TOEFL Exam

TOEFL Exam - What is TOEFL?

TOEFL Exam, or the Test Of English as a Foreign Language, is a standardised test  which is taken by over 2.3 million people every year , and is accepted as  proof of language proficiency in 130 countries and by over 10,000 colleges and universities, worldwide.

TOEFL Exam has 4,000 test centres in 165 countries and is the language certificate of choice for US universities – since it tests American English, whereas IELTS,  which is equally popular, tests British English.  TOEFL scores are valid for two years and you can sit the test as often as you need to, since there is no limit to the number of attempts you can make in a year, although you may not repeat the test within the same three day period.

TOEFL Exam - Different versions of TOEFL

At present, there are three types of TOEFL exam:

TOEFL Exam – The TOEFL iBT , or internet-based test, is taken by 97 per cent of the total candidates. During the covid pandemic,  many individuals have sat the test at home, under the supervision of an invigilator. This version of the test is made up of four papers -speaking, reading, writing and listening – and costs between $160 and 240.

The TOEFL PBT is the paper-based version of the test, and does not include a speaking section. The TOEFL Exam PBT  is normally sat by candidates who have no access to the internet. The PBT is being phased out and only three per cent of candidates currently  opt to use the pen and paper version of TOEFL, which takes 2.5 hours to complete. The format is  not identical to that of the TOEFL iBT, since while it has four sections, these comprise of 140 questions and an essay and are scored quite differently. There is no speaking paper. This is why you may find university listing two sets of scores in their language requirements sections, depending on which version of the TOEFL you have taken. Test fees are approximately $160.

TOEFL ExamJunior is designed for middle-school children who are 11 years old, and above.

The TOEFL CBT, or computer-based test, was discontinued in 2006 and replaced by the TOEFL iBT.

How does TOEFL Exam compare with IELTS?

IELTS
Level
TOEFL iBT
TOEFL PBT
9
C2
118-120
667-677
8.5
C2
115-117
657-663
8
C1
110-114
637-653
7.5
C1
102-109
610-633
7
C1
94-101
587-607

It is often said that the TOEFL Exam reading paper is harder than the IELTS version, but both tests look for the same competencies across four different language areas, namely: reading, speaking, listening and writing.

Universities set their own TOEFL requirements, with  Ivy League institutions expecting applicants to have scored 100-110 on the TOEFL iBT, and around the 630 mark in the PBT.  Most non-Ivy League universities expect 100 in the iBT and 520-600 in the PBT.

How is the TOEFL iBT organised?

Paper
Time
Number of Questions/Tasks
Listening Paper
41-57 minutes
28-39
Reading Paper
54-72 minutes
30-40
Speaking Paper
17 minutes
4 tasks
Writing Paper
50 minutes
2 tasks

You should plan to spend 3.5 hours sitting the TOEFL iBT, to allow yourself time to register and to cover the 10 minute break . You are allowed to take notes. Each section is scored from 1-30, so the perfect mark is 120 in the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL preparation courses

Take the TOEFL exam preparation course and you show that you're able to work or study effectively in an English-speaking environment.

The TOEFL iBT Listening Paper- what to expect

During the TOEFL Exam you will find that the speaker will speak more slowly than is the case in normal speech. You may hear an Australian, American or British accent. The listening section will contain:

  • 3-4 lectures, lasting 3-5 minutes each, followed by six questions on each lecture
  • 2-3 conversations with two speakers, lasting approximately three minutes each, followed by five  questions on each conversation

The questions have been designed to check your understanding of:

  1. GIST. The main points or ideas being expressed.
  2. DETAIL. Specific facts.
  3. FUNCTION AND RHETORIC. Statements which are concealed in another form: for example, “It’s very hot in this room” which is another way of saying “Shall we open a window?”
  4. ATTITUDE. How people feel.
  5. ORGANISATION. These types of questions often refer to timelines: then, before, during, now etc
  6. INFERENCE. Testing whether you understand something which has been implied but not stated.
  7. CONNECTING CONTENT. These questions will ask you to predict what might happen, given what you have been told; or ask you to fill in a chart or a table, using what has been said.

Top Tips for the TOEFL Exam iBT Listening Paper

  • Take notes. You can only hear each clip once and if you are asked for a detail, your notes could be invaluable.
  • You can increase the volume on the audio clips, so if you need to raise it, do so straight away at the beginning of the test.
  • Remember that you cannot jump backwards and forwards between questions.
  • Do not get distracted if you hear an accent with which you are unfamiliar.
  • You must try to answer each question in 35 seconds
  • The  tone of voice of each speaker will give you an insight into their attitudes.
  • Listen for the main idea, and if you come across the odd word or term you do not understand, keep concentrating on the overall message – the gist.

The TOEFL Exam iBT Reading Paper - what to expect

  • The Reading Paper is made up of 3-4 passages , which are around 700 words long, and you will have to answer `10 or so questions relating to each passage. You may find a glossary has been included, providing definitions of technical words, but these excerpts do not  require specialist knowledge and are taken from general introductions found across a range of subjects in university textbooks. Each passage will include either a Prose Summary question or  require you to fill in a table – but not both. You may be given passages on:

    Anthropology, economics, psychology, urban studies, and sociology

    Astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, physics, engineering

    History, government, geography

    Art , literature, drama, and architecture.

    The aim of the TOEFL Reading Paper is to determine whether you are able to understand undergraduate reading materials and answer questions and reach conclusions based on what you have read.

    There are six main types of questions in the TOEFL Reading Paper:

    1. Factual information questions or negative factual information questions. The latter are introduced by the word EXCEPT for or NOT, which are written in capitals.
    2. Inference and rhetoric.  These questions often include the words “inferred” “assumed” or “implied”. As a result, you are warned that the question is not looking for a stated fact, but for something which is suggested . For example, you may be asked why someone chose or used a particular piece of information or whether a reaction is justified.
    3. Vocabulary questions, normally highlighted by asking for a term or word “which means” or “is closest in meaning to…”.
    4. Sentence simplification. You will be given a series of possible answers, and asked to find the sentence which  contains all the facts you have read in a simpler form, and does not change the meaning of the original.
    5. Insert text. These questions relate to the small black boxes you will see in the text. You need to choose precisely where the text you have to insert should go. Every passage in the Reading Paper has one insert text question. You can try various places before making your final decision. Click on the text and read it back to see whether it fits in a given position.
    6. Prose summary. You need to look for the most important facts or ideas in the text and choose three out of the six possible options you will be offered. If you get all three right, you will be awarded 2 points. If you get two right, you will be given 1 point. If you get just one right, you will not be awarded any points. Drag and drop your answers.

Top Tips for the TOEFL Exam iBT Reading Paper

  • Make sure that you read as broadly as possible. Get used to dipping into newspapers and academic journals  and summarising what you are reading.
  • Take the time to read each question at least twice.
  • Pace yourself. Do not spend too much time on a single question, but remain aware of the need for a steady speed.
  • Start with the easy questions, those which say “according to Paragraph 3” or “Line 17”, because this means that you will save time, since you known exactly where to look for the answer.
  • Skim read the text to get a general idea before reading it in greater detail.
  • Enlarge your vocabulary and keep a notebook.
  • Pay attention to connecting words such as” however” “therefore” “although” since they are signposts to how an argument or narrative is developing.

The TOEFL Exam iBT Speaking Paper -what to expect

The TOEFL Exam Speaking Paper is made up of four tasks . You will be given 15-30 seconds’ preparation time before answering, and you should be ready to speak for 45-60 seconds. You will speak into the microphone in your headset and your answers will be sent away to be assessed by a mixture of AI and human examiners.

The first task is the independent speaking task, where you will be expected to use your own experiences and opinions .For example, you could be asked whether  you prefer meeting friends at home or outside?  Or where you would take visitors to your city, what you would show them and why?

Tasks 2-4 are termed integrated speaking tasks, since you will either read something and answer questions about it, or listen to an audio clip and be asked to respond to what you have heard. Equally, you may be required to describe the speaker’s viewpoint, attitude or  actions etc. You could be asked to read about a campus-related topic, or a key concept, listen to a conversation about it and then be invited to respond –  or hear part of a lecture and be asked to summarise what has been said.

How will my speaking be rated?

The assessors are looking for:

  • fluency
  • clear delivery
  • good pronunciation
  • natural speed 
  • correct intonation
  • ideas which are connected with link words and phrases, so your speech flows
  • a progression in what you are saying
  • the ability to talk about the past, present and future
  • good grammar
  • varied vocabulary

Top Tips for the TOEFL Exam iBT Speaking Paper

  • Do not panic or you will find yourself speaking too fast, repeating yourself and breaking off in mid-sentence or not finishing the  statement you are trying to make .
  • It is pointless trying to write full notes during the preparation time you are given – just jot down a linear plan or key words or ideas you want to use.
  • Although 45-60 seconds does not seem long, you may be surprised to find that you run out of steam if you try and practise. One way of ensuring this does not happen is to pick up pictures or choose headlines and try to talk about them for this period of time.
  • Time yourself. Use a stopwatch. 
  • Record yourself speaking.
  • Pay careful attention to the question you are being asked, so that you do not stray from the subject.
  • Practise speaking English, with a friend, colleague, family member or a native speaker.

The TOEFL iBT Writing Paper- what to expect

  • This paper takes 50 minutes to complete and is divided into two tasks: the integrated writing task and an essay.

Integrated writing question

TOEFL Exam – You will have 20 minutes for this section of the test . First of all, you will read a short piece, and then you will listen to a short lecture on the same subject. Finally, you will write between 150-225 words, in response to what you have read and heard. 

You are allocated three minutes to read the passage and two minutes for the listening part, which you will only hear once. The reading passage then pops up on your screen, along with a question which will expect you to summarise what you heard and explain how it is connected to what you read.

The examiners are looking for:

  • accurate development of a theme, which demonstrates that you know how to pick out and link information
  • strong use of language, with no repetition and confusion
  • good organisation of your written text, with correct grammar and appropriate choice of vocabulary

You have to try and overcome your nerves and speak naturally, so that the examiner has a realistic conversation, rather than a well-practiced and artificial experience. Relax. They are not here to trip you up or to catch you out and don’t forget that the whole paper only lasts under a quarter of an hour. Don’t use words you are unfamiliar with because you want to impress and keep it fluent, simple, and clear. 

Integrated writing question - TOEFL Exam

TOEFL Exam – You will have 20 minutes for this section of the test . First of all, you will read a short piece, and then you will listen to a short lecture on the same subject. Finally, you will write between 150-225 words, in response to what you have read and heard. 

You are allocated three minutes to read the passage and two minutes for the listening part, which you will only hear once. The reading passage then pops up on your screen, along with a question which will expect you to summarise what you heard and explain how it is connected to what you read.

The examiners are looking for:

  • accurate development of a theme, which demonstrates that you know how to pick out and link information
  • strong use of language, with no repetition and confusion
  • good organisation of your written text, with correct grammar and appropriate choice of vocabulary
IELTS Exam

The essay question

The essay question is designed to draw out your opinion and experiences .You will have 30 minutes to write around 300 words. Generally, the questions can be divided into preferences and opinions.

Preferences include questions such as:

 “Would you rather fly or travel by train – why?”

 ” Would you rather  be rich or happy?”

 “Is it better to be brought up in a rural community or a large city?”

 

While opinions could include questions such as:

 ” Do you support or oppose plans to build a homeless shelter next door to your house?”

 “What is your favourite film and why?”

“Was life better in the past or now?”

“Why do some many people beg rather than work?”

Top Tips for the TOEFL Exam iBT Writing Paper

  • Make sure you give examples to support your views.
  • Plan your written pieces and check that the text is ordered logically, with an introduction and a conclusion.
  • Avoid repetition.
  • Do not pad out what you are saying, in order to meet the word count.
  • Time yourself by practising writing short essays before you sit the test.
  • Learn to paraphrase.
  • In the Integrated writing task: remember to use information from the listening as well as the reading pieces. The reading passage’s key idea is normally found in the first paragraph and followed by three supporting points. Take notes during the listening piece.
  • Keep an eye on the time.
  • Check through your grammar and vocabulary .

TOEFL Exam guidelines

All examinations have  their own, specific formats and TOEFL is no exception, so the sooner you familiarise yourself with how the paper is set out, the better. Past  TOEFL papers are available on the internet and you should practise by working your way through  as many of them as you can. If you discover  areas which need work, concentrate on improving them. Enrich your vocabulary – read articles, watch English films and documentaries – iron out any grammatical problems you run into, and check whether you are keeping within the time allotted for each task.

You are not alone .Over two million people will be sitting their TOEFL exams this year, and with practice and preparation, you can shine and achieve an outstanding score – which will open the door to  an amazing adventure : studying at university abroad.

If you have any questions about TOEFL contact Elab, and we will be pleased to help.

Good luck!

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