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TOEFL: What you need to know

TOEFL: What you need to know

The Test Of English as a Foreign Language (or TOEFL) exam has been taken by more than 30 million people across the globe, with over 50 test dates available per year, and is recognised by over 9000 Universities, agencies and colleges in over 130 countries worldwide. TOEFL is designed to test your understanding and use of English at University level; evaluating your ability to combine listening, reading, writing and speaking skills in an academic environment, with an average English skill level ranging from intermediate to advanced. The TOEFL test is available in two formats – the online TOEFL iBT administered via computer at your selected test centre, or the paper-based TOEFL PBT for those centres which do not have access to the online format. The TOEFL exam takes around 4 hours and consists of the reading and listening sections, a 10 minute break and then the speaking and writing sections.


The reading section can last between 60 and 80 minutes and consist of 36 to 56 questions based on 3 or 4 academic texts. We recommend you read the timing instructions at the beginning of each test which will indicate the amount of questions present and the time available. There may be additional questions present that do not count towards the final score, these are designed to enable the ETS governing academic body to compare effectiveness of questions and score administration.


The TOEFL listening is designed to test students on their ability to comprehend more naturalistic everyday speech and requires students to listen to classroom discussions, conversations and lectures in a range of American accents, and may now also include a range of native accents from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The conversation will most likely be between a student and lecturer or member of support staff and cover topics such as course registration, graduation requirements or other typical university administration. For a more realistic depiction, speakers may change the track of conversation, make mistakes or forget what they were talking about. Students will have 60 to 90 minutes to complete the listening section, which will typically include 4 to 6 lectures, each accompanied by 6 comprehension questions, and 2 or 3 conversations, each with 5 comprehension questions. Each recording will be played only once and the questions will not be displayed prior. After listening to an individual section students must submit their answers before they can proceed to the next task. Answers cannot be altered once submitted and no transcripts will be available.


Students will have a total of 20 minutes to express opinions on task questions based on the subjects covered in the reading and listening sections previously completed. This section consists of 6 pre-recorded questions; questions 1 and 2 involve questions based on a familiar topic and students will have 15 seconds to prepare their answer and 45 seconds to respond. Questions 3 and 4 require students to read a short text and listen to a talk on the same topic. The questions will test students’ ability to relay and report information correctly, with 30 seconds to prepare the answer and 60 seconds to respond. Questions 5 and 6 are based on a conversation or lecture and students are required to answer a comprehension question, with 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond. Students are allowed to make notes to assist with their responses. The speaking section is not interactive with an examiner; instead students speak into a microphone which is then assessed by 3 to 6 raters to provide an impartial and objective score.


The writing section consists of 2 tasks with a time frame of 50 minutes. Students are required to write 2 essay responses based on the reading and listening tasks. In the first writing task students are assessed on their ability to represent and relate information provided in the text to answer the question. Task 2 requires students to express and support their own opinions, demonstrating development and organisation of ideas and efficiency of language used.


Each individual section is scored from 0 – 30, with an overall score of 0 – 120. TOEFL is a proficiency test and as such has no specific pass mark; please consult with the individual university or institution you wish to apply to for individual score requirements. Results are available 10 days after the test date and can be viewed online, mailed to you (this option must be specified during registration) and/or sent to up to 4 institutions selected before the test date. Results are valid for 2 years and retakes are unlimited – however tests cannot be taken within 12 days of each other.

If you wish to take a TOEFL examination we strongly recommend taking a personalised exam preparation course with one of our native and qualified online tutors. Click here to arrange a free 15 minute trial consultation today and give yourself the best opportunity to get the score you really want!