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About the TOEFL Test

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, January 24, 2013

An overview of the TOEFL test

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) measures your English skills by testing reading, writing, listening, and now, in most locations, speaking. The TOEFL test is offered in 180 countries around the globe.

If you're a non-native English speaker at the 11th-grade or above level, planning to attend college or graduate school in the United States, chances are you need to take the TOEFL. More than 6,000 colleges and universities worldwide require the TOEFL test as part of your application. It is designed to evaluate your mastery of the English language and your ability to be successful in an English-speaking academic environment.

The original TOEFL was a paper and pencil test. Gradually, the TOEFL Paper-based Test (PBT) was joined by the computer-based version, the CBT. Until 2005, the TOEFL was administered primarily as the CBT. Since then a new version of the test, the Internet-based test (TOEFL iBT), was introduced and is being integrated worldwide. Depending upon your testing location, the TOEFL will be administered in either iBT or PBT format. The CBT version is no longer offered.

Replacing the PBT, the TOEFL iBT has a format that includes an emphasis on your speaking ability. The new test includes voice-recording technology that more effectively measures your ability to both understand and to speak English. Because effective communication includes many skills, the iBT introduces the concept of "integrated questions" that combine multiple language skills. The new test is a better evaluation tool for assessing your overall communication skills in the English language.

After spending hours or days in TOEFL preparation, you will be anxious to get the results of the test. English-language skills were tested in many locations the day you tested and you will, of course, have to be patient. Your TOEFL score will arrive in the mail. However, if you took the PBT, you can pay an additional fee and get your scores earlier by touch-tone phone. Or, if you took the TOEFL iBT, you will be able to retrieve your scores online. The ETS Web site provides detailed information regarding the dates on which your TOEFL score will be mailed and when it will be made available online or by phone.

A brief look at the TOEFL iBT

The Internet-based TOEFL has four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

  • Reading: students will read three to five passages and then answer questions that test their ability to analyze and understand the passages.
  • Listening: students will listen to two to three conversations and four to six lectures. Questions will test the students' ability to understand the content of these recordings and interpret the meanings and attitudes of the speakers.
  • Speaking: students will complete six tasks, some of which will require them to respond to reading or listening material. Students will be evaluated on topic development, speaking delivery, and use of language.
  • Writing: students will complete two tasks, one of which will require them to respond to reading and listening material and one of which will require them to respond to a topic using their personal knowledge and experience. Students will be evaluated based on their understanding of the material, and the organization and development of their writing.

Test Section Number of Questions Allotted Time
Reading 36 to 70 60 to 100 min
Listening 34 to 51 60 to 90 min
Speaking 6 tasks 20 min
Writing 2 tasks 50 min

A brief look at the TOEFL PBT
The Paper-based TOEFL has three sections: reading comprehension, structure and written expression, and listening comprehension. It also contains a writing portion, known as the Test of Written English.

  • Reading Comprehension: students will read several passages and answer questions about them. They will be tested on their ability to understand and analyze the information in the passages and their ability to understand the meanings of specific words as they are used in the passages.
  • Structure and Written Expression: students will be tested on their ability to recognize structural and grammatical errors in sentences and on their ability to select the proper word or phrase to fill in the blank in a sentence.
  • Listening Comprehension: students will listen to both short and long conversations and speeches and then answer questions about the recordings. This section tests students' ability to understand spoken English, including vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical constructions.
  • Test of Written English: students will write an essay in response to a given topic and be evaluated on the development, organization, language, and grammar of their writing.

Test Section Number of Questions Allotted Time
Reading Comprehension 50 55 min
Structure and Written Expression 40 25 min
Listening Comprehension 50 30 to 40 min
Test of Written English 1 topic 30 min

TOEFL test dates, locations, and registration

The TOEFL test is given at a variety of times throughout the year, and at some 4,500 locations around the world. Some locations offer the iBT version and other locations offer the PBT version. To find the most up-to-date information about testing dates and locations, you should visit the TOEFL Web site at www.toefl.org. Registration for the TOEFL PBT can be done online or by mail. You can register for the TOEFL iBT online, by phone, by mail, or in person at TOEFL Resource Centers.

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