Is English your second (or third or fourth) language? If it’s anything but your first, then you may have to take the TOEFL to get into university in the United States. The TOEFL is an English language test that shows you have the language skills to succeed in college.
As another admissions test, the TOEFL shares some similarities with the more ubiqutous SAT. This guide will compare the two tests, as well as give you some tips for preparing for both. If you’re a non-native English speaker planning to apply to a U.S. college, then read on to learn the ins and outs of your testing requirements.
What Tests Do Colleges Require?
Most four-year colleges require that all applicants, domestic and international alike, take the SAT or ACT. For this article, we’ll focus on the SAT as your admissions test of choice. You should note, though, that either test is fine, and colleges consider both equally. You should choose the one on which you can gain higher scores for your college applications.
If English isn’t your first language, then you’ll likely also have to take the TOEFL to apply to college. Colleges want you to show that you have the English language skills to succeed at the college level. By the way, you also have some choice when it comes to the TOEFL. Most colleges will equally accept the IELTS or PTE too. The TOEFL is the most popular option, though, so we’ll focus on that for now. Good to know you always have options!
So who should take the TOEFL? Pretty much any student for whom English isn’t his/her first language. For students who are fluent, this TOEFL requirement can get a little murky. Usually, if you’ve taken at least one ESL class in high school, then colleges want you to take the TOEFL. A few colleges, however, won’t require this test if you’ve been in English classes for the past two or three years.
There’s one other circumstance when a college would waive its TOEFL requirement. If you score highly enough on the verbal section of the SAT or ACT, then you might not have to take the TOEFL. Since colleges vary in their policies, how can you find out more about your testing requirements?
Get out your trenchcoat, magnifying glass, and deerstalker cap. It's time to do some detective work.
How Can You Find Your Colleges' Testing Requirements?
While many colleges share the same requirements, some have their own additional policies, especially when it comes to the SAT and TOEFL for international students. To ensure that you understand exactly what you need, I highly recommend researching the stances of each college that you’re interested in.
You should be able to find this information on each college’s admission website, specifically in a section for international applicants. Even if you’re a U.S. citizen, this section is usually the one that contains instructions for ESL speakers.
For instance, Tufts has a page called The Admissions Process for International Students with the following information:
“Students for whom English is not the primary language, or not the language of instruction in their secondary school, should take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in addition to the options listed above. A minimum TOEFL score of 100 on the Internet-based test is recommended.”
As you research your colleges’ requirements, remember that each college is unique, so each college’s admissions website is too. Some are easier to navigate than others, so if you can’t find the information you’re looking for, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact the admissions office. Since prepping for and taking the SAT and TOEFL takes several months, if not years, you’d be best served to start this research early.
Once you find the international applicants section of your prospective college’s admissions site, what specifically should you look for?
Bring it in, team. What score do we need to win this college admission game?
What You Need to Know About TOEFL and SAT Requirements
There are three main pieces of information that you should seek as you research your school’s testing requirements.
1. What Tests Are Required?
Of course, the first piece of information you’ll look for is what tests you need in order to apply. Most websites will have step-by-step application instructions and/or a checklist of application requirements. They'll also tell you the school code to use in order to add it as a score recipient through your College Board (administers the SAT) or ETS (administers the TOEFL) account. Check to see whether your school requires applicants to send SAT scores, TOEFL scores, or both.
2. Does Your School Have a TOEFL Cutoff?
If your school requires the TOEFL, check to see if it posts a cutoff score, like Tufts did above. Most schools don’t publicize a minimum SAT score, but they do have a minimum for TOEFL.
Northeastern, for example, requires a score on the TOEFL iBT of 79-80, while more selective schools like NYU, American University, and Harvard require a minimum of 100. Once you know the cutoff, you can set your target score about ten points higher to be a competitive candidate.
3. Will High SAT Scores Get You Out Of the TOEFL?
Finally, the third question you should ask during your research is whether your school waives the TOEFL if you achieve a certain score on the SAT verbal. In previous years, students wouldn’t have to take the TOEFL if they achieved a certain score on the Critical Reading section. Since the Critical Reading required such a strong understanding of vocabulary and reading comprehension, it could replace the TOEFL as a demonstration of English language skills.
For example, Columbia and Brown didn't require the students to take the SAT if they achieved a 650 or higher on SAT Critical Reading. Johns Hopkins set the bar even higher, requiring a minimum of 670. There were a few schools with lower requirements, like the University of Massachusetts system with a 450 and American University with a 530.
With the redesigned SAT, the Reading and Writing sections are now combined into one Evidence-based Reading and Writing score. While colleges haven’t updated their policies yet, you can estimate that the minimum EBRW score needed to waive the TOEFL will be similar to the one for Critical Reading in past years. Just as you should feel free to contact admissions offices for more information, you might ask them over the next few months whether they’ve reframed this minimum score in terms of the new SAT scoring system.
Some schools link your performance on SAT verbal with TOEFL because it shows your English language skills, but the two tests still have a lot of differences. Let’s take a closer look at these two exams, along with what skills they test and how. You’ll notice that they’re distinct enough to require their own unique prep methods and materials. First, let’s examine the TOEFL.
How's your vocabulary? The TOEFL is all about your English language skills.
The TOEFL: Structure, Content, and Prep
The TOEFL is a test of your English language skills. In most countries, it’s given on the computer. There’s also a paper-based test, but it’s being phased out and is only offered in countries where testing online isn’t available. Unless you’re taking the TOEFL by paper, you’ll want to look for your college’s TOEFL iBT (Internet-based test) cutoff.
Let’s take a closer look at how the TOEFL tests your English level, starting with its overall format.
TOEFL Structure: What the Test Looks Like
The TOEFL has four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, in that order. The Reading and Listening sections can actually vary in length, depending on whether or not you get an exam that features extra questions. Not to worry - these extra questions will be unscored. Unfortunately, they will also be unidentified. In other words, if you get experimental questions, you won’t know which ones they are.
This chart shows the length of and number of questions in each TOEFL section, along with a brief description of tasks. Experimental questions, you’ll notice, can make the Reading and Listening sections significantly longer than normal.
|1||Reading||60–80 minutes||36–56 questions||Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions.|
|2||Listening||60–90 minutes||34–51 questions||Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions.|
|3||Speaking||20 minutes||6 tasks||Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.|
|4||Writing||50 minutes||2 tasks||Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing.|
|Total:||3 hours, 20 min - 4 hours, 10 min (break included)|
Each of the four sections on the TOEFL is scored between 0 and 30 points. Your overall scores reflect the sum of your section scores and will fall at or between 0 and 120 points. Now that you have a sense of the test’s overall format, let’s take a closer look at exactly how it tests your Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing skills.
Bookworms rejoice! The first section on the TOEFL's all about reading.
TOEFL Content: Questions and Skills
As you see in the chart above, the TOEFL tests your English language level across all important skill areas: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Read on for a closer look at what you’ll be expected to demonstrate in each section, starting with Reading. You can find the examples in their entirety on the TOEFL iBT practice questions provided by ETS.
The Reading section contains 3 or 4 passages, usually selected from college-level textbooks. The passages may be expository, argument-based, or historical. Each is followed by multiple choice questions that ask you about elements like the main point, important details, relationships between ideas, and vocabulary.
The following examples, which are based on a passage, ask about a supporting detail and a vocabulary word in context:
According to paragraph 3, how did scientists determine that a large meteorite had impacted Earth?
A. They discovered a large crater in the Yucatán region of Mexico.
B. They found a unique layer of sediment worldwide.
C. They were alerted by archaeologists who had been excavating in the Yucatán region.
D. They located a meteorite with a mass of over a trillion tons.
The word “excavating” on line 25 is closest in meaning to
A. digging out
D. covering up
In addition to these multiple choice, there are a few "sentence insertion" questions that ask you to add a sentence into the text where it would fit best. The following is an example of a sentence insertion question.
Look at the four letters (A, B, C, and D) that indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage in paragraph 6.
This is the criterion emphasized by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
Where would the above sentence best fit?
Impacts by meteorites represent one mechanism that could cause global catastrophes and seriously influence the evolution of life all over the planet. (A) According to some estimates, the majority of all extinctions of species may be due to such impacts. (B) Such a perspective fundamentally changes our view of biological evolution. (C) The standard criterion for the survival of a species is its success in competing with other species and adapting to slowly changing environments. (D) Yet an equally important criterion is the ability of a species to survive random global ecological catastrophes due to impacts.
Choose the place where the sentence fits best.
- Option A
- Option B
- Option C
- Option D
There are also a few “Reading to Learn” questions that contain several correct answers. To answer these, you must sort the information into a chart, often placing each piece of information into a category or chronological order. Since these questions are more involved than other types, they’re often worth several points and have the potential for partial credit.
The following is an example of a Reading to Learn question on the Reading section of the TOEFL.
An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage. This question is worth 2 points.
Write your answer choices in the spaces where they belong. You can write in the number of the answer choice or the whole sentence.
|Scientists have linked the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous with a meteorite impact on Earth.|
- Scientists had believed for centuries that meteorite activity influenced evolution on Earth.
- The site of the large meteorite impact at the end of the Cretaceous period was identified in 1990.
- There have also been large meteorite impacts on the surface of the Moon, leaving craters like Tycho.
- An iridium-enriched sediment layer and a large impact crater in the Yucatán provide evidence that a large meteorite struck Earth about 65 million years ago.
- Large meteorite impacts, such as one at the end of the Cretaceous period, can seriously affect climate, ecological niches, plants, and animals.
- Meteorite impacts can be advantageous for some species, which thrive, and disastrous for other species, which become extinct.
As you’ll see below, the multiple choice questions that ask you to interpret the main point, details, and vocab words in a passage resemble the Reading questions on the SAT. The sentence insertion questions share some similarity with certain SAT Writing questions. Reading to Learn questions, though, are unique to the TOEFL.
Now that you have a sense of how the TOEFL tests your reading skills, let’s take a closer look at how it tests your English listening comprehension.
The Listening section asks you to listen to academic lectures and/or conversations between students or a professional and a student. You can take notes as you listen to prepare for the questions that follow. Some of these questions will be straightforward multiple choice, on which you’ll choose one answer that best describes the main point or important details of the listening.
For instance, this is a straightforward listening question about the main point of a conversation between a student and her basketball coach:
What are the speakers mainly discussing?
A. How the woman should prepare for the next game
B. The woman’s responsibilities as team captain
C. Things that happened while the woman was away
D. The style of the new team uniforms
Other multiple choice questions ask you to choose two correct answers out of four choices. Like in the Reading section, there are a few questions that ask you to list events in a process or place answers into certain categories.
These various question types test your basic comprehension of the listening. They also want to make sure you understand the speaker’s purpose, sometimes even asking how certain he/she is about what he/she’s saying. Questions may ask about cause and effect or the organization of ideas in a lecture. All of these questions are meant to ensure that you’d be able to comprehend a lecture or class discussion in a university setting.
After Listening, you’ll get a ten-minute break to stretch and regroup. Then it’s on to Speaking.
For the third section, be prepared to speak. You'll actually be speaking into a computer, as your graders will probably be somewhere in New Jersey.
The Speaking section is much shorter than the previous two at only 20 minutes. You’ll get two “independent speaking” tasks and four “integrated speaking” tasks.
Questions 1 and 2 are independent speaking tasks. They'll ask you to speak for 45 seconds on familiar topics. You can talk about your own ideas, opinions, observations, or experiences. You’ll have 15 seconds to prepare your answer. Here’s an example of an independent speaking question:
Question: Some people enjoy taking risks and trying new things. Others are not adventurous; they are cautious and prefer to avoid danger. Which behavior do you think is better? Explain why.
Questions 3 and 4 are integrated speaking tasks. They'll ask you both to read a short passage and listen to a related lecture or conversation. Then you’ll speak for 45 seconds using information from both sources. You’ll have 30 seconds to prepare.
Questions 5 and 6 are similar, but they only involve a listening, no reading. You’ll prepare your response for 20 seconds and speak for 60 seconds.
This example is based on a conversation between two students about their calculus class.
Question: Briefly summarize the problem the speakers are discussing. Then state which solution you would recommend. Explain the reasons for your recommendation.
As you can see, the Speaking section tests your ability to speak on your own opinions and experiences, as well as your ability to summarize information and main ideas from readings and listenings. These Speaking tasks are unique to the TOEFL; you won’t find them on the SAT. Finally, you’ll round out your demonstration of English language skills on the TOEFL Writing section.
Unlike the handwritten SAT essay, you'll type your responses on the Writing section of the TOEFL iBT.
You’ve read, listened, and spoken your way through this challenging exam. Now it’s time to write! You’ll get two prompts, one that’s called an integrated writing task and the other labeled as an independent writing task.
Like with the integrated speaking task, the integrated writing task asks you to read a short passage and listen to a lecture or conversation. Then you’ll get a question that asks you to summarize the main points of what you read and heard and perhaps compare or contrast the two. You’ll get 20 minutes, and your response should be 150 to 225 words.
The integrated writing task often looks like this:
Question: Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they oppose specific points made in the reading passage.
The independent writing task resembles the independent speaking task in that it asks you to express your personal opinion and support it with examples. Your essay should be at least 300 words, and you’ll have 30 minutes to write it.
Here’s one example of an independent writing task:
Question: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? A teacher’s ability to relate well with students is more important than excellent knowledge of the subject being taught. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
Since you’re typing on the computer, there will be a counter below the text box for both tasks that tells you your total word count. Both essays are initially graded between 0 and 5, and you can consult the rubric to see what you need to accomplish to score at each level. A strong grasp of grammar, word choice, and organization is important for doing well on the Writing section.
Once you’ve finished the Writing section, you’re all done with the TOEFL. You’ll get your scores online about ten days after you take the test. Before moving onto the SAT so you can compare the two tests, let’s briefly discuss the importance of test prep for succeeding on this challenging exam.
You'll need to practice saying your responses, not just writing them. Sadly, there are no bonus points for singing them.
Prepping for the TOEFL
Even if you have an advanced level of English, you’ll need to prep to do well on the TOEFL. It’s a unique test with strict time limits, and anyone who’s taken it will tell you that you should show up equipped with knowledge of the question types and strategies for time management.
The Speaking section is especially atypical with its oral essays. While 45 to 60 seconds may not sound like a lot, it’s actually a big challenge for most students. Learning to structure your oral responses with an introduction, supporting details, and a conclusion just like you would a written essay is an unusual task that requires serious preparation.
It’s a good idea to give yourself several months to prep for the TOEFL. You might start with a timed practice test to diagnose your starting level. Then you can analyze your results, find your weaknesses, and figure out what you most need to study from there.
The test-makers recommend that you’ve studied English for at least two years before taking the test. Since the readings are taken from university textbooks, most students need to be at a high intermediate or advanced level to do well on this test.
You can find several TOEFL preparation books online, but make sure to incorporate official questions from the testmakers into your prep, as these will be the best representation of the actual test. You can find sample questions on the TOEFL website, as well as official ETS TOEFL books and an online prep program.
Just like with the SAT, you should start several months before your test date. If possible, you might also leave two or more available test dates after your first one in case you want to retake the TOEFL to improve your scores.
Now that you have some insight into the TOEFL, let’s take a closer look at the SAT. Beyond this overview, you can learn more about the SAT by exploring our articles on test content, strategies, and preparation, including a full overview of its 2016 redesign. As you read about each section, pay attention to the ways in which it’s similar to the TOEFL and the ways in which it's different.
While the TOEFL's all about your English language level, the SAT is more concerned with your reasoning and problem-solving skills.
SAT: Structure, Skills, and Prep
While the TOEFL tests your English language skills, the SAT is concerned with testing your reasoning and problem-solving skills. It’s scored based on two main areas: Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math. You also have the option of taking an essay section, which is scored separately. Students should take the essay section if their prospective colleges want to see it. Read on to learn more about the overall structure of the SAT.
SAT Structure: What the Test Looks Like
The SAT, which is scored on a scale from 400 to 1600, has four sections, Reading, Writing and Language, Math No Calculator, and Math with Calculator, in that order. If you choose to take the SAT with Essay, then the essay will be your fifth section. This chart gives an overview of the test’s structure:
|Order||Section||Time in Minutes||# of Questions|
|2||Writing and Language||35||44|
|3||Math No Calculator||25||20|
|Total:||3 hours, 50 minutes (3 hours without essay)||154 (+ 1 essay prompt)|
You’ll get a five-minute break after about every hour of testing. That means you’ll have a short break after Reading, after Math No Calculator, and, if you choose to take it, before the Essay. We have several comprehensive guides that dig deeply into the content and question types of each section. For the purposes of this article, let’s briefly review the content and skills of each section.
The SAT doesn't just ask about reading and writing. It tests you on a lot of math, too.
SAT Content: Questions and Skills
The SAT is half verbal and half math. The verbal sections include a Reading and a Writing and Language section, and the math is split into a calculator prohibited and a calculator permitted section. Below, you can read more about what skills each section tests and the question types it uses to do so. You can also find the sample questions in College Board's official SAT practice tests.
SAT Reading shares some similarities with TOEFL Reading. You’ll also have to read passages and answer multiple choice questions about their main idea, supporting details, and vocabulary. On the SAT, you’ll get five passages, one from literature, two based on history/social studies, and two from science. While you won’t get any prose selections on the TOEFL, you will get one on the SAT Reading.
The questions will test your comprehension, and because it’s strictly timed, you’ll mostly need to skim the passages for important details. Some of the questions will be evidence-based, meaning they’ll ask you to locate evidence in the text that serves as the reason for your answer to a previous question. For instance, here’s a detail-oriented comprehension question followed by an evidence-based question:
1. The passage indicates that, after a long day of work, the narrator sometimes found his living quarters to be
- A) treacherous.
- B) dreary.
- C) predictable.
- D) intolerable.
2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
- A) Lines 17-21 (“I should... scenes”)
- B) Lines 21-23 (“I should... lodgings”)
- C) Lines 64-67 (“Thoughts... phrases”)
- D) Lines 68-74 (“I walked... gleam”)
All of the questions will be multiple choice with four answer choices. A few of the questions will ask you to interpret a graphic, like a chart or table, often asking how it relates to the text in the passage.
Your Reading performance will be combined with your Writing and Language performance to give you one Evidence-based Reading and Writing score between 200 and 800. Read on to learn how the Writing and Language section, which will be your second section on the SAT, differs from Reading.
SAT Writing and Language
The SAT Writing and Language, often referred to as just SAT Writing, tests your knowledge of English grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. It also asks about the organization of ideas and paragraph structure. The entire section is multiple choice, and every question is passage-based.
Writing questions ask you to be an editor. They’ll ask whether or not a word, detail, or organization scheme is correct, and, if not, it asks you to choose a better option. You’ll basically work to improve the grammar, punctuation, style, and structure of a paragraph.
These next few questions, for example, ask about grammar (subject-verb agreement) and inserting a sentence to clarify meaning:
There are a few questions in the TOEFL Reading section that ask you to insert a sentence in a passage to improve its meaning. As you see in the example above, SAT Writing asks similar questions. It also goes one step further by asking you why you would insert a sentence into a passage.
For students whose native language is not English, the Writing section, along with the Reading section, can be especially challenging. Once you finish up this section, you’ll move immediately onto a math section. For this 25-minute section, you’re not allowed to use a calculator.
For one of the two SAT math sections, you'll have to keep your calculator packed away in your bag.
SAT Math No Calculator
The math sections are where the SAT completely diverges from the TOEFL. These sections are meant to ensure that students have the conceptual and problem solving skills to do well in college.
Most of the questions are based on algebra, but there are a few that incorporate geometry, trigonometry, and complex numbers. International students often have an easier time on the math sections since they don’t have as much emphasis on advanced English language skills.
The redesigned SAT, however, incorporates several word problems. Some reading comprehension, therefore, is still important on the math section, as you can see in this sample SAT word problem:
A musician has a new song available for downloading or streaming. The musician earns $0.09 each time the song is downloaded and $0.002 each time the song is streamed. Which of the following expressions represents the amount, in dollars, that the musician earns if the song is downloaded d times and streamed s times.
- 0.002d + 0.09s
- 0.002d - 0.09s
- 0.09d + 0.002s
- 0.09d - 0.002s
On this shorter math section, you can’t use a calculator. Most questions won’t require complex calculations. Rather, they’ll test your conceptual understanding. You’ll find more questions that call for calculations on the next math section.
SAT Math with Calculator
You’re allowed to use a calculator on the longer of the two SAT math sections. Not all problems, however, will necessarily require one. It’s your job to figure out when a calculator’s useful and when it would just slow you down.
Like the other math section, the Math with Calculator asks a lot of algebra questions, along with a few geometry and trigonometry. It also has a strong emphasis on Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions, which ask you to work with rates, ratios, percentages, and data from graphs and tables. Here’s one example of a Problem Solving and Data Analysis question on the SAT Math with Calculator:
|Number of hours Tony plans to read the novel per day||3|
|Number of parts in the novel||8|
|Number of chapters in the novel||239|
|Number of words Tony reads per minute||250|
|Number of pages in the novel||1,078|
|Number of words in the novel||349,168|
Tony is planning to read a novel. The table above shows information about the novel, Tony’s reading speed, and the amount of time he plans to spend reading the novel each day. If Tony reads at the rates given in the table, which of the following is closest to the number of days it would take Tony to read the entire novel?
Unlike the TOEFL, math is an important part of prepping for and taking the SAT. In fact, your performance on math will make up half of your total SAT score. As mentioned above, the Essay section is optional, and as such, it won't count toward your total score. Let's briefly review the SAT Essay section. Make sure to notice how much it differs from TOEFL Writing.
The (optional) SAT essay asks you to unfold an author's argument and analyze exactly how she puts it together.
The SAT essay is 50 minutes and asks you to analyze an argument presented in a passage. While some of the TOEFL prompts allow you to draw on personal experience, the SAT essay does not. It wants you to present a thesis-driven analysis of the techniques and devices an author uses to present his/her argument. The following is an example of an SAT prompt. If you want to check out the passage to which it refers, you can find it at College Board.
Write an essay in which you explain how Dana Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience that the decline of reading in America will have a negative effect on society. In your essay, analyze how Gioia uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Gioia’s claims, but rather explain how Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience.
The SAT essay prompt resembles the analytical essays that many students write in English class. It differs from the TOEFL essays, which tend to ask more for a summary or opinion. Your writing skills, especially grammar, word choice, and structure, are important for doing well on both tests. As with the TOEFL, the SAT requires significant preparation to achieve your target scores. Luckily, there are lots of practice materials that can help you succeed.
Prepping for the SAT
The SAT is a challenging test for all students, including native English speakers. Developing strong English language skills is an important part of doing well, as is familiarizing yourself with the test content, question types, and strategies for answering questions and managing your time.
An important first step is getting to know the structure and format of the test. You should explore the types of question that will pop up in the Reading, Writing, Math, and, if applicable, Essay sections. Using high-quality practice materials is also key. Make sure yours review exactly what will appear on the test and pair content review with realistic practice questions.
Just like the TOEFL, you might start your prep with a diagnostic practice test. Root out your weak spots, and target them with your studying. Non-native English speakers might especially focus on strategies for reading the passages in Reading and Writing and studying rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, and structure. ESL students should also practice word problems in math. A third important area to study is the data interpretation questions that will show up on all four sections of the SAT.
How long you prep for the SAT depends on your starting level, and you should define your target scores by researching your prospective colleges’ expectations. It’s best to start several months before your first test and to leave yourself additional testing dates in case you want to retake it and improve. Many colleges will take your highest section scores and recombine them into the best possible total score, so taking the SAT more than once, if possible, is usually in your best interest.
Now that you have a sense of both tests, let’s review their similarities and differences.
Comparing the SAT and TOEFL reveals some similarities, but in other ways, it's like comparing apples and oranges.
SAT vs TOEFL: Similarities and Differences
The TOEFL and SAT are largely different tests, but there are a few areas in which they overlap. For one thing, they’re both required for international or (some) ESL students applying to college in the US. As admissions tests, they demand a good deal of preparation and planning. Before even preparing to take the tests, you need to understand their scoring scales and what scores you need to get into college.
Since both tests require an advanced level of English, any preparation you do for one will help you to some extent on the other. The Reading sections especially have some overlap, requiring you to read college-level passages and comprehend their main idea and details. Both tests also ask you to edit the structure, flow, and meaning of a passage. As you read above, this commonality means that some colleges will waive the TOEFL requirement if students can demonstrate their English language skills by scoring highly on SAT verbal.
The TOEFL is especially unique due to its Listening and Speaking sections. These two sections are specifically geared to measure the English language level of test-takers. While the TOEFL is all about the English language, the SAT is half math. It wants to make sure you meet certain benchmarks as a math student and can demonstrate your problem-solving skills.
Both the SAT and TOEFL are fast-paced, timed admissions tests that are essential to realizing your college goals. For the most part, you should treat them as separate exams that call for their own study plan and test-taking strategies.
In closing, let’s review the main points that non-native English speakers should remember about these two important exams.
The SAT and TOEFL take a lot of prep and planning, but in the end, they're your passport to the college of your choice!
What to Remember About the SAT and TOEFL
Most non-native English speakers applying to college in the U.S. will be required to take the TOEFL and the SAT (or ACT, if you prefer). The TOEFL shows that you have the English language skills to succeed at the college level. The SAT is meant to test all students on an equal playing field and evaluate their reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Since the SAT requires advanced English language skills, it may be cause to waive the TOEFL requirement. You should check with your prospective colleges early in the college planning process to learn about their policies. Unless you’re scoring very highly on SAT practice tests, I wouldn’t suggest ignoring the TOEFL on the assumption that you won’t have to take it. You wouldn’t want to put it off and then run out of time to prep or test dates to improve your scores.
Even though you probably won’t apply to college until senior year, you should start preparing for and taking the SAT and TOEFL much earlier. By readying these components of your application early and achieving your target scores, you’ll have a huge number of options when it comes time to apply to college.
Are you an international student applying to college in the US? Checkout our complete guide on how to apply to college as an international student, step by step (coming soon).
Are you wondering where to apply? This article will help you research colleges and find the ones that are the best fit for you.
Another key factor in planning your tests and other parts of your application are college deadlines. This article discusses the important college deadlines you can’t miss.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.