Frequently asked questions

Q: Do I need a legal background to work with TOLES materials and exams?

A: ‘The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook’ was carefully developed to give total support to any teacher of the TOLES exams at Foundation and Higher level. This means that any professional teacher of English can guide students to success in the two lower levels of the exam. In fact, at the lower levels of the exams we find that experienced and committed teachers of English often achieve stronger results than other trainers. It’s important to be passionate about language and to motivate your students rather than just to know law.
TOLES Advanced presents a different challenge. It undoubtedly helps if the teacher has some kind of commercial training but this needn’t necessarily be in law. Many teachers with some kind of commercial expertise are much more successful than those lawyers who may not have had a strong commercial background. The main requirement is a teacher who has enough interest to work with the materials and do some research around the subject, whether they are an EFL professional or a non-practising lawyer.

Q: What level of general English do my students need to take the TOLES exams?

A: The exam series is designed to allow every student of legal English to make a start at gaining a certificate. The Foundation exam is a huge support towards learning legal vocabulary and students can do well in the exam even if they are just at the stage of learning basic grammar structures. We try to avoid complications such as perfect tenses or conditional sentences at this level in order to give students the opportunity to focus on vocabulary and to develop a sense of commercial awareness. The Higher exam requires at least an intermediate level of general English and the Advanced exam requires high intermediate to advanced level of general English. If you are in doubt, please email our office for further guidance.

Q: Must my students complete Foundation level before progressing?

A: There is no obligation for a student to progress through all 3 levels of the exam. However, we strongly recommend that they do so. Students who are familiar with the many fluency-based English tests on the market may dismiss Foundation as ‘too easy’ upon first sight and not realise that this is an accuracy-based exam. Learners who already have very advanced certificates from other exams and courses have been very surprised by the demands of TOLES Foundation once they try a range of testing material. However, all of the exams are designed to be beneficial in their own right and if teacher and student agree on a course of training followed by a particular exam then that’s fine with us.

Q: Why is there no Teacher’s Book with the standard TOLES coursebook?

A: Our programme is not a typical English language course as the legal content of the materials is so high. This means it works slightly differently and requires teachers to have a rather different approach from the methods used in general English courses. Our material is entirely self-explanatory and is accessible to student and teacher alike. The activities are designed to promote debate and shared information between teacher and student as opposed to the now traditional learner-centred approach with teacher as facilitator. In our experience, this is a much more beneficial way to learn legal English than the student’s book/teacher’s book way.

Q: How many hours of study do my students require before taking the exams?

A: The answer to this is as many hours as they can realistically achieve depending on their timetable, other commitments or even their working hours. Some TOLES students have only one hour of English every two weeks, others have much more. Students should take the exam when they feel ready or when all available hours have been used. This is how real life works for most people and we try to reflect that. The exams are available 5 times a year for this reason.

Q: Where do the exams fit on the Common European Framework?

A: As in the above answer, our programme and exams are something very unique for lawyers and have a very high legal content. It is almost impossible to place them in the Common European Framework for languages as a result. We don’t believe that the CEF is really relevant to our learners and we have always preferred to listen directly to the needs of employers and take our guidance from them.

Q: Why is there no speaking element to the TOLES exams?

A: There are several reasons for this. We encourage a great deal of speaking in the classroom and the fact that we have no Teacher’s Book encourages more genuine debate and interaction in class. Students should constantly talk to you about the law and language under scrutiny and should constantly be comparing legal concepts and systems to their own. However, there is no speaking element in the final exams. This is because of advice from employers, whose overwhelming priority is strong and accurate writing skills. They tell us that they can test English speaking skills at interview and, very importantly, that a lawyer can make mistakes when speaking which would be unforgivable mistakes during the process of legal drafting.

Q: How can I best prepare students for the TOLES Advanced exam?

A: We have prepared a short guide for teachers with tips on how to improve your students’ results in the TOLES Advanced exam. Please contact the office if you would like a copy.

Q: Does the TOLES exam certificate ‘expire’ after a certain period of time?

A: No. Your TOLES certificate is valid for life.

Q: How can my school become a registered centre for TOLES training?

A: You can complete our online registration form or you can download this registration form here and return it as an attachment by email to or fax it to 0044 (0) 1914920404. There is no charge to apply. The TOLES office will do everything they can to support your application and to get you started as a TOLES training centre. One of our main criteria is that the person at the school teaching TOLES is a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language.

Q: What happens when my application is accepted?

A: When your application is accepted there is a single administration fee of £200. This fee is one-time only and is not repeated. We then add your details to our website and send you a certificate confirming that you are a TOLES centre that you can display at your school. We will email you regularly with any updates and will remind you about the dates of exams well in advance in case you have any candidates. You can enter candidates for any exam. However, if you have fewer than 8 candidates we will inform you about any courier fee that may apply.