Sections of the Paper-Based TOEFL Test (PBT)


Warning: Please note that this page refers to the old paper-based TOEFL (PBT). This version of the test is still offered, but only in a very limited number of locations. The vast majority (over 97%) of test takers take the new internet-based TOEFL (iBT). Please click here to learn about the sections of the TOEFL iBT.

The TOEFL Paper-Based Test

The TOEFL paper-based test (PBT) is a four-section assessment that is offered in places where the TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) is not available. The PBT is taken by just 3% of students who choose the TOEFL for their English-language requirements. Many colleges and universities will still accept PBT scores, but some will consider the iBT only. The PBT evaluates reading, listening, and writing skills along with knowledge of English conventions through four test sections: listening comprehension, structure and written expression, reading comprehension, and the Test of Written English. Total timing for the PBT is 140-150 minutes, which includes 140 questions and one essay topic.

The Listening Comprehension Section of the TOEFL PBT

According to ETS, the PBT's listening comprehension section is intended to "measure the ability to understand spoken English." Test-takers are given 30-40 minutes to answer 50 questions. The questions in this section are all multiple choice, and they are based on audio recordings of conversations and lectures. Correct answers are converted to a scaled listening comprehension section score of 31 to 68.

The Structure and Written Expression Section of the TOEFL PBT

The structure and written expression section of the PBT "measures the ability to recognize language appropriate for standard written English," and it covers 40 questions in 25 minutes. Structure and written expression questions are also multiple choice. Two types of exercises are included: questions in which test-takers must complete sentences with the best word choice, and questions that require test-takers to choose which underlined word or phrase must be changed in order to correct the given sentence. Scaled structure and written expression scores are reported from 31 to 68.

The Reading Comprehension Section of the TOEFL PBT

PBT reading comprehension is designed to measure "the ability to understand non-technical reading material." Students are allowed 55 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions on reading passages intended for non-specialists. Questions ask about information stated or implied in reading passages and the meaning of specific words or phrases. The scoring scale for PBT reading comprehension ranges from 31 to 67.

The Test of Written English

The purpose of the Test of Written English (TWE) is to "measure the ability to write in English." The TWE includes one essay, which students are given 30 minutes to complete. Common TWE essay prompts ask students to choose one of two positions on an issue and construct an argument justifying their choice. Alternatively, test-takers may see an essay prompt that asks them to discuss a technological invention that they consider important. The scoring scale for the TWE is 0 to 6. All students taking the PBT are required to complete the TWE (though this section is separate from the rest of the exam, it is not optional).

Scores on the PBT

In addition to the scaled sectional scores noted above, students receive a total score for the PBT on a scale of 310 to 677. This total score is built from the listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and reading comprehension sections only and does not include the score for the TWE. For each of the three multiple-choice sections, all questions contribute equally to the section score, and there is no penalty for guessing (points are not deducted for incorrect answers). All three sections are equal factors in the PBT total score. ETS calculates PBT total scores by adding the three scaled sectional scores together, multiplying this sum by 10, and dividing the result by 3. For instance, if a test-taker received scaled section scores of 49 listening comprehension, 50 structure and written expression, and 51 reading comprehension, his or her total score would be 500 (49+50+51=150; 150X10=1500; 1500/3=500).

Additional Services for Students Taking the PBT

ETS offers phone score reporting for an additional service charge (the normal procedure is for score reports to be mailed). The PBT registration fee includes four institutional score reports, but test-takers may purchase as many extra score reports as they wish. Students who feel that their PBT total or TWE scores were assessed incorrectly may request rescoring of their answer sheet and/or essay. Rescoring is permitted up to three months after the test date, but students are only allowed a single rescoring request per PBT administration. The PBT is usually taken on Saturdays, but there are a small number of available Friday test dates for students who cannot test on Saturdays for religious reasons.