The TOEFL Explained

The TOEFL Explained


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is an examination used to evaluate the English ability of non-native English speakers. The TOEFL test is prepared by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is available in over 165 countries worldwide. Nearly 1 million people take the test each year. The average skill level ranges between intermediate and advanced. The test is given in two different formats: the Internet-based test (iBT) and the paper-based test (PBT). The iBT is given between 30-40 times a year and costs between US$150 and US$225 depending on the country where the test is taken. The PBT costs US$160 and is given 6 times a year where the iBT is not available.

The iBT TOEFL test includes the following four sections:

Reading Section: 60-100 minutes

3 reading passages of 650-700 words each

The time limit for each passage is approximately 20-30 minutes

After each section, the candidate will answer three types of questions:

  • Multiple choice
  • Add a sentence to a passage
  • Drag answers to answer a question

Listening Section: 60-90 minutes

2 conversations of 2-3 minutes and 4 lectures of 4-6 minutes

Questions based upon the listening include:

  • Multiple choice
  • Select choices to complete the tasks

Questions typically ask for:

  • Main Idea
  • Supporting details
  • Purpose or attitude

Writing Section: 50 minutes

2 writing tasks that test:

  • Clarity
  • Accurateness
  • Good organization

Integrated Writing Task: 20 minutes to write answer

  • Read passage of 250-300 words
  • Listen to a short lecture on topic
  • Write answer to question
  • Approximately 150-225 words
  • 15-20 minutes

Independent Writing Task:30 minutes to write essay

  • Based on previous knowledge and experience
  • Ability to make connections

Speaking: 20 minutes

Overall ability to speak

  • Clearly
  • Accurately
  • Coherently

Two types of speaking tasks

  • Independent: tasks: tasks with which the candidate is familiar
  • 15 seconds to prepare
  • 45 seconds to respond
  • Integrated tasks:tasks which require listening and speaking or listening, reading, and speaking
  • 30 seconds to prepare
  • 60 seconds to respond

To prepare for the TOEFL test a candidate should review all coursework concentrating on areas of difficulty. Next, go to the ETS website ( and download the free materials to familiarize yourself with the test. (Only sample questions are given so this will not be sufficient for a thorough preparation, but it will give you an idea of the way the test is structured and the types of questions used during the test.) Becoming thoroughly familiar with the test is one of the best methods to prepare for it.

Candidates for the TOEFL can use the information from the website to prepare for the test; however, remember, the test only evaluates your previous understanding of the English language. It is considered a placement test for intermediate to advanced students of English. The best way to do well on the iBT test is to study hard in class and take advantage of every opportunity to listen to and speak English.

Best of luck to those taking the test!


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