Understanding the Format

Understanding the Format of TOEFL iBT

Understanding the TOEFL iBT format is imperative to help you prepare and pass the English language test with flying colours. Just like other standardised tests, TOEFL iBT evaluates a non-native speaker’s English language proficiency in four areas, namely reading, writing, listening and speaking.

All four sections consist of several tasks. Additionally, each section has a score range from 0 to 30, but each section has its own  a separate measure. The scores obtained in a particular section can be compared to other scores from the same section.

Along with the scores of the four sections, test takers also receive a total test score on a scale of 0 to 120. As a result, a test taker’s score report includes five scores.

The entire iBT test, including the four sections, can take 4.5 hours to complete, which includes check-in time. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) creates and administers the iBT test. It takes 10–15 days to receive your score report online. Candidates can view their test score online, which is usually 10 days after the iBT test date. They can receive printed or hard copies within 13–15 days following the test date.

TOEFL iBT scores are valid for 2 years (after the test date) and can be sent to up to four universities or agencies. Test takers must specify where they want to send their official scores, right after the test. The ETS charges US $19.00 (per copy) for obtaining additional score copies.


Paper-Based Test vs. Internet-Based Test

Broadly speaking, paper-based test (PBT) and internet-based test (iBT) are the two types of TOEFL tests.

Although both test options are designed to assess English language skills of non-native students and workers, the iBT is more common than the PBT. More than 130 countries—including the United States, Canada and Australia—accept iBT scores. This includes over 10,000 colleges and universities that accept the iBT test as proof of English language proficiency from international students.

The iBT has a speaking section instead of grammar section, which is part of the PBT. The PBT also has one essay.Conversely, , the iBT has two essays. Additionally, the score range for the PBT is 310–677, while the iBT’s range is from 0 to 120.

The iBT is comprised of multiple choice questions. It is not adaptive. In other words, the test questions do not get harder or easier as you attempt the test. If you are taking the iBT, here is what you need to know about the four critical sections:


Reading is the first section of the TOEFL iBT. Developed to test your proficiency and ability to understand academic written English, it consists of 3–4 reading passages, each 700 words long. You will have to read these passages and attempt 36 to 56 questions within a 60 to 80 minute period.

Generally, the reading passages may cover a variety of subjects, from history to science. This section includes academic English passages that students are expected to read and comprehend at a university level.

After reading each passage, you will have to answer the accompanying questions. A word of advice: do not spend too much time on one question. Make sure you manage your time well. All questions have the same score. Therefore, do not get stuck on one question for too long. You should spend 20 minutes (or less) on each reading passage, including the questions.

The score range for the reading section is broken down into:

22 to 30 – High

15 to 21 – Intermediate

0 to 14 – Low


Next up is the listening section. This particular section of the iBT assesses a test taker’s ability to understand audio recordings in English.

The audio recording can be a classroom lecture or a classroom discussion or conversation. The time duration for this is 60 to 90 minutes. After listening to the audio recording, you will have to answer relevant questions.

The listening section includes 34 to 51 questions. Test takers are allowed to take notes.

The score range for the listening section is broken down into:

22 to 30 – High

15 to 21 – Intermediate

0 to 14 – Low


Before the speaking section, you will get a 10-minute break. Thereafter, you can start the third section of the test, which is  speaking.

During this section, you will have to speak on a particular topic as well as speak on questions related to the reading and listening sections.

As a whole, the speaking section of the test consists of six tasks that have to be completed in 20 minutes.

The score range for the speaking section is broken down into:

26-30 – Good

18-25 – Fair

10-17 – Limited

0-9 – Weak


Writing is the last section of TOEFL iBT and involves writing two essays. The first essay requires written responses pertaining to the reading and listening materials in 20 minutes. For the second essay, you will have to express your opinion on a specific topic in 30 minutes.

The total time duration for both the essays is 50 minutes.

The score range for the writing section is broken down into:

24-30 – Good

17-23 – Fair

1-16 – Limited

The Last Word

Time management is an essential component of TOEFL iBT. During the test, it is crucial that you manage your time well.

Another thing to remember is that you will be using a standard QWERTY keyboard during the test. It is generally a good idea to practice typing in English before your test.

Most importantly, practice as much as you can to obtain the score you need to get into your preferred university. For TOEFL iBT online study material and prep course, check out uMasterExam.

The website has everything you need to study for TOEFL in one place. From featuring the best practice tests to courses and text books and even qualified, certified TOEFL tutors, uMasterExam is a single source for everything related to TOEFL iBT.

Test takers can also visit the website to learn tips and tricks to ace the reading, listening, speaking and writing sections.

Lisa Scholfield

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