What is the TOEFL Exam?

GoalsThere are many acronyms involved with applying for the most important graduate business education acronym of them all: the MBA. From GPAs to GMATs, all of these acronyms can get pretty confusing. One such important acronym that often flies under the radar is the TOEFL.

Now why is the TOEFL so important? Well, it is a required component of any international application. From a foundational perspective, the TOEFL is a standardized exam used to assess the English language proficiency of non-native speakers.

The overall TOEFL score is used to ensure that international students will be able to handle a predominantly English-speaking educational environment. As such, the TOEFL scores international applicants on their communicative English skills, such as their listening, reading, writing, and speaking ability. The test also evaluates international applicants on the basis of their enabling skills, like grammar, pronunciation, oral fluency, spelling, vocabulary and written discourse abilities.

Like the GMAT, there is no “passing” or “failing” score for the TOEFL – an acceptable score is one that is above the minimum threshold for your target program. Some programs do not have a minimum score required, so be sure to research what the requirements are for your schools of interest before preparing for this test. For those programs that do require a minimum TOEFL score, the magic number is a score of 100 at most schools, with higher requirements at outlier programs like Booth, Harvard Business School, and INSEAD.

Some programs will also waive the TOEFL requirements for some applicants, but this is usually due to having ample past work experience where English is the official working language or having been educated at the primary, secondary or undergraduate level from an English speaking institution. Waivers for the TOEFL will be evaluated on a case by case and school by school basis, so make sure to do your due diligence here if you are considering a waiver.

The TOEFL is a necessary part of the business school application process, so if you are an international applicant, make sure you know the requirements at your target programs and proceed accordingly.

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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can find more of his articles here.