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Is the TOEFL Test Easy or Hard?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is administered by a non-profit organization known as ETS. It is one of the tests to assess English language proficiency skills and TOEFL, easy or hard. It is for those candidates whose mother tongue is not English, but they intend to study or pursue their career abroad in English-speaking countries. Many aspiring candidates wonder if the TOEFL test is hard to pass. However, it all depends on your practice.

After you read this article, you will be familiar with the TOEFL test format, how to score higher, and last but not least- we will be debunking some myths to clear up the confusion.

What to Expect in the TOEFL Exam?

The first thing you must know is that the TOEFL does not have different formats like IELTS. It only has an academic version, which is available in both internet and paper-based forms. Unlike IELTS, TOEFL is online, and you must use the computers and headsets provided at the centers.

Nowadays, due to advancements in technology, the paper-based TOEFL (PBT for short) is offered in limited countries. Around 97% of the candidates prefer to take the internet-based test or iBT. The answers for iBT are sent directly to ETS via the internet.

iBT Format

The TOEFL iBT test consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, as mentioned on its website. The test is a total of 3 hours.

Reading Section:

The TOEFL IBT Reading Section measures to analyze how well you can read and comprehend the context of the passages. It includes about 3 to 4 texts, each nearly 700 words long, with 10 questions per task. The time given is 54 to 72 minutes. 

The passages are excerpts from university-level books related to a wide range of topics. You do not have to worry if you are not familiar with the context- all the information you need to answer the questions is in the passage.

Listening Section:

The TOEFL IBT Listening Section measures your ability to understand the conversations in English. The time limit is 41 to 57 minutes, and you have to answer around 40 questions. In this section, you will answer questions related to brief lectures and classroom discussions. 

Furthermore, it will assess your ability to understand the presentation and the attitude of the speaker. The language used is campus-based. Candidates are also allowed to take notes on any audio to answer the questions.

Speaking Section:

The TOEFL iBT Speaking section measures your ability to speak English efficiently in academic situations. It has four tasks and the time given is 15 to 17 minutes. The first task, an independent speaking task, requires candidates to share their own experiences and ideas related to the topic.

Questions 2 to 4 are called integrated speaking tasks. In this task, you will combine your English language skills, for instance, listening and speaking, or listening, reading, and speaking. The response should be 45 to 60 seconds long, and the preparation time given is 15 to 30 seconds.

You will speak into the microphone. The recorded answers are sent directly to the ETS and are checked by AI scoring and certified checkers to ensure that the score is fair and square.

Writing Section:

The TOEFL iBT Writing section requires you to write in English in an academic situation, and you have to present your opinions in a clear and well-organized format. There are two tasks, and you have to complete them in 50 minutes.

The first task, an integrated writing task, is 20 minutes. You will read a passage or listen to a short lecture, and then write in answer what you have understood from it.

The second task is an independent writing task and is for 30 minutes. In this task, you have to compose a personal experience or opinion on a specific topic.

PBT Format

The TOEFL paper-based test (PBT) consists of four sections and is offered in states where the TOEFL iBT is not available as stated on its official website. Although many universities accept PBT scores, some of the organizations consider iBT scores only. The total time for PBT is 140 to 150 minutes, and you have to complete 140 questions and one essay task.

Listening Comprehension Section:

This section intends to assess your ability to understand spoken English. 30 to 40 minutes are given to answer 50 questions. The questions are multiple choices based on the audio of lectures and conversations.

Structure and Written Expression Section:

It covers 40 questions in 25 minutes.

The questions are multiple choices, and two types of tasks are given: sentence completion with the best word choice and error detection in a sentence. The score range for this is from 31 to 68.

Reading Comprehension Section:

It measures the ability to understand the conceptual reading extract. The time given is 55 minutes to answer 50 MCQs.

The questions are about information presented in the passage and the context of underlined phrases/words. Moreover, the score ranges from 31 to 67.

Test of Written English:

It measures the capability of a candidate to write in English. This includes one essay task, and 30 minutes are allowed to complete it. Common prompts covered are: constructing an argument of their choice out of two opinions. 

On the other hand, candidates have to compose an essay discussing a vital technological invention. 

The scoring ranges from 0 to 6. Although this section is separate from the rest of the modules, it is compulsory.

Junior Standard

The TOEFL Junior Standard is taken digitally or on paper, while the Junior Speaking test is delivered digitally only.

The TOEFL Junior Standard has three sections, which are given below. You can see how they are designed to help you know how you can use this in your program.

The three sections are Listening Comprehension, Language Form and Meaning, and Reading Comprehension. Each has 42 questions, and the score range is from 200 to 300. The testing time is 40 minutes, 25 minutes, and 50 minutes respectively.

Is the TOEFL Test Difficult? 

The TOEFL test depends on how much exposure you get to English, alongside practice. If you take classes and communicate in English, the sections might be straightforward for you. 

However, if you are still learning and getting exposed to the English language, you will require a firm grasp of skills for the TOEFL test.

1. Listening Section

The core problem that candidates encounter is usually the vocabulary. The excerpts used here are academic. Hence, they have formal and unfamiliar words and phrases that are not used in daily life interactions. 

A practical way to tackle weak vocabulary is to practice listening to academic or formal-style conversations and lectures. 

2. Writing and Speaking Section 

Several candidates are afraid of these two sections. Both the modules assess your ability to comprehend the topic and depict your idea through speaking and writing. 

It only depends on how well you can correctly organize information without repetition. The same goes for the speaking test. The examiners determine how well you can articulate the ideas.

3. Reading Section

First of all, the time restrictions make candidates nervous. Secondly, TOEFL uses academic language for reading, and some test-takers can be unfamiliar with such language. People say that if your mother tongue is closer to Latin root languages, you can get hold of English. 

However, if your case is different, we suggest reading semi-formal and formal passages, mainly in magazines, newspapers, etc.

Why will the TOEFL Exam be Difficult for you?

Candidates might face some personal challenges during the TOEFL Exam. They differ from one candidate to another. Following are some challenging areas faced by the candidates.

1. Length

Right off the bat, one of the most challenging aspects of the TOEFL test is length. Candidates get tired when they reach the later sections, and that results in silly mistakes. 

Additionally, the final section is writing, where you have to organize and write two essays. This section is as important as the other modules. 

A practical way to tackle this issue is to build your endurance. When you are practicing, always do that within the given time limit. On the exam day, you will have no difficulty managing your energy throughout the whole test.

2. Difficult Vocabulary

Regardless of any section, a strong word bank plays a vital role in the TOEFL. You are given vocabulary-heavy reading passages and have to answer vocabulary-related questions in the reading section. 

Alongside, the excerpts are from academic-level textbooks, and the language used is formal, which can prove to be difficult if you are not used to it.

3. Questions About Minor Details

TOEFL is not an exam where you can get by skimming passages and knowing the central idea. Questions about minor details often get asked in the exam. 

In the sections like reading and writing, test-takers should answer questions about minor details and understand them. 

However, if you are used to just skimming and skipping the phrases you are unfamiliar with, you will end up missing many questions. But then again, you also need to be familiar with the central idea of the text. 

4. Distractions During Speaking Section

Candidates are likely to have their TOEFL Exam with other test-takers. When you reach the speaking section, you all will be speaking at more or less the same time. 

Previous TOEFL test-takers have said that this section can be difficult, as multiple people are speaking simultaneously. Therefore, causing many to distract from voicing their ideas. 

If you are used to practicing in a quiet room, for instance, a library, this change can be jarring, and you might end up forgetting important points. 

5. Self-assessment Checklist

When you have completed your practice for the listening module, check your progress and note the improvement with the aid of this checklist. This will help you know how much command you have over the listening section.

Here is the checklist to assess your abilities for the listening section:

  1. I can understand different accents and dialects.
  2. I can comprehend the academic-themed discussions.
  3. I can take notes while listening to the audio. 
  4. I can interpret the attitude of the speaker.

Several test-takers stated that the speaking section could be easy. However, it might be different for others. You have to speak in a room with other candidates, and you have to stay relevant to the topic.

Below is a checklist to keep track of your improvement in your speaking skills:

  1. I can speak fluently and coherently.
  2. I can converse while people are talking in that place.
  3. I can develop an argument.
  4. I can interpret and speak on academic topics.
  5. I give relevant answers related to the topic.

The writing section tends to be difficult. Candidates have to complete the required tasks in 50 minutes.

You can assess your writing skills with this checklist:

  1. I take time to plan my answer.
  2. I can complete both tasks in the given time.
  3. I use precise and academic vocabulary.
  4. I can use transition words properly.
  5. I always write a conclusion.
  6. I can interpret and write on academic-themed topics.

Candidates take this section lightly. You have to answer over 40 questions and read the passages in an hour. 

You can measure your reading proficiency with the help of this checklist:

  1. I can skim and scan as I read the passage.
  2. I can pick out minor and major details.
  3. I am familiar with the academic vocabulary used in the excerpts.
  4. I can compose the answer within the time limit.
  5. I can move around the text with ease.

What are Some Common Misconceptions About the TOEFL Exam?

  • The TOEFL Exam can be taken once only: There is no set limit by ETS. Candidates can give the TOEFL test as many times as they want to if they want to get a better score than the previous try. However, there should be a gap of more than three days for practice.
  • Transition words are unnecessary: People believe that when it comes to writing and speaking. Transition words are magical helpers to properly organize and express your idea or give examples or construct an argument. They make the sentence seem cohesive and build connections between your points for a smooth flow.
  • Exceeding the word limit gives you a better score: This is one of the bizarre myths about the TOEFL Exam. Many previous aspirants suggest exceeding the word limit in writing tasks to get a better score. Well, that is not the case. Exceeding the word limit by some words is accepted as long as your point becomes clear. Too many words can tire out the examiner and the test-taker as well.
  • TOEFL is easier in some countries: This is simply a myth. TOEFL is a standardized test and is the same everywhere, irrespective of your country/state. The checking and grading of the test are also fixed and do not change according to each country. So you do not have to worry that your test is challenging to pass.

General Tips to Ace the TOEFL Exam

The tips below are practical and can help you get a better TOEFL score. Even though the key to acing your TOEFL exam is consistent practice, some factors can aid in your practice.

  • Get to know your weak areas: When you are practicing, make sure to write down the common mistakes you have seen, for instance, spelling errors or pronunciation, in case of a speaking test.
  • Record yourself: While practicing for the Speaking section, it is better to record yourself in a noisy place. The best option here could be your home where the family members are conversing. This way, you will get an idea of how much clarity and focus you need. 
  • Use authentic sources: Try looking for newspapers, for instance, The Guardian. They can be of immense help as the texts in the Reading Section are of similar complexity and length can also take help from books like Mastering Skills for the TOEFL iBT, Kaplan TOEFL iBT Premier, and many more.
  • Understand the test format: This includes knowing the word limit, time restriction, and how to format the answer. If you practice along with this, you will have lesser issues during the exam. You will know how to compose your best answer in the given time.
  • PBT or iBT: Knowing which test to take can impact your results a lot. PBT tends to be more difficult than iBT, as there are more writing tasks. The internet-based is more liked and is advanced. Likewise, most universities prefer the iBT score instead of the PBT score.

Additional FAQs About TOEFL Test Difficulty

Is TOEFL easier than IELTS?

IELTS and TOEFL are the tests that assess your English proficiency level.

The difficulty level depends on numerous factors, for instance, native language, exposure to English, etc. To begin your practice, you need to have a proper plan and study material from authentic sources.

And the most important factor of all is dedication. The more dedicated you are, the harder and better you can practice.


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