TOEFL, or the Test of English as a Foreign Language, is one of the most widely accepted English language tests. Along with IELTS, it is considered one of the two major English language proficiency exams. Accepted by more than 10,000 universities and other institutions in over 150 countries, the test is used as a proof of English language ability of non-native speakers for the purposes of admissions and immigration.
The test is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS. The US-based non-profit organization is one of the world’s largest educational testing and assessment organizations, responsible for multiple assessment examinations, including TOEFL, TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), GRE (Graduate Record Examination), HiSET (High School Equivalency Test), and the Praxis test series.
Below table gives a brief overview of the TOEFL exam:
|Full Form||Test of English as a Foreign Language|
|Organization||Educational Testing Service (ETS)|
|Format||Internet-based and Paper-delivered|
|Test Fees||USD 180|
TOEFL – Understanding its History
TOEFL was developed in the early 1960s to assess English proficiency of second language speakers of the language who wish to study in institutions where English is the main language of instruction.
Since the first exam in 1964, the test has undergone many changes, evolving from a paper-based test to a computer-based test and, finally, to an internet-based test. Apart from changes in the medium of test delivery, the test content and construct have also undergone many changes and redesigns in light of innovations in theories of language proficiency. The below table describes the evolving construct underlying the test during three stages of its development, as well as how these changes were reflected in test construct and content.
Evolution of TOEFL through the years
|The First TOEFL Test (1964-1979)||Discrete components of language skills and knowledge||Multiple-choice items assessing vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, knowledge of correct English structure and grammar|
|A Suite of TOEFL Tests (1979-2005)||Original constructs (listening, reading, structure, and grammar) retained but two additional constructs added—writing and speaking ability||In addition to multiple-choice items assessing the original constructs, separate constructed-response tests of writing and speaking were developed|
|TOEFL iBT Test (2005-Present)||Communicative competence —the ability to put language knowledge to use in relevant academic contexts||Academic tasks were developed that require the integration of receptive and productive skills such as listening, reading, and writing or speaking, as well as multiple-choice items for listening and reading|
TOEFL is administered in two separate formats – internet-based and paper-delivered. The Internet-based test or TOEFL iBT is the ubiquitous format (almost) and, for all purposes, synonymous with the TOEFL exam itself. It was introduced in 2005 to replace the earlier TOEFL CBT or computer-based test and is the most widely used format for TOEFL. The TOEFL Paper-delivered test, which has replaced the earlier PBT, is only offered at the centres where the iBT is unavailable due to logistic issues. Indian students should note that the TOEFL Paper-delivered test is not offered in India. In fact, there are only a few locations worldwide where both iBT and Paper-delivered are offered.
TOEFL iBT is the most popular format of the TOEFL test, with 98% of the test takers opting for it. It is also preferred by universities for admission purposes considering it measures all aspects of the English language: Reading, Listening, Writing, as well as Speaking. The test is available for around 50 days per year at authorized test centres around the world. Test takers can retake the test as many times as they wish, however, there needs to be a gap of at least 12 days between each test date.
The test is administered via the internet, with the four sections taking approximately 4 and a half hours to complete, including check-in. Test takers are generally required to be present at the test centre at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start.
Below is a breakdown of the TOEFL iBT and its constituent sections:
|Section||Time Limit (in mins)||Questions||Tasks|
|Reading||60-80||36-56 Questions||Read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions|
|Listening||60-90||34-51 Questions||Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions|
|Speaking||20||6 Tasks||Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks|
|Writing||50||2 Tasks||Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing|
TOEFL Paper-delivered Test (earlier TOEFL PBT)
Test takers based in locations where TOEFL iBT is unavailable have the option of taking the revised TOEFL Paper-delivered test. This test is offered only in locations where testing via the internet is not available. The previous TOEFL PBT was discontinued in July 2017 and replaced by the new and revised Paper-delivered test. The revised test has been designed to be better aligned with the TOEFL iBT, and is now scored on the same scale. As stated earlier, the Paper-delivered test has no speaking section.
The below table gives a breakdown of the sections of the Paper-delivered test, along with the number of questions and the duration of each section:
TOEFL Paper-delivered Test
|Sections||Questions||Time (in mins)|
TOEFL score is based on the performance of a test taker on the questions in the test. Each candidate must complete at least one question in each of the sections to be eligible for a score report. Each section is scored on a scale of 0-30, with the total score range falling on a scale of 0-120. The newly revised Paper-delivered test is also scored on a scale of 0-30 for each section, with the exception of the Speaking section which isn’t present in this case.
There are no passing or failing marks for the test, and each individual test taker must be mindful of the test score they need to achieve for their purposes.
The below table gives a breakdown of the scores in each section and what they mean: