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Is TOEFL Exam Hard: Know The TOEFL Difficulty Level in 2023

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The Test of English as a Foreign Language, popularly known as TOEFL, is a standardised test conducted for assessing the English language proficiency skills of students and job aspirants. Conducted by ETS, the test is mandated to pass for getting admission into undergraduate and postgraduate courses and getting a job in universities located in the UK, USA, Canada and other countries. ‘Is TOEFL hard’ is one question that haunts everyone appearing for the test for the first time.

It is not surprising to see test-takers wanting to know the answers to other related questions too, such as ‘is TOEFL hard for Indian students’ and ‘what is the difficulty level of TOEFL’, to name a few. If these questions are bothering you, our repository of information will help you prepare well for one of the most difficult language exams around the globe.

Is TOEFL Hard or Easy?

The Educational Testing Service or ETS conducts the test to measure an international applicant’s ability to use the English language and understand it at the university level. The exam has four sections: Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Listening. Each section of the test scores 0-30, and the total TOEFL score range is 0-120.

Unlike IELTS, TOEFL has an academic version only available in both paper-based (PBT) and internet-based (iBT) forms. Due to the pandemic, some countries conduct TOEFL in the PBT format, but a majority of test-takers prefer the TOEFL iBT format.

Also read this guide to get detailed information about the online TOEFL exam 2022.

There is no specific answer to the question ‘Is the TOEFL exam tough or difficult’. The reason is the TOEFL is a language test, and scientifically, it is tricky to establish the difficulty level of a language test. Experts believe that the students of English-speaking nations do not find it hard to crack. On the other hand, students who do not communicate well in English and are at the nascent stage of learning the language may struggle to pass it.

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Is TOEFL Exam Hard: Know The TOEFL Difficulty Level in 2023

Let’s understand how hard it is to crack each section of the TOEFL exam.


The reading section of the TOEFL exam analyses students’ reading comprehension knowledge and skills. Not only students from India but American students too find the TOEFL exam hard. This is because the academic vocabulary and the subject matter of the exam are not the same as what Americans encounter in everyday situations.

The TOEFL exam focuses on academic subjects and university-level academic vocabulary with Latin roots. So, if students’ native languages have Latin roots (such as Italian, French or Spanish), they will have an advantage over students whose mother tongue is not derived from Latin. The good news is students who have already cleared the GRE may easily score good marks in the reading section of the TOEFL, as the difficulty level of the passages in the reading section of the GRE is equivalent to the TOEFL.

However, limited time is one factor that makes the exam difficult for every student, regardless of their origin and roots.

Pro-tip: Students should read journals regularly to improve their vocabulary. Solve TOEFL practice papers once a week to get a fair idea of how much time you take to complete them. Prepare a list of new words and their meanings and revise them.


The listening section involves answering questions associated with classroom discussions and brief lectures. This is one of the hardest sections of the TOEFL exam for the following reasons:

  • The recordings are slower than natural speech. Moreover, the listener needs to understand the attitude and presentation of the speaker by filtering necessary pieces of information or important points from words, such as ‘like’, ‘you know’, and ‘umm’.
  • Students need to listen to the recordings carefully. Recordings are played only once, regardless of their length. In the limited time, they need to take notes on audio and indulge in active listening, which is a challenging task.

You can start listening to English songs and podcasts and watching movies at least two to three months before the exam. Practice active listening. Develop the habit of memorising facts while listening, as it is not possible to note down every important point.


The speaking section is designed to measure the student’s abilities to speak English in academic situations. This section involves both independent and integrated speaking tasks. The independent task entails presenting ideas and experiences related to the given topic.

Conversely, an integrated speaking task is the overall test of English Language skills as it measures the ability to listen and speak or listen, speak and read coherently. The students get the microphone to speak. The recorded answers are shared with certified checkers.

Pro-tip: Practice is the key to scoring good marks in the speaking section. Prepare an introduction or any topic and speak it for a minimum of 20 minutes to improve communication. While speaking, choose simple words and focus on pronunciation and the right grammar.


The writing section requires students to write on any academic section in the English language. This section evaluates students’ capabilities to present their opinions or ideas in a well-organised form. The students need to complete the two tasks, independent and integrated tasks, within a prescribed time limit.

The independent writing task involves writing an opinion or sharing a personal experience related to a given topic. On the other hand, students need to listen to a short lecture or a passage in the integrated writing task. Based on their understanding, they need to answer certain questions.

There is no definite answer to this question, ‘how hard is TOEFL’s writing section’. It is because there are no right or wrong answers to questions. The exactness of every question in the speaking and writing sections depends on how students organise and construct information and represent it. Moreover, the difficulty level increases in the absence of one correct answer.

Pro-tip: Ace the writing section by using proper English grammar and constructing your thoughts effectively and timely. Prepare for these essay topics to score well in the writing section.

Best Tips to Crack TOEFL

Is the TOEFL exam difficult? Indeed, it is if students do not prepare well in advance. Is TOEFL easy?  Yes, it is if students possess strong English skills and have already cleared standardised tests like the SAT and IELTS with good scores.

Follow these TOEFL preparation tips to score well in the exam:

  • The limited time and lengthy TOEFL paper can make it hard to complete the exam on time. Therefore, practice hard and take several TOEFL practice test papers to develop speed.
  • Strong academic vocabulary is a must for clearing every section of the TOEFL.
  • Write emails, letters and journals to prepare for the writing section.
  • Start preparing from the TOEFL prep book, as it is one of the most valuable study tools. Feel free to download other study materials also to support your preparation.
  • Do not aim to obtain a high score in one section alone. Keep an eye out for getting good scores in all sections.

Lastly, factors like understanding the TOEFL exam format, the type of questions in each section and the time students should devote to each section can prove to be of massive help when taking the actual test.

Is the TOEFL exam hard? There is no straightforward answer to this question. Some find the TOEFL’s reading section comparatively easier than the GMAT, but non-English speakers find all four sections extremely tricky. Students who have already passed the GRE can easily score high marks in the reading and other sections of TOEFL.

But it is true that difficult vocabulary, distractions during the speaking section and time crunch are three factors that do not make the TOEFL exam a child’s play. Students can reduce their test anxiety by preparing well for the exam and undertaking several TOEFL practice test papers.

If you want further guidance on the best ways to prepare for any individual section, contact LeapScholar.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Multiple-choice questions are included in which section of the TOEFL exam?

    Multiple-choice questions will be there in the reading and listening sections of the TOEFL exam.

  • What is a good TOEFL score to get admission into Harvard University?

    To get admission into various undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Harvard University, any score between 100 and 120 is considered good.

  • What do you mean by templates in TOEFL?

    TOEFL writing template helps aspirants answer questions of each task of the writing section easily. For instance, an essay template teaches how to organise ideas and structure the essay. This eventually helps in scoring well in the writing section.

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Saket Kohli

An International Higher Ed professional with 7+ years of experience studying, working, and living across three geographies, currently on a mission to share his journey as an International Student.

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