Changes to the TOEFL

(updated August 3, 2019)

The TOEFL changed on August 1, 2019. Major changes to the reading, listening and speaking sections began on that day.  Not only that, but throughout 2018 and early 2019 the test changed in small ways that haven't really been publicly announced by ETS.  Here's what you need to note.

Changes on August 1, 2019

Reading Section

You now get three or four passages to read. Each reading passage has only 10 questions, instead of 12-14.  It takes 54 minutes (three passages) or 74 minutes (four passages) to finish the reading section, instead of 60-80 minutes.  This means you  have about 18 minutes per passage and 105 seconds per question (instead of 90 seconds like on the old test).

The same types of questions are used.  No question types have been eliminated, but note that "fill in a table" and "reference" questions have not been used for several years (even though they still appear in the Official Guide to the TOEFL).

If you get four passages, one of them will be an "experimental" passage that is not graded.

Listening Section

There are two or three sets of listening materials.  They consist of either one conversation and two lectures (long set), or one conversation and one lecture (short set). At most, you will get four lectures and three conversations.

The long set includes 17 questions and 10 minutes to solve them. The short set includes 11 questions and 6.5 minutes to solve them.  Note that the clock does not run while you are listening.  This means you have about 35 seconds to solve each question, which is the same as on the old test.

In total, it will take 41 to 57 minutes to finish the listening section, instead of 60 to 90 minutes.  If it takes 57 minutes for you to finish the test, part of the section is an "experimental listening" that will not be graded.

Speaking Section

Speaking Question 1 (personal preference) and Speaking Question 5 (campus situation) have been removed from the test.

It now takes 17 minutes to finish the speaking section, instead of 20 minutes.

I have created a series of videos about each question on the new speaking section.  Here is the first:


It now takes three hours to finish the test, instead of 3.5 hours (not counting administrative tasks).  The test is still scored out of 120 points, and each section still has equal weight.

Some of this information comes from the ETS website.  Some details have not been publicly acknowledged by ETS, but have been confirmed privately.

My most recent video on these changes is below.

Changes to the Score Report - MyBest Scores

Now your TOEFL score report contains a separate section referred to as "MyBest Scores."  This line  combines the best result from each section of the test you have gotten over all of your attempts over the past two years.  For example, if you take the test three times it will combine the best individual writing, speaking, reading and listening scores you achieved on all three attempts.  Note that some schools may not accept these scores and will continue to accept single test scores as usual.

Students can have a "MyBest Scores" section added to an old score report if they pay to have it re-submitted to the school.  Only scores from the previous two years will be included.

I've produced a separate video about this change.

Recent TOEFL Trends - 2018 and 2019

To quickly summarize, there are six main trends we've noticed in 2018 and 2019 that are separate from the announced changes described above:

  1. Independent writing questions are getting longer.
  2. A warning to "not used memorized examples" is sometimes displayed in the independent writing section.
  3. In multiple-choice independent writing questions, students are sometimes told they can choose more than one option.
  4. Independent speaking questions are getting longer.
  5. Advantages/Disadvantages (speaking) questions are a bit more confusing.
  6. It is now possible to get 25 points in the speaking section.

These changes are summarized in the following video, or you can read on.


Changes to the TOEFL Writing Section

1.  Multiple choice independent writing questions are getting longer and more confusing. 

These days, the independent writing questions are getting really long.  In the past a question prompt might have been just a single sentence.  Now you might read three long sentences.  Likewise, in multiple choice questions the options themselves are full sentences instead of single words or fragments.  Note that the 30 minute timer will start as soon as the question is displayed, so you will lose some time as you read it.

Here's a sample preference style question:

“Often we are required to participate in group projects at school or work.  Sometimes we must work with people who share our opinions and ideas. However, sometimes we must work with people who have completely different opinions than us.  

Which do you prefer?  Use reasons and examples to support your answer. Do not use memorized examples.”

Here is a sample multiple choice question:

We all face difficult challenges in our lives. They can occur at home, at work or even at school.  When you are dealing with a serious problem in your life what do you feel is the best way to handle it?

-Asking someone with more experience for advice.

-Looking for potential solutions using the Internet

-Taking a long time to think about the problem

Use details and examples to support your choice.  Do not use memorized examples.

How to Solve these New Questions

The good news is that you can solve these questions using the same method as before. Nothing has changed... you just have to pay more attention to the actual prompt.

2.  The independent writing question now displays a warning about plagiarism. 

The independent writing question now sometimes ends with the following:

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. Make sure to use your own words. Do not use memorized examples.

This is just to warn you that you should not memorize your essay even before you take the test.  It is still okay to use personal examples to support your argument!

3.  In multiple-choice independent writing questions, there is sometimes a note in the prompt that it is okay to choose more than one option.

I am not exactly sure how this is phrased, since it is quite new, but keep an eye out for it.  Let me know what you spot.

Changes to the TOEFL Speaking Section

1.  The independent speaking questions are longer than before.  You might now have to read three or four sentences before answering the question.  Here's a sample:

Which of the following companies  would you prefer to work for?

A company that offers you challenging and interesting projects but very few vacation days.

A company that offers you a job with very boring work each day, but very long vacations each year. 

Include details and examples to support your choice.

Here's another sample:

Imagine that you have just begun studying at a new university. Which of the following do you think would be the best way for you to learn about the new campus?

  • A second-year student gives you a personal tour of the whole campus
  • You are given a detailed map of the campus designed by the student services department
  • You join a group tour of the campus together with all of the other new students

Include details and examples to support your choice.


2.  Advantages/Disadvantages questions are getting tricker than before

Sometimes the prompt will describe two or three options, and you will be required to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of only one.  Here's a sample:

Some teachers prefer announcing their quizzes in advance, while others prefer to give surprise quizzes.  Talk about the advantages and disadvantages of surprise quizzes. Use details and examples in your answer.

2.  You can now get 25 points in the speaking section. 

Previously, this was impossible.  Indeed, you can get any possible numerical score in this part.  I think that it is now possible for students to get fractional scores for their individual answers (which round and scale to whole numbers).


ETS may deny it, but I do think the test is getting more difficult.  Your job is to keep up with changes to the test so you aren't surprised.  Keep watching this page.