TOEFL Exam - Its Purpose and Utility

The TOEFL examis a standardised test pioneered by ETS i.e. the Educational Testing Service which is a USA based company reputed for developing the GRE, TOEFL, SAT, PSAT and many other tests. The TOEFL examis a test which measures an individual's English proficiency, and measures his skills in all aspects of the language - reading, writing, speaking and listening.

The exam serves as an admission requirement in a lot of universities and colleges, and also for qualifying for work and residential visas for certain countries. Let us discuss the purpose of taking the TOEFL exam for different individuals.

  • For purposes of certification by medical and licensing agencies.

  • For admission into colleges and universities of English-speaking countries for higher education.

  • For tracking your own progress in the language.

  • For obtaining work and residential visas in certain countries like Australia and United Kingdom.

The test has two formats, namely the PBT TOEFL examwhich is the paper-based test and the iBT TOEFL examwhich is the internet-based version of the test. The PBT version of the test is meant for those students whose testing location does not have the infrastructure for the internet-based version of the test. iBT TOEFL takes place around 30-40 times a year whereas the PBT version takes place only six times a year. The structure of the test is a little different for both formats and so is the duration. Let us discuss both formats individually.


iBT TOEFL is the internet-based format of the TOEFL exam and the duration of the test is four hours. ETS tests new questions only in this version and not in PBT TOEFL. Scores range from 0-120. The test is divided into four sections.

  • Reading: This section has 36-56 questions based on 3-4 reading passages to be solved in 60-80 minutes. Passages are of general academic interests that are not presumptuous of specialised knowledge. The variety of questions asked include sentence-completion, reference to context, vocabulary tests, inference and rhetorical type questions, table completion, factual and summarising questions.

  • Listening: This section lasts 60-90 minutes and has 34-51 questions to be answered on the basis of 6-9 recordings. The first 2-3 recordings are discussions between two students and the rest are academic lectures. You are allowed to take notes while the recordings are being played.

  • Speaking: This section lasts 20 minutes and has 6 tasks of which two are independent monologues and the rest combine listening and speaking or listening, reading and speaking skills.

  • Writing: You have two writing tasks to be completed in 50 minutes. The first is an integrated writing task which you have to write after synthesizing information you get from reading a passage and listening to a recording. The second task consists of an essay on a general topic which is for assessing your ability to organise thoughts into a well-formed argument that is supported by ample evidence.


The paper-based version of the test lasts for 3 hours and 30 minutes. Three of the sections of the test are scored, and one is unscored, with scores ranging from 310-677.

  • Reading Comprehension: This section has 50 questions based on reading passages to be solved in 55 minutes. Your ability to understand general reading material is tested.

  • Listening: This section lasts 30-40 minutes and has 50 questions divided between three sub-sections. The first has 30 questions based on short conversations, the next has 8 questions based on longer conversations and the last has 12 questions based on lectures or academic talks. The ability to understand and synthesize information from spoken English is tested.

  • Structure and Written Expression: This section lasts 25 minutes and has 25 questions based on sentence completion and 15 questions concerning error identification.

  • Test of Written English: This section requires you to write one essay in around 250-300 words that displays your ability to organise your thoughts, present and justify an opinion with the help of appropriate evidence. The score of this section is given separately and is not added to the final score.

The link to the official website for TOEFL is - - and you can visit it for more information about the test.

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