Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL-Overview-300The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL (/ˈtoʊfəl/, TOH-fəl) is a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers. TOEFL is a trademark of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a private non-profit organization, which designs and administers the tests. The average English skill level ranges between Intermediate and Advanced. Many people take the TOEFL test including:

  • Students planning to study at a higher education institution
  • English-language learning program admissions and exit
  • Scholarship and certification candiates
  • English-language learners who want to track their progress
  • Students and workers applying for visas

TOEFL test scores are accepted by more than 9,000 colleges, agencies and other institutions in over 130 countries. For more information about who accepts the TOEFL test scores see Who Accepts TOEFL Scores (ETS Website). The test is administered over fifty times each year at locations around the world. The test can be retaken as many times as you wish but not more than once within a 12-day period. ETS issues official score reports, sent independently to institutions, for two years following the test.

Additional informational and instructional videos related to the TOEFL test can be found on the TOEFL Video page.

The TOEFL Test

The TOEFL iBT test is an Internet-based Test (iBT) and administered via the Internet. There are four sections (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) which take a total of about four and a half hours to complete. During the test you will be asked to perform tasks that combine more than one skill, such as:

  • Read, listend and then speak in response to a question
  • Listen and then speak in response to a question
  • Read, listen and then write in response to a question

The test is broken down into the following sections:

  • Reading: 60 – 80 minutes with 36 – 56 questions. You will be asked to read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions.
  • Listening: 60 – 90 minutes with 34 -51 questions. You will listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions.
  • Break: 10 minutes
  • Speaking: 20 minutes and comprises 6 tasks. You will be asked to express and opinion on a familiar topic and then speak based on reading and listening tasks
  • Writing: 50 minutes and is made up of 2 tasks. You will write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks and asked to support an opinion in writing

There may be extra questions in the Reading or Listening sections that do not count toward your score. These are either questions that enable ETS to make test scores comparable across administrations or new questions that help ETS determine how such questions function under actual testing conditions. A standard English language (QWERTY) computer keyboard is used for the test.

The Reading Section

The Reading section consists of questions on 4 – 6 passages, each approximately 700 words in length. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Passages require understanding of rhetorical functions such as cause-effect, compare-contrast and argumentation. Students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, sentence insertion, vocabulary, rhetorical purpose and overall ideas. New types of questions in the test require filling out tables or completing summaries. Prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer.

The Listening Section

The Listening section consists of questions on six passages, each 3-5 minutes in length. These passages include two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. The conversations involve a student and either a professor or a campus service provider. The lectures are a self-contained portion of an academic lecture, which may involve student participation and does not assume specialized background knowledge in the subject area. Each conversation and lecture passage is heard only once. Test-takers may take notes while they listen and they may refer to their notes when they answer the questions. Each conversation is associated with five questions and each lecture with six. The questions are meant to measure the ability to understand main ideas, important details, implication, relationships between ideas, organization of information, speaker purpose and speaker attitude.

The Speaking Section

The Speaking section consists of six tasks: two independent and four integrated. In the two independent tasks, test-takers answer opinion questions on familiar topics. They are evaluated on their ability to speak spontaneously and convey their ideas clearly and coherently. In two of the integrated tasks, test-takers read a short passage, listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and answer a question by combining appropriate information from the text and the talk. In the two remaining integrated tasks, test-takers listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and then respond to a question about what they heard. In the integrated tasks, test-takers are evaluated on their ability to appropriately synthesize and effectively convey information from the reading and listening material. Test-takers may take notes as they read and listen and may uses their notes to help prepare their responses. Test-takers are given short preparation time before they have to begin speaking. The responses are digitally recorded, sent to ETS’s Online Scoring Network (OSN), and evaluated by three to six raters.

The Writing Section

The Writing section measures a test taker’s ability to write in an academic setting and consists of two tasks: one integrated and one independent. In the integrated task, test-takers read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker discuss it. The test-taker then writes a summary about the important points in the listening passage and explains how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. In the independent task, the test-taker must write an essay that states their opinion or choice, and then explain it, rather than simply listing personal preferences or choices. Responses are sent to the ETS OSN and evaluated by at least 3 different raters.

How and Where Can I Take The TOEFL?

The TOEFL test is given at many locations across Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China. If you already have a TOEFL account, you can login to the ETS Registration Website (or create an account) to find available test centers, addresses, dates and times. If you do not have an account (and do not wish to create one at this time) you can also see a list of testing cities, dates and fees here.

Additional Resources

ETS provides almost everything you might need for the TOEFL test on its website. We try to provide a good summary of the test and procedures here however for the latest and more detailed information please refer directly to the ETS site. ETS also provides several videos directly (unlike most of the the other testing systems who rely exclusively on YouTube). The ETS hosted videos should be playable for everyone and represent the core informational material. ETS and other organizations however still rely upon YouTube to deliver many additional videos. We have made available a few of the more important TOEFL videos on the Teachers Network site with the back links to the original content for users without YouTube access. For users with YouTube access be sure to check out the other channels below.

Educational Testing Service (ETS)

TOEFL Home Page
Frequently Asked Questions
TOEFL Video LibraryA good selection of TOEFL videos hosted directly on the ETS site
TOEFL Download LibraryA direct listing of the various TOEFL documents available for download from ETS
TOEFL Registration Home Page
TOEFL Registration Website Login
TOEFL Test Location Finder
Official ETS TOEFL Test Preparation Materials
TOEFL Sample Test Questions
Student Test Prep Planner
TOEFL Quick PrepFree practice tools with real TOEFL questions from past tests
TOEFL Interactive SamplerPast TOEFL Tests – Windows OS only – 141MB download
TOEFL Test Scoring HomeHow the test is scored and links to other scoring related pages
Understanding Your TOEFL Test Scores
Speaking Section Scoring Guide
Writing Section Scoring Guide

YouTube Channels

TOEFL TV ChannelETS (175 videos)
EngVid – Learn English For FreeThis is a great collection of what appears to be almost 1000 great English language instructional videos
NoteFull TOEFL MasteryAnother great collection of almost 100 TOEFL specific instructional videos

See Also

ETS TOEFL Videos (Teachers Network Hosted)