Information on the Format of the TOEFL

Structure of the TOEFL

First offered in 1964, the TOEFL has now been taken by over 27 million international applicants to universities in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries. Nearly all students currently take the TOEFL online, and this version is known as the internet-based test, or iBT. The paper-based TOEFL (PBT) is being phased out and is only offered in countries where internet testing is unavailable. The administration of the iBT begins with a 60-80 minute reading section, followed by a 60-90 minute listening section. Test-takers are then offered a 10-minute break. The TOEFL iBT concludes with a 20-minute speaking section and a 50-minute writing section. Total testing time can range from three hours and 20 minutes to four hours and 10 minutes (the exact timing is determined by the number of passages in the reading section and by the number of experimental questions, which are unscored). Students taking the iBT receive a total score of 0-120, which consists of the four sectional scores, each of which is reported from 0 to 30.

TOEFL iBT Reading Section

The reading portion of the TOEFL assesses three core skills: reading to find information, basic reading comprehension, and reading to learn. The reading section includes 3-4 reading passages that are each approximately 700 words in length. These passages are taken from college textbooks in a several subjects, and they are either expository, argumentative, or historical in nature. Test-takers will see three distinct question formats, all of which involve multiple-choice answers. Reading section question formats include traditional multiple choice with a single correct answer, exercises that ask test-takers to choose the most appropriate point to insert a given sentence into reading passages, and multiple choice with more than one correct answer. The TOEFL reading section is graded electronically.

TOEFL iBT Listening Section

The TOEFL listening section emphasizes listening for basic comprehension, listening for pragmatic understanding, and correcting and synthesizing information. Listening exercises include 4-6 academic lecture excerpts (each 3–5 minutes in length) and 2-3 conversations (approximately 3 minutes each). Academic lectures can be either professor-only or classroom discussion. Conversations are based on typical out-of-class interactions with faculty and staff. TOEFL listening questions are given in four formats: multiple choice with one correct answer, multiple choice with more than one correct answer, ordering of events or steps in a process, and matching text or objects to categories in a chart. Test-takers must be able to understand tone of voice and other verbal cues in order to successfully complete the TOEFL listening section. Grading for the TOEFL listening section is completed by computer.

TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The TOEFL speaking section measures test-takers' competence with spoken English in classroom and non-classroom academic settings. This section is intended to ensure that students can answer questions, contribute to classroom discussions, summarize lectures and reading assignments, express their own views, and function in situations commonly encountered in university life. Students must complete six tasks in spoken form, with responses preserved via audio recording. The first two are independent tasks, in which test-takers answer question prompts with their own opinions and ideas. The other four are integrated tasks, characterized by synthesis of reading, listening, and speaking. TOEFL speaking exercises are evaluated by 3-6 human graders. Assessment criteria include clarity of delivery, effectiveness of language use, and coherence of topic development.

TOEFL iBT Writing Section

The TOEFL writing section consists of an integrated writing task and an independent writing task. The former task requires reading, listening, and writing skills, and students must compose a written response to a reading passage and a spoken lecture excerpt on the same topic, for which they are given 20 minutes. On the latter exercise, students write an essay that expresses and supports their own opinion of an issue raised by the essay prompt. Typical independent essay questions ask test-takers to choose between two sides of an argument or discuss why they agree or disagree with a given statement. The suggested length of the independent essay is at least 300 words, and the time allotment is 30 minutes. TOEFL writing exercises are also assessed by human graders, who consider the quality of writing in terms of organization, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, accuracy, and development.


The TOEFL PBT includes a Listening Comprehension section of 50 questions (for which test-takers are given 30-40 minutes), a Structure and Written Expression section that includes 40 questions (25 minutes), a Reading Comprehension section with 50 questions (55 minutes), and Writing section with one topic to complete (30 minutes).