TOEFL Exam Pattern and Format

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardized language proficiency exam administered by the ETS (Educational Testing Center). It is designed to assess the English language skills in writing, reading, listening, and speaking of those native and non-native English speakers. 

And this language exam is in-demand among academic institutions as part of their admission requirement. Many test-takers find the TOEFL exam challenging because it uses formal and academic language in its exam contents.

In connection, this article will help you understand the TOEFL exam pattern and format on what are the different test sections, types of questions used, and the likes. And also, this will help you effectively prepare for the TOEFL exam and ace a high score. 

What is TOEFL? 

The TOEFL exam is considered one of the most complex and challenging language proficiency exams. It uses high-level academic language in its contents rather than the traditional and casual conversations used by other language exams. 

This language proficiency exam offers two types: the TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT.  It is the internet and paper-based test version of the TOEFL. 

The TOEFL exam is primarily composed of four test sections: 

However, these two types of TOEFL exams differ in their duration and exam pattern. 

Consequently, the TOEFL exam runs for approximately three to four hours, and it also has another 30 minutes check-in period before the exam schedule. 

The TOEFL exam has two types:

  • the TOEFL iBT (internet-based test)
  • the TOEFL PBT (paper-based test).

However, these two types of the TOEFL exam differ in their exam pattern and structure. 


The TOEFL PBT is the paper-based version of the exam. It consists of four sections, wherein the structure and written expressions section replace the speaking skill test. 

In addition, in the TOEFL PBT, there is no speaking test section. And also, all the conversations, dialogues presented in the listening comprehension section, and follow-up questions will not be repeated. 

This exam also has another subtest, which is the Test of Written English which is a test that requires you to write an essay regarding a topic provided. All test takers of the TOEFL PBT need to answer this section to receive the official overall scores of the TOEFL PBT. 

The duration of this version of the TOEFL is approximately 2.5 hours. And the TOEFL PBT only has four prescheduled test dates annually. It is only offered to selected areas or testing centers in various countries where there is limited to no internet connection to conduct the TOEFL iBT. 

In addition, the TOEFL PBT is accepted by universities and colleges; however, some prefer the TOEFL iBT over it. 

We must mention that test-takers no longer have the option to write the TOELF PBT test format. As of April 11, 2021, the TOEFL exam’s PBT (or the paper-delivered format) is no longer available. If you’ve written the PBT test before that date, your test scores are valid for two years. Aspiring test-takers must enroll and take the other version of the TOEFL test: TOEFL iBT, or TOEFL Essentials, or TOEFL ITP.


The TOEFL iBT is the internet-based test version of the exam. It contains four test sections that measure the four English language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It takes about three hours to complete this exam. 

Furthermore, this language exam has more than 60 prescheduled test dates annually, making it more accessible to all test-takers compared to the TOEFL PBT test schedules. 

TOEFL PBT Exam Pattern and Format:

The TOEFL PBT has four test sections which include:

  1. Listening Comprehension
  2. Reading comprehension
  3. Structure and Written expressions
  4. Test of written English

Check out below for a comprehensive detail for each of the TOEFL PBT test sections. 

1. PBT Listening Comprehension Exam Pattern and Format 

The listening comprehension section of the exam is approximately an hour long. And this first part of the TOEFL PBT assesses the listening skills of an individual. 

It contains 34 multiple-type of test questions that are related to the audios presented. And also, this section contains a three-part structure which is labeled as parts A, B, C. 

Three Test Parts of the PBT Listening Comprehension:

  • Part A
  • Part B
  • Part C

Part A – Listening Comprehension 

This part contains brief parts of a conversation between two individuals. And also, dialogues are only one line per person. And it is followed by a narrator that asks questions regarding the conversation that was presented. 

Moreover, part A covers most of the listening comprehension section, which consists of 30 multiple-choice test questions that are related to dialogues between two persons. These questions generally ask about the meaning of the statements in the conversation or dialogue presented.

Part B – Listening Comprehension 

Part B features longer conversations compared to Part A. Consequently, the dialogues in this part are about 10 lines per person. 

It is also followed by a narrator that asks questions about the dialogues between the two people. And Part B also has 10 follow-up questions about the conversations presented. And the questions in this part of the exam will ask about factual information which is discussed in the audios.  

 Part C – Listening Comprehension 

Part C presents a one-minute lecture excerpt, and it is then followed by ten questions that are related to the audio. Consequently, these follow-up questions are straightforward and cover the information in the lecture. 

2. PBT Structure and Written Expressions Exam

This section of the TOEFL PBT exam is approximately 25 minutes long. It is also divided into two parts with 40 to 42 multiple-choice test questions in all. In addition, all the structure test questions in part 1 are incomplete sentences that you need to complete with the given choices.

And as for the written expression test questions, the sentences contain underlined words or phrases wherein you need to change to make the sentence correct. 

Moreover, you need to know the correct usages of pronouns, subject-verb agreement, and the likes. Note that this test section of the TOEFL PBT does not use conversational language but all questions are formal English. 

Part 1 – Structure and Written Expressions

The first part of this section is consists of 15 test questions and it tackles the structure of a sentence and paragraph wherein you need to choose the best word or phrase that will complete the sentence.

Part 2 – Structure and Written Expressions

The second part of the structure and written expressions test section also contains 15 multiple-choice test questions. For this part, the test questions are about written expressions in which you need to choose the right phrase or word that will complete the meaning of the given sentence. 

3. PBT Reading Comprehension Exam Pattern and Format 

The reading comprehension test section has approximately 50 test questions. It contains five to six passages with has 6 to 12 questions per passage. Moreover, these passages have different topics, they may talk about any academic or general interests subjects. 

And these passages may also contain 200 to 450 words. The follow-up questions will ask regarding the subject and other information in the context. While other questions will ask about the meaning of some words or phrases in the passage presented. 

In addition, all the test questions in the PBT reading comprehension are multiple-choice types which have four answer choices. 

4. PBT Test of Written English Format

The TOEFL PBT also has the Test of Written English, a subtest of the exam. It measures the individual’s ability to produce or write an organized essay. Note that this section of the TOEFL PBT is not included in the overall TOEFL scoring; however, it is also not optional. 

Moreover, this section of the exam is easy and general in nature and does not need any specialization. You only need to express your opinions in written form regarding an issue or topic that is given. 

It covers topics of general interests and it usually asks for your opinion and provides concrete examples to support your stand about it. And also, the Test of Written English section is needed to receive the official TOEFL PBT score. It is the only test section of the TOEFL exam that the official TOEFL test evaluators assess. 

Here is a comprehensive table showing the TOEFL PBT Exam Test Pattern and Format.

TOEFL PBT Test SectionsTest Sections Sequence DurationNumber of Questions
Listening Comprehension1st60 minutes50 test questions
Structure and Written Expressions Section2nd25 minutes Two tasks with 40 to 42 test questions
Reading Comprehension3rd60 minutes40 to 50 test questions
Test of Written EnglishSubtest of TOEFL PBT(Required for all PBT Test-Takers)30 minutesOne task

TOEFL iBT Exam Pattern and Format:

The TOEFL iBT has four test sections which include:

  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading

In addition, these test sections are designed to assess your  English language skills. 

This exam is a computerized version of the test; thus, you need to take it using a computer that is available in the TOEFL testing centers. Check out below for a comprehensive detail for each of the TOEFL iBT test sections exam pattern and format. 

iBT Reading Exam Pattern and Format 

The first section in the TOEFL iBT is the Reading Section which is approximately 60 to 80 minutes long. The task here is to read the passages given and then answer the questions in connection to the context. 

Consequently, there are three to four passages that contain a minimum of 700 words per passage that you need to read within the given timeframe. And there are around 12 to 14 test questions per context that you need to answer.

These passages are from introductory-level college textbooks that tackle academic subjects. Note that all the test questions here are multiple-choice with four answer options. 

iBT Listening Exam Pattern and Format 

In this section, different audio recordings are presented. It will be about lectures and conversations between two or more people. And this TOEFL iBT test section ranges from 40 to 60 minutes long. 

Moreover, it may contain four to six lecture recordings and two to three conversations that may last up to five minutes, more or less. The lectures may involve one speaker or in a class discussion setting. While the conversation is about an interaction between a student and a teacher, or university staff and the likes. 

Each audio recording will be then followed by test questions that you need to respond to. And these test questions are multiple-choice types, however, some questions may also require you to choose more than one answer. 

In addition, it is important to remember that you will only hear the audio recording once. And it will not repeat the recording twice. And, skipping test questions is not allowed in this section. 

iBT Speaking Exam Pattern and Format 

The TOEFL iBT Speaking section is the shortest section compared to the other test parts of the exam. The duration for this section only lasts up to 17 to 20 minutes. 

Moreover, there are six tasks in this section that you need to do and these are divided into two parts. 

Part 1 – Independent Speaking Tasks

There are two tasks for part 1 in the speaking test section. And this section is also considered the Independent Speaking section, wherein you need to complete the two tasks. The two tasks are where you need to speak about your personal experiences and opinions for about 45 seconds.

Part 2 – Integrated Speaking Tasks

The remaining four tasks are about integrated speaking exercises. It is where you are required to share your responses vocally about the reading passages and recorded conversations. 

And most of the subjects for these tasks are taken from academic courses, subjects, or campus happenings. In addition, all your responses are recorded by using a microphone. 

Sample iBT Speaking Test Questions: 

iBT Writing Exam Pattern and Format 

The last test section of the TOEFL iBT is writing. In this section, you are tasked to write and finish two essays within 50 minutes. 

Task 1 – Integrated Writing Task

For the first essay, which is known as an integrated writing task wherein you are tasked to write an essay based on a reading passage or from a lecture excerpt. In addition, you are only given 20 minutes to finish the integrated essay which should contain at least 150 to 225 words. 

Task 2 – Independent Writing Task

The second task for the iBT writing test section involves writing an easy with a minimum word requirement of 300. And you are given 30 minutes to finish this writing task.

Moreover, the essay is about you need to write a good and articulated essay regarding an issue that is presented. And also you need to write excellent supporting details that will back up your stand in relation to the topic given. 

Here is a comprehensive table showing the TOEFL iBT Exam Test Pattern and Format.

TOEFL iBT Test SectionsTest Sections Sequence DurationNumber of QuestionsExam Tasks
Reading1st60 to 80 minutes30 to 40 test questions
  • Reading 3 to 4 passages with 700 words or more. 
  • Answering the questions that follow. 
Listening2nd41 to 57 minutes28 to 39 test questions
  • Listen to 4 to 6 lectures or discussions.
  • And also, 2 to 3 conversations are included.
  • Answering related questions regarding the audios presented.  
Break10 minutes
Speaking3rd17 minutesSix tasks
  • Discuss familiar topics, classroom discussions, and other lectures.
  • Express opinions on tasks presented in reading and listening test sections. 
Writing4th50 minutesTwo tasks
  • Writing essays based on a given topic. 

Additional FAQs – TOEFL Test

Is the TOEFL Test Hard?

The TOEFL is an English language proficiency exam that measures the English abilities of an individual. And the difficulty of this exam depends on how good your English skills are and how well you have prepared for it. 

Moreover, many test-takers find the TOEFL exam easy and manageable. In contrast, others find it challenging because it uses academic terms in its contents. They also included that it is best to take many practice tests as this will help you get familiarized with the flow of the exam and its structure. 

Is Getting 90 in TOEFL Hard?

Getting a 90 score in TOEFL is achievable if you have prepared well for the exam. Most universities have a minimum score requirement of 100 points. So getting a 90 is not difficult. 

However, achieving this score depends on your English language skills and your preparation for the exam. It is advisable to take many practice tests to enhance your skills in answering a language exam. And also, note that the TOEFL uses formal and academic language in its exam contents, so it is best to be prepared. 

What is the Pass Mark for the TOEFL Exam?

There is no passing or failing mark for the TOEFL exam. However, the different universities and colleges have their own TOEFL minimum score requirement for admission. 
Most of these educational institutions require a TOEFL iBT score of 100 points, such as Harvard University, Yale University, and other prestigious schools. The TOEFL iBT score of 100 is equivalent to the CEFR B2 proficiency level, indicating an upper-intermediate level. 

What is the Most Challenging Test Section in the TOEFL Exam?

The TOEFL iBT has four test sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.

And for the TOEFL PBT has the following test sections: Listening Comprehension, Structure and Written Expression, Reading Comprehension, and Test of Written English

Consequently, the reading test section is considered the most challenging section of the TOEFL exam. They find the passages complex and use high-level English terms. Note that the TOEFL contents are based on academic resources.

How many Universities and Colleges Accept the TOEFL Scores?

The TOEFL exam is one of the leading language proficiency exams that is widely used and accepted by thousands of educational institutions worldwide. Furthermore, it is accepted by 11500 universities and colleges in over 160 countries globally.  

Top universities such as Ivy League schools also highly recognized the TOEFL. And also, it is accepted by the Russell Group of schools in the UK, universities in Australia, Canada, the United States, and more. 

Is TOEFL Easier than IELTS?

The TOEFL and IELTS are highly recognized and accepted by different institutions worldwide, including prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale University. In addition, these language proficiency exams are known to deliver reliable and accurate language proficiency assessments. 

Many test-takers find the TOEFL easier than the IELTS. Comparing these two language exams in terms of the exam structure makes the TOEFL easier and more manageable than the IELTS. 

The test-takers highlighted that TOEFL uses American accents in the Speaking test section, which are easy to understand compared to the IELTS. However, it does not mean the IELTS exam is more complex or challenging. The concept of difficulty is subjective. So it is better to be prepared and take many practice tests to familiarize yourself.