Cross the English barrier
An introduction to TOEFL, an internationally recognised English proficiency test.
Self-study is one of the options. Photo: S. Mahinsha
Proof of proficiency in the English language is a must for those interested in studying abroad for courses taught in English. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) offered by the British Council and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) conducted by the US-based Education Testing Service (ETS) are the two most widely used tests for non-native English speakers to prove their proficiency in the language.
For more than 40 years, TOEFL has been the leading academic English proficiency test for those seeking admission in colleges and universities, particularly in the US and Australia. Each year, nearly 800,000 individuals worldwide register for the test.
TOEFL, which measures English language proficiency in reading, listening and writing, is offered online in most parts of the world. In areas where access to computer-based testing is limited, a paper-and-pencil version of the test is administered.
Apart from colleges and universities, many agencies, scholarship programmes, and licensing/certification agencies too use the TOEFL score to evaluate English proficiency. Over 4,500 colleges and universities the world over now accept TOEFL score.
While IELTS measures language proficiency in all aspects of communication, TOEFL does not test a candidate's speaking skills. Therefore, the British system has an edge over TOEFL, although the former is tougher than the American system.
A mere TOEFL score will not be enough if the candidate intends to pursue a profession in America. Those who seek a job will have to take an additional computer-based Test of Spoken English (TSE). Realising this drawback of TOEFL, ETS has developed a new test that will help individuals demonstrate the English skills needed for academic success in a better manner.
The new TOEFL that assesses all four basic language skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking, will come into effect from September this year. This test will help institutions make better decisions about prospective students' readiness for academic coursework.
Since this includes a speaking section, institutions and agencies will no longer need to include the TSE test as a separate requirement. Until September this year, candidates will have to take TOEFL and TSE.
In India, only computer-based TOEFL is available. Test centres are in Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram.
A candidate can take TOEFL on any working day, usually three or four weeks after registering online. Registration is possible either through the TOEFL website (www.toefl.org) or by contacting the New Delhi centre at 011- 26511649 or -26531442. But the registration fee of $130 can only be paid through credit card. ETS accepts payment through Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover or JCB credit cards. ETS argues that online registration is hassle-free, fast and inexpensive.
Computer-based TOEFL has four sections. While the listening section measures the candidate's ability to understand English as it is spoken in America, the structural section assesses one's ability to recognise language that is appropriate for standard written English. This follows reading and writing sections. TOEFL usually takes about three-and-half hours to complete.
The maximum score is 300. Once a student takes TOEFL, his/her score will be valid for two years. The score can be improved only after two years by taking a fresh test.
For TOEFL, there is no prescribed textbook. But many guides are available in the market.
Abdul Latheef Naha
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