TOEFL – An Outline

The Current Test

The purpose of the test is to evaluate English proficiency of people whose native language is not English. The current test breaks down into 3 sections:

. Listening Comprehension
. Structure
. Reading Comprehension.

Listening Comprehension tests your ability to listen to people talking, to understand what they mean, and to remember what they said. You will see a picture and hear the questions before the answer choices appear.

The Structure section contains two parts: the Structure multiple choice, and the Essay. The Structure section is a test of Grammar, and uses American English. The language tested is formal English. The Essay is a test of your writing ability. You must write the essay in order to receive a score. You have the choice of handwriting your essay or typing it on a computer.

Reading Comprehension evaluates two separate skills: your ability to summarize or reduce the long passage of text into a single sentence, and your ability to retrieve or find specific pieces of information from the long passage. You read a variety of short passages, which are around 400 words in length, and answer questions about each passage.


The entire test takes approximately four hours to complete. This includes time spent answering questions, and tutorials that you are required to read on your test day. The tutorials teach the basic computer skills needed to take the test and describe how to answer questions in each test section. On average, most people take about 40 minutes to complete the tutorials, and just over 3 hours to complete the questions and essay.

In the Listening section, you are given 15 to 25 minutes to answer the questions. However, the clock only runs while you are answering questions; it does not run while you are listening to the conversations and talks. Therefore, the amount of time it takes to complete the section is between 40
and 60 minutes.

In the Structure section, you will be given between 15 and 20 minutes to answer the questions.

In the Reading section, you will be given 70 to 90 minutes to complete the questions. This also includes the time you spend reading the passages.

In the essay section, you will be given 30 minutes to complete your writing.

How Many Questions?

The number of questions in the Listening section ranges between 30 and 49.
The number of questions in the Structure section ranges from 20 to 25.
The number of questions in the Reading section ranges from 44 to 55.

Because the number of questions varies, the amount of time given for each section will vary.

The Computer Test

The computer test was introduced in July 1998. It has many of the same question types as the traditional paper test, but adds new question types that are only on the computer test. In the computer-based test, the Listening and Structure sections are computer adaptive. The Reading section of the test is not adaptive. This section is similar to that of the paper-based test in that you will receive passages and accompanying sets of questions.

Score Values and Time

Listening Comprehension
Value: 30 points
Time: 15 minutes
(the clock only runs when you are answering and NOT when you are listening)

Structure: Multiple Choice
Value: 15 points
Time: 20 minutes

Reading Comprehension
Value: 30 points
Time: 70 minutes (approximately)

Structure: Essay
Value: 15 points
Time: 30 minutes

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT)

The Listening Comprehension and Structure parts of the TOEFL test require you to answer each question before you can move on to the next. This is because of the Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) scoring method. The test grades your answer as soon as you confirm it, question by question. Then
increases or decreases your score and the level of difficulty depending of whether or not you answered that question correctly.

The amount of score and difficulty increased or decreased depends on where you are in a section. If you are near the beginning of a section the amount is rather large. If you are near the end of a section the amount is quite small. This produces a quick assessment of your capability early on in a section and then fine tunes into your actual score near the end.

The scores

Your TOEFL score will range from 0 - 300. The three section scores, Listening Comprehension, Structure, and Reading Comprehension, are combined into a single score. Each section is worth 30 raw points.

The formula:

(30 + 30 + 30) 10 / 3 = your score out of 300.

The New Test: TOEFL iBT

The TOEFL test is changing in September 2005. The new TOEFL test will measure four skills of communication: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It will also use questions that ask students to combine their skills to show how well they can use English to communicate.

TOEFL has established a new scoring scale for the test. Score reports will contain five different scores: one total score on a scale of 0-120, and four skill scores, each on a scale of 0-30. The new test will be delivered to test takers via the Internet, hence the next generation TOEFL test will be known as iBT (Internet-based) TOEFL.

Differences between the old test and the new test:

The structure section has been eliminated

A speaking section has been added

An essay based on reading and listening has been added

There are four sections that make up the complete test:

Reading section: questions about three reading passages

Listening section: questions about two conversations and four lectures

Speaking section: Some of the questions ask you to speak based on your own experience. Other questions ask you to speak about lectures you have heard and/or passages you have read. There are six questions in this section.

Writing section: The first question asks you to write about the relationship between a lecture you will hear and a passage you will read. The second asks you to write an essay about a topic of general interest based on your experience.

There is a 10-minute break after the Listening section.

More information about the new test can be found at:

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