Introduction to the TOEFL

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an English language proficiency exam produced by the ETS, the same organization that develops the GRE (an exam for grad school admissions) and several other tests.

There are several versions of the TOEFL, either paper-based or computer-based. This guide will focus on the TOEFL iBT which is administered over the internet. The TOEFL iBT is, by far, the most commonly taken and accepted version of the TOEFL.

TOEFL Format

The TOEFL lasts a total of 3.5 hours and includes four sections. There is a ten-minute break between the Listening and Speaking sections. For each section, you’ll receive a score of 0-30. These scores are then added together, meaning your total TOEFL score will be from 0-120. Below is the format of the exam.

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SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Given
Reading36-5660-80 minutes
Listening34-5160-90 minutes
Speaking6 tasks20 minutes
Writing2 tasks50 minutes

TOEFL Content

As stated above, the TOEFL contains four sections which each test a different area of your English skills. Below is a brief overview of what to expect on each section.

TOEFL Reading

For Reading, there will be three or four passages from academic texts that students must read and answer questions about. The passages are from university-level textbooks that introduce a topic or discipline. There are three types of questions: standard multiple-choice, questions where students must insert a sentence into the proper spot in a paragraph, and questions where students must properly sort information into a chart or summary table.

TOEFL Listening

The Listening section has four to six recordings, each followed by a set of questions. The recordings are similar to conversations students encounter in daily academic life, such as a classroom lecture or a discussion between two students or a student and teacher. Questions will be multiple choice, require you to order steps in an event or process, or require you to match objects or text to categories in a chart.

TOEFL Speaking

The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks that draw on the student’s own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding.

The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks. Students must use more than one skill when responding to these types of questions.

Two integrated tasks require students to read, listen and then speak.

The other two tasks require students to listen then speak.

TOEFL Writing

The Writing section has two tasks: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. For Integrated Writing, students hear a short recording and read a short passage. They’ll then have 20 minutes to summarize and compare the information they got from these two sources. The suggested response length is 150-225 words.

For Independent Writing, students are given a topic and must give their opinion on that topic. The writing must be clear and supported by examples. Students are given 30 minutes and typically write a minimum of 300 words.

Who Accepts TOEFL Scores

Over 9000 institutions around the world accept TOEFL scores. For schools in the United States, the majority of schools surveyed stated they preferred TOEFL scores over scores of other English-language tests. You can use TOEFL Destination Search to find who accepts TOEFL scores.