The answer to this depends on a few different factors, so let’s discuss them one by one.
If you need a total score of 90, for example, and you get a 70, that’s very different from getting an 87. You might retake the test much sooner if you’re close to your target score.
If you need to make more than a total ten-point improvement to your TOEFL scores, you will need many months to study and practice your English skills. It probably won’t happen in just weeks, so don’t sign up for another test immediately. Instead, look for ways to practice and improve your English, and spend time getting more experience. Of course, continuing to study for the test specifically will help, too.
If you need less than a ten-point improvement, it might take less time. If you need to go up by fewer than five points, you might retake the test after just a month or two of continued preparation. (Note that you can’t retake the test fewer than 21 days after your previous test. You have to wait three weeks at minimum—but it’s best to have even more time than that.)
At this point, you’ll probably want a TOEFL study schedule to keep you on the right track.
Be sure that your next test is more than two weeks before the application deadline at the university or college you’re applying to. Remember that it takes 10–15 days to receive your scores. Really, you should be taking the test even earlier—a month or more before the deadline.
If you already studied a lot for the TOEFL, but took the test and didn’t score what you wanted, then, again, the improvement you need might be from general English experience. That means taking a long time to improve before the next time you take the test—months or even years.
On the other hand, if you didn’t study much the first time, then you might learn the format of the test and skills to improve your score pretty quickly. Retaking the TOEFL in two or three months will give you time to learn more about the test and prepare before your second try.
This is a slightly different question. If your scores from the first test are above your target schools’ requirements, but you’re wondering, “Should I retake the TOEFL?" then I have a quick answer for you: no. Once you meet the school’s requirements, move on to improve other parts of your application. A really high TOEFL score doesn’t make you a better candidate, generally. You just need a high enough score to show that you can communicate well enough. Once you reach that number, that’s enough.
This is a pretty wide range, altogether. Studying to retake the test might be a month of your time, or maybe more than a year. Consider carefully how much you need to improve and how you can make those improvements before you register for your next test!
This post was written by Lucas Verney-Fink, resident TOEFL expert at Magoosh. For more advice on TOEFL prep, check out Magoosh’s TOEFL blog.
(Check out Your All-in-One Guide to ESL Summer Camps for some great resources to help out your ESL student!)