Everything you need to know about the TOEFL-iBT® Test.

Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes

I have created a summary of relevant information related to taking the TOEFL-iBT® test. This summary has been generated based on the most common questions I get from my students. I hope you find this information useful.

Here is a small index of you will find here, in case you want to skip some details.


What is the TOEFL-iBT test?

Test Overview and Duration


Test Score, Activities and Questions Breakdown

Associated Costs


Things To Do the Day of the Test

What to take to the test and getting there.

When to arrive and upon arival

What Happens After the Test?

Let`s start

What is the TOEFL-iBT test?

The TOEFL-iBT test measures non-native English speakers’ combined ability to read, listen, speak, and write the English language at an academic (university) level.

It is one of the world’s leading tests as it is very reliable and accepted in thousands of schools, colleges, universities, and companies in more than 150 countries.

This is a great test if you are considering applying for a job in and English speaking country or company, as well as applying for an undergraduate or post graduate program in a university.


Test Overview and Duration

The test is broken up into four main core sections:

  1. The Reading Section
  2. The Listening Section
  3.  The Speaking Section
  4. The Writing Section.

Each of the stated sections consists of different tasks, questions, and lengths. The entire TOEFL-iBT Test is expected to take anywhere from 4 to 4 1/2 hours, which may seem long, but is not surprising for a standardized test. In addition to this, you need to add about 30 minutes of check-in time before initiating the test. I suggest my students plan for about 5 hours, at least.

The Reading Section (54 to 72 minutes).

This section should last 54 minutes, with a total of three reading passages. However, due to an experimental program from ETS, you may be given four reading passages and granted 72 minutes to complete the whole section.

You will be asked to read content consisting of academic topics, followed by 10 questions for each passage.

If you are given four passages, one of the four passages will not be considered for your final score, but you will not know which one will be omitted. Therefore you must opt to do your best in every single passage.

The contents of the passages will range from a variety of academic topics to which you do not need to study beforehand.

TIP:The questions asked will directly reference information found within the reading passages. Nevertheless, it is good practice to expand your vocabulary before taking the test, specifically academics and science-related topics, as these will be the themes you will encounter in the test.

The Listening Section (41 to 57 minutes)

Just as the previous section, you may get a more extended version of the test, and you will not know which questions will be directly applied to your final score.

In the short format, you will find three lectures or classes and two conversations totaling five audio exercises, each one of them ranging from 3 to 5 minutes long.

After each audio is completed, you will have to respond to a range of 5 to 6 questions.

Topics and lectures will continue to remain academic related. The conversation will usually be between a student and the professor or two students and their context.

TIP: In this section, you will be allowed to take notes, which are an essential part as you will not be able to memorize the whole audios. Your test center will provide pencil and paper.

Break (10 minutes)

Select the best snacks

Upon completing the listening section, you will be getting a 10-minute break. During this break, it is essential for students to drink water, eat a snack, and go to the bathroom. It is also necessary to walk around a little bit to get the blood flowing after spending the last two hours sitting.

This break is intentional, and it is critical to take it, as it will be better prepare you for the upcoming Speaking and Writing sections where you will be using more productive skills, as opposed to passive skills previously performed.

The Speaking Section (17 minutes)

Your test center will provide you with a headset and the microphone to record your answer to allow for the students to speak to the microphone in increments ranging from 45 seconds to 1 minute.

You will be asked to provide your opinion on a given topic of everyday life. However, in other questions, you will have to integrate information extracted from written content, audio segment, or from sources.

Another format of questions may be presented where you will be asked to summarize audio segments (from a conversation or from a lecture). After you complete your test your recordings will be sent to ETS to be scored by qualified teachers.

Anywhere from 3 to 6 certified teachers will listen to your audio responses and score them on a wide scale of factors, such as accuracy, fluency, pronunciation, and other factors.

Your answer does not necessarily have to be 100% perfect for getting the maximum score. An occasional error is permitted as this is part of natural human speaking. Your pronunciation does not need to be that of native speakers, as there are discrepancies between a native speaker from Ireland and a native speaker from South Africa, for example.

TIP: This may be considered the most challenging section of the test for many students, but it should not have to feel this way. Teachers look for a clear and effortless understanding of your recordings. The pronunciation does not have to be perfect, but it is encouraged to practice in advance.

The Writing Section (50 minutes)

In this section, you will have to complete two writing tasks:

Integrated writing task or integrated essay: You will have to read a piece of content (around 200 words in length) followed by listening to a complementary audio piece. With the information provided, you can proceed to write approximately 200 words for completion.

Independent essay: For this task, you will be asked to write a 300-word essay, giving your opinion from a given statement. Your essays will be read and scored by qualified teachers, and your final score will be averaged and determined based on grammar, punctuation, spelling, cohesion, and other criteria.

Tip: In this section, you will be working with most skills, you will be reading a short passage, listening to a brief lecture and you will be writing. It is fundamental to stay focused as it is the last section, and your body can start taking a toll.


Test Score, Activities and Questions Breakdown

The scale of the test spans from a minimum of 0 to up to 120 points. They divide it equally for each section that has a maximum score of 30 and a minimum score of 0.

It is important to note that most colleges and universities in the US and Canada will require a minimum score of 70 for their pre-graduate programs. This score places the student around a B2 level according to the CEFR. Doing so ensures that students will be able to comprehend academic topics at a university level.

Here is a visualization of the ratio of questions, time, and score for the entire test.

Section Time (in minutes) Questions Score
Reading 54-72 30-40 0-30
Listening 41-57 28-39 0-30
Break 10 0 0
Speaking 17 4 0-30
Writing 50 2 0-30
TOTAL 172-206 64-85 0-120

Associated Costs

1. Preparation Costs

If you wish to prepare for the TOEFL, there are few options that you can take. From a financial perspective, some options are free, while others are not.

Free Options

ETS has released free materials for students to practice at their own pace. In my opinion, this is some of the best content that you can find online; it is in line with the scenarios that are presented during the test. You can check it out by clicking here.

On the downside, the amount of material is very limiting, and it falls short on the practical development areas. Additionally, it is almost impossible to gauge your performance (For example, in The Speaking Section and The Writing Section, there is no one to provide you with constructive feedback that you can learn from).

Paid options

The cost varies

There are two significant options where you will need to invest some money if you want to prepare adequately for the TOEFL test.

One of them is purchasing a book and study with it along with its guidelines. Books and range in prices but are usually way to less than the test itself. I typically recommend the Official Guide, which you can find here.

The other option is soliciting the services of a qualified tutor. Tutors will possess a range of material collected through the years that will be given to you for extra practice. They will have several books guides and exercises in their repertoire that will allow you to practice for a significant number of hours.

Aside from the materials, the tutor will be able to guide you and focus specifically on reinforcing your strong points and improving your weaknesses.

Priceless options

One of the best tools that you can have for preparing for a standardized test is time.

If you have the right level of English (around B2 according to the CEFR), you should not have many difficulties in getting the score you need for the test.

Try to give yourself about three months of preparation time for the test. Try to divide your time so that you can study around 6 to 10 hours per week.

If you decide on a tutor, this does not mean that you have to pay the tutor for those hours. A tutor may be helpful for about 2-4 hours a week, and he/she should give you plenty of material to work with on your own.

If you are time constrained, then you can have a single session a week with your tutor but make sure that you continue practicing throughout the week, or else there will not be enough continuity, and the learning process will be significantly slower.

2. Registration Cost

The test itself can represent a significant investment for many, as prices differ on locations. The test has a cost of around $160 in the US. However, international fees apply depending on the country, and costs can go higher to about $260.

Additionally, there are a variety of fees that increment the value of the test or the extra services that are provided by ETS. For the most up to date information based on your location, visit ETS.org.

Should you have additional questions regarding additional fees, you can also visit ETS’ fees page here.

3. Test Retake Cost

The test can be taken as many times as you want. The obvious downside is that you need to pay for the registration every time you take it. The only limitation you have for taking the test is that you have to wait for a minimum of two weeks to retake it.

Bear in mind that if you did not obtain the score you wanted by about 20 points, then retaking the test in 2 weeks may not help a lot only in experience.

The best thing to do in this case is set approximately 2 to 3 months to study individually but ideally with a qualified tutor. The test is usually taken on Saturdays. However, this is not limited as it can be taken almost any day of the week, and you will find a variety of test centers in most major cities.

Things to Do the Day of the Test

Here are some steps to adequately help you prepare the day of the test.

What to bring?

Must Bring:

You must carry with you one form of an unexpired identity document (also called a piece of identification or ID).

An ID may be any document which may be used to prove a person’s identity. Ensure that it has a recent photo of you along with all your personal information such as name and ID number.

If you are a tourist in the country where you will be taking the test, your passport can serve as a valid ID as long as you submitted that information when you completed your registration process.

Also, you must always take some water and a snack. You can read more about what type of snacks by visiting our other post by clicking here.


Though not requested, I always recommend taking your confirmation ticket, which you get once you have scheduled and paid your registration. Print the document and take it with you.

Some test centers can be quite cold, so it is also recommended for you to take a few layers of clothing, this way if it is cold, you will be protected, but if it gets warm, you can take some layers off.

Not needed:

Although you will be using paper and pencil to take notes during the whole test, this is not something that you have to make as the test center will provide it.

During the test itself, you will be provided with a few sheets of paper, and a pencil and an assistant will be walking around the testing room in case students need more sheets of paper or more pencils.

A headset and microphone will also be provided for the activities and tasks that required so.

When to arrive and upon arival

To help reduce concerns the day of the test, I always recommend to my students to inspect the location days before you are scheduled to take the test. Doing so will help you familiarize the route and look for the nearest public transportation options or parking.

My recommendation is to arrive about 45 minutes before your scheduled time, as this will allow you to compensate for any delays that may arise (weather, traffic, or any other unforeseen issues). Should you arrive late, you will not be admitted or able to take your test, and you will not be eligible for a refund.

A simple protocol is followed when entering as you will have to present your ID and you will be given a short list of instructions.

The test centers should provide a room where you can put your personal belongings, often in lockers as you will not be able to enter the testing room with any electronic devices such as cell phones or other mobile devices.

TIP: During your 10-minute break, you will not have access to your personal belongings. You will only be able to access them once you have completed your test.

If you have a physical limitation or disability, it is essential that you mention this when completing your registration online. ETS provides accommodations upon request. On a case by cases basis, some electronic devices may be permitted to allow for specific accommodations.

What Happens After the Test?

Once you have finished your test, you will have to wait approximately ten working days to receive your score. If you wish you can have your score automatically sent to up to 4 educational institutions for free. If you want to know more of this, you can check out our illustrated post on how to register for the TOEFL, where we go through this step by step process here.

Your score report will be given to you when signing into your account and clicking on View Score. You will get a small chart that details your score in each section as follows:

Test Test Date Reading Listening Speaking Writing Total
TOEFL iBT Sat Jun 22 09:30:15 EST 2019 26 27 25 27 105

I hope this has been a helpful read. It summarizes, in general, the more common questions my students have had through my years of teaching. Be ready for some more posts of related topics. If you would like to know more, keep tuned for our FAQs post coming soon.

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