What is the TOEFL like? The most important thing to understand about the format of the TOEFL is this: there are four skill-based sections (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), but many questions require you to integrate these skills – that is, use more than one skill together.

If you think about how we use language, it is logical to test academic English this way. You often speak and listen at the same time when you have a conversation. You also might talk about something you heard on the radio or TV, or you talk with a classmate about the lecture you just heard. When you write a research paper, you paraphrase and explain information you have read; if you give a presentation, you speak about information you may have read.

Here are the types of questions you will see in each section of the TOEFL. Notice that some require you to use one skill, and some require you to integrate skills. The speaking and writing sections in particular include many integrated skill tasks.

Reading

You will read 3-5 passages from university textbooks on different subjects. Each passage is followed by 12-14 questions, and there are three types of questions:

  • Comprehension – These are multiple-choice questions about the reading that include main ideas, vocabulary used in the passage, pronoun references, and inferences.
  • Inserting a sentence – You will be given a sentence that fits into the passage and asked to choose the best place to put it. This tests your understanding of the organization of the passage.
  • Reading to learn – For these questions, you will be asked to choose sentences to create a summary of the passage or sort information into a chart.

Listening

You will listen to 4-6 short lectures (about 3-5 minutes each) and 2-3 conversations. You can take notes. After each of these, you will have the folowing types of questions to answer:

  • Comprehension – You will answer multiple-choice questions about what you heard. These questions will ask about main ideas and major points, speakers’ attitudes and purposes in speaking, and relationships between ideas.
  • Ordering – Based on what you hear, you will put  ideas or steps of a process in the correct order.
  • Organizing information – You will organize information from the lecture or conversation into a chart.

Speaking

  • Independent tasks – You will speak to answer two questions about personal preferences and choices.
  • Reading/listening/speaking tasks – One task will be about a situation on a college campus with a short reading passage and a student talking about the situation. You will summarize the student’s opinion. The other task includes a textbook passage and excerpt from a class lecture on the same topic. You will answer a question about the information from both sources.
  • Listening/speaking tasks – You will hear two students discuss a problem, then summarize the problem and give your opinion on the best solution. In the other task, you will listen to part of a classroom lecture and give a summary.

Writing

  • Reading/listening/writing task – You will read a short textbook passage and then hear a brief lecture that gives a different point of view on the same topic. Then you will write about the main points of the lecture as they compare to the text you read.
  • Independent writing task – You will write a short essay answering an opinion question.

If you are preparing to take the TOEFL, be sure to check out the other posts in IEI’s TOEFL series!

Which section do you find most challenging? Why?

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