Sections of the TOEFL Internet-Based Test

TOEFL iBT Sections Overview

The TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) is an assessment of English-language skills for university applicants at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and it is also used to screen applicants for various types of jobs, professional licenses, and immigration visas. The TOEFL iBT is one of the two major English-language tests accepted by most universities in the English-speaking world (the other is the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS). The TOEFL iBT, which takes between 200 and 250 minutes to complete, includes sections on reading, listening, speaking, and writing as well as a ten-minute break in between the listening and speaking sections. The timing for the speaking and writing sections is always the same, while the reading and listening sections can vary by 20 and 30 minutes respectively. All administrations of the TOEFL iBT include unscored experimental reading and listening questions, and the reading section may feature questions for either three or four reading passages. Test-takers will not be able to predict the exact length of their TOEFL examination period, but they can assume that extra questions and/or passages will be accompanied by additional exam time (within the indicated ranges).

The TOEFL iBT Reading Section

The iBT reading section includes three or four reading passages, the average length of which is about 700 words. Students can expect to answer 12-14 questions per reading passage in 60-80 minutes, for an average of approximately 20 minutes per passage. Reading excerpts are taken from introductory-level college textbooks in several academic subjects, but subject-matter knowledge is not necessary to complete the exercises. All of the questions on the iBT reading section are multiple choice, but they can appear in two formats: multiple choice with four answer options and a single correct answer, or multiple choice with more than four answer choices and more than one correct answer (the former is far more common than the latter). The iBT reading section is graded by computer. The percentage of correct answers (which is referred to as a test-taker's "raw score") is converted to a scaled score of 0-30. Score scaling considers the difficulty level of each question.

The TOEFL iBT Listening Section

On the iBT listening section, students can expect audio recordings of 4-6 lectures and 2-3 conversations. The lectures include 6 questions each, while the conversations include 5 questions each. Timing for this section can range from 60-90 minutes, which gives test-takers an average of 10 minutes per exercise. Lectures may have only the professor speaking, or they can be a classroom discussion. Conversations reflect common interactions with university staff, such as registering for classes or office hours with a teaching assistant. Pictures that appear on the screen will help test-takers contextualize each lecture or conversation. Most of the listening questions are traditional multiple choice, although some questions ask students to submit more than one correct answer. A few questions require test-takers to complete charts, with binary answer options (e.g. yes/no) for several categories of lecture or conversation content. As with the reading section, computer-assessed responses are used to calculate a scaled listening section score of 0 to 30.

The TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

The iBT speaking section includes six exercises, which are referred to as "tasks." Test-takers must first complete two "independent tasks," on which they must respond in spoken form to brief and general questions about personal experiences or preferences. The last four exercises are "integrated tasks" that require spoken responses to reading passages and recorded conversations. Subjects for integrated tasks can be course topics or campus situations. For all listening section tasks, test-takers record their responses by speaking into a provided microphone. These audio-recorded responses are assessed at a later date by a human grader and converted to a scaled section score of 0 to 30. Students are given 15-30 seconds to prepare responses and 45-60 seconds to enter their responses for each exercise, and test-takers may take notes while listening or reading. The total timing of the iBT speaking section is 20 minutes.

The TOEFL iBT Writing Section

The iBT writing section requires the completion of two essays in 50 minutes. The first is known as an "integrated writing" task, in which students write an essay based on a reading passage and spoken lecture excerpt. The recommended length for the integrated essay is 150 to 225 words, for which students are given 20 minutes. The second essay is referred to as an "independent writing" task, which involves articulating and supporting the student's opinion on the issue indicated in the essay prompt. This essay should be at least 300 words in length, and students are given 30 minutes. Essays are assessed by human graders according to various evaluation criteria, and scaled writing section scores are reported from 0 to 30.