Update, 1/18/16: You can find a full list of test dates in 2016 here. 🙂
Since the TOEFL iBT is taken on a computer, it’s easy for ETS to administer the test. That means the days when you can take the TOEFL iBT are much more frequent than the possible dates to take the PBT (that’s the paper-based test).
In fact, the TOEFL test dates in many countries are so frequent that you can take the test any week of the year. To see the days when you can take the test, check the official list of test centers and dates. The scheduled days on that list only go three months into the future, though–if you are planning for more than three months from now, you won’t be able to find specific test dates.
That is, unless you’re taking the PBT. There are very few countries which still administer the PBT, but if you are in one of those countries, there will only be 3-4 test dates in the next 6 months. Those are also listed on the official site.
When You Should Take the TOEFL
If you’re planning on beginning grad school within a year, you will want to choose a date to take the TOEFL relatively soon. Many U.S. college and graduate school programs require applications a long time before the start of the the semester–sometimes as many as 10 months ahead of time, and you’ll want to make sure you leave enough time to send your scores as well. But, this depends on what programs you are going to apply to. Check the websites of the schools you’re interest in, and possibly email the admissions office if you’re not sure when applications are due.
When you should take the test depends on how soon those deadlines are. But generally speaking, if you’re going to have to take the test, it should be at least a couple of months from when you start studying. The later scheduled days on that list of the test dates should be appropriate for most people who read this blog. But that assumes your application deadlines are also months into the future, at least.
Let’s imagine two scenarios to illustrate good timing:
Scenario 1 – Applying to Schools Eventually
You are applying to a graduate school program or college eventually, maybe next year. This is a good opportunity to check your ability now. Study for the TOEFL for one or two months, practicing the format and strategies as much as possible. Then take the test. This might be many, many months before your applications are due, but that’s okay. This is because TOEFL scores rely on two things: general academic English ability and test familiarity/strategy. General English ability takes a long time to improve. Strategy can be learned more quickly. So you want to improve your strategy as much as possible and take the test relatively soon. This way, you can see whether your goals are realistic.
If your score is lower than you expected, you can adjust your plan. You will have to improve your general English ability, and that takes time. If your score is at the level you want, then that’s great. You can spend your time in the next months improving your application in other ways, such as preparing for the GRE, GMAT, or SAT.
Scenario 2 – Applying to Schools Soon
The application deadlines for your program are within months. If this is the case, then you want to check out those TOEFL test dates now, and schedule the test for a time near the application deadline. Give yourself as much study time as possible. It often takes month to really learn how to take the TOEFL well and get the highest score you can. Make as much time between now and test day as possible.
It’s not easy to make a plan like this. The main things to consider when scheduling are these:
- Give yourself enough time to study for the test, then take is immediately after you feel comfortable with the format.
- If your scores are too low, but you’re familiar with the format, then you will want to improve your general academic English ability. This will take more time. How much time depends on your level of English now and your goal score.
- The TOEFL is not cheap. Ideally, you want to take it one time. If you need to retake, be sure that you give yourself enough time to improve your scores before you take the test again. The second test should be the last test.
If you’re just starting to have a go at studying for the TOEFL, check out these posts I’ve written up about the TOEFL: