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TOEFL fees sky high, but why?

If you’re preparing to take the TOEFL, you’re probably asking yourself why it’s so expensive to take this English test. Fees vary from country to country, but it almost always costs over 200$ to sit the exam. With rooms packed with test takers all over the world and test dates nearly every week, someone is making a tidy little profit. But it’s not all easy money. Administering an exam is more expensive than you might think. Let’s look at what goes into setting the price of a TOEFL exam:

  1. Creating the test: Making, calibrating, and renewing a test like the TOEFL is a long and continuous process that involves large teams of academics and plenty of research. The TOEFL wasn’t made once and then left alone. Not only has the TOEFL evolved quite a bit over time, moving from paper to online, but every TOEFL test is a unique set of questions on any given test day. If the TOEFL test were the same questions over and over, it would be too easy to cheat. And cheating is the bane of a standardized test’s existence.
  2. Scoring the test: Multiple choice questions can be scored automatically, but the writing and speaking portions of the TOEFL require human correctors. These are usually English teachers, and they need special training to be able to score consistently. Your TOEFL fee covers scoring the spoken and written sections of your individual test.
  3. Test administration: You’ve probably noticed that you can take the TOEFL in over 100 countries at a lot of different test dates. Although the test centers themselves are independently operated, registration and payments are centralized through the TOEFL website. It’s a lot of overhead to manage such a global organization.
  4. Marketing: The TOEFL organization wants more people to take the TOEFL, and it also wants more schools and immigration authorities to accept the TOEFL as a proof of English level. Those efforts require school outreach & marketing, done by staff members, and they need to get paid too. The TOEFL fee includes marketing overhead.
  5. Test centers: The room where you take the TOEFL isn’t owned by ETS, the makers of the TOEFL. Usually you’ll take the TOEFL in an English school, a university, or a dedicated test center. The test center is responsible for making sure you take the TOEFL in controlled conditions, and ensuring that nobody cheats. They keep a portion of every test taker’s fee in exchange for that service.
  6. Demand: There are already thousands of colleges and universities as well as immigration authorities around the world that accept the TOEFL as proof of English language ability. There are millions of people who want to immigrate and hundreds of thousands who want to study abroad. The high demand for the TOEFL test as well as the near monopoly ETS has on standardized English testing allows them to set their price to some extent.

If you need a certain TOEFL score in order to accomplish your goals, you can’t avoid paying the test fee. However, there are three things you can do to avoid paying more than you have to:

  1. Study hard: There are enormous amounts of study material out there, including lots of free resources. You’ll need more initiative to prepare for the TOEFL on your own, but it’s possible.
  2. Take the test when you’re ready: You don’t want to have to take the TOEFL again because you didn’t get the score you need, although that happens often enough. Use the EFSET Plus to see what your TOEFL score would be today on the reading and listening portions of the test. If it’s not high enough, study more before signing up for an official test date.
  3. Check the test requirements: For many types of visa and for most universities, there is more than one way to prove your English level. Some tests are cheaper than others in different locations, and sometimes the TOEFL may be the cheapest option. Do your research.
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