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TOEFL Exam Pattern

Updated On - April 13th 2018

TOEFL is an English Language Proficiency test conducted accepted globally by various prestigious Institutes/Universities for admitting candidates who are non-native English Speakers. TOEFL iBT Test is a trademark of ETS (Educational Testing Service), a private not-for-profit organization. Knowledge about the ToEFL Syllabus is necessary for candidates to excel in the exam.


TOEFL Pattern is considered to be one of the most difficult by many language experts. Candidates usually have to undergo special classes/coaching for TOEFL Preparation as per the TOEFL Syllabus. The TOEFL Syllabus is designed to assess students in various skills of English Language such as reading, listening, speaking and writing.

Check TOEFL vs. IELTS: Which one to choose?

The candidates should be updated with the TOEFL Syllabus & Pattern. The TOEFL Pattern comprises 4sections namely Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. The test is conducted in online mode at designated specific ETS-approved test centers. The test is aimed to evaluate whether the candidates are ready to pursue academic courses and communicate with ease in proper English Speaking environment.

TOEFL Pattern Highlights

The important highlights of TOEFL Pattern are mentioned in the table below. Candidates should carefully go through the structure and pattern of the TOEFL before they start devising their preparation strategy.

Mode of TestOnline mode via Secure Internet Gateway
No. of questions36-5634-51 questions6 questions2 questions
Time Allotted60-80 minutes60-90 minutes20 minutes50 minutes
Types of QuestionsRead 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questionsListen to Lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, and then respond to questionsExpress Opinion on a particular topic/ Speak based on reading and listening tasksWrite responses in the form of essay based on reading and listening tasks/ support the opinion in writing
Integrated Skills Required/TestedRead, listen, and then speak in response to a question
Listen and then speak in response to a question
Read, listen, and then write in response to a question

NOTE 1: There can be additional questions as per TOEFL Pattern in the Reading or Listening Section which are actually not considered for determining the overall score of candidates. Such questions are meant to enable ETS for comparing the test scores across different test administrations or else these are new questions that are meant to test their functionality in actual testing circumstances.

NOTE 2: There is a mandatory ten minutes break in the middle of the online testing session.

TOEFL Reading

The Reading section in TOEFL Exam comprises 3-4 passages and 36-56 questions related to those passages. Candidates have to read those questions on the screen and then respond on the basis of related questions. Normally, there are 60-80 minutes allotted for answering the TOEFL Reading Section.

According to the TOEFL Pattern, there will be 12-14 questions related to each passage. Candidates would be judged on the basis of their fluency and speed at which the candidate is reading the paragraph.


Candidates are required to prepare well for the Reading exercise as the passages are set from formal English academic texts. Candidates are required to discern the main gist, important points and details in the paragraph, usage of grammar and vocabulary, etc. Also, candidates are required to understand various ideas connected throughout the passage.

Format of Questions in TOEFL Reading Section

There are primarily 3 question formats in the reading section. Candidates are required to answer the following questions:

  1. Questions with 4 choices and a single answer in conventional Multiple Choice Questions format
  2. Questions with 4 choices and a single answer. Candidates have to “insert a sentence” at the appropriate place in the paragraph.
  3. “Reading to learn” questions with more than 4 choices and more than one correct option

NOTE: All the passages are accompanied with a “reading to learn” question. Such questions are aimed at testing candidate’s ability to comprehend the organization of a passage and complex relationships among various facts and ideas throughout the passage.

Candidates have to sort the information for such questions and place them in the form of category charts or summary. Summary questions are worth two points while for chart questions 3 points if the number of options provided are up to 5 and 4 points if the number of options provided are up to 7.

Tips to Prepare for TOEFL Reading

Candidates can make use of these helpful tips provided by experts and test providers to perform well in the TOEFL Reading Section:

  • Focus on increasing your vocabulary by maintaining the record of new words. Try to prepare word lists from different academic fields/disciplines and try to review them frequently.
  • Try on understanding the organization of academic texts by deciphering the main ideas and the related details. Make list of important points and try summarizing them.
  • Candidates need to increase their reading speed. The best way is to read a short article or paragraph and try to record the time of reading that paragraph. Review your progress on a regular basis.
  • To read the information carefully, identify the type of passage: cause/effect, compare/contrast, classification, problem/solution, description, narration
  • Organize the information in the passage:
  1. Create a list of all the major and minor points in the passage
  2. Create appropriate chart to present the details if the passage categorizes information
  3. Try to make a summary of the passage using the charts, lists and outlines
  4. Focus on skimming the passage to get a general impression of the main idea. Also, read the introductory paragraph, first sentences of paragraphs and concluding paragraph to get a basic synopsis of the topic.
  5. Find some unfamiliar passages in the paragraph and try to make a guess regarding their meanings on the basis of their context.
  6. Try to paraphrase the individual sentences in a paragraph and also paraphrase the entire paragraph


TOEFL Listening

The listening round comprises of recorded lectures, classroom discussions and conversations. Candidates have to comprehend the basic idea as well as other major related points. They have to gauge the speakers’ degree of certainty, attitude and function. All the conclusions are required to infer and draw conclusions on the implication of the photograph.

The TOEFL pattern and duration of the listening exercise is mentioned in the table below.

Listening MaterialNumber of QuestionsSection Duration
4-6 lectures; each 3-5 minutes long6 questions per lecture60-90 minutes
2-3 conversations; approximately 3 mins long5 questions per conversation

The lectures in the TOEFL iBT test are designed to reflect the kind of listening and speaking taking place in an actual classroom setting while the conversations are usually office meeting with a professor or teaching assistant, or during a service encounter with university staff. The listening activities are mostly academic in nature.

Format of questions in TOEFL Listening

There are 3 types of questions in the TOEFL Listening section primarily.

  • MCQs with more than 1 correct answer (for eg, 2 answers out 4 or more choices)
  • Questions designed to put events or steps of a process in a proper sequence
  • Questions in which candidates have to match objects or text to categories in a table.


Tips to Prepare for TOEFL Listening

Listening is usually one of the most neglected activity in our daily life. Candidates are required to practice listening as per TOEFL Pattern with the help of various listening activities.

  • Try to listen to different kind of audio file on a wide range of topics: academic conversations, NPR and BBC broadcasts, television shows and movies, etc.
  • Focus on active listening: Prepare notes as you start listening to various content, keep a record of new words and expressions you hear in your daily life, anticipate what you are going to hear next from the context
  • Listen to the news and lecture online and also follow the written script carefully. Focus on the words that speaker stresses on.
  • Check the portion of a lecture or talk and create list of significant points. Write a brief summary with the help of these important points.
  • Notice the speaker’s style and degree of certainty. Try to understand the tone of the speaker, stress and intonation patterns of the speaker.
  • Try to identify the relationship between different ideas.
  • Point out the signal words while listening that indicate the introduction, major steps or ideas, examples and the conclusion or summary


TOEFL Pattern: Speaking

The speaking activity in the TOEFL Pattern is designed to measure the ability of the candidate to speak in English in proper academic environment. The tasks are aimed at replicating real-life situations that situations would encounter in their everyday life.

Candidates would be required to speak on topics based on personal experience, campus-based situations and academic content. The speaking section is estimated 20 minutes long and includes 6 questions. The first 2 questions are called Independent Speaking Tasks based on their own experiences, ideas and opinions.

The remaining 4 questions are known as Integrated Speaking Tasks as they require the candidates to integrate their English Language skills listening and speaking, or listening, reading and speaking which actually emulate the real life scenarios.

Format of Questions in TOEFL Speaking

The format of tasks in TOEFL Speaking section is mentioned in the table below. Candidates are required to perform the these tasks in the stipulated time period.

Independent Tasks
1. Personal PreferenceThis question asks you to express and defend a personal choice from a given category—for example, important people, places, events or activities that you enjoy.Preparation time: 15 seconds
Response time: 45 seconds
2. ChoiceThis question asks you to make and defend a personal choice between two contrasting behaviours or courses of action.Preparation time: 15 seconds
Response time: 45 seconds
Integrated Tasks
3. Campus Situation Topic: Fit and Explain• A reading passage (75–100 words) presents a campus-related issue.Preparation time: 30 seconds
• A listening passage (60–80 seconds; 150–180 words) comments on the issue in the reading passage. -
• The question asks you to summarize the speaker’s opinion within the context of the reading passage.Response time: 60 seconds
4. Academic Course Topic: General/Specific• A reading passage (75–100 words) broadly defines a term, process or idea from an academic subject.Preparation time: 30 seconds
• An excerpt from a lecture (60–90 seconds; 150–220 words) provides examples and specific information to illustrate the term, process or idea from the reading passage. -
• The question asks you to combine and convey important information from the reading passage and the lecture excerpt.Response time: 60 seconds
5. Campus Situation Topic: Problem/Solution• The listening passage (60–90 seconds; 180–220 words) is a conversation about a student-related problem and two possible solutions.Preparation time: 20 seconds
• The question asks you to demonstrate an understanding of the problem and to express an opinion about solving the problem. -
 -Response time: 60 seconds
.6. Academic Course Topic: Summary• The listening passage (90–120 seconds; 230–280 words) is an excerpt from a lecture that explains a term or concept and gives concrete examples to illustrate that term or concept.Preparation time: 20 seconds
• The question asks you to summarize the lecture and demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the examples and the overall topic. -
 -Response time: 60 seconds
TOTAL 20 minutes


  1. Candidates will hear short spoken conversations or passages for questions that involve listening.
  2. Candidates have to read short written passages on their screen for the questions involving reading.

Candidates are allowed to take notes during the speaking section and use it when they are responding to the questions. Responses would be recorded via microphone and forwaded to ETS online scoring Network.


Scoring TOEFL Speaking Section

Responses would be scored considering several parameters. The raters would be looking for following features while scoring the responses:

  • Delivery: Clarity and fluidity of the speech, that includes good pronunciation, natural pacing and natural sounding intonation patterns
  • Use of language: Effective use of grammar and vocabulary to convey your ideas
  • Development of Topic: Completeness of the answer and coherence of answers. A typically good response has clear progression from one idea to another.

Tips to Prepare for TOEFL Speaking

Some handy tips for TOEFL Speaking Section according to the TOEFL Pattern are mentioned below. For the speaking section, candidates are required to use a headset with microphone for giving response.

  • Create a list of familiar topics and practice speaking on them.
  • Try to recount your experience of previous day in one minute. Focus on the correct use of tense.
  • Narrate a familiar story to different groups of people and try to improve you speed over time.
  • Collect different pictures from different magazines and newspapers. Look at the pictures and try to describe them in 1 minute.
  • Express an opinion or preference using clear and detailed reason. Try and use connecting phrases and sentences to better explain the opinions in a better manner.
  • Read short article from Newspaper or textbook. Put down few questions on a paper and then answer them orally.
  • Read an article or listen to talk show on any issue of your interest. Prepare a small one minute speech focused on the article or talk.
  • Try to find reading and listening material on the same topic. Then do the following activities:
  1. Prepare notes and create lists of important points on the listening and reading material.
  2. Orally summarize the information of the listening and the reading material.
  3. Express the opinion about various ideas and information presented in the listening and reading material. Also focus on properly paraphrasing while using different words and grammatical structures.

TOEFL Pattern Writing

The final section of the TOEFL Exam is the writing section. TOEFL Writing section is aimed at assessing candidates’ ability to fluently write in English in a proper academic environment. Candidates must be able to relate their ideas in writing in a clear and concise manner in the writing test.

Candidates would be often required to engage in “integrated writing” methodology which is involves a combination of different types of skills such as Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. The candidates would be often required to:

  • Take notes on what they experience and also take proper notes to organize their information in a structured manner while writing.
  • Properly summarize, paraphrase and precisely cite information from source material.
  • Write about ways in which the information you heard and read is related

Format of questions in TOEFL Writing

The writing test is also conducted on the online mode. Candidates are required to perform one of the following tasks as indicated in the table below.

Task TypeDescription
Task 1
Integrated Writing Task Read/Listen/Write• You read a short text of about 230–300 words (reading time: three minutes) on an academic topic.
• You may take notes on the reading passage.
• The reading passage disappears from the screen during the lecture that follows. It reappears when you begin writing so you can refer to it as you work.
• You listen to a speaker discuss the same topic from a different perspective. The listening passage is about 230–300 words long (listening time: two minutes).
• The listening passage provides additional information that relates to points made in the reading passage. You may take notes on the listening passage.
• You write a summary in connected English prose of important points made in the listening passage and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. Suggested response length is 150–225 words; however, there is no penalty for writing more as long as it is in response to the task presented.
Task 2
Independent Writing• You write an essay that states, explains and supports your opinion on an issue. An effective essay will usually contain a minimum of 300 words; however, you may write more if you wish.
• You must support your opinions or choices rather than simply list personal preferences or choices.
Writing from Experience and Knowledge• Typical essay questions begin with statements such as:
– Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use reasons and specific details to support your answer.
– Some people believe [X]. Other people believe [Y]. Which of these two positions do you prefer/agree with? Give reasons and specific details.

Tips to Prepare for TOEFL Writing

Candidates are required to develop fundamental writing skills before they start focusing in more targeted practice. The following tips are prepared considering the TOEFL Pattern. It would help candidates to perform better in the TOEFL Writing Section.

  • Try to remember conventions of spelling, punctuation and paragraph creation
  • Focus on organizing good paragraphs and essays. An ideal paragraph focuses on one central idea. The main idea should be ideally stated in the first sentence. All the paragraphs in an essay should cover one of the main aspects of the essay.
  • Conceptualize about your topic, particularly in terms of the grammatical usage in the topic.
  • Practice typing on QWERTY keyboard to improve speed and accuracy.
  • Read your writing 2 to 3 times to identify something in their own writing. Create a checklist of errors you commonly make.
  • Focus on paraphrasing 2 to 3 sentences and gradually focus on paraphrasing entire paragraphs.
  • Try to memorize synonyms of 10-15 words or phrases in the article without looking them in the dictionary and thesaurus.
  • Try to read two articles on the same topic and create a summary of each of them. Discuss the ways in which the article is similar and ways in which the article is different. 

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, which will be updated soon subject to the notification issued by the University/College


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