What is the TOEFL?  A Brief Description of the Test

Overview of the TOEFL

The TOEFL measures the ability of students to understand university-level English.  It is mostly used when applying for universities in North America, thought it is sometimes accepted at schools in Europe and Australia.  The test, which takes between three and four hours to complete, is divided into four sections - reading, listening, speaking and writing (delivered in that order).

The Reading Section

The reading section takes between 60 and 80 minutes to complete (depending on the number of reading passages you are given).  You will be given three or four reading passages, each which will be followed by twelve to fourteen multiple choice questions.  The types of questions (with examples) are discussed in detail in another article.  The reading passages are on a variety of academic topics (science, history, art, geography, etc) and are about seven hundred words each.

The Listening Section

The listening section takes between 60 to 90 minutes to complete (again, depending on the number of recordings you are given).  You will listen to four to six lectures on academic topics and between two to three conversations.  The conversations are of two types - a student and a professor talking about academic matters, or a "service encounter" on campus between a student and a worker that is unrelated to academic work (such as a conversation about financial aid or housing matters).

Each lecture is followed by six multiple choice questions.  Each conversation is followed by five multiple choice questions.  The types of questions you may face are covered in depth in our guide to the listening section.

The Speaking Section

The speaking section always takes 20 minutes to complete.  There are always six questions. 

The first two questions are "independent speaking" questions where you will give your personal opinion on a topic that is familiar to you, or you will be asked to state a preference when given two choices related to a familiar topic.  After seeing the question you will have fifteen seconds to prepare and forty-five seconds to speak.  The independent speaking questions are covered in depth in our guide

The independent speaking questions are followed by four "integrated speaking" questions where you will be asked to speak in response to either either a reading or a recording.  In these questions you will have thirty seconds to prepare and one minute to speak.  You can learn more about these questions by reading our speaking templates.

The Writing Section

The last part of the test is the writing section.  It takes about 50 minutes to complete and there are always two questions.

The first writing question is the "integrated essay."  In this question you will first read a short article on an academic topic.  The author of the article will have a clear main point which will be supported by three clear reasons.  Following this, you will listen to a lecture on the same topic.  The lecturer will always hold a main point that challenges the main point of the article.  He will support his point with three clear reasons that challenge each of the reasons give in the article.  You can read more about this question in our guide to the integrated essay.

You will have twenty minutes to write an essay that explains how the lecture casts doubt on the article.  A good way to handle this task is to follow our writing templates.

The second essay is the "independent essay."  Here you will be asked your opinion on a familiar topic related to your life.  You will have thirty minutes to respond to the question in essay form.  A detailed description of this question is provided in our guide.