It can be hard to pin an exact date down for something that seems as daunting as the TOEFL. If you take it too early, you risk being unprepared; take it too late, and you take chances with your ability to re-take it if needed; register too early, and Murphy’s Law says that your best friend will wind up scheduling their wedding the night before the test, and you won’t be well rested and ready to rock on test day. When choosing your test date, take the following things into consideration.
Be sure of your program’s application dates.
This seems like a no-brainer, but bear with me. Unless you’re extremely confident in your ability, give yourself enough of a cushion before your deadlines that (a) you can re-take the test if needed, and (b) there will be plenty of time to iron out any problems that may crop up with the delivery of score reports or test scoring. Most undergraduate programs in the US have deadlines in the late fall or winter before you intend to start (for a program that begins in the fall). The deadline may be different if you are an international student, if you want to be considered for scholarships, or if you’re applying early action/early decision. To be absolutely sure that you’ve got the correct date, confirm with an admissions counselor at your school of choice.
Don’t cheat yourself of study time.
I’m sure that many of you want to take the test as soon as possible so you can stop worrying about it and get on with your life. I get that. But don’t rush it. If you do, you run the risk of having to take the test twice or not getting the score you need to go to the school you want. I usually tell my students to register for a date at least a month in advance.
I’m not just talking about the example I gave above of having to attend a wedding the night before your test—although I definitely don’t recommend that course of action. I’m also talking about events that can help you. Are you taking an intensive English or TOEFL prep course? Go ahead and plan on taking the test within a few weeks of finishing it. Are you going to have a break from school that will be a good chance to brush up? Take the test at the end of the break. Are you going to have a break from school on which you will absolutely not spend time doing anything remotely intellectual? Then take the test right before the break. Are you from a non-English-speaking country, but studying abroad currently in an English-speaking community? Great! Take the test before you leave or within a few weeks of returning home. Give yourself every chance to succeed.
Don’t forget that your scores expire.
TOEFL scores are good for 2 years after your test date. After that, you’ll have to re-take the exam before applying to your program. So even if you’re studying abroad right now and you feel invincible in English, if you still have a few years before you apply to college, you should probably just wait until you’re in that two-year window, unless you want to take the test now for practice or personal reasons.