Kate Hardin

Do I Need to Take the TOEFL?

Taking the TOEFL is no small undertaking. Before you commit, you should be sure of your need for the test, the time frame in which to take it, and how well your current English level matches the requirements of your program. You want to have concrete (and attainable) goals, and, if possible, you want to have this worked out long before you actually need to take the test, because slow and steady studying is critical to improving your score.

The TOEFL isn’t an easy test to hack—having excellent test-taking skills will be a boost, but it won’t compensate for subpar language skills. So taking the test when you’re not really prepared is almost as big a waste as taking the test when you don’t really need it at all. So getting the best results on the first try will take some forethought and planning. This article will focus on the questions you need to answer before registering for the TOEFL—I hope that this article can save you a lot of grief by helping you to determine what having a TOEFL score can—and can’t—do for you.

What kind of English certification do you need?

Many programs and employers require proof of English competence, but don’t specify what kind of proof they need. Such cases offer you the opportunity to choose which test you take based on your own strengths and preferences. The IELTS and the TOEFL are the two most widely-accepted English tests, although there are others (ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, Cambridge English Assessments, and so on). There are plenty of resources online to help you compare the two tests and decide which is best for you.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.


For aspiring students

Generally, you’ll need to take an exam with an academic English component in order to qualify for upper-level academic work in English. Since all four skills are needed to succeed in English-language studies, one-sided tests like the ACTFL OPI (which only tests speaking ability) usually won’t be sufficient. If you’ve done significant coursework in English or lived in an English-speaking country for an extended period of time, though, check with the programs you’re applying to—many of them allow you to opt out of the test if you can prove your English skills through other means, which can save you time and money.

For professionals and aspiring professionals

Most of my adult students are learning English for job-related reasons. Speaking English opens doors at work and is one excellent way to get the edge over other people in your field. You may decide at some point that this edge is exactly what you need, whether it’s to qualify for special projects with your current employer, to qualify for a new and higher position, or simply to make yourself more marketable as you enter the workforce. As I said above, taking a language assessment unprepared is generally a waste, so it’s a good idea to be proactive if you think that an English certificate will come in handy someday—don’t wait until you find the job of your dreams and then rush through the test in order to qualify. If your goals in learning English are professional rather than academic, however, the TOEFL may not be the test for you. For many professional programs, any certificate of English competence is as good as any other at the same level. So if your academic writing and reading aren’t quite up to snuff, you may consider other options to prove your English abilities.

Have you already taken the TOEFL once? Get help deciding whether or not to retake the TOEFL.

Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard and Vancouver Film School


  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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