Some students (and teachers) have observed that the TOEFL seems to be getting harder these days.  ETS officially denies this, but it is absolutely true that some questions in the speaking and writing section are different than they used to be.  It is also true that most textbooks (including the "Official Guide") do not mention these changes.

Thankfully, I'm here to help.  Here's what you should know.

Changes to the TOEFL Speaking Section

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

These days, each of the choices in a type 1 or type 2 question might be a really long sentence.  Here is a sample from a recent test:

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.

Previously, the choices would have been a single word or a very short sentence. Here is 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.

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.  Advantages/Disadvantages questions are getting tricker than before

Sometimes the prompt will describe two 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.

How to Solve these New Questions

Once again, you should use the same template you have always used.  You merely have to make sure you read the question really carefully so you know what to talk about!

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

Previously, this was impossible.  I believe that this change means that the scoring system used by ETS has changed to allow graders to give students fractional scores (i.e 2.5/4.0 instead of just 2/4 or 3/4) but this has been denied by ETS employees.

Changes to the TOEFL Writing Section

1. Independent writing questions are also getting longer and more confusing. 

Here is a sample of what I mean:

Consider a situation where you are asked by your supervisor to participate in a group project at work.  Your supervisor wants you to work with someone who has opinions that are very different than yours. Moreover, they feel very strongly about these opinions.  

Do you think this is a good idea?  Use reasons and examples to support your answer.

Here is another sample:

You are planning to donate money to a charity and want it to have the most impact.  Should you donate to a small local group or to a large international organization? Provide reasons and details to support your opinion.

Previously, the writing prompts were much shorter - sometimes just a single short sentence or two.

How to Solve these New Questions:

1.  Again, you can use the same templates as before.  I think this change is designed to prevent people from using essays that are totally memorized in advance of the test.  A memorized example won't be able to hit on all of the details in the prompt.  For example, in the first sample you need to talk about: handling a project at work, working with someone who has different opinions, and the fact that they feel strongly about these opinions.  Keep in mind, though, that even if you come up with an essay on-the-spot, you might also forget to touch on some of these details.  That could affect your score!

Summary

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.