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The TOEFL Test

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Purpose of the TOEFL Test

The TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardized test of the English language comprehension. It is required for non-English speaking foreigners for admission to universities in the U.S. and Canada. The test results are also used in a number of other English-speaking and non-English speaking countries for admission to universities with English learning. In addition, the results of the test can be claimed for a job in a foreign company. The TOEFL test provides a comprehensive assessment of the level of English that allows the host universities to assess the ability of the student to communicate in a learning environment more fully, as well as its readiness to writing term papers (Cazden, 2001).

Description of the TOEFL Test

The TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a test of English as a Foreign Language, which is conducted by the American Educational Test Service ETS (Educational Testing Service). The test takes students four-hours and consists of four separate sections. Each of these sections evaluates one of the four basic language skills (some tasks in the test require integration of different skills). The test focuses on the formal English language used in higher institutions and academic environment. Test cannot be taken more than once a week. The test has the following order of execution: Reading, Listening, break (10 minutes), Speaking, and Writing (Cazden, 2001).

  • READING 3-5 texts containing 12-14 questions – 60-100 minutes
  • LISTENING 6-9 texts containing 5-6 questions – 60-90 minutes
  • Break – 10 minutes
  • SPEAKING 6 tasks and 6 questions – 20 minutes
  • WRITING 2 tasks – 50 minutes (20 and 30)

Reading. Reading assesses person’s ability to read and understand texts on various subjects and style of writing, taken from different sources, such as English-language scientific journals, textbooks, essays, and articles. In the section of Reading, the main task is to read the text and answer the questions. 20 minutes are given for this task. The number of texts varies from 3 to 5 (each about 700 words long).

Listening. Listening assesses person’s ability to understand the spoken English language of academic and general nature. Listening section offers two types of tasks: lectures and conversations between two people (usually students, university staff, or faculty). After having listened to the record, the person needs to answer the questions within the given time (10 minutes for 3 listening). Listening is divided into several parts 10 minutes each.

Speaking. Speaking assesses person’s ability to express thoughts on a common theme, and based on the read and listened material in a short period of time. Speaking section includes 6 tasks. In the two of them, one needs to express his/her opinion on a familiar topic. In the other two tasks, one needs to listen to the audio information and speak out on the basis of the listening experience. The last two tasks contain short text and audio passage; one needs to answer the questions based on what has been read and heard. The last four assignments include two situations that take place on campus, and the other two that are based on the materials of lessons and lectures. The answers to this section must be recorded. There are 30 seconds to prepare, and a maximum of one minute to give an answer for each question.

Writing. Writing evaluates the person’s ability to express his/her thoughts, retell, and reflect on information obtained in writing. There are two tasks in the Writing section. In the first task, one needs to read a short text and listen to a short lecture on a related topic. After that, one needs to merge information into one coherent written response. The second task is an essay on a familiar topic.

Type of the TOEFL Test

There are several versions of the test: the paper (PBT), computer-based (CBT) and an internet-based test version (IBT). Currently, the last option is preferred by most universities, because it includes not only the job of reading, listening, and written language, but also the spoken language and some combined tasks. Since its introduction in late 2005, the Internet-based Test (IBT) is gradually replacing computer and paper versions of the test, although the paper based test is still sometimes used. The IBT has been introduced in a few stages. First, it was used in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy in 2005; and in the rest of the world in 2006. The number of test centers is increasing every year. The CBT test was canceled in September 2006 (Cazden, 2001). Initially, the demand for the test was extremely high, and candidates had to wait for months to take it; today, one can take the test within one to four weeks in most countries.

Scoring of the TOEFL Test

To estimate the result in each section: Reading, Listening, Writing, Speaking for a total of 120, each of the four sections is measured at 30 points. The TOEFL test score report includes scores for each section and an overall score for the entire test. Some universities put up separate requirements for each of the sections while others require only a total score. The results of the test may be obtained in an electronic version (by performing electronic registration on the official website). In addition to the electronic version, it may be received in a paper form. This option does not require any additional charges.

Evaluation of the TOEFL Test

In should be mentioned that the TOEFL test has both advantages and disadvantages.

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According to Cazden (2001), the TOEFL test offers an evaluation of a person’s mastery of knowledge in a domain, which at a certain aggregation level will offer important information. This means that, while personal evaluations could not be precise enough for practical application, the average scores of students who pass the TOEFL test have been useful. They provide meaningful information and help with the error reduction accomplished by the size of the sample. However, the TOEFL test, which seeks to provide every examinee with similar questions under similar conditions, is viewed as simple evaluations that make use of a variety of questions without being biased to a person’s socioeconomic status, race, or other subjective considerations. According to Cazden (2001), another criticism is that the TOEFL test cannot measure imagination, creativity, initiative, conceptual thinking, effort, judgment among many other aspects of learning. When standardized tests are the primary factor in accountability, learning institutions make use of the tests to change curriculum and lay focus on instruction. In most cases, the things that are not tested are not taught; the way the subject is put on the test usually determines a model for the way the subject should be taught. The curriculum of the TOEFL test makes it difficult for the instructors to cover the whole syllabus adequately; it makes them concentrate on the teaching areas where the tests are most likely to come from. It has also eliminated time for critical thinking, encouraged corruption, and induced teaching to test system, which does not really measure a student’s potential.

The TOEFL certificate is valid for two years only. Some institutions require that the test is taken not more than 18 months ago. The test is relatively expensive and is checked for a long time. As for December 2012, the cost of the IBT was an average of $250. The test results take an average of two weeks and are available through personal page in the dealer’s website. The delivery of the certificate may take more than a month.


  • Great choice: nearly 7 500 colleges, universities, and organizations, in more than 130 countries all over the world accept the TOEFL results.
  • Convenience: one can pass the TOEFL test in more than 4 500 test centers, in 165 countries. In addition, unlike many other tests, this test is passed within one day.
  • Evaluation of training skills: the TOEFL exam demonstrates the level of English. In this case, in the tasks of the test, one has to read a passage of text, listen to a lecture and then discuss it and execute a written assignment. All of these exercises are carried out in universities, so this test is considered an important criterion for decisions about the person’s enrollment.
  • Fair assessment: when passing the TOEFL test, one cannot doubt in the objectivity and reliability of the estimates. The thing is that the taped record is evaluated by 3 to 6 different people, not just a local examiner.

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