The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®) measures the ability of non-native speakers of English to use and understand North American English as it is spoken and written in college and university settings. Most people who take the TOEFL® test are planning to study at colleges and universities where the medium of instruction is English. In addition, many government agencies, scholarship programs, and licensing / certification agencies use TOEFL® scores to evaluate English proficiency.

Currently more than 4,400 colleges and universities, professional schools, and sponsoring institutions accept TOEFL® scores.

The TOEFL® test measures English language proficiency in reading, listening and writing and is offered on computer in most regions of the world. In areas where access to computer-based testing is limited, a paper-and-pencil version of the test is administered.

Salient Features of the new Pattern of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®) iBT

Educational Testing Service (ETS) has introduced a new version of the TOEFL® Test. The most important change in the exam, now better known as the TOEFL® iBT, is that the test would be conducted via the Internet. The major advantages of this are:

  • The test can now be administered in a standardized manner
  • There would be more centers available for students to take the test in keeping with the demand.

The TOEFL® iBT is an exam that is aimed at testing the students on their skills in English usage. The test is structured in such a manner so as to ensure that there is a match between the actual environment the test taker would face and the students’ skills. The new test pattern focuses on all round communication skills.

The TOEFL® iBT is a linear, as opposed to an adaptive test. This means that the levels of difficulty of the question do not vary as per the abilities of the test taker. Examples of a computer adaptive test would be the GRE® and the GMAT® where the difficulty level of the test varies as per the ability of the test taker as the test proceeds.

Section Time Limit (minutes) No. of Questions Details of Questions Tasks
Reading 54–72 30–40 10 questions per passage Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions
Listening 41–57 28–39 3 to 4 lectures, each 3 to 5 minutes long, 6 questions per lecture
2 to 3 conversations, each 3 minutes long, 5 questions per conversation
Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations and answer questions
Break 10
Speaking 17 4 tasks 1 Independent Task
3 Integrated Tasks
Express an opinion on a familiar topic
Speak based on reading and listening tasks
Writing 50 2 tasks 1 Integrated Task (20 minutes)
3 Independent Task (30 minutes)
Write essays based on reading and listening tasks
Support an opinion in writing


The passages would be of a length of 600 to 750 words and are sourced from diverse fields like Natural Sciences (Botany, Zoology), Social Sciences (History - especially American History), Geography, Physical sciences and so on.

The paragraphs have line numbers for easy reference.

A glossary feature which helps define uncommon words has been introduced. A new review tool has also been included. These two features help the test taker manage his/her time better. A review of answers is possible and students can check any questions they may have missed out.

There are various types of questions including questions dealing with implications and inferences, overall theme of the passage, the central idea or flow of the passage, how the author has developed the essay, and others. The ability to identify paraphrasing, summarize main points, and identify various elements of the author’s arguments would also be tested. Vocabulary based questions with reference to a meanings of words in the given context could be asked.

The reading speed expected would be about 200 words per minute.

Answer choices can be changed as long as one is answering questions related to a particular passage but shifting between passages is not possible.


The emphasis in the Listening section is on the test taker’s ability to comprehend and analyse what is being said.

There would be conversations and talks (lectures).

The conversations would recreate a social scenario in about 10-15 sentences and would typically last for 3 – 5 minutes. Social scenarios include situations like a party or a purchase in a super market etc.

The lectures are of similar length and are on diverse themes where no predefined knowledge is required. One or two of the lectures would have comments of students interspersed, while the other talks would be sans the comments.


The ability to speak the language well enough to get across one’s message clearly and effectively is tested in this section.

There is a pre-defined time limit for responses in this section.

In the speaking section the test taker would have to speak into a microphone and the responses would be digitally recorded and sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.

The independent task requires the test taker to draw upon his / her existing base of knowledge, experience and preferences and answer the question. The test taker gets 15 seconds to prepare his /her response and 45 seconds to present it.

The integrated tasks test ability to read, listen and speak. The test taker is given material to read and would then be asked to listen to a one to two minute conversation on the same topic. Following this, the test taker is asked to summarize what was read and heard into a microphone. 30 seconds are given for the preparation of the response and 45 seconds to speak.

In an another integrated task the test taker is given a 150 word academic passage to read and is then required to listen to a one and a half minute talk on the same. The candidate is then required to present his opinion on what was read and heard. The test taker has 30 seconds to develop his response and 45 seconds to speak.

The last integrated task requires the candidate to listen to a conversation (of about 60-90 seconds) between two students on a student related problem and two possible solutions to the same. Having heard the talk, the test taker now needs to speak on the solution that he / she feels is appropriate. The candidate is given 20 seconds to develop a response and 60 seconds to speak.


The integrated task requires test takers to listen to a short conversation and read a short passage (of about 250 words). The test taker would then be required to write a summary of what was read and heard.

Test takers can make notes and use them to respond to the questions.

The topics are such that the students may be tempted to take up a strong position either for or against the topic. The trick to performing well in this section lies in striking a balance and constructing the argument logically in simple and direct language.

ETS offers practice versions of the test along with related learning tools on their website, The practice test scores are also reported to the test taker.