ENGLISHKITA Communication


Posted on: July 18, 2011


(Test of English as a Foreign Language)

TOEFL iBT Overview

The term TOEFL is an acronym, which means that each letter stands for something. In this case, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is created by an organization called ETS (Educational Testing Service), a professional test development organization, based in the USA.

The TOEFL is an English proficiency test for non-native speakers of English. It measures a person’s ability to read, write, speak and understand English used in college or university. This means it concentrates on the formal academic English used in lectures as well as the informal English used in normal campus life by students, professors and other college or university employees.

Most people take the TOEFL to get admission into colleges and universities where English is used or required. Some people take the TOEFL to fulfill the requirements of a government department, licensing board, certification agency, or scholarship program. In fact, today more than 6000 colleges, universities, and licensing agencies in 110 countries accept TOEFL scores.

Some career-minded students take the exam to improve their professional prospects by demonstrating their English language proficiency to future employers in their home countries.

Although the TOEFL may seem like a difficult exam, preparing for it actually helps you to improve your English in very powerful ways. That’s because studying at an English university is challenging – you have to do lots of reading, complete many written assignments, papers, and projects, and also deliver oral presentations. So all of the skills tested on the TOEFL iBT are real skills which you will need.

If you keep that perspective in mind, it will help you feel more positive about the whole experience and appreciate that these very skills will be essential for you in university and later, on the job.

TOEFL iBT Exam Details

The TOEFL iBT is the newest version of the older TOEFL test. It stands for TOEFL Internet-based Test, because this exam is delivered completely over the Internet in secure testing centres worldwide. You work only on a computer and do not need to meet or talk to a live examiner.

Some other terms you might also have heard are:

TOEFL CBt which stands for computer-based test

TOEFL PBt which stands for paper-based test.

These tests were used in the past, but today ETS is phasing out the other tests and replacing them with the TOEFL iBT in most countries.
The TOEFL iBT differs from previous TOEFL exams in four important ways: First, the new TOEFL includes integrated as well as independent questions. The exam covers all four language skills – reading, listening, speaking and writing. However, in the past, these four sections were each tested independently. The new TOEFL test combines the skill areas to ask integrated questions. For example, in the writing section, test takers will have to read, listen, and then write a short essay in response to a question. In the speaking section, they must read, listen, and give a 60-second oral response to a question. These integrated tasks are new features of the TOEFL iBT and are meant to reflect how English speakers really use the language.
It is thus important to note that you cannot study for the TOEFL iBT using the old TOEFL textbooks. Ideally, you should purchase at least one of the new TOEFL iBT textbooks — Delta, Barron’s, Longman, ETS, or Cambridge — and have access to the others.

Second, test takers now have to complete two writing responses, one of which is an integrated task. This demands additional academic skills such as notetaking, outlining, and summarizing in English.

Third, students are allowed to take notes at any time during the test.

Fourth, the TOEFL iBT has no separate grammar section, as in the past. However, grammar is tested indirectly through the writing and speaking sections of the test.

These are just a few of the critical points you need to be aware of to do well on the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL iBT Reading

The Reading section of the TOEFL measures your ability to read and understand passages in English. This is a critical skill because students in North American universities are expected to read (a lot!), and to understand, discuss, write about, paraphrase, and summarize the ideas they have read.

The reading passages in the TOEFL iBT deal with subjects that students normally study in the first and second years of university. These include the natural sciences, social sciences, business, and the arts. The language used in the reading passages is formal and academic.

Nevertheless, you don’’t need any specific subject knowledge to do well in the Reading section. Of course, if your subject is economics, and there is a passage about economics, then no doubt you will feel more comfortable but you don’t need to have specific knowledge about economics to answer the questions.

In fact, the exam is testing your ability to read about different types of subject areas and still gain a basic, intelligent understanding of what has been written.

The purpose of the passages may be to describe something, to make an argument, to provide historical information or to give a biography of someone’s life.


There are two possible versions of the TOEFL Reading Section:

  • The short version
  • The long version

The reason for this difference is that ETS – the makers of the TOEFL – experiment with certain passages for future tests and students are the ones they experiment on. That’s how it is.

So that means you may get three passages to read on your exam, or you might get five. Also, you don’t know which passages will be graded and which ones are experimental, so you have to do all of them as well as you can.

So if you have the short format, you have three passages of 20 minutes each and 12–14 questions each. That means this whole section would be 3 x 20 minutes, or 60 minutes long.

If you have the long format, you could get two additional passages which would mean that this section would be 100 minutes in all.


There are about 10 types of questions which you could get after each reading passage on the TOEFL. The way to get a high TOEFL Reading score is to become familiar with and master each type of question and to learn how to answer those types of questions correctly. The question types include identifying and recognizing:

  • facts and details
  • negative facts
  • referents
  • vocabulary in context
  • inferences
  • purpose
  • paraphrases
  • coherence
  • main ideas
  • logic of the information


Learning and practicing certain reading and academic strategies can help you succeed on the TOEFL and after the TOEFL. These include: pre-viewing, reading faster, using context, making inferences, skimming, scanning, making connections, summarizing, taking notes and synthesizing,

Improving each of these sub-skills will enable you to get a higher overall score in the reading section.



TOEFL iBT Listening

The Listening section of the TOEFL iBT measures your ability to understand conversations and lectures in English.

In this part of the TOEFL iBT, you will encounter two types of language:

  • Informal, Non-academic, and Conversational – in the form of typical campus conversations – for example, between two students, a student and professor, etc.
  • Formal and Academic – in the form of lectures from various fields of study such as natural sciences, social sciences, the arts and business. Again, you don’t need any special knowledge to do well in this section.

The entire listening section consists of 2-3 conversational passages and 4-6 lectures. This takes about 40–60 minutes to complete because you could get some extra experimental listening passages. You hear the conversations and lectures only once but you are allowed to take notes. You will see the questions on the screen in addition to hearing them.

In general, the questions in the TOEFL iBT Listening section fall into three categories:

  • Basic comprehension questions
  • Pragmatic understanding questions
  • Connecting and synthesizing questions

TOEFL iBT Speaking

The Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT is about 20 minutes long and measures your ability to express yourself orally in English about a variety of topics. There are six tasks in this section, of two different kinds: independent and integrated.

The first two are independent tasks in which you are asked questions based on your personal knowledge and experience. An example of an independent task is “What event in your life made you very happy?” You are given the topic, you have 30 seconds to prepare, and 45 seconds to speak.

The next four are integrated speaking tasks, which are divided in the following way:

  1. In the first two, you have a short reading passage, then a listening, and then you have to speak. You are given 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak.
  2. In the last two, you listen to a conversation or lecture and then speak in response to a question about it. You are given 20 seconds to prepare, and 60 seconds to speak.

You can take notes on paper, but you don’t have much time to write. The 30 seconds given during the Listening section of the TOEFL is just to organize your thoughts, not to actually think. Your preparation time is really in all your life up to that point.

TOEFL iBT Writing

The last section on the TOEFL iBT is Writing, for which you have a total of 50 minutes. This part measures your ability to communicate clearly in writing and compose well-organized essays using correct grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

You are given two types of writing tasks:

  • Integrated
  • Independent

In the integrated TOEFL writing section, you will be given a short reading passage and listening passage on the same topic. You can take notes during this time. Then you will be given 20 minutes to write an essay of about 150-225 words, explaining how the listening passage either supports the reading passage or contradicts the reading.

The second part of the TOEFL Writing section is the independent essay. You are given one topic, and you have 30 minutes to write an essay of about 4-5 paragraphs, or 300-350 words. For key transition words and essay strategies which can earn you a top score in the independent essay, check the Writing Skills section.


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