The TOEFL is one of the most popular and established options for students who need to prove their language skills in a PhD application, with around 30 million people taking the test in the past 50 years. It originated in America but the TOEFL is widely accepted by universities and education providers around the world.
This page will give you an overview of the TOEFL for PhD students, covering essential information on the exam format, test locations, scores and fees.
First launched in the 1960s, the TOEFL is currently administered by a non-profit organisation in Princeton, New Jersey called Educational Testing Service (ETS).
The exam has two formats:
The most common version of the test is the TOEFL iBT, which is taken by around 97% of candidates at thousands of TOEFL centres across the globe. Meanwhile, the paper-delivered TOEFL is only available in locations where internet access is rare. The content of the two tests is the same.
TOEFL test centres and dates can be found on the ETS website.
Universities and grad schools usually have varying policies when it comes to deciding whether a doctoral candidate needs to provide an English language qualification score.
Generally speaking, if you’ve completed university-level studies in a majority English-speaking country you won’t need to provide a TOEFL score when applying for a PhD. Institutions sometimes have different ideas of what constitutes a majority English-speaking nation, but these are the most common:
|Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)|
|Length of test||3 hours|
|Number of students||30 million test takers to date|
|Test locations||More than 4,500 test centres in over 165 countries|
|Typical cost||USD $200|
There are four sections in the TOEFL, measuring your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. The TOEFL takes an integrated approach to these skills, meaning that you might be assessed on more than one element during a single section.
Taking 180 minutes to complete, this is how a TOEFL exam is structured:
There’s also a 10-minute break between the listening and speaking sections.
Each section is graded out of 30, with the TOEFL as a whole given an overall score out of 130.
TOEFL iBT scores can be viewed around 10 days after taking the test, while ETS will post the results of a paper-delivered test around five weeks after the exam.
Usually you’ll need to achieve a TOEFL score of around 90 to be accepted onto a PhD programme, with no less than 20 in each section. This grade is generally the same as the language requirements for a Masters.
Bear in mind that required TOEFL scores can vary quite widely by university and discipline. If you’re applying for a PhD in a subject that requires a high degree of literacy (English Literature, for example), you may need a score of at least 100.
You can take the TOEFL at one of the many authorised test centres in a well-established and wide network across the world. This network encompasses more than 4,500 locations in over 165 countries – this is the full list of TOEFL centres. The TOEFL is offered around 50 times a year at these locations.
Although the TOEFL can be taken as many times as you like, it can only be taken once in any 12-day period.
The registration fee for the TOEFL depends on the country you’re taking the test in. These are a few examples of the fees that you can expect to pay:
Last updated 21/11/2019