The TOEFL exam measures a person’s mastery of the English language. Students applying to colleges or universities in the U.S. from a country abroad can take this exam to show their command of the language, and to show how committed they are to studying in the U.S.

One of the first things people are curious about is what TOEFL iBT stands for? When the test began years ago it stood for Test of English as Foreign Language, Internet-Based Test. The tastemakers now simply call the test TOEFL.

The history of the exam dates back to the 1960s as a way for non-native English speakers to show their proficiency in the language. The test has been revised several times, with the most recent revisions happening in 2005. 

Over the course of the test’s 60-year history, about 30 million people have taken the exam in more than 130 different countries. 

As with any test, studying is the best way to score well. To help those trying to obtain a high score, there are prep courses available.

For those thinking about prep classes, we’ve created this guide that explores everything you should know about the process. We’ll cover: 

  • What’s on the TOEFL?
  • How is the TOEFL administered?
  • How is the TOEFL scored?
  • Why do you need a TOEFL prep course?
  • Who needs a TOEFL prep course?
  • Things to consider before selecting a TOEFL prep course
  • How to choose a TOEFL prep course
  • Frequently Asked Questions About the TOEFL
  • The best TOEFL prep courses to consider

What’s on the TOEFL?

Before looking into preparation courses, let’s start with a quick look at what’s on the test. The exam consists of four sections, which includes a: 

  • Reading section
  • Listening section
  • Speaking section
  • Writing section

The exam offers a series of practice questions that require the test taker to listen or read English and then respond verbally or write down responses to questions. 

The exam takes about three hours to complete. 

How is the TOEFL administered? 

One of the great things about the TOEFL iBT is that it can be taken at home – not in a testing center. Students can take the test online and have it proctored by a remote instructor. Of course, this option is only available to students who have a laptop or tablet and an internet connection that can support the exam. Ninety-seven percent of people take the exam online. 

For people who don’t have the technology or for people who would prefer to take the test at a testing center, the option does still exist – although it’s being phased out. The TOEFL PBT, or paper-based test, is offered at testing centers. Only 3% of students take the test this way.

How is the TOEFL scored?

Test takers are given a score between 0-30 for each section of the test. They are also given a total score, which is the sum of all section scores added together, which is between 0-120. 

The scores fall into proficiency levels, which you can see below: 

Reading Score

  • Advanced (24–30)
  • high-intermediate (18–23)
  • Low-Intermediate (4–17)
  • Below Low-Intermediate (0–3)

Listening score

  • Advanced (22–30)
  • High-Intermediate (17–21)
  • Low-Intermediate (9–16)
  • Below Low-Intermediate (0–8)

Speaking score

  • Advanced (25–30)
  • High-Intermediate (20–24)
  • Low-Intermediate (16–19)
  • Basic (10–15)
  • Below Basic (0–9)

Writing score

  • Advanced (24–30)
  • High-Intermediate (17–23)
  • Low-Intermediate (13–16)
  • Basic (7–12)
  • Below Basic (0–6)

Why do you need a TOEFL prep course?

For students or parents considering a TOEFL prep course, there are several reasons to go through with one. Here’s a look at why people opt for a prep course: 

To get a better score

More than 9,000 universities accept the TOEFL exam, and many universities require it. To get an impressive score, students should consider a prep course. 

To stand out in a crowd

Since many schools require this exam for non-native speakers, it makes sense to earn a score that makes you stand out. A prep course can help you do that.

Know what to expect

Taking a prep course helps examinees know what’s on the exam. Knowing what to expect and how to handle different scenarios is a huge advantage when taking the test. 

Who needs a TOEFL prep course?

For students wondering if a prep course is right them, here’s who typically takes the courses: 

Students looking to score well

Whether your dream school requires a certain test score or you just want to do well to have as many options as possible, a prep course is for you. 

Students who struggle with tests

There are some students who simply aren’t good test-takers. Rather than shy away from this test, students who get test-day jitters say preparing for the exam calms their anxiety and gives them a chance to focus on the task at hand. 

Students who are willing to do the work

Prep courses require students to set aside time to study. Attending classes is part of the process, but working at home is part of the process too. 

Things to consider before selecting a TOEFL prep course

When you’re ready to select a TOEFL prep course, here’s what to consider: 

Commitment level

To get the most out of a prep course, students have to put in the work. Going to class or attending an online course is just the start, students will have homework and will need to study. 

Schedules

A prep course takes time, so students with busy schedules may need to make changes to accommodate prep courses. It might mean better time management skills or it might mean eliminating an extracurricular activity.

In-person or online courses

There’s a variety of TOEFL prep courses available. Some are scheduled, in-class courses with homework assignments that could last up to ten weeks, others are online and give students the chance to learn at their own pace. Students can also opt for private tutoring sessions as one of their prep options. 

Budget

The cost of prep courses varies. There are some free resources that students enjoy and there are professional companies that specialize in prep courses. Courses can be expensive, so it’s important to know what you’re willing to spend on prep courses.  

How to choose a TOEFL prep course

There are a lot of test prep resources out there, but for those who are ready to commit to a prep course, here’s what you should look for:

A score guarantee

There are prep courses that guarantee score improvements. For serious test takers looking to reach a certain TOEFL score, look for this kind of guarantee. Be aware that there aren’t many companies that offer this, so this alone will narrow the search. 

Availability of tutoring

Some companies do offer private tutoring, which is expensive. Other programs offer access to educators via email or chat. Many of the programs, however, are self-taught by utilizing the materials given. For students who want extra support, be on the lookout for tutoring or connections to instructors. 

Access to practice tests

The best practice is to work through old exams as if they’re the real thing. Look for courses that have an abundance of practice exams available along with sample questions that can hone the skills needed to score well on the exam. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the TOEFL

For those new to the world of TOEFL testing, here are answers to a few frequently asked questions:

What eligibility requirements are there to take the TOEFL at home?

To be eligible to take the test, you must have a computer and a working internet connection, along with a room that provides an environment for the test. Students are asked to install software to take the exam from home. 

How do students register for the at-home test?

Visit ETS to set up an account and schedule a day and time to take the exam.

Can I select my own test date?

Yes. Students can look through available dates and times. Exams are scheduled on Tuesday-Friday. There may be availability within 24 hours to take the test.

When do students get their scores?

At the end of the exam, students will see their unofficial scores for the reading section and the listening section on their screen. The other scores will arrive 6-10 days after taking the test. 

Can students retake the exam?

Yes. Students can retake the exam as many times as they’d like, but can’t take it more than once in the span of three days. 

The best TOEFL prep courses to consider

For students planning to take a TOEFL prep course, there’s a lot of choices to sift through. To help narrow the search, here’s a list of the best TOEFL courses to consider:

1. Magoosh

  • Price: Starting at $39
  • Format: Online video lessons
  • Best for: Students on a budget

Magoosh offers classes for many standardized tests and TOEFL is one of them. The company is younger than some of the more recognized test preparation companies, but that shouldn’t scare you away. Magoosh has taken great care in designing helpful and affordable prep courses. 

Magoosh offers a four-point improvement guarantee to anyone who has taken the exam before. Their confidence in their material is supported by 420 videos, test questions, and tutors that can be reached via chat anytime. 

Magoosh also offers and seven-day money-back guarantee. Try the program for a week and if you don’t like it, you can get your money back. 

Students can get six months of online training for just $89.

2. Kaplan

  • Price: Starting at $200
  • Format: In-person, online, on-demand
  • Best for: Students who want to learn in-person

Often referred to as the gold standard in test prep, Kaplan has TOEFL courses in every format. Students can take in-person courses, online classes, or utilize an on-demand program. Kaplan is one of the few programs that offer in-person classes for this exam. For people who learn better in-person or people who like the idea of attending classes as a way to follow through with studying should consider the traditional classes. 

The online classes are virtual classrooms with scheduled times for students to meet remotely. These classes are quite popular and the company tries to keep class sizes small to facilitate small group learning. 

The cost of the classes vary, but for students who are already in the U.S. and who are looking to take classes in-person, you can expect to pay $200. 

3. TestDEN

  • Price: $129
  • Format: Practice test with assistance
  • Best for: Students looking for a basic course

TestDEN is a platform that offers a series of TOEFL practice exams and provides tools to show students where they can improve and how to do it. With this particular option, TestDEN suggests starting about a month before taking the exam. 

TestDEN also offers a speaking and writing trainer, which helps students navigate the tougher parts of the exam. The trainer gives students model answers that they can learn from. 

There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee offered to anyone who tries the platform. If for any reason a student doesn’t like it, he or she can request a refund. 

The cost of this course is $129.  

4. Testmasters

  • Price: $599
  • Format: On-demand video classes
  • Best for: Online learners

Testmasters has an on-demand course to help students master the TOEFL test. The company offers a 20-point score improvement guarantee and supports that promise with hundreds of instructional videos, practice exams, and study materials. 

Students also get customized feedback as they work through exams. The feedback is meant to identify strengths and weaknesses and help students make adjustments in their study routine to accommodate them. 

The cost of this course is $599. While the cost is higher than other programs, there is also a lot of TOEFL preparation material available. 

For students looking to land a great score to gain entrance to an American college or university, the company’s 20-point score increase guarantee could be worth the investment. 

5. BestMyTest Online TOEFL Preparation

  • Price: Starting at $39
  • Format: Online resources
  • Best for: Mobile-dependent students

BestMyTest offers an online course that has all of the resources a student needs to prepare for the exam. The company has students take a practice exam that identifies strengths and weaknesses and provides a personalized study plan. The plan is meant to help students focus on lessons that will improve their scores and focus less on areas that they’re testing well in. 

One of the biggest advantages of BestMyTest is that it’s mobile-friendly. Students can train for the exam on their smartphone or tablet when it’s convenient for them. 

The company also offers a free 7-day trial. The cost of the courses start at $39, but the most popular plan is $189.