SAT & TOEFL – Differences, Explanation, and Examples

International students that plan to go to the United States will go through a lengthy admissions process. One important step is two separate tests, that the students will have to pass – the SAT and TOEFL. Both of these tests are mostly required, with exceptions. While you might think, you have done enough with finishing school in your country, the SAT and TOEFL are needed for universities to check certain skills. And the number of points you achieve might be important for your college selection. Don’t worry though, you can retake them.

But what are the differences and what are they for?

The TOEFL Test is hosted by ETS (Educational Testing Service) and it checks your English skills as a non-native English speaker. According to their web page, it is accepted by more than 11,000 universities in over 150 countries. It is offered in test centers everywhere and, nowadays, also online. What about its content? The TOEFL can be divided into 4 sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing, which will take about 3 hours in total and is totally computer-based. Your scores will be given in a range from 0-30 in each section with 4 to 5 proficiencies showing your skill level in that area. Added up, you can get a maximum of 120 points.

The SAT Test is hosted by The College Board. It is not focused on non-native speakers only, as students in the US have to also complete it. While it also has writing, reading, and language sections, it also checks your maths skills. In the end, you will also have to hand in an essay. Each of the subjects is an hour long and will be written by hand, also in test centers or online. The score can be a total of 2400 points, with 800 in each subject.

In comparison to the TOEFL, the SAT focuses more on thinking for yourself and not understanding, which is why most colleges require both tests for the admission. While the TOEFL shows your English level as a non-native speaker, the SAT is an entrance exam in the US that determines and/or admits academic scholarships.

Here is a quick overview, on how both test are structured: (taken from PrepScholar:



Of course, you need to be well prepared for the test, as they are no cakewalk. You should focus on one test at a time for your preparation.

On the website of the SAT and TOEFL, you can find practice questions for each of the sections. To give you a brief overview, we have taken an example from each section, to demonstrate what could be waiting for you. Check the linked websites for more information.



You get a text and you have to answer questions about it. For example, the practice questions had a text about the city of Teotihuacán. One of the questions was as followed:

In paragraph 1, each of the following is mentioned as a feature of the city of Teotihuacán between A.D. 150 and 700 EXCEPT:

Now you get 4 different answers:

  1. regularly arranged streets
  2. several administrative centers spread across the city
  3. many manufacturing workshops
  4. apartment complexes


Similarly to reading, you will listen to a conversation, in this example of two students, and, again pick one of four answers.

What does the student imply about the interlibrary loan service at his last school?

  1. He never used it.
  2. He came to appreciate it.
  3. It was inconvenient.
  4. It was expensive.


You will be asked to give your opinion about a topic that should be familiar to you. You get about 15 seconds to prepare and then you record yourself for 45 seconds.

Some people enjoy taking risks and trying new things. Others are not adventurous; they are cautious and prefer to avoid danger. Which behavior do you think is better? Explain why.


You will read a text and give yourself about 20 minutes to plan and write your response. They focus on the writing and how well you convey the message and the relation to the text. The text should be around 150 to 225 words.

Question: Summarize the points made in the lecture, being sure to explain how they cast doubt on specific points made in the reading passage.



You will read a text passage and answer a question about it in an essay. For example: consider how the author uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support the claim.

Here’s an example of a question from the practice page: Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. In your essay, analyze how Bogard uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.


With the Maths sections, you have questions that permit calculators and some that don’t.

Not Permitted: If     and        what is the value of 

Calculator Permitted: A company’s manager estimated that the cost C, in dollars, of producing n items is C equals 7 n plus 350. The company sells each item for $12. The company makes a profit when total income from selling a number of items is greater than the total cost of producing that quantity of items. Which of the following inequalities gives all possible values of n for which the manager estimates that the company will make a profit?

Select answers:

  1. n < 70
  2. n < 84
  3. n > 70
  4. n > 84


You will also get a text passage and a question like: The passage most strongly suggests that … share which assumption? Again, you will get 4 different answers, that you have to choose from.

Writing & Language:

Again, you will get a text passage. Some areas of the text might have numbers in front of them. You will need to find the best option for that specific word or phrase since it might be wrong. Here’s an example:

A 1954 documentary about renowned watercolor painter Dong Kingman shows the artist sitting on a stool on Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown. A crowd of admiring spectators 12 watched as Kingman squeezes dollops of paint from several tubes into a tin watercolor 13 box, from just a few primary colors, Kingman creates dozens of beautiful hues as he layers the translucent paint onto the paper on his easel.

For 12: No change, had watched, would watch, watches

That is all the information we can give you, for now, to make the tests seem a little more understandable and that you can differentiate between the two.

If this seems like a lot for you, why don’t you check out our website, as we offer test preparation courses with special tutors. Just follow this link.