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TOEFL Guide for Beginners – Learn About TOEFL Format, Structure, Duration, Syllabus, and More

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Written by  Geetika Arora, MBA

Reviewed by  Priyanka Bhargava, MBA - Marketing and HR

Published on Fri, May 5, 2023 9:36 AM   Updated on Sun, July 16, 2023 4:43 AM   13 mins read

Do you want to pursue your higher education in the world’s best institutions? Many people aim to attend prominent universities in nations where English is widely spoken, such as the USA or the UK. However, getting accepted to these colleges is not easy. 

You must submit numerous papers and documents that will be used to assess your application, one among them being TOEFL.

This article will guide you through everything you must know about the TOEFL format and exam structure. We will go through the format and organisation of the test, the topics included in every phase, and the grading scheme. We will also give you some important pointers and techniques to assist you do well on the test. 

With our TOEFL guide, you can feel confident in your preparation for the TOEFL exam and increase your chances of success in achieving your academic goals.

What is the TOEFL?

What is TOEFL
Source: Canva

An English language competency test, TOEFL or Test Of English as a Foreign Language, gauges how well non-native English speakers can use and comprehend the language in academic contexts. 

The ETS (Educational Testing Service), a private, nonprofit company takes responsibility for creating and distributing the TOEFL test.

Why Choose TOEFL?

Why Choose TOEFL
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Anyone applying for admission to a university or college where English is the primary teaching language must take the TOEFL exam as it exhibits your understanding, readability, writing, and listening skills of English. 

Also, professional associations and governments utilise the test to evaluate the English language skills of non-native speakers. A good TOEFL score can improve your chances of getting into a university, getting a professional certificate, or getting a visa without worrying about rejection. 

TOEFL Test Format

TOEFL Format
Source: Canva

The TOEFL structure consists of four divisions – Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Each division requires you to practise well before appearing for the test to aim for scoring the best. 

1. Reading

The Reading section in TOEFL measures your ability to understand academic texts written in English. This section carries three to five reading passages, around 700 words each, with 12-14 questions per passage. This phase will come with 60 and 80 minutes to complete, depending on how many extracts you receive.

The readings cover a range of topics, including business, social science, humanities, and natural science. They are written on a level with what first-year university students in English-speaking countries would be expected to know.

The questions in the Reading section focus on testing your comprehension of the text, including your ability to analyse, infer, and synthesise information. They can be of different types, such as multiple-choice, matching, sentence completion, and information categorization.

2. Listening

The Listening section of the TOEFL evaluates your ability to understand spoken English in academics. This section comprises four to six audio recordings, each lasting between 3 to 5 minutes, and consists of six questions for every individual recording. Listening gets 60-90 minutes to complete the section, depending on the number of recordings you receive.

These audio recordings are from lectures, discussions, and conversations you might encounter in a university atmosphere. This section covers topics, such as science, social science, humanities, and business.

The questions in the Listening section test your ability to comprehend the content of the audio recordings, including your capability to infer, summarise, and analyse information. They can be of different types, such as multiple-choice, matching, and note-taking.

3. Speaking

The Speaking section measures your ability to speak in English in academic settings. You will get six tasks, including two independent and four integrated, with 20 minutes to complete. The independent assignments require you to express your personal opinions or experiences on a specific topic. 

For example, you may get questioned to describe a place that you feel is important to you or discuss whether you prefer to study alone or in a group. The integrated tasks in the Speaking section require you to read a short text or listen to an audio recording and then express your understanding and opinions on the topic presented. 

Also, you may have to read a short passage on a particular topic and then listen to a related lecture. You will then have to summarise the main points of the reading and the lecture and express your opinion.  

4. Writing

Your proficiency in using English to write in academic environments is the main focus of the writing part. Integrated and autonomous writing tasks will be present in this section, with 50 minutes to finish. You must read a brief text, listen to an audio recording, and write a response summarising the key ideas from the reading and the listening for the integrated writing activity.

For example, you may need to read a paper on scientific discovery and then listen to a lecture about the impact of that discovery. The final step is to give your perspective after summarising the key elements.

Next, you must express your viewpoint on a particular subject in the independent writing assignment in the Writing section. For instance, you might have to write an essay about whether technology has improved or worsened how people live.

The TOEFL Structure – For Exams

TOEFL Structure
Source: Canva

TOEFL structure is available in two formats – Computer-based and paper-based. 

In the computer-based version of the exam, you should attempt the test via computer at a designated testing centre. You will reply to questions on a computer screen while listening to audio recordings during the entire exam, which is taken online.  

The computer scores the test results automatically of the reading and the listening sections. And human raters evaluate the speaking and writing sections. This version of the TOEFL exam offers flexibility regarding test dates and scores and the ability to take the exam throughout the year. 

On the other hand, in the paper-based version, you write an exam using a paper booklet and answer sheet. Mainly, people choose this format in areas where the computer-based test is unavailable. 

The reading and listening sections of the exam follow the same path as the computer-based version, while human raters also evaluate the speaking and writing sections as the exam mode is offline. Test takers often have to wait longer to hear their results because this form of the exam is only occasionally given.

You can take TOEFL in either of the formats as universities and other educational institutions accept both versions. Also, you should be aware that not all testing centres offer two versions of the exam. So, you should contact your nearest testing centre to find out which format is offered there.

Registration Process

TOEFL Registration
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You can do the TOEFL registration process online or over the phone using email. The following are the general steps to register for the exam:

1. Register with Educational Testing Service

You must sign up with ETS by providing your name, email address, and other personal information to access the application form. 

2. Pick a time and place for the test

Once you create an account, log in to view the available test places and dates. The time and place are up to you, depending on your preferences.

3. Pay an enrollment fee

The enrollment fee varies depending on the test location you choose to attempt. A debit and credit card payment system works the best. 

4. Provide identification

When you appear for the test, ensure to carry a valid photo ID issued by the government. It includes things like your passport, driver’s licence, or national ID card.

Verify your enrollment: Read the mail you receive as soon as you get registered to avoid confusion and verify other sensitive details. 

The TOEFL registration dates may change according to your region and the testing facility you select, so you must be aware of this. It is best to register as early as feasible to guarantee you can take the test on your preferred date and venue. 

TEST Syllabus

TOEFL structure and syllabus
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Here is a quick summary of what TOEFL format for each test section entails:

1. Reading

The reading section contains quotes from texts appropriate for first-year-level university students. As a test taker, you must study the provided information and respond to questions based on your comprehension of it.

To perform well in the Reading section, you must possess good reading abilities, such as skimming, scanning, and critical reading. Aside from being able to locate the text’s core concept and supporting facts, you should also be able to determine the author’s tone and goals.

2. Listening

Conversations and lectures from academic settings will be in the listening section. You should listen to the audio and answer questions based on what you understand. 

You should have strong listening skills, such as note-taking, identifying main ideas and supporting details, and following the speaker’s organisation and argument to do well in the Listening section. Additionally, you should be able to identify the speaker’s mood, intent, and tone.

3. Speaking

This section requires you to talk on a given topic. It includes giving an opinion, describing a personal experience, or summarising information. You get evaluated based on your ability to talk precisely, coherently, and clearly.

To perform well in the speaking segment, you should have good speaking abilities, including fluency, coherence, and pronunciation. Additionally, you should be able to communicate your thoughts logically, and clearly and support your answers with facts and examples by using suitable grammar and vocabulary.

4. Writing

Writing assignments involve expressing your viewpoint, summarising data from a passage, and developing an essay topic. How well you present yourself will depend on the calibre of your words.

To succeed in the writing portion, you must have strong writing abilities, including the capacity to structure your thoughts, develop and defend your opinions with reasons and examples, and use the proper syntax and language. 

The primary goal of the TOEFL course is to estimate non-native English speakers’ proficiency in using and understanding English in the academic environment. Businesses and institutions frequently utilise the test to assess applicants’ English language proficiency.

TOEFL Evaluation

TOEFL Evaluation
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The TOEFL scoring formula assesses your proficiency in academic English usage and comprehension. Each of the four components of the exam receives a grade between 0 and 30.

A total score that varies from 0-120 is produced by adding the points from the four components. The final score is the average of the results from the four sections.

Along with your individual and overall exam scores, you will also receive feedback on your performance in each section. This feedback will contain your skill levels in various sections and a few suggestions for skill development.

No matter where or when the exam is taken, the TOEFL’s scoring method is impartial and based on the same standards, thus all scores are equal. To guarantee accuracy and consistency, the exam is assessed by recognized and trained raters who employ a standardised scoring methodology.

It is crucial to remember that the minimum TOEFL score needed varies based on the institution or program you are applying to. It is advised that you contact the institution or program to find out what marks they specifically demand. However, you must study and practice to get good scores. 

Tips to Ace TOEFL

Tips to Ace TOEFL
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Below are a few important tips among an ocean of others. 

1. Utilise authorised TOEFL study resources

ETS offers a range of resources for the TOEFL exam, including practice exams, sample questions, and study guides. You can use these free resources to understand the type of questions you will see on the test.

2. Practice time management

Because the TOEFL exam is time-sensitive, it is crucial to develop these skills. To ensure you have enough time to complete all the questions in each portion of the exam, learn to pace yourself while taking it.

3. Take practice exams

A fantastic approach to getting ready for the TOEFL exam is to take practice exams. It assists you in determining your strengths and weaknesses and provides insight into what to anticipate on exam day.

Final Thoughts

TOEFL format
Source: Canva

Well, there you have it – our comprehensive TOEFL guide for beginners. By now, you should have a good understanding of the format, structure, duration, syllabus, and other important aspects of the TOEFL exam.

The TOEFL is a crucial test for anyone looking to study abroad or pursue an international career. It assesses your English language skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. So, it’s essential to be well-prepared and familiar with the exam.

To ace the TOEFL, make sure to practise regularly and use all the available resources, such as study materials, online courses, and practice tests. Additionally, it’s essential to develop a strong vocabulary, improve your grammar, and work on your time management skills.

Remember, don’t let the exam intimidate you. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your desired score. So, go ahead, give it your best shot, and good luck on your TOEFL journey!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL PBT?

The TOEFL iBT is the internet-based version of the TOEFL exam, while the TOEFL PBT is the paper-based version of the exam.

What is the format of the TOEFL exam?

The TOEFL exam consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.

How is the TOEFL exam scored?

The TOEFL exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 120, with each section scored on a scale of 0 to 30.

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TOEFL Guide for Beginners

About the Author & Expert


Geetika Arora

Author • MBA • 13+ Years

Geetika Arora is the Sales Manager at AdmitKard. Born and brought up in Delhi to support her family, Geetika started working immediately after schooling at Medsource Healthcare Group of Fortis Healthcare in the Operation department and simultaneously completed her Graduation, i.e., B.Com from Delhi University. She is an excellent communicator with the ability to effectively manage internal and external teams, leads the Sales front of the organization, and is trusted by the industry’s best. She has also completed her MBA in Business & Finance. Geetika is a dynamic, accomplished, and result-driven professional with 13+ years of experience in the education industry with exposure to managing Sales and Operations, Business Development, Administration, Customer Relation Management, and MIS. With overall 5 years of experience in the study abroad industry, she is equipped with the ins and outs. Geetika’s relationship-building and Interpersonal skills set her class apart and makes her a star performer. She is a strong, creative, and inventive individual with a flexible and detail-oriented attitude. At AdmitKard, she is continuously working with students and counselors of various backgrounds to get them admitted into their dream programs in top-tier universities across the globe.


Priyanka Bhargava

Expert • MBA - Marketing and HR • 13+ Years

Priyanka possesses more than 13 years of extensive experience. Having pursued a Master's in International Business from a reputed university abroad, she has first-hand insight into the entire gamut of the study abroad admissions process. She has collaborated extensively with all categories of study abroad aspirants be it for Undergrad, Master’s (technical and non-technical), MBA, MPH and PhD. She boasts of an impeccable university placement record, including top-notch global universities such as Stanford, UPenn, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSD, Cambridge, and several others. She has an overall perspective of the admissions process of countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, European Union.

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