The TOEFL Essentials® Test: 8 Things You Need to Know

Exciting, right?

Not really, I know, but if you need a TOEFL score for school or work, read closely to learn about the Essentials test and what makes it different from the TOEFL iBT®.

I want to make this as painless as possible (because reading about the TOEFL is painful), so I have organized the article into frequently asked questions, listed below.

There are eight questions, hence the name “8 Things You Need to Know”. Feel free to jump around.

Oh, and before I forget, if you want updates on everything TOEFL, we send out weekly news in our TOEFL Insider email. Click here to join.

When will the TOEFL Essentials test be released?

According to ETS, registration is open with tests starting on August 21, 2021. 

Where can I find a sample of the TOEFL Essentials test?

In late May of 2021, ETS released three complete sample tests of the TOEFL Essentials Test. They are free for all students and can be found at this link.

One key difference to look out for is that the TOEFL Essentials test will include a mix of academic and general English questions. Right now, the TOEFL iBT is strictly an academic test designed to judge whether you are ready to enter a North American university.

The TOEFL Essentials test mixes both academic and general English skills, but we’ll talk more about these differences in the next section.

How is the TOEFL Essentials test different from the TOEFL iBT?

The TOEFL Essentials test contains about 50% general English questions and 50% academic English.

This new TOEFL test will also include a personal video statement at the end of the exam. This is new. At the end of the test, you will have to speak for 3-5 minutes about yourself.


Luckily, according to ETS, this is not graded. This section is meant to be submitted to potential universities so they can get to know you and your personality beyond a test score.

There are a couple more important differences, which are neatly organized in this handy table

TOEFL® Essentials™ Test


What it Measures Foundational elements of English proficiency in both academic and non-academic contexts Applied English communication in an academic context
Who's likely to take it Students looking for a test that blends quality and convenience with an engaging format Aspiring students looking to stand out
Content 50% academic English and 50% general English 100% academic English
Emphasis Breadth with shorter, faster-paced tasks Depth with longer, interconnected tasks
Length 1 - 1/2 hours 3 hours
Format 4 sections:
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
5-minute personal video statement (not scored)
4 sections:
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
Main Test
Design Principle
Designed to be a highly efficient, adaptive test that measures the full spectrum of English proficiency (CEFR A1 to C2) accurately with fewer test items and in just 1-1/2 hours Designed to be the most effective assessment of applied English communication in academic contexts, with a range corresponding to CEFR A2 to C1.
Presentation of Test Items Adjust to the test taker's skill level in an adaptive format Carefully selected and matched in coherent, integrated sets simulating actual communication
Delivery At home, using the same platform, technology and security as the TOEFL iBT® Home Edition At a test center, or at home with the TOEFL iBT® Home Edition

*** The table and its content are republished here courtesy of ETS. You can find the original table here

We recently had the chance to sit down with Srikant Gopal, the Executive Director of the TOEFL Program to discuss the TOEFL Essentials test in detail. Check it out here. You will also find links to timestamps in the description so you can jump around and find the answer to the question you are looking for.

Why did ETS decide to release the TOEFL Essentials test?

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that ETS is upset about the Duolingo English test. Srikant Gopal, the executive director of the TOEFL program throws a little bit of shade on the Duolingo crew in this article in Inside Higher Ed. Here’s a snippet:

“TOEFL, old and new, also features human proctors (even though the test may be taken at home). With Duolingo, you can take the test and no one is watching.”

– Srikant Gopal, executive director of the TOEFL program

How is the TOEFL Essentials test different from the Duolingo English test?

The first thing most students think about is price. The Duolingo English Test is $49 and the TOEFL Essentials Test is currently estimated to be between $100 – $120.

The speaking and writing section will most likely be shorter in the Duolingo English test.

The Duolingo English Test itself is also shorter, somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 – 60 minutes, while the TOEFL Essentials test will take around 90 minutes.

So why would anyone take the TOEFL Essentials test if the Duolingo English test is cheaper and shorter?

ETS is focusing on their commitment to reliable test scores that accurately reflect the English ability of the test taker. The TOEFL test has been around since 1964, so they have a long history of providing verified English tests that schools and institutions can trust.

TOEFL Essentials Test

Duolingo English Test

Affordable, reasonable cost
Convenient and easy to access
Taken at home
Measures foundational English proficiency for
communication, beyond basic language knowledge
Measures and reports section scores for
the 4 core English proficiency skills1
Items are written and pre-qualified by human assessment experts rather than auto-generated by computers
Items are pre-tested with human test takers in the field to ensure accuracy, reliability and
fairness for diverse, global populations
Responses are scored by human raters assisted by AI technology, rather than machine scoring alone
Test security includes live, human proctoring for 100% of the test, in addition to AI security measures.

1 — Duolingo English Test subscores are called Literacy, Comprehension, Conversation and Production, which do not correspond to the skills most institutions use when setting skill requirements.



Duolingo is a trademark of Duolingo, which does not endorse or approve this comparison.

*** The table and its content are republished here courtesy of ETS. You can find the original table here

How much will the TOEFL Essentials test cost and where can I take it?

The final price of the TOEFL Essentials Test has yet to be determined, but somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 – $120. Unlike the TOEFL iBT, this test will only be available online.

You read that right!

The TOEFL Essentials test will NOT be available in a test center. You can only take it from the comfort of your own home.

Nice 🙂

Will my university or medical licensing board accept the TOEFL Essentials test?

Contact the school, university, or institution you are applying to for more information about whether or not they will accept the TOEFL Essentials test. Most likely, your school will accept the test, but your licensing board will not. Licensing boards for pharmacists, nurses, physical therapists, etc. have stricter requirements.

Still, be sure to contact your institution first.

How can I prepare for the TOEFL Essentials test?

Hmmm… well, I’m not biased or anything, but I think TST Prep has everything you need to prepare for both the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL Essentials test. We are watching the situation closely and will be sure to update our materials as soon as we learn more about essentials. Also, be sure to check out Michael Goodine’s article on the TOEFL Essentials over on Test Resources.

In the meantime, we have a suite of courses, tests, and teachers ready to help you get the score you need as quickly and easily as possible.

Most students want a course, but not every course fits every student, which is why we made three.

The Emergency Course for the TOEFL – Basic – Perfect for students who have less than a month to study and need to build their knowledge about the TOEFL.

The Emergency Course for the TOEFL – Premium – If you have more than a month to study, then the premium course includes additional tests and practice questions to get you ready for test day.

The Score Builder Program for the TOEFL Test – Need to improve your TOEFL score AND your English skills? We got you covered. The Score Builder program is specifically designed for you.

Less than 1 month

More than 1 month

TOEFL Skills TOEFL Skills
TOEFL Skills
English Fluency
TOEFL Skills
English Fluency
  • Emergency Course for the TOEFL (basic)
  • Emergency Course for the TOEFL (premium)
  • Pray
  • Score Builder Program for the TOEFL

You can learn more about our courses, tests, and classes right here.

Good luck TOEFL takers and let us know in the comments below which test you plan on taking and why.

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