TOEFL Changes in 2019-2020 (Updated March 8, 2020)

The reading, listening and speaking sections of the TOEFL changed in August, 2019.  Since then, ETS has also announced a series of smaller changes. Most of these changes have been well-publicized, but some of them are “secret changes.” Here’s what you need to note.

Reading Section Changes

You will still get three or four passages to read.  If you get four passages, one of them will be an “experimental” passage that is not graded.

Each reading passage will have 9 or 10 questions, instead of 12 to 14 questions. You will be given 54 minutes (three passages) or 74 minutes (four passages) to finish the reading section. This means you will have about 18 minutes per passage and 105 seconds per question (instead of 90 seconds like on the old test). Note that you may be required to achieve increased accuracy, so it is not safe to say that this change makes the reading section “easier.”

If the total number of questions for a passage is 9, that means a “fill in a table” question will appear as the last question.  According to ETS, each passage will have exactly 10 questions every time, but this is incorrect information.

The articles are the same length and difficulty level as before. The same types of questions are used.

Unofficial reading scores are now given at the test center as soon as you finish the test.

Listening Section Changes

You will listen to two or three sets of listening materials.  Each set will consist of either one conversation and two lectures (long set), or one conversation and one lecture (short set).

The long set has 17 questions and you will be given 10 minutes to solve them. The short set has 11 questions and you will be given 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.  Some students have been given 7 minutes to solve the short set.  The reason for this is unknown.

If you are given three sets, the third will be an additional short set.  In this case one of your lectures and one of your conversations will not be graded.  These experimental passages could come from any of the sets.

Note that the length of the passages is unchanged, and the difficulty level is unchanged. All of the same question types are being used.

Unofficial listening scores are now given at the test center as soon as you finish the test.

Speaking Section Changes

Speaking Question 1 (personal preference) and Speaking Question 5 (campus situation) have been removed from the test.  The remaining questions are the same as before.  Note, however, that “multiple choice” and “advantages/disadvantages” questions are not being used in the new question one.

Your score is now determined by one human rater and the SpeechRater software.  This is called “Enhanced Speaking Scoring” by ETS.  The SpeechRater software is new.  Previously, students were graded only by human raters.


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

TOEFL Scoring Changes 

MyBest Scores

Your TOEFL score report now contains a section referred to as “MyBest Scores.”  This section  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 multiple times it will combine the best individual writing, speaking, reading and listening scores you achieved on all of the attempts.  Note that some schools may not accept these scores and will continue to only accept single test scores. So far, most schools are not accepting these scores, but you can see my (incomplete) list of schools that accept them  over here

Less Specific Score Reports

In the past, students received overall speaking and writing scores, as well as specific level assessments (limited, weak, fair, good) for each of their writing tasks and for pairs of their speaking tasks.  This indicated which parts of the test they did well on, and which parts they did poorly on.  Those levels have now been removed from the score reports.  Students only get overall scores now.

Faster Score Reports and Score Reviews

It now takes just six days to get your score (it used to take ten days). It now takes just three days to get a score review. Note that the SpeechRater is not used when a score review is requested.

TOEFL Registration Changes

Students can now take the test once per week.  Previously they could only take the test once every two weeks.

It is now possible to register for the test just two days before it is given.

New Official TOEFL Test Prep Resources

ETS has suggested that a new version of the Official Guide to the TOEFL will be published in June, 2020.  This is not official, however.  

ETS now provides a new free sample test which uses modified versions of the old TOEFL Quick Prep sets.  They have also provided some new question PDFs which you can read about on my blog.

Older 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 question prompts are getting longer. They are sometimes as long as six sentences!
  2. A warning to “not used memorized examples” is sometimes displayed at the end of the independent writing question.
  3. In multiple-choice independent writing questions, students are sometimes told they can choose more than one option.
  4. Independent speaking question prompts are getting longer.
  5. It is now possible to get 25 points in the speaking section.  Previously this was impossible.


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