TOEFL Test Overview

The TOEFL Exam

Ever wonder the difference between these prominent English tests for university admittance? The TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC & the new PTE are the most common English tests administered at this time and prospective test-takers might wonder the differences between them. Here’s a quick 101 on the differences between each.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): This exam is currently the most common for non-native English speakers. The TOEFL is often a requirement at most colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and other English-speaking countries. In addition, government agencies, licensing bodies, businesses or scholarship programs might also require the TOEFL. At this time, an individual’s TOEFL score is valid for two years and then subject for re-evaluation after the two-year period.

The TOEFL itself was first administered in 1964 and has been taken by more than 23 million students since then. TOEFL tests have involved from paper based tests to the iBT (Internet Based Test) since 2012.

To register for your test, please visit www.ets.org/toefl

Total scores range from 0 to 120. In evaluating a test-taker's performance on TOEFL iBT, it is useful to compare test scores with those of other students from the same native country and with those of students who speak the same language as the test-taker. The test is not computer adaptive and the test-taker is allowed to take notes throughout the entire exam. It takes about three hours to complete the test.

Important TOEFL Test Facts

  • The TOEFL iBT is not computer adaptive. Each test taker receives the same range of questions.
  • Test takers can take notes throughout the entire test. At the end of testing, all notes are collected and destroyed at the test center.
  • For the Speaking section, test takers speak into a microphone, and their responses are digitally recorded and sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • For the Writing section, test takers must type their responses, which are sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • Human raters, trained and certified by ETS, rate the Writing responses. As of August 2019, your Speaking score is now determined by one human grader and the new SpeechRater software. This is called “Enhanced Speaking Scoring” by ETS. Previously, students were graded only by human raters.
  • My BestScore
    As of August 1, 2019, all TOEFL iBT score reports will include both the applicant’s MyBest scores and the scores from their selected test date. MyBest scores — sometimes generically called superscores — are the combination of an applicant’s best scores for each test section from all of their valid TOEFL scores in the last 2 years.

    TOEFL iBT Format

    Sections Details
    Total Sections: 4 Sections: •Reading •Listening •Speaking •Writing
    TOEFL Reading Question Type: 3-4 passages (about 700 words each); 9-10 questions each; Total No. of Questions: About 30-40; Total Time: 54 minutes (three passages) or 72 minutes (four passages)
    TOEFL Listening Question Type: 2-3 sets of listening material. Each set consists of either one conversation and two lectures (long set), or one conversation and one lecture (short set). If you are given three sets, the third will be an additional short set. In this case one of your lectures and one of your conversations will not be graded (experimental section); Long Set: 17 questions to solve in 10 minutes; Short Set: 11 questions to solve in 6.5 minutes; Total No. of Questions: 40+; Total Time: 41 - 57 minutes
    TOEFL Speaking Question Type: a) 1 independent tasks (prep time: 15 sec; response time: 45 sec); b) 2 integrated tasks – Read/Listen/Speak (prep time: 30 sec; response time: 60 sec); c) 1 integrated tasks – Listen/Speak (prep time: 20 sec; response time: 60 sec); Total No. of Questions: 4; Total Time: 17 minutes
    TOEFL Writing Question Type: a) 1 integrated task – Read/Listen/Write (20 minutes) (reading time: 3 min; listening time: 2 min; writing: 15 min); b) 1 independent task (30 minutes); Total No. of Questions: 2; Total Time: 50 minutes
    Time: Approximately 3 hours
    Summary New integrated-skills questions test ability to learn, to integrate information across multiple tests. They are more difficult and more reflective of actual academic English

    TOEFL Grammar

    • There is no stand-alone Grammar section; rather grammar is tested wholly within the four skill areas.
    • In comparison to previous versions of the TOEFL, the addition of a speaking section and expansion of the writing section requires students to communicate effectively in English.
    • Integrated-skills questions test ability to learn, to integrate information across multiple tests. They are more difficult and more reflective of actual academic English.

      TOEFL Scoring

      • TOEFL iBT provides five scores. Four section scores for Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking and a total score.
      • Each section is scored on a 0-30 scale.
      • The total score is the sum of the four section scores.
      • The range of total scores could be anywhere from 0-120.
      • It is valid for two years.
      • You may take the TOEFL iBT test only once in any seven-day period, even if you took the test and canceled your scores.
      • The normal fee to take the TOEFL test is US$180. However, it varies based on country.

      Can test-takers change their answers on the TOEFL?

      -The Reading section runs continuously without sub-sections so test-takers can go back to previous passages and change answers within the time constraint.

      -On the Listening section, test-takers can change their answer as many times as they wish until they click on the Confirm Answer (OK) button.

      -On the Speaking section, test-takers will be cued with a beep to begin and end speaking and cannot change the answer since everything will be recorded during the peeps.

      -On the Writing section, the essays can be revised until the clock runs out or the Submit button is hit.

      Can test-takers go back to read the passages?

      The reading passage is separate from the questions, which means, they are not on the same page. However, the student can go back and refer back to the reading.

      In the integrated tasks, where the student reads and then listens to a lecture, the student cannot go back and read the passage again.In the speaking section, the Integrated task, "Read and listen to college announcements, and talk about it" is gone as of 2020-06.

      TOEFL Reading Section

      • Contains 3–4 passages, about 700 words each. (If you get 4 passages, one of them will be an experimental section which will NOT be scored).
      • 9–10 questions for each passage
      • About 30-40 questions total
      • Total Time: 54 minutes (three passages) or 72 minutes (four passages)

      TOEFL Listening Section

      There are 2-3 sets of listening material.

      Each set consists of either one conversation and two lectures (long set), or one conversation and one lecture (short set). If you are given three sets, the third will be an additional short set. In this case one of your lectures and one of your conversations will not be graded. These experimental passages could come from any of the sets.

      Long Set: 17 questions to solve in 10 minutes.

      Short Set: 11 questions to solve in 6.5 minutes.

      40+ questions total

      Total Time: 41 - 57 minutes

      TOEFL Speaking Section

      1 independent tasks (prep time: 15 sec; response time: 45 sec)

      2 integrated tasks – Read/Listen/Speak (prep time: 30 sec; response time: 60 sec)

      1 integrated tasks – Listen/Speak (prep time: 20 sec; response time: 60 sec)

      4 questions total

      Total Time: 17 minutes

      TOEFL Writing Section

      There are 2 types of questions:

      *1 integrated task – Read/Listen/Write (20 minutes - reading time: 3 min; listening time: 2 min; writing: 15 min)
      *1 independent task (30 minutes)

      Total Time: 50 minutes