To complete graduate study in the United States successfully, you will need to be able to read, write, and communicate orally in English with a high degree of proficiency. English language proficiency will also help you to achieve your academic and personal goals while in the United States.
To determine your level of English language proficiency, arrange to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as early as possible — at least a year before you plan to enroll. As with many areas of U.S. education, each institution sets its own English language admission standard, but some guidelines on the standard required are given in the section on TOEFL scores below. Some institutions accept English language examinations other than TOEFL; check the information you receive from institutions to see which examinations they accept.
Even if you have a good basic level of English proficiency and have met the minimum TOEFL requirements for a university, some schools may require you to take courses to improve your mastery of American English, academic or research usage, and study skills. If you studied English under the British system, you may find that U.S. vocabulary and usage are quite different.
If you are applying for a teaching assistantship, the university may ask you to demonstrate your proficiency in spoken English, which the TOEFL examination does not test. The Test of Spoken English (TSE), often required for this purpose, is offered less frequently and at fewer centers than TOEFL. Allow several additional months for the application process if you are applying for a teaching assistantship.
TOEFL Waivers: If you are a non-U.S. citizen and nonnative speaker of English who has been educated in English for most of your school life, your TOEFL requirement may be waived. Allow time in the application process to correspond with U.S. universities about this issue. American universities are unlikely to accept secondary school English language examination results as proof of your language ability.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
"There are many great TOEFL preparation books that can help you with exercises for the test. You need to be familiar with the structure of the TOEFL and prepare for it." — Literature student from Hungary
TOEFL is given on computer in almost all countries worldwide, and the paper-based version is being phased out. The test is offered on many days in the month, but only at a limited number of computer-based testing centers. You may have to travel some distance to reach the nearest test center.
Test Registration: Preregistration is required, and it is NOT possible to go to the testing center and hope to find space available that same day. Computer-based testing registration deadlines vary. According to current TOEFL instructions, mail-in registration deadlines are three weeks ahead of your desired test date, one week ahead of the test date for fax registrations, and two days ahead of the test date for registration by telephone. Note that a credit card is required to register by fax or telephone. You can indicate the days when you would prefer to take the test, and the test administrators will try to accommodate your requests. However, at certain times of the year, or in certain cities, centers may be very busy. It is therefore advisable to register at least two to three months in advance of your desired test date. For those countries where paper-based testing is still offered, the test is given on certain dates during the year, and registration deadlines are approximately six weeks ahead of those dates.
TOEFL registration bulletins are available from either the test administrators in the United States (see page 60), the regional registration center for your country (see the TOEFL Web site at http://www.toefl.org or the test registration bulletin for further details), or from U.S. educational information and advising centers. These centers may ask you to pay postage costs, and they may also have test preparation materials for the TOEFL available for reference use, loan, or purchase.
Content: The test uses a multiple choice and essay format to measure each examinee's ability to understand North American English. The test is divided into four sections: listening, structure, reading, and writing. The writing section requires the test taker to write an essay. TOEFL is a computer-adaptive test, which means that not all students answer exactly the same questions on the test. Instead, depending on how the student performs on each question, the computer determines whether the level of the next question should be easier or more difficult.
Scores: The total number of questions you answer correctly, together with your score on the essay, form the raw scores for each section. Raw scores are then converted to a scaled score for each section, which for the computer-based test ranges from 0 to 30. From these a total score is calculated, which ranges between 40 and 300 for the computer-based test. Each graduate department within a university decides for itself what score is acceptable. In general, colleges consider a total score of 250 or above to be excellent and a score below 173 to be inadequate. Most institutions require a score of between 213 and 250 (550 and 600 on the paper-based test) for admission to a graduate program. A few accept scores as low as 173 (500 on the paper-based test).