ETS® has a new addition to the TOEFL® family of tests: TOEFL Essentials. This blog post aims to take an in-depth look at this new exam, so that you can see just how it compares to the traditional TOEFL iBT.
The TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL Essentials exams are different in that the TOEFL iBT takes about 3 hours, costs between $185 and $270, and is academics-focused. TOEFL Essentials takes about 1.5 hrs, costs around $100, and is half academics, half general English. The TOEFL Essentials can only be taken at home.
TOEFL Essentials and TOEFL iBT compared
How the TOEFL Essentials and the TOEFL iBT are the same
Both tests examine you on the four areas of communication
The two tests are the same in that they cover the same four areas of English communication that most standardized tests cover: Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. These four areas have been the core of exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS and PTE because they help institutions understand how effectively test takers are doing when it comes to all aspects of communication. For example, yes, you may understand most things that you read, but when you are collaborating on an assignment with some people in your class or communicating with your professor, you will need to know how to speak, listen and write as well.
Both tests are primarily for entry into universities
The goal of both tests is to help test takers have the confidence that they will be able to succeed in an English-speaking university environment. The tests also give universities the confidence that the students that end up going to school there are equipped to deal with not only the academic load that everyone attending the university has to face, but also that the language will not be a barrier for their effective learning.
ETS releases score results for both tests in the same timeframe
Another aspect the two tests have in common is that ETS communicates test scores within the same timeframe. As with the TOEFL iBT, TOEFL Essentials unofficial Reading and Listening scores will show up on your computer screen at the end of the test, and official scores for all sections which make up your comprehensive score will usually be available around 6 days after taking the test. After 8 days, you will be able to save a PDF copy of your results for both tests. ETS will then send your scores to the institutions you selected about 11 days after the test date.
Both the TOEFL Essentials and the TOEFL iBT give you the possibility of using your MyBest® scores
Another feature that is common to both tests is that, if you take the test more than once, you are able to combine your best scores for each section to form your MyBest® TOEFL score. This way, if you don’t do well on the speaking section, for example, on your first official TOEFL test, but you get a better score the second time you take it, you will be able to use your better speaking score as part of your MyBest score. If you are unsure whether your university accepts MyBest scores, reach out to the admissions department to double-check.
How the TOEFL Essentials the the TOEFL iBT differ
The tests have different durations
While the TOEFL iBT lasts anywhere from 3 to 3½ hours, the TOEFL Essentials only lasts about 1½ hours. This is how each of the tests break down:
|TOEFL Essentials (~1.5 hrs)||TOEFL Essentials||TOEFL iBT (~3 hrs)||TOEFL iBT|
|Section||Time allotted||Number of questions||Time allotted||Number of questions|
|Listening||21-34 mins*||30-45||41-57 mins*||18-24|
|Reading||22-33 mins*||30-45||54-72 mins*||30-40|
|Break||Not applicable||10 mins|
|Writing||24-30 mins*||15-19 plus 2 tasks||50 mins||2|
|Speaking||13 mins||3 tasks with 19 responses||17 mins||4|
|Personal video message||5 mins**||2||Not applicable||Not applicable|
*For both the iBT and Essentials versions of the TOEFL, the listening and reading sections may contain questions ETS uses for research purposes, which explains the variation in the number of questions a given test may have. These questions do not count towards your score. In the case of the TOEFL Essentials, the test is computer-adaptive (more on this below), which explains why this test might have more questions and take a little bit longer.
**This is to help institutions get to know you and your personality a little bit better. It does not count towards your score, although it is not optional.
Where you take the test
Another big difference between the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL Essentials is that you can only take the TOEFL Essentials at home; there is no possibility of taking it in a testing centre. The TOEFL iBT is typically carried out in one of 4500+ testing centres around the world, although ETS launched a TOEFL iBT Home Edition during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate test-takers in taking the test when they were not able to go to a testing centre.
The home edition of the TOEFL iBT is exactly the same as the TOEFL iBT, so it, too, differs from the TOEFL Essentials exam. If your institution is not yet accepting the TOEFL Essentials test, many universities are accepting the TOEFL iBT Home Edition at least for the 2021/22 academic year. If you want to find out more about this format of taking the TOEFL iBT at your home, you should visit the blog post I wrote on it, and you can see if it is right for you.
A HUGE difference between the two tests is the cost. The TOEFL iBT costs between $185 and $270, depending on where you take the test. See TOEFL costs by country. On the other hand, the TOEFL Essentials test fees are half to almost a third of the IBT fees, and come in at around $100-$120, depending on which country you take the test in.
The TOEFL Essentials tests both Academic and General English
The TOEFL has been around since the early 1960s, and ever since its inception, it has focused on evaluating how well a test taker would perform in an English-speaking university environment. The test is 100% academic-related and tries to imitate the university environment by giving you academic texts, audios of lectures and conversations between students regarding on-campus activities, and other academic-related tasks.
The TOEFL Essentials, however, incorporates the insight that English is used for much more than academic settings. Of course, you will spend a lot of time at the university, but you will also meet up with friends, go to a restaurant, shop at the local mall, and buy food at the local supermarket. The TOEFL Essentials is great because it is 50% academic-oriented and 50% general English, which more closely resembles your everyday life while studying in an English-speaking country.
Another feature of the TOEFL Essentials is that it is computer-adaptive, which means that the computer adjusts the questions to your level as you take the test. For example, if you answer a question correctly, the computer may ask a more challenging follow-up question to test your level.
The TOEFL iBT does not have this feature, as the questions are set before you take the test on the computer, whether you take the test at home or in a testing center.
The TOEFL Essentials scoring system resembles more that of the IELTS than it does that of the TOEFL iBT, in that you are scored on a band of 1-12. This is nice because it is simpler, however, it also means that if you are to take the test, it is more difficult to make progress along the scale because your scores for each section are reported according to the nearest full band.
By way of example, if you hypothetically get a 7.4 on the reading section, your official reported score will be a 7.0. But this also works the other way. If you get a 7.7, your official score will be rounded to an 8.0!
Your comprehensive score is then calculated by averaging the scores you achieved in each section and dividing by 4, rounding to the nearest half band. Here’s an example of what this could look like:
|Actual Score*||Official reported score|
**To get your comprehensive score, take the official reported scores from each of the four sections (8,6,7,6), divided by four, which gives you the average of the 4 scores.
As you may already know, the TOEFL iBT has a scoring scale of 1-120. Each section is on a scale of 1-30, and your comprehensive score is the sum of each of your scores in Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Because the scale is quite large, it is easier to make progress on the TOEFL iBT than it is on the TOEFL essentials, especially since there is no rounding.
The TOEFL Essentials maps to the CEFR scale
Like the TOEFL iBT, the TOEFL Essentials maps to the CEFR scale. Here is a table with how each score maps to the Common European Framework of Reference:
You can only take the TOEFL Essentials at home
While you can take the TOEFL iBT either at a testing center (the TOEFL iBT) or at home (the TOEFL iBT Home Edition), you can only take the TOEFL Essentials at home. Since ETS®, the makers of all TOEFL tests, want to make sure that there is a level playing field for all those taking tests at home, just as with the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, they will want to make sure that testing conditions are the same for all students and that there is no doubt that someone has an unfair advantage. For this reason, you will be monitored by a proctor through the ProctorU platform.
If you want more information regarding the requirements for the TOEFL Essentials, check out the post I wrote on the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, which outlines the equipment and testing area requirements, which are exactly the same for both tests.
You can’t request score reviews for the TOEFL Essentials
While you can request score reviews on the TOEFL iBT, you are not able to do so with the TOEFL Essentials. This means that whatever score you get on the TOEFL Essentials is your final score.
Sending your score reports to institutions of your choice
With the TOEFL iBT, up until 10pm the day before your test, you can request ETS to send your scores to up to 4 institutions free of charge. If you want to send more than 4 score reports and/or you decide to send score reports after 10pm the day before your test, each report costs $20 to send.
With the TOEFL Essentials, however, you can send your scores for free to as many institutions as you want. There is a limit of 20 institutions per transaction.
Summary table of how the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL Essentials compare
|TOEFL Essentials||TOEFL iBT|
|What’s tested?||Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking||Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking|
|What’s it used for?||Universities||Universities|
|When are scores available?||~6 days after taking the test||~6 days after taking the test|
|PDF available?||Yes, 8 days after taking the test||Yes, 8 days after taking the test|
|Scores sent to institutions||~11 days after taking the test||~11 days after taking the test|
|Duration||~1.5 hrs||~3 hrs|
|Type of English tested||50% academic, 50% general||100% academic|
|Listening score scale||1-12, rounded to nearest whole band||0-30|
|Reading score scale||1-12, rounded to nearest whole band||0-30|
|Speaking score scale||1-12, rounded to nearest whole band||0-30|
|Writing score scale||1-12, rounded to nearest whole band||0-30|
|Comprehensive score scale||1-12 (average of 4 scores, rounded to nearest half-band)||0-120 (sum of 4 scores)|
|Testing location||At home only||At home (TOEFL iBT Home Edition) or in a testing center (TOEFL iBT)|
|Score reviews available?||No||Yes|
|Cost and number of score reports||Free/Unlimited||First 4 free, each additional $20|
Who accepts TOEFL Essentials?
The TOEFL Essentials is a relatively new test, so not every university/institution accepts it quite yet. That said, 90% of universities in the US, the UK, and Canada said that they would most likely accept the TOEFL Essentials as a form of certifying your level of English.
Keep in mind that, while UK universities may accept TOEFL Essentials, any TOEFL tests will be problematic for getting your visa in the UK.
Below is a list* of some universities and whether or not they are currently accepting the TOEFL Essentials
|Institution||Accepted||Scores required, if applicable|
|Bryn Mawr College||Yes||N/A|
|Carnegie Mellon||Yes||11 overall, 11 in each section preferred|
|Harvard University||No English language proficiency test required for admission|
|Illinois Institute of Technology||No||N/A|
|Illinois State University||Yes||8.5|
|NC State University||Yes||9.0 or higher, 8.0 minimum in each section (6.0 comprehensive for conditional admission)|
|New York University||No||N/A|
|University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign||No||N/A|
|University of San Diego||No||N/A|
|University of Southern California||No||N/A|
|University of Toronto||No||N/A|
How can I prepare for TOEFL Essentials?
Since the TOEFL Essentials test is relatively new, there aren’t many resources available for preparation for the exam. That being said, ETS does have 3 Free practice tests available so that you can see how the test will be on test day. ETS does not recommend using TOEFL iBT study materials to prepare for the TOEFL Essentials.