on the SAT. But it’s hard to say. The TOEFL and SAT have both similarities and differences, and you may not know exactly how your scores on both tests compare unless you take both exams.

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