Retaking the TOEFL

Official ETS Policies on TOEFL Retakes

ETS allows students to take the TOEFL iBT as many times as they wish. Test-takers are only restricted by a rule mandating a 12-day waiting period between TOEFL administrations. Since the TOEFL is offered more than 50 times per year, in theory an individual student could take the exam at least 25 times annually. The only exception is for students who are suspected of violations in a given TOEFL administration; these students may have their registration for later test dates cancelled. For students taking the TOEFL PBT, retakes are effectively constrained by infrequent offerings.

TOEFL Retakes and Score Reporting

ETS gives test-takers full control over which TOEFL score reports their prospective degree programs will see, but students should remember that they are asked to designate institutions to receive score reports before taking the test. If a student has taken the TOEFL more than once and designated a given institution multiple times, then that school will obviously have all scores. Most universities will consider only the highest TOEFL scores, and students are therefore not at a disadvantage if they take the test again. Furthermore, students are not required to name the recipients of score reports before they take the test, and they are therefore free to delay score reports until they know their scores. However, students may not combine the highest sectional scores from several test attempts.

TOEFL Score Validity

According to ETS policies, TOEFL scores are valid for two years after the test date. Upon the expiration of this period, ETS will no longer send official score reports to universities, agencies, or other organizations. Degree programs are therefore obligated to observe this timeframe, and they will require applicants to retake the exam if their scores are expired. Prospective university students are thus urged to select test dates that account for the relatively brief window of TOEFL score validity, and they should also note that the acceptance period is much longer for other standardized tests (GRE scores, for example, are valid for five years).

Making Decisions on Retaking the TOEFL

Degree programs at a large percentage of universities have minimum TOEFL total and/or sectional scores required for admission or matriculation. If they have already received passing scores, students interested in these programs usually have little reason to retake the TOEFL. If these students wish to further build their English-language skills, they may do so in other contexts. TOEFL retakes are, however, highly relevant for applicants to programs without TOEFL minimums or degree offerings that demonstrate an admissions preference for higher-scoring students. In these cases, it is in the best interest of applicants to meet or exceed the average scores of accepted students. Additionally, candidates for teaching assistantships or scholarships must retake the TOEFL if they have failed to achieve the (often higher) TOEFL standards associated with financial aid, even if their scores are already sufficient for admission alone. In order to make the best decisions on TOEFL retakes, students must determine which of the above categories most closely matches their circumstances.

Preparing for TOEFL Retakes

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This sentiment is highly relevant to retaking the TOEFL, and students who do not improve their preparation have no reason to expect higher TOEFL scores on subsequent test attempts. The key to boosting TOEFL scores is to focus on areas of weakness. Sectional scores will reveal broad areas to need, but students cannot learn which questions they missed from score reports. It is therefore essential to incorporate TOEFL practice tests into the preparation routine for TOEFL retakes. Practice tests will provide more detailed assessments of the specific types of exercises on which a given student struggles. Students taking the TOEFL for a second time should also review the overall quality of their preparation. Professional instructors with unassailable credentials give their students the highest likelihood of success.

ETS and Institutional Development of TOEFL Score Requirements

ETS does not endorse any official passing standards for TOEFL total and sectional scores, and university departments are entrusted to develop requirements that meet their individual needs. ETS does, however, provide advice on how schools can use the TOEFL most effectively. Moderation in score requirements is encouraged, because excessively high or low requirements adversely affect consideration of the applicant pool. ETS also advises institutions to regularly review (and if necessary, revise) their TOEFL standards and support for English language learners. Finally, ETS urges academic programs to specify both sectional and total score standards, which allow more detailed assessment of international applicants.