The TOEFL test is a registered trademark of Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is administered worldwide. The test was first administered 1964 and has since been taken by nearly 20 million students.
Formats and contents
Since its introduction in late 2005, the Internet-Based test (iBT) has progressively replaced both the computer-based (CBT) and paper-based (PBT) tests. The iBT has been introduced in phases, with the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy in 2005 and the rest of the world in 2006, with test centers added regularly.
The demand for test seats remains very high even after almost a year after the introduction of the test: Candidates have to wait for months since short-term test dates are fully booked. The four-hour test consists of four sections, each measuring mainly one of the basic language skills (although some tasks may require multiple skills) and focusing on language used in an academic, higher-education environment. Note-taking is allowed during the iBT. The test cannot be taken more than once a day.
- The reading section consists of 3–5 long passages and questions about the passages. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, sentence restatements, sentence insertion, vocabulary, function and overall ideas. New types of questions in the iBT require paraphrasing, filling out tables, or completing summaries. Generally prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer, though a priori knowledge may help.
- It consists of six long passages and questions about the passages. The passages consist of two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. The questions ask the students to determine main ideas, details, function, stance, inferences, and overall organization.
- It consists of six tasks, two independent tasks and four integrated tasks. In the two independent tasks, students must answer opinion questions about some aspect of academic life. In two integrated reading, listening, and speaking tasks, students must read a passage, listen to a passage, and speak about how the ideas in the two passages are related. In two integrated listening and speaking tasks, students must listen to long passages and then summarize and offer opinions on the information in the passages. Test takers are expected to convey information, explain ideas, and defend opinions clearly, coherently, and accurately.
- The Writing Section consists of two tasks, one integrated task and one independent task. In the integrated task, students must read an academic passage, listen to an academic passage, and write about how the ideas in the two passages are related. In the independent task, students must write a personal essay.
|READING||3 passages and 39 questions||60 minutes|
|LISTENING||6 passages and 34 questions||50 minutes|
|SPEAKING||6 tasks and 6 questions||20 minutes|
|WRITING||2 tasks and 6 questions||55 minutes|
It should be noted that at least one of the sections of the test will include extra, uncounted material. Educational Testing Service includes extra material to try out material for future tests. If the test taker is given a longer section, he must work hard on all of the materials because he does not know which material counts and which material is extra. For example, if there are four reading passages instead of three, three of the passages will count and one of the passages will be not counted. It is possible that the uncounted passage could be any of the four passages.
(Detailed descriptions and samples are available at the official website.)
The Computer-Based Test (CBT) was abolished on September 30, 2006. It was divided into four sections, measuring language proficiency in listening, structure (grammar), reading and writing. Note-taking was not allowed. The test took an average of 4 and a half hours. The test could not be taken more than once a month.
- Listening Comprehension (40–60 minutes)
- Type of Questions: «Short dialogues between two or more people in academic environments. Short conversations between students, and lectures and discussions may be possible as well.» Questions were basically of the who said what type. There were 11-17 short dialogues, 2-3 short conversations and 4-6 lectures and discussions. The total number of questions was between 30 and 59.
- Structure (grammar) (15–20 minutes)
- Type of Questions: «Identify the erroneous word(s) in the sentence and complete sentences correctly through filling in the blanks using the appropriate word.» The test had 10-15 questions for identifying errors and 10-15 questions for completing sentences correctly.
- Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary (70-90
- Type of Questions: Questions were posed about content, intent of the author, and ideas inferred from each of the 4–5 passages given.
- Essay Writing (30 minutes)
- Type of Questions: «Write an essay on a given general topic and take a position toward it, e.g., "Is stem cell research necessary? Explain your stance."»
The Listening and Structure sections were computer-adaptive, meaning that the difficulty level of each question depended on the correctness of previous responses. Since the computer must score each question in order to select the next one, the student had to answer each question as it was presented. Test takers could not skip questions or return to a previous question to change an answer in the Listening or Structure Sections.
Since the Reading Section is not computer adaptive, test takers could skip questions and return to previously answered questions. How the student answers one question in the Reading Section did not affect the difficulty level of the following question.
In areas where the iBT and CBT are not available, a paper-based test (PBT) is given. Because test takers cannot register at the testing center on the test date, they must register in advance using the registration form provided in the Suplemental Paper TOEFL Bulletin. They should register in advance of the given deadlines to ensure a place because the test centers have limited seating and may fill up early. Tests are administered only several times each year.
The PBT tests essentially the same skills as the CBT, albeit with some differences, noticeably the number of questions (which is higher in the PBT) and the score scales. The test lasts 4 hours more or less. Students can take the test as many times as they wish. However, colleges and universities usually consider only the most recent score.
- Listening(30-40 minutes)
- It consists of three parts. The first one contains 30 questions about short conversations. The second part has 8 questions about longer conversations. The last part asks 12 questions about lectures or talks.
- Structure and Written Expression (25 minutes)
- This part has 15 exercises of completing sentences correctly and 25 exercises of identifying errors.
- Reading Comprehension (55 minutes)
- It has 50 questions about reading passages.
- Writing (30 minutes)
- One essay with 250-300 words in average.
- The iBT version of the TOEFL test is scored on a scale of 0 to 120 points.
- Each of the four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing) receives a scaled score from 0 to 30. The scaled scores from the four sections are added together to determine the overall score.
- Speaking is initially given a score of 0 to 4, and writing is initially given a score of 0 to 5. These scores are converted to scaled scores of 0 to 30.
- Three subscores were obtained, each of which were given on a 0–30 scale: Listening, Structure/Writing (combined), and Reading. These subscores were averaged to obtain the final score, which was on a 0–300 scale.
- The score for Writing is a component of the score for the Structure Section. Even though the college or university where the test taker applied did not require a score for Writing, the test taker had to write the essay to complete the test.
- The Writing test is scored on a scale from 0 to 6. A score of 6 showed strong writing abilities, 5 average writing abilities, and 4 minimal writing abilities. A score of 3, 2 or 1 showed a lack of writing technique. The essay was read by two testing evaluators. Each one gave the essay a score. The two scores are averaged to produce the final Writing scores. If the evaluators were more than 1 point different in their assessment, a third evaluator scored the essay.
- The final PBT score ranges between 310 and 677 and is based on three subscores: Listening (31–68), Structure (31–68), and Reading (31–67). Unlike the CBT, the score of the Writing section (referred to as the Test of Written English, TWE) is not part of the final score; instead, it is reported separately on a scale of 0–6.
- The score test takers receive on the Listening, Structure and Reading parts of the TOEFL test is not the percentage of correct answers. The score is converted to take into account the fact that some tests are more difficult than others. The converted scores correct these differences. Therefore, the converted score is a more accurate reflection of the ability than the correct answer score is.
ETS has released tables to convert between iBT, CBT and PBT scores.
TOEFL, like many standardised tests, has come under increasing scrutiny as a measure of the ability to use English effectively. There is an increasing number of major English speaking universities that now only accept alternate tests or their own test as a measure of whether a student will be capable of using English in an academic milieu. Some of its weaknesses:
- Essay submissions for the writing section of the TOEFL iBT are now graded primarily by machine via the ETS Criterion® program. Though ETS promises a human review of essay submissions in addition to the machine review, there is some question as to whether machine essay evaluation is appropriate.
- Because English exhibits some orthographic patterns (such as the use of -ing on the end of many verbs), test takers can be taught strategies to look for the patterns without having an understanding of the underlying grammar involved.
- Native speakers of English who take the test often find themselves with mediocre results, even in multiple choice questions. Ideally, a test for English proficiency should be simple and straightforward for a native speaker. Instead, such tests often focus on obscure rules of grammar and "proper" uses. For example, the use of "can" and "may" does have a formal rule; however, not only do native English speakers ignore the formal use on most occasions, but also they are never confused when another speaker switches the two.
- Until 2005, TOEFL did not test the ability to speak English. In most environments, the ability to speak intelligibly and without undue delay is vital. Because TOEFL did not measure this, learners may neglect this part of their education to focus on the skills the test does measure. As a result, many universities request incoming teaching assistants who are not native English speakers to take additional tests (such as the Test of Spoken English or university-administered tests) to ensure their ability to communicate with their students. The TOEFL iBT, which does test speaking skills, attempts to address this issue.
- Candidates complain about the TOEFL iBT, mainly because of the high noise level during the speaking section: Everyone is responding orally to six questions at the same time. In addition, the number of seats available is limited (usually filled four months before deadline date). In South Korea for example, all the test seats are booked before they are offered to the public.
- The first step in the registration process is to obtain a copy of the TOEFL Information Bulletin. This bulletin can be obtained by downloading it or ordering it from the TOEFL website at 
- From the bulletin, it is possible to determine when and where the iBT version of the TOEFL test will be given.
- Procedures for completing the registration form and submitting it are listed in the TOEFL Information Bulletin. These procedures must be followed exactly.