There is often a great deal of comparison made between the TOEFL tests, and the GRE test and on one level, yes, there are some striking similarities. Both tests are designed to test a persons aptitude and confidence as well as level of skill with the English language and both tests do this by requiring the test subject to apply their knowledge of English vocabulary (and grammar) in a variety of contexts and situations.
Both tests have drawn criticism and have been subject to a great of controversy, with such condemnation directed towards either the inherent biases of such tests, their ineffectiveness of determining the level of skill of the test subject. A counter argument to this would be that yes, there will be a semi-rigid structure to the toefl tests as they are standardized, although this is actually done in the best interests of the test subject, in order to remove any potential cultural, class or racial biases. A common reason as to why students who are required to sit the toefl test fail is because they simply learn English as a language, purely by rote.
They memorize and recite words, repeating them in parrot fashion with each word learned and assessed purely by itself with no thought given whatsoever as to its context or proper meaning.
The reason why this poses particular problems and can be especially fatal to the chances of success within such tests is that the toefl tests tend to use quotes and excerpts from literature in order to test the level of aptitude of the test subject. Some similes for example are meant to invoke emotion or the imagination and whilst to native English speakers they are perfectly intelligible (albeit it a little quaint or peculiar) to a non native speaker, who sees it under exam conditions may and often will struggle to understand.
A student sitting these tests will no doubt look at a simile such as “as busy as a bee” and fail to appreciate its meaning or significance, often getting bogged down in the all too literal meaning, and failing to appreciate the contextual meaning. This is also the case when they encounter a word that they have not came across, in the agony of the moment they look at the word and get flustered because they do not understand it straight away.
The toefl test also actively challenges the experience and skill base of the candidate, as it will require them to read an academic work and then comment on the significance of it. They maybe required to assess it critically, perhaps weighing its strengths and weaknesses.