Limits on Retakes of the TOEFL

ETS TOEFL Retake Policies

There are no prescribed limits on how many times an individual student may retake the TOEFL, and the only official restriction is a mandatory 12-day waiting period. ETS will not permit students to register for a new TOEFL administration that takes place within 12 days of a previous test date. Students are, however, allowed to register for multiple test dates, as long as none of these appointments are within 12 days of each other.

Registration Procedure for TOEFL Retakes

Students sign up for TOEFL retakes in any of the ways available for initial registration (online, phone, or mail). Online registration for TOEFL retakes is easier the second time around, because the student will already have an account on the ETS website. There is no discount on the registration fee for subsequent test attempts (retakes cost $195 in the United States), and a reduced fee of $60 applies only to students who are rescheduling rather than retaking the exam. Students are free to select a different test center for TOEFL retakes, subject to availability.

TOEFL Retakes and University Admissions

University applicants who take the TOEFL multiple times are under no obligation to disclose all of their scores, and institutions will therefore only have access to the scores selected by the test-taker. The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is an example of an extremely selective program with high but flexible English standards for international applicants. Ross officials note that they have no minimum TOEFL requirements, and while the average TOEFL total score of accepted students is 108, this program considers other indicators of English fluency (such as GMAT analytical writing) and does not automatically reject applicants with lower TOEFL sectional or total scores.

TOEFL Retakes: Risks and Costs

The primary risk associated with retaking the TOEFL is a lower score, but students who undergo better preparation are extremely unlikely to receive unfavorable outcomes. Obviously, retaking the TOEFL comes with additional costs, which can go far beyond new registration fees. All of the expenses associated with preparation, including instruction, materials, and transportation, should be weighed against the benefits of higher scores. These extra expenses are worthwhile only if stronger TOEFL performance leads to substantially improved admissions prospects. At some schools, exceeding the minimum TOEFL score requirements offers no advantages, but at others, higher TOEFL scores can enhance applications. Individual test-takers must assess their own situation and determine how additional TOEFL attempts may (or may not) affect their status.

Multiple TOEFL Retakes

Most informed individuals do not encourage students to take the TOEFL more than a handful of times. Students with low scores must address the reasons for their poor performance rather than simply hoping that they will get lucky on the next test attempt. Even if disappointing scores can be plausibly attributed to factors such as illness or testing anxiety, these problems must be solved before taking the TOEFL again.

TOEFL Retakes and the iBT/PBT

Some programs will accept the TOEFL PBT from all applicants, but others will either insist on the iBT or consider PBT scores only if the iBT is unavailable in an applicant's home country. Many students who have previously taken the PBT may be required to retake the TOEFL in its internet-based version, especially if their university plans have changed. These students are strongly advised to rigorously prepare for the iBT, which is a significantly different assessment than the PBT. Schools that widely accept the PBT often attach additional conditions to its consideration, such as a speaking assessment. These extra language requirements can be avoided if an applicant submits iBT scores. Taking the iBT is therefore often in the best interests of students who have already taken the paper-based TOEFL.

Provisional Admission and the TOEFL

There are a variety of ways that universities deal with applicants who fail to meet institutional TOEFL requirements. Some departments simply refuse to consider students with scores below the established benchmarks, but a number of schools are willing to grant provisional admission to otherwise qualified applicants. Provisional admission is usually accompanied by remedial English requirements, which commonly include additional English placement tests or English courses. These remedies give provisionally admitted students the opportunity to achieve full admission and good-standing status, but their costs can be much greater than the expenses associated with effective TOEFL preparation (a three-credit English course at a high-tuition university, for example, might be significantly more expensive than a TOEFL prep class).