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TOEFL: A – Z Guide on Registration and Preparation for Your TOEFL Exams

INTRODUCTION

A big obstacle facing students who wish to study abroad is the document requirements by universities and scholarship bodies. There is a wide range of requirements which varies by university. But there is a very vital requirement that is common to all institutions. That is, the condition that any prospective students must be able to communicate in the language of that institution.

Institutions need a way to verify the language proficiency of a student just like the student needs a way to prove his or her ability to communicate in a particular language. This is achieved by means of certification issued by authorized institutions or organizations in every country.

However, an international student may face a barrier. Certification by one country is not always recognized by another. As a result, some organizations have sprung up to fill the void by offering globally accepted certification of language proficiency, like the English language.

One of such organizations with global reach is the Education Testing Service (ETS) in the USA. ETS conducts a number of tests for international students to facilitate entry to universities around the world. Among such tests is the TEOFL, which happens to be the subject of this article.

There is a complete guide on the registration process for TOEFL, with an accompanying preparatory guide to help prospective testers succeed. There will be additional information like pointers to preparatory and practice materials, scholarship opportunities and other vital information. Read on to know all about it.

ABOUT TOEFL

The TOEFL was first developed by a group of educators in 1962 to serve as a means of testing foreign students who want to study in US universities. It was first administered to students in 1964. In 1965 the administration of TOEFL was taken over by ETS which still manages the test today.

The TOEFL tests a student’s reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills to assess their readiness for university education. The TOEFL test had always been a paper and pencil test until 1998, when ETS began offering a computer-based version. In late 2005 the TOEFL computer-based testing transitioned to Internet-Based Testing (iBT) and has remained so till date.

Since 1964 the TOEFL has been taken by more than 27 million students around the world, and TOEFL scores are widely accepted for university admissions, professional licenses, and immigration visas, although providing access to higher education is the primary mission of ETS.

TOEFL AND SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Although the chances for some students, of getting a scholarship solely through TOEFL is quite slim, TOEFL does open up other scholarship opportunities. The organization which runs TOEFL, that is ETS, is in fact not even among the prominent international scholarship awarders in the world. However, the TOEFL is recognized by every single organization that offers scholarship for courses delivered in English. So it means if you have the TOEFL certificate and happen to apply for scholarship, at least you have already met one of the greatest barriers faced by many like you.

There may be universities today that will select scholarship students based partly on their TOEFL score, but these are few and far between. However, many universities have the TOEFL as an admission requirement and so do many scholarship organizations. So even if you are unable to win a TOEFL scholarship, the result will still help you meet a basic requirement. TOEFL on its own offers some limited scholarships to a very few number of students.

The TOEFL Scholarship is awarded to students of selected nationalities, which unfortunately, does not seem to include Africa for now. This scholarship is offered to students every year who meet the conditions. In 2013, students from India netted TOEFL scholarships worth $170,000 and many more students around the world have benefited since then.

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APPLICATION PROCEDURE FOR TOEFL

You can register for TOEFL in three ways: Online registration, Registration by Phone, and Registration by Mail (not email please). We provide a complete guide to each method of registration. But before we discuss these methods, it is important to explain a few requirements that every candidate must meet before proceeding to register. If you do not meet any of these requirements and does not contact the right people, ETS says it reserves the right to take some pretty vicious measures against such students on exams day. The biggest source of conflict between ETS and some students is the failure to meet ID requirements. So read carefully about ID documents for TOEFL before you hit any “Register” button.

ID REQUIREMENTS

You will not upload any ID or documents during registration for the TEOFL, but you are required to present a valid ID before being allowed into the exam hall. Taking the wrong ID or one that does not fully comply with the requirements of ETS will lead to disqualification or prohibition from taking the test. For this reason, it is important to know what exactly you are required to come along with.

Your first job is to ensure that the name, date of birth, and gender on your registration form matches those on your ID “exactly” both in spelling and arrangement, except for accents or apostrophes.

There are other requirements for ID aside conflicting bio-data. This will depend on your test location and citizenship. However, there is a general ID requirement that every test taker must meet, with the exception of a few circumstances. Your ID should:

  1. be an original document; photocopied documents are not acceptable and documents cannot be presented on a mobile phone or any other electronic device
  2. be a government-issued national/state/province identity card that is issued and recognized by the country where you are a citizen or resident
  3. be valid; expired documents (bearing expiration dates that have passed) are not acceptable
  4. include your full name exactly matching the name on the ID document used to register, excluding accents or diacritical marks
  5. include a recent, recognizable photograph
  6. include your signature (the name on the ID and the signature name must match)

There is another special requirement if you are 15 years of age or younger. You have to be accompanied by a parent or an authorized adult not less than 18 years old. Both you and your company must have an acceptable ID or you will be prevented from taking the test and your money is gone.

Sometimes the invigilator may question your ID and request a supplemental ID. It will be a good idea to carry a supplemental ID along, particularly if you are unsure of the validity of your primary ID. Below is a list of the kinds of documents that will not be accepted as a primary or supplemental ID:

  1. Any document that is photocopied or expired
  2. Any document presented on a mobile phone or any other electronic device
  3. Any document that is not recognized by a government agency
  4. Any document that does not exactly match the name you used when you registered
  5. International driver’s license
  6. Draft classification card
  7. International student ID
  8. Credit/debit card of any kind
  9. Notary-prepared letter or document
  10. Birth certificate
  11. Social security card
  12. Employee ID card
  13. Any temporary ID card
  14. Diplomatic, consulate or embassy ID card

A good point to note: If your ID document is written in a language that the test center supervisor cannot read, you may be denied entry into the examination hall. So if your ID card is written if French, pick your test center in a Francophone region. When in doubt regarding the validity of your ID, contact the Office of Testing Integrity at [email protected].

Well, so far so good, ETS has made their ID requirements clear to all. But it will be pretty thuggish of them to leave no room for mercy under all circumstances. As a humanitarian gesture, ETS under certain conditions will let you take the TEOFL test even if you are short on identification proofs. For example, (God forbid) if you are a refugee or living in exile under political asylum. Even in such cases, ETS may still request some documents from you so be sure to contact OTI first.

If you think your condition deserves it, you may try to talk ETS into a waiver on IDs. You should contact the ETS Office of Testing Integrity (OTI) at least 7 days before you register for the test. You must have approval from OTI before you register. If you fail to make contact prior to registration and as a result you are barred from taking the test, or your result indefinitely withheld, ETS deserves the right to spend your money anyhow it sees fit. So talk to them through one of these contacts below.

Phone: +1-609-406-5430, Fax: +1-609-406-9709, and email: [email protected]

Working hours is Monday – Friday, 7:30 am – 5:30 pm, US Eastern time, except US holidays.

NOW THE REGISTRATION STEPS

Hurry over to the official registration page and hit “Create an Account”. Enter your information in the form and ensure your full name, date of birth, and gender match those on your ID document to the letter. Every field marked with asterisk is compulsory; all others are optional, maybe except the “alternate phone number” field. Check the “Agree” box and click “Next”. Proceed to fill in the rest accepting the terms and conditions, and acknowledgements as you progress. Before submitting your registration, double check your bio data, because you can’t change Name, date of birth or Gender after that.

Now sign in to your dashboard. You will see a bunch of functionalities. Click on “Register or Find Test Centers, Dates”. A page soon opens to let you find a test location. There are three fields on this page, but you are most likely going to be dealing with two: the “location” and “period” fields. In the “location” combo box, type the name of your country or the one you are going to be testing in. wait for the drop-down list to appear and then select your country of choice. After typing your location, do not just punch “Enter” on your keyboard; otherwise you will jam an error. Wait for the list of countries and locations to update.

Next is to choose the period in which you want to take the test. Use the blue arrow in front of the date-boxes to navigate between different periods, and then hit the blue button at the bottom right to find test dates and locations.

Now you are viewing a page that shows a calendar and a list of dates below it. Look closely at this calendar. It may contain grey and green boxes. Some green boxes may also have a small red box at the top right corner. All boxes have a different meaning.

A green box means there are seats available for the date at that center. A green box with a spot of red means you are late, but can still register at an additional cost (late registration fee can go as high as $40). A grey box means there is no test on that date. Note that you can use the blue arrow at the side(s) of the calendar to switch between different test dates, and can also click on “Show Map” button to view a Google map of the location.

Click on any green box and details of centers will display including the amount you will pay for testing at that location. Study each detail to choose what suits you best. You won’t see the test time yet; neither will there be a “Register” link. To see the time and registration link, click “Show Test Times and Register”. Then touch the “Register” button.

Now read everything on the succeeding page, check the acknowledgement box and then hit “Next”. The next page will request ID information. The preferred ID is either a National ID or an International Passport. If you have neither of these, you may use other IDs recognized by a government agency in your country. Some IDs will be rejected during check in. Go through the list of acceptable IDs at the end of this guide to see if yours qualify, otherwise, contact the right personnel.

Fill through the rest of the form, clicking “Next” each time to proceed. If you intend to send your test scores to any institution, pause on the second-to-the-last form page and add the institution. Type the full name of the institution in the combo box and select it from the dropdown list. If you can’t find an institution, it means your score cannot be forwarded to it directly for now. You may request this service later.

Proceed with your selections to the end of the registration process. The instruction on every page is quite straight forward to all that can read and understand. On the page just before checkout, you will be bombarded with a list of items that urge you to open your wallet. Tick the boxes for the ones you want and can afford. This will be totaled with your test fee. There are all sorts of items promising to help you pass the TEOFL. Advertised are materials like value packs, online practice, books and DVDs, and preparatory materials for the test. Prices vary from $22.95 to $148.

If you did include any tangible items in your cart as opposed to digital items, you will be required to provide a shipping address or the item will be shipped to your through the registration address. If the item cannot ship to your country, you will have to use a Package Forwarding company to ship it. Payments are done mostly through PayPal or Cards. As of November 4th 2019, the fee for a TOEFL test is $195.

Registration for any test date closes 7 days to the test. Late registration is accepted at least 4 days before the test at a penalty of $40.

Students with certain disabilities are also covered. There is what ETS calls “accommodations”. This is a special arrangement for students with certain disabilities. If you need help taking the test due to health or other issues, you may request for accommodation. Approval will depend on eligibility. You are advised not to register until you have approval from ETS. You can learn more and download the full guide on accommodations request through this official page.

REGISTRATION BY PHONE

Most people are unlikely to take this path to registration, but it is worth discussing. First open and fill the registration form. This form is in PDF format and should be filled directly on your computer. The best browser for it is Chrome. Remember to avoid discrepancies in Name, Date of Birth, and Gender. Then call your regional registration center. Go here to find the phone numbers of registration centers in your country. Select your country from the list in the combo box and click “Go”. For every center in your region, there will be displayed information like: address, courier address, phone numbers, email and fax. Although it is not stated how exactly you are to submit the completed from, it appears that this can be done through email. There is an email address listed for each Regional Registration Center (RRC). You can make any inquiries regarding submission of form, payment options, test day, fees, and any other issues you have during or after registration.

You are to fill the form online or using Adobe. But it is easier to fill the PDF form on Google Chrome. Do not download the form using the direct download button in Chrome. Just click on the “Print” icon after filling it. When the “Print” dialogue box opens, select to save your file as PDF. This is to ensure that you can always view or print it exactly as it was filled. The file you save on your device cannot be edited. If there are any mistakes, you must fill a new form again and save. Note that you cannot use Firefox to fill this form as the feature is not supported in Firefox.

The payment options are listed on the form. The best options for candidates outside the US or Canada is Visa or MasterCard. Tick the appropriate box and fill in your card information. Make sure there is enough cash in your account to foot the bill because TSE will draw the test fee directly from your account. If they are unable to do so, maybe after a couple of trials, your registration will not be processed. Your form for both phone and email registration must be received at least 4 weeks before the test date or you may be rescheduled for a different date. You can decide to have your money refunded if you cannot be registered for the session of your choice.

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REGISTRATION BY MAIL (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH EMAIL)

This involves you posting the completed form through the post office or other couriers and not email. You must have chosen your payment option and have enough cash to cover the test fee. If you are testing outside the US or its territories and Canada, you are to mail your form and payment to your Regional Registration Center (RRC). Find the mailing address through the link provided earlier. Your form and payment must be received within four weeks to the test or you might miss registration for that session.

The process of filling the form is still the same like the phone registration method. The only difference is that you will be sending a hard copy this time. The center will usually contact you as soon as they receive the form and were able to charge your card. However, they advise that you contact them at least 3 days before your test if you did not receive any confirmation of registration. So you want to keep an eye on your email for any updates.

The wisdom behind filling this form online is to make sure that the form is legible. You don’t want some clerk mistyping your name or other useful information because he could not read your handwriting correctly. Or you don’t want ETS refusing to process your registration due to poor hand-writing. If you are paying someone at a computer center to do it, make sure to keep a watchful eye on what the person is typing as this is a very important document. Always use the right country code for the destination you are registering at. Go to this official link to find detailed information regarding country codes to use for the mailing address.

PREPARING FOR THE TEST

Adequately preparing for the test is subject to certain measures which if ignored can spell disaster. Among such measures is your knowledge of the skill level required of each test taker, the types of questions asked, and familiarity of the general test pattern. Knowledge of skills to have is especially crucial. Without this knowledge, you will be reading randomly instead of focusing on certain areas of you English language communication skills. This section of the article attempts to guide you towards preparing the right way.

The 3-hour TOEFL exams is designed to fully assess your English language proficiency by giving you a task to perform and then asking you questions about that task. There are four skills TOEFL will test in you, which includes: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The specific tasks you will be given during the test will combine your language skills in all of the manners described below:

  • Read, listen and then speak in response to a question
  • Listen and then speak in response to a question
  • Read, listen and then write in response to a question

 THE TABLE BELOW GIVES A SUMMARY DETAIL OF TEST CONTENTS

Reading 54–72 minutes 30–40 questions Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions.
Listening 41–57 minutes 28–39 questions Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, and then answer questions.
Break 10 minutes
Speaking 17 minutes 4 tasks Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.
Writing 50 minutes 2 tasks Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing.

THE READING SECTION

Your ability to do well in school is partially dependent on how much you understand written information. This section of the test will determine how well you understand texts that model the kind complexity you are to expect with university reading materials. For this, you are given a number of things to do.

You will read three to four texts of about 7 paragraphs each and 700 words long. The texts are mostly excerpts from academic sources like textbooks, journals, and articles, in many fields including from history and art to science and psychology. And then you are bombarded with a number of questions regarding what you just read.

To do well in this section, you need do more than just passive assimilation of words and sentences in the text. You must actively engage the text by thinking critically, asking questions, evaluating and formulating hypothesis, and identify relationships between pieces of information. Generally, you should the ability to:

  • Understand the meanings of words, phrases and sentences in the text, or at least understand most of it
  • Be able to grab the meanings of paragraphs and large bodies of text
  • Be able to tell major from minor points
  • Be able to summarize a passage
  • Draw conclusions by connecting the dots of information in a passage
  • Understand the structure of a text with respect to relationship between different parts
  • Figure out the author’s perspective and assumptions
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of an argument

You should expect to find questions about the main or subordinate ideas, details, possible deductions, lexical, rhetorical questions, synonyms, implied meanings, etc. You will have to frequently consult the text in order to answer some of the questions. Sometimes you may have to read a sentence or paragraph over and over again to deduce an answer as the examiner will attempt to trip you over most questions.

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THE WRITING SECTION OF TOEFL

The Writing section consists of two tasks: integrated writing, and independent writing. The integrated writing part will have you read a small piece of text and listen to a lecture on the same topic. Information presented in the record can supplement, explain, or refute the information mentioned in the text. You can take note during the process of reading and listening to the audio file. You will be provided with materials with which to take notes. You will have just three minutes to read and assimilate 200 – 220 words of text. Then you will be given 20 minutes to write an essay based on the information presented in the text and audio. They essay length is usually between 150 – 200 worlds.

The Independent Writing part will require an essay according to canons of evidence. You will need to use relevant facts from the text or audio you listened to without necessarily relying on any prior knowledge. You will explain and justify your position in the essay.

Practicing to write essays will be a good preparatory step. You will be required to write an essay of between 300 – 350 words in 30 minutes. Essay types may be in the form of:

  • Making an Argument,
  • Stating a Preference,
  • Agreeing or Disagreeing,
  • Giving an Explanation

Because the type of essay will depend on the question offered the examinee, it will be of great benefit to get a thorough knowledge on all types of essays. You should get a good control on grammar, spellings, punctuation, and structure. Try to understand how to create variety in sentences to achieve flow. Learn to make an introduction, organize ideas logically, make transitions, and conclusions. Doing this should get you ready to pass this section of the test. It is not the aim of this article to teach you how to write an essay. The articles online provides a guideline to preparation for the test.

THE LISTENING SECTION OF TOEFL

In this section of the TEOFL you will be given a number of recordings of English native speakers. You can expect to find any of US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and other native-speaker accents. Conversation can be a lecture, or a lecture with students’ responses, etc. you will be asked several questions about what was being said in the audios. Your ability to answer these questions will depend by large on the extent to which you understood the accents.

To understand these accents, you need to make adequate preparations. The audios will be of good quality, unlike the ones used to screen or recruit transcribers. But the accents will present the major obstacles to understanding what is being said in the audio.

You preparation for this section should include helping yourself understand a wide number of native-speaker accents. You will find a lot of free tools online that will you do this. For example, the site elllo.org will be a helpful source for materials on accent training. You can also visit YouTube for free videos that will guide you towards sharpening your listening skills. You can also engage in what is called shadow reading (reading simultaneously with someone) using the site elllo.org. You should also develop the habit of listening to news outlets like BBC; CNN etc. just flood your ears with native-speaker audios

Sharpen your pronunciation skills too. This has a double advantage as it helps you with both the listening and speaking sections of the test. There is what is called the Oxford 3000. This is a list of the 3000 most frequently-used words, which means that most of the words in the audios will be from this list. Learning how the words sound will make it a lot easier to understand the audios.

Lastly, we advise you to also take note of the most common liaisons, intonation, and contractions in the English language for different native-speaking countries, particularly America, Britain and Australia. Native English speakers don’t articulate. To non-natives speakers, they sound like they have a hot potato in their mouth when they speak. That is why they are difficult to understand. But if you practice with the right materials, you will understand them quite easily.

THE SPEAKING SECTION OF TOEFL

The speaking section checks how well you express your thoughts in English. What happens is that you are to read a passage and also listen to some audio. Then you link up the information from both materials to give an exhaustive answer to the questions that will follow.

As you speak, you are being assessed on a number of factors:

  • How deep you explore the topic (the logic of your speech, ideas, details, examples and facts)
  • How hard up you are for vocabulary (the words used and how complex, the use of synonyms, etc.)
  • Verbal fluency
  • The overall impression, like matching response tasks itself, or how you were able to use information from the passage and audio to answer questions.

To perform well in this section, it is important to assess and be confident in your skills regarding a number of key language components. See the brief descriptions that follow.

Your Fluency and Coherence: try to attain a normal level of continuity, rate, and effort as you link ideas and language to form coherent, connected speech. The key indicators of your ability to do this are the logical sequencing of sentences, clear marking of stages in discussion, narration or argument, and the use of cohesive tools like connectors, pronouns, and conjunctions.

Lexical Resource: how good are you with vocabulary and selection of words for precision expression of ideas, meanings, and attitude? Examiners will watch out for the variety of words used, adequacy and appropriateness of words used and your ability to circumvent a vocabulary gap using other words without hesitation.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: your use of the English grammar is crucial to getting a high score. Strengthen your knowledge of sentences structure, usage of subordinate clauses, complexity of spoken sentences, and other grammar mechanics.

Pronunciation: Can you produce comprehensible speech that fulfills your test requirements? How good you are at this is measured by the amount of strain caused to your listener, the amount of unintelligible speech, and the prevalence of L1 influence. Doing some accent training online or practicing with free videos on YouTube will help you a lot here. You can learn to listen to native speakers, do shadow reading, and flooding your ears with native spoken English.

PRACTICING FOR THE TOEFL EXAM

Practice should be an important activity for preparations. With the right materials, you will have a complete feel of how the testing environment is for TEOFL. It also helps you overcome confusions you may have on test day and make you more confident, particularly those who are nervous testing on a computer.

TOEFL has several high quality materials for this purpose. Unfortunately, not all are free. To view a comprehensive collection of practice materials of TOEFL, visit this official link.

The good thing with these practice materials is that they help you assess just how prepared you are for the test. After going through and applying the preparatory steps suggested in this article, you should at least try even a free practice test. You will also get an idea of how difficult and challenging the test questions will be.

Good luck.

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