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The TOEFL Test Structure & Scoring

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  • 0:01 The TOEFL
  • 0:35 Sections & Timing
  • 1:18 Questions & Scoring
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Watch this lesson to get a preview of the TOEFL test structure: sections, question types, timing, and scoring. It's a good overview before you dive into the individual sections.

The TOEFL

TOEFL stands for 'Test of English as a Foreign Language.' It's a test taken by anyone who needs to demonstrate proficiency in English as a non-native speaker. Even if you've taken English classes in school, the TOEFL is probably very different from any kind of test you'd normally take for a class, so don't go in expecting to see something familiar! It's a much better plan to study the test structure in advance, so you know what you're going up against. That way, you won't have any nasty surprises on test day.

Sections & Timing

The TOEFL has four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. On the reading section, you'll answer between 36 and 56 questions in 60-80 minutes. On the listening, you'll get between 34 and 51 questions in 60-90 minutes.

After the listening, you'll get a mandatory ten-minute break. After the break, you'll move on to the speaking section. On the speaking, you'll get six speaking tasks in 20 minutes. Finally, on the writing, you'll get two tasks in 50 minutes.

Altogether, that's 70-107 questions, six speaking tasks, and two writing tasks, and the whole test takes roughly four and a half hours. Even with a break in the middle, it's a long test!

Questions & Scoring

Now let's talk about question types. You'll get more information on specific question types in the lessons about each individual section, but here's an overview. On the reading section, you'll get three or four reading passages with 12 to 14 questions per passage. There are three question types.

Reading to find information and reading for basic comprehension questions both ask you to understand what's going on in the passage. Reading to find information questions are more detail-focused, while reading for basic comprehension questions are about the big picture. For these two question types, the questions will be multiple-choice with four choices and one answer.

The third question type, reading to learn, is a little different. Each passage will have one reading to learn question. Here, you'll have to organize information about the passage into a category chart or a summary. Depending on the format, reading to learn questions can be worth up to four points.

On the listening section, you'll get between six and nine listening passages with five or six questions each. Some of the passages will be lectures with only one person talking, like a professor talking to a class. Other passages will be conversations between two or more people.

There are three question types on the listening section. Listening for basic comprehension questions ask you to understand information in the passage. Listening for pragmatic understanding questions ask you to understand the speaker's attitude and purpose. Connecting and synthesizing information questions ask you to understand the organization of the passage.

Most listening questions are multiple-choice, but there are a few other types. The third section is speaking. On the speaking section, you'll get six different tasks. On the two independent tasks, you'll have to express your own opinions in English. For these tasks, you'll get one question, with 15 seconds to prepare your answer and then 45 seconds to speak in response to the question.

On the four integrated tasks, you won't just express your own opinions. Instead, you'll have to give an opinion on a listening passage or a listening passage accompanied by a reading passage. All the reading and listening passages will be somehow relevant to school. For the integrated tasks, you'll get 20-30 seconds to prepare and then 60 seconds (one minute) to speak. Speaking responses are scored by human listeners on delivery, grammar, vocabulary, and how well you respond to the prompt.

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