Follow this link to skip to the main content

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Information

Taken from the web page at:
(The current site is

TOEFL emblem

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

What is the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is one of the many standardized tests written by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is a multiple-choice exam that lasts for approximately two hours.

What is the purpose of the TOEFL?

According to ETS, the TOEFL is supposed to evaluate a person's proficiency in English.

In all likelihood, a person who is a native English speaker would perform better on the TOEFL than a non-native speaker would. Does this mean then that the TOEFL is an accurate gage of your English proficiency?

The answer is no. There are many factors that have an effect on your TOEFL score other than your ability to speak, write, or understand English. For example, in one section of the TOEFL, you listen to a tape cassette. If the tape cassette is of poor quality, it may be very hard to hear the recorded information. Is this fair?

Also, you should keep in mind that some people are simply not good test takers. They become very nervous when they have to take standardized tests. Clearly, their anxiety about standardized tests will affect how well they do on the TOEFL. Is this fair?

So if the TOEFL is not a fair exam -- if it does not test your proficiency in English -- what does it test? The only thing the TOEFL tests is how well you take the TOEFL.

How important is the TOEFL?

How important your TOEFL score is depends on the schools to which you are applying.

Some schools do have "cutoffs." For example, a school might have a required TOEFL score of 500 or above. Anyone who falls below this score will not be accepted.

Other schools, however, are not so rigid. For example, a school might accept a student who has a low TOEFL score, but will not allow the student to register until he or she has taken a semester or two of English courses.

Generally, top schools say they do not have cutoffs and they look at the entire application. The mean TOEFL score for these schools, however, tends to be in the high 500's to low 600's.

What is the structure of the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is currently made up of three different sections: Listening Comprehension, Structure and Written Expression, and Reading Comprehension.

Listening Comprehension has a total of 50 questions with a time limit of about 35 minutes.

Structure and Written Expression has a total of 40 questions with a time limit of about 25 minutes.

Reading Comprehension has a total of 60 questions with a time limit of about 45 minutes.

How is the TOEFL scored?

For the TOEFL you have three section scores and one total score. Each correct answer counts equally toward your section scores, and thus your total score. There is no penalty for a wrong answer.

The total number of correct answers is what ETS calls a "raw score." The raw score for each section is then converted into a "scaled score." A scaled score is what you will see on your score report. In short, a scaled score is your section score. Section scores range from 20 to 68.

Your total score is the sum of the scaled scores for the three sections multiplied by ten-thirds. Total scores range from 200 to 677.

What is Listening Comprehension?

Listening Comprehension is supposed to test your understanding of spoken English. It is made up of three parts (A, B, and C). During all three parts, you will listen to recorded information.

In Part A, you can expect 20 questions. For each question, you will hear a short sentence. After each sentence, you are to pick the answer choice that is closest in meaning to the original sentence. In short, Part A is about paraphrasing.

In Part B, you can expect 15 questions. For each question, you will hear a short conversation between two people. You will then hear a third person ask a question about the conversation. You are to pick the answer choice that best answers the third person's question. In short, Part B is about listening to a dialogue.

In Part C, you can expect 15 questions. You will hear three conversations or talks in this part of the test. (The conversations or talks will be longer than the ones in Part B.) For each conversation or talk, there will be four to six questions.

In Parts A, B, and C, all recorded information is played only one time.

What is Structure and Written Expression?

Structure and Written Expression is supposed to test your grammar skills. It is made up of two types of questions: sentence completions (15 questions) and error identifications (25 questions).

For each sentence completion question, you will see an incomplete sentence. There will be four answer choices beneath each sentence, and it is your job to pick the answer choice that best completes the sentence.

For each error identification question, you will see a sentence that has certain parts underlined. The underlined parts will be labeled A, B, C, and D. You are to pick the part that must be changed in order for the sentence to be correct. Each sentence will only have one underlined part that must be corrected.

What is Reading Comprehension?

Reading Comprehension is supposed to test your ability to read standard written English. It is made up of two types of questions: vocabulary (30 questions) and reading comprehension (30 questions).

For each vocabulary question, you will see a sentence that has one word or phrase underlined. You are to pick the correct answer choice that best keeps the meaning of the original sentence.

For reading comprehension, there will be five to six passages. Each passage will have four to eight questions pertaining to each.

Will the TOEFL change?

Yes, ETS is changing the TOEFL. Starting with the July 1995 exam, the TOEFL will have a slightly different structure.

Listening Comprehension

  • Paraphrasing questions (Part A) will be eliminated.
  • There will be a greater number of conversations and lectures.
Structure and Written Expression
  • There will be no changes in this section.
Reading Comprehension
  • Vocabulary questions will be eliminated.
  • Vocabulary will not be tested within the reading comprehension passages.
  • There will a greater number of questions per passage.
  • The entire section will be approximately 10 minutes longer.
For all three sections, there will be no change in the score reporting scale.

What is the TWE?

The Test of Written English (TWE) is given with the TOEFL at some, but not all, of the test administrations. It is supposed to assess your writing skills in English.

Basically, for the TWE you have 30 minutes to write a 200- to 300- word essay. You may only write on the assigned topic.

What is the TSE?

The Test of Spoken English (TSE) is supposed to assess your proficiency in speaking English. For this test, you will be given a variety of questions to answer. (The questions will be in written and recorded form.) Your answers -- which are oral, not written -- will be recorded.

Who should I contact to register for the TOEFL?

ETS is the company you need to contact. To register, you will need to obtain a copy of Bulletin of Information for TOEFL, TWE, and TSE. You can get a copy by calling ETS at 609-771-7760 or writing them at the following address:
TOEFL Office
P.O. Box 6151
Princeton, NJ 08541-6151

Be sure when you write or call to give ETS your name and complete address!


A service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration