TOEFL Meaning: What Does TOEFL Stand For?


Are you taking the TOEFL and looking for some background information on the test? What does TOEFL stand for anyway? Do those letters mean anything?

In this article, we explain the TOEFL meaning, give a brief history of the exam and its name, and go over all the other TOEFL acronyms you need to know before you take the exam.


What Does TOEFL Stand For?

TOEFL originally stood for “Test of English as a Foreign Language.” However, like many other standardized tests, the TOEFL no longer uses its original name, and the acronym no longer stands for anything. Now, TOEFL stands for just TOEFL.

The TOEFL is a standardized test that measures a test-taker’s mastery of the English language. TOEFL scores are primarily used by universities as part of the admissions process for non-native English speakers.


A Brief History of the TOEFL and Its Name

Below is a short history of the TOEFL and the different names it has been known by.

From its creation in 1963, the exam’s official name was the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which was commonly abbreviated to TOEFL. The exam was created as a way to measure the English skills of non-native speakers hoping to attend schools where English was the language of instruction. Looking at a student’s TOEFL scores helped admission officers decide if that student had a high enough level of English to succeed at their school.

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The original TOEFL, used from 1964 to 1979, was completely multiple choice and tested students on their reading, listening and grammar skills. In 1979, the TOEFL was revised and new, optional TOEFL tests focusing on writing and speaking skills were added. These two new tests were called TWE and TSE (Test of Written English and Test of Spoken English, respectively). In 1998, the first computer-based version of the TOEFL (the TOEFL CBT) was released.

In 2005, the TOEFL again underwent revisions and was released as the TOEFL iBT, which is the version of the exam still being used today. The TOEFL iBT combines the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections into a single exam that is taken on the computer. The TOEFL iBT has an increased emphasis on integrative skills and using multiple skills at a time to answer a question. Around this time, the creators of the TOEFL dropped its longer, original name, and its acronym became the official name.

Today, the TOEFL is administered in over 130 countries and has been taken by over 30 million people. For more information on TOEFL meaning and history, check out ETS’s guide to the TOEFL program history.




What Are Other Common TOEFL Abbreviations?

Now you know what TOEFL stands for, but there are many other acronyms to know in the TOEFL world! Below are some of the other common TOEFL abbreviations you should be aware of.

  • ETS: The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the organization that designs, administers, and scores the TOEFL. They also oversee other standardized exams such as the GRE and TOIEC.
  • TOEFL CBT: This acronym stands for computer-based TOEFL. The TOEFL CBT was the first version of the TOEFL to be taken on the computer. It began to be replaced in 2005 by the TOEFL iBT and is now no longer used.
  • TOEFL iBT: What does iBT stand for in TOEFL? iBT is an abbreviation for “internet-based test.” The internet-based TOEFL, or TOEFL iBT, is by far the most popular version of the TOEFL; 97% of people who take the TOEFL take this version. It’s taken on the computer and measures four skill sets: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
  • TOEFL PBT: The paper-based TOEFL, or TOEFL PBT, was taken by people in areas where the TOEFL iBT wasn’t available. It has now been replaced by the revised TOEFL Paper-delivered Test which is taken with paper and pencil and tests three skill areas: reading, listening, and writing.
  • TOEFL ITP: What does TOEFL ITP mean? Its full name is the TOEFL Institutional Testing Program Assessment Series, and it is a series of paper-based tests teachers can use to measure their students’ English skills. TOEFL ITP scores won’t be accepted by universities as a replacement for the TOEFL, but they can be used as English-placement tests in schools or for scholarship programs, among other uses.
  • IELTS: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the other main exam that tests for English language proficiency, in addition to the TOEFL.  The IELTS is less popular than the TOEFL, and it is used more often by people immigrating to the UK, Australia, or Canada than it is by those applying to universities.
  • TOIEC: What does TOIEC stand for? The TOIEC (which formerly stood for Test of English for International Communication) is another standardized test produced by ETS to measure English skills. However, unlike the TOEFL, which is used mostly by people hoping to attend university or graduate school, the TOEIC is primarily used by employers to test the language skills of potential employees.
  • TEFL: This acronym is very close to TOEFL, but it stands for something entirely different! TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” and it refers to English language instruction for non-native English speakers. It’s also possible to be TEFL-certified, which means you’ve taken a class and possibly an examination that show you have the skills needed to teach English.


Recap: What Does TOEFL Stand For?

TOEFL used to stand for “Test of English as a Foreign Language,” but the exam no longer uses that name officially, and now only goes by “TOEFL.” While its name has changed several times, the TOEFL meaning has remained the same.

The TOEFL was created in 1963 as a way to measure the English skills of non-native speakers hoping to attend a school where classes were taught in English. Over the years, the TOEFL has changed to test more skills and more integrated skills, and the exam has gone from being paper-based to primarily computer-based. There are lots of acronyms associated with the TOEFL, and knowing the key ones can help you stay organized and understand the exam and what it tests better.


What’s Next?

Now that you know the story behind the TOEFL, are you ready to take the exam? Read our guide to learn the seven steps to register for the TOEFL so you can get the process started!

Not sure what TOEFL score you should be aiming for? Learn what a good TOEFL score is based on the schools you’re interested in.

How difficult is the TOEFL? Should you be doing a lot of studying? Learn the seven hardest things about the TOEFL and reasons why it may not be as challenging as you think!

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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.