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TOEFL Exam Pattern 2021: Syllabus, New Pattern,Section Wise Details, Question Types and Practice Papers

Sayantani Barman logo

Sayantani Barman

Study Abroad Expert | Updated On -Jun 10, 2021

TOEFL exam pattern 2021 comprises English reading, writing, speaking, and listening. TOEFL reading and listening section consists of MCQs and total number of MCQs in these two sections is 58-79. The tasks of TOEFL writing section are descriptive. In the speaking section, the candidates need to provide short to long answers to the questions asked. The total duration of the TOEFL exam is around 3 hours. TOEFL measures the candidate’s performance by mixing the four distinctive language skills through:

  • Reading a passage, listening to a recording/lecture, and responding by speaking to a specific question;
  • Listening to a recording/lecture and responding by writing the answer to a specific question;
  • Reading a passage, listening to a recording/lecture, and responding by writing to a specific question.

Note: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak ETS has arranged for the TOEFL at-home edition. Candidates can take the exam from the safety of their home.

What is the passing score for TOEFL test?

There is no mentioned passing score for TOEFL. Each university has set its own score criteria for admission purposes. For TOEFL ibt, average score is 74.2 for undergraduate and 82.6 for graduate students. 

Is the TOEFL test hard?

Compared to other exams like SAT or ACT, TOEFL is considered easier. It is the language proficiency exam measuring the linguistic skills of the test-takers. IELTS Reading section is comparatively easier than the TOEFL reading section.

Is TOEFL Harder than IELTS?

Though both are English proficiency tests certain statements state that TOEFL is slightly more difficult than IELTS. Especially the reading section of TOEFL is considered harder than IELTS.

Check out:  IELTS vs TOEFL

TOEFL Exam Pattern

TOEFL Exam Pattern 2021

Accepted by over 11,000 educational institutes worldwide, the TOEFL iBT is a four-hour computerized exam pattern precisely with four sections: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Over 35 million candidates take the test to showcase their English aptitude. The TOEFL exam syllabus is measured on a score range of 0 - 120.

What is TOEFL Exam Syllabus?

Sections Time Duration No. of Questions Details
Reading 60-80 minutes 36-56 questions 3-4 reading passages to answer questions
Listening 60-90 minutes 34-51 questions Audio clips of 4-6 short lectures and 2-3 long conversations
Break 10 minutes - -
Speaking 20 minutes 6 Tasks Need to speak on familiar topics or any academic-related issues
Writing 50 minutes 2 Tasks Articulate opinion, logic, and argument after a comparison between a reading passage and classroom lecture

Check out: IELTS vs TOEFL

TOEFL Reading

TOEFL Reading Pattern

In the TOEFL test pattern, the reading section appears at first. The main focus of the TOEFL reading is assessing how capable the candidate is in understanding English and also provide an accurate response to it.

  • TOEFL test pattern of reading is related to academic study materials;
  • 3-4 reading passages of around 700 words is provided as prompts;
  • 10 questions will be asked from each passage
  • Time allotted for the TOEFL iBT pattern of reading is 54 - 72 minutes
  • Excerpts derived from university-level textbooks
  • TOEFL reading passages cover various subjects
  • Scores will be given in raw points and later will be converted to a scale of 30

Check out: TOEFL Reading Topics

TOEFL Reading Question Types

  • Factual Information and Negative Factual Information: Factual information question structure aims at the main ideas, supporting facts, and definitions. Negative factual information questions are mostly similar with the only difference in identifying the single false answer from the list of 4. Note the words ‘NOT’ and ‘EXCEPT’ while answering negative factual information questions.
  • Inference and Rhetorical: The inference questions of the TOEFL exam pattern and syllabus of reading direct at explaining identifying the ambiguous statement of the passage. Inference questions can be identified by seeing words like ‘INFERRED’, ‘IMPLIES’, and ‘ SUGGESTS’. Rhetorical purpose questions are highly similar with the only difference of answering the question ‘WHY’, thereby stating the purpose.
  • Recognizing Vocabulary: Probably the easiest to answer, vocabulary questions in the TOEFL latest pattern of reading requires the candidates to find and answer the meanings of certain highlighted words in the passage.
  • Sentence Explanation: these kinds of questions in the TOEFL pattern of reading requires the candidates to identify the difference in very similar sentences and choose the one explained in a more simplified manner.
  • Insert Text: This type of reading questions aim at analyzing the logical placement of ideas in a particular reading passage. There is one insert text question in all the reading passages.
  • Prose Summary: This kind of questions in the TOEFL question pattern of reading requires the candidates to recognize the main ideas and significance of the reading passage. There are 6 answer choices with 3 correct ones.

Check out: TOEFL Reading Practice Papers

TOEFL Listening

TOEFL Listening Pattern

Since listening is one of the most significant skills required to reside abroad, TOEFL listening concentrates on evaluating the aspirant’s ability to understand not only the English language but also the different accents used across the globe. Universities will have lectures, workplaces will require constant communication - TOEFL listening measures every aspect while taking the test.

The TOEFL new exam pattern of listening has two categories - Lectures and Conversations:

  1. 3 - 4 lectures having 3 - 5 minutes duration accompanied by 6 questions per lecture;
  2. 2 -3 conversations with 2 speakers, each having 3 minus duration accompanied by 5 questions per conversation;

More points to be noted about the TOEFL new pattern of listening are:

  • The total time period is 60-90 minutes;
  • While playing audio clips, speakers of audio will appear on the screen
  • The test taker can find specific term written on-screen taken from audio clip
  • Test takers can also hear different accents of English in audio clips
  • The listening score will be calculated as the total of raw points later it will be scored on a scale of 0-30.

Check out: TOEFL Listening Preparation Tips

TOEFL Listening Question Types

  1. Gist Content/Purpose: the gist content asks you to provide the fundamental idea of the recording listened to. Whereas, the gist purpose asks you to find the main aim of the recording. This question type can be recognized by phrases like - ‘MAINLY ABOUT’, ‘MAINLY DISCUSSING’, ‘WHY DOES THE STUDENT’, ‘WHAT IS THE MAIN PURPOSE;

Check out: TOEFL Listening Question Details

  1. Detail Questions: This kind of question ask the candidate to provide the factual details they derived from the recording. This can be recognized by questions like - ‘ACCORDING TO..’, ‘WHAT IS…’;
  2. Function: This kind of question require the candidate to identify the original meaning of the context given. The difference between the surface meaning and real meaning needs to be studied here;
  3. Attitude: Here, the candidates need to identify the attitude or expression of the stated words. It can be identified by phrases like - ‘WHAT IS THE PROFESSOR’S ATTITUDE?’, ‘WHAT DOES THE CANDIDATE THINK ABOUT?’
  4. Organization: This type of question require the candidate to showcase how the lecture is structured. This can include questions like - ‘WHY DOES THE PROFESSOR MENTION ABOUT..?’, ‘WHY DOES THE PROFESSOR DISCUSS…?’
  5. Connections in Content: This question type focuses on the connections among the ideas given in the lecture. This question generally appears in the fill in the blanks type with questions like - ‘WHAT IS THE LIKELY OUTCOME..”
  6. Inference: The candidate needs to identify the underlying meaning of the lecture since it will not be explicitly stated.

Check out: TOEFL Listening Practice Papers

TOEFL Speaking

TOEFL Speaking Pattern

While attending a lecture, enquiring about a topic, or presenting a PPT, speaking in English becomes the most essential skill and the TOEFL speaking test assesses the necessary skills to ensure fluency. The main motive of the TOEFL speaking pattern is determining the candidate’s convenience in speaking English in educational instances.

Check out: TOEFL Speaking Topics

TOEFL Speaking Questions Types

The TOEFL iBT exam pattern of speaking consists of two tasks:

  1. Question 1 - Independent Task: This task asks the test-takers to present their own thoughts, opinions, and experiences;
  2. Questions 2 - 4 - Integrated Task: This is a cross-functional task where alongside the speaking skills, the listening, writing, and reading skills are integrated.

Few more crucial points to be noted about the new TOEFL pattern of speaking:

  • The total time allotted for the TOEFL speaking section is 20 minutes
  • Test takers get 45 seconds to speak out opinions around familiar topics for the first two independent tasks
  • A total time allotment of 60 seconds for each audio clip and reading passage is given to the test taker
  • The speaking section in TOEFL is scored out of a scale of 0-4
  • Later this speaking section is converted out of a scale of 0-30
  • Speaking section measures how well the test takers articulate opinions with an ample number of reasons and examples
  • Usually, a score above 22 is considered a good score for the speaking section

Check out: TOEFL Speaking Preparation Tips

  • 15 - 30 seconds o preparation time is allotted before speaking;
  • The response should be 45 - 60 seconds long;
  • You will be required to speak into a microphone where the recorded response will be sent to ETS;
  • Independent task provides two situations, you will be required to choose the suitable one and speak on it;
  • Integrated speaking task - Question 2 consist of reading and listening passages, the opinion of the speaker needs to be focused upon and how their statements affect the reading passage;
  • Question 3 of the integrated task will always be concentrated on a particular academic term as found in the first year of university;
  • Question 4 of the integrated task concentrates on an excerpt derived from an academic topic

Check out: TOEFL Speaking Practice Papers

TOEFL Writing

TOEFL Writing Pattern

To excel in the university, or workplace writing a proper answer or report is a necessity. English-speaking nations are very strict about English writing as well. Therefore, the TOEFL writing pattern places all its focuses on not only testing through an essay but also similar cross-functional tasks like integrated writing.

Check out: TOEFL Writing Topics

TOEFL Writing Questions Types

The two categories of TOEFL writing pattern are:

  1. Integrated writing task: similar to the speaking task, this requires the candidates to thoroughly read a passage, pay attention to a brief lecture, and eventually provide a response of the listened and read materials;
  2. Independent writing task: Similar to the speaking task, here the candidate is required to present their own ideas, opinions, and experiences through writing.

Few more points to note about the 2021 and TOEFL 2020 pattern of writing:

  • Test takers have to write two essays within a time period of 50 minutes
  • For Task 1, the test taker gets a time period of 20 minutes and for Task 2, a total time period of 30 minutes is allotted
  • Test takers will be measured out on a scale of 0-5 for each essay
  • After two essay scores, the number will be converted to a scale of 30
  • In TOEFL, if a test taker gets a score above 25 is considered a good score
  • For the Integrated writing task, test-takers will get 3 minutes to read an academic text of around 300 words.
  • It will be followed by listening to an audio clip of 2 minutes on the lecture
  • After reading and listening, test takers have to explain how audio clip on lecture and passage will support each other to articular any opinion or logical argument
  • The test taker will get 20 minutes to complete Task 1 in 150-225 words
  • While writing the answer, test takers can get a view of the reading passage continuously at the side
  • Task 2 is an Independent writing task, where one will not get any reading passage or audio clip to listen to
  • In this section, test takers have to write on a particular opinion on their own
  • Within 30 minutes, test takers have to complete Task 2 in 300 words
  • Usually, for Task 2, test takers are given familiar topics to write on to express an opinion

Check out: TOEFL Writing Practice Papers

The TOEFL paper pattern is hardly taken by candidates since the internet is present worldwide. Still, the very minute percentage of candidates for whom the internet is not available to take the TOEFL PBT exam. If you are aspiring to take the TOEFL exam, ensure to keep a check on the TOEFL exam marks pattern as well.

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


In writing section, do I need to add factual data as well?
diya suresh

Yes you can add factual data while writing for aggreeing or disagreeing to a statement. In writing section, there are two types of writing namely Integrated writing and Independent writing. The pattern for both is different and also the word limit and time is also different. You will get more details about the section at TOEFL writing section.

koyena biswas
What are the types of questions asked in "Summary question" of reading section?
nitin yaduvanshi

Prose type summary questions come at the end of reading secrio. The questions that follow a TOEFL Reading passage give you a chance to carefully look at each paragraph in detail before you get to the final summary question. You can use this to improve your performance in the Prose Summary question at the end.

ambar ahirawar
Can you give me example of the topics asked in TOEFL independent writing paper?
diya suresh

Independent writing section includes a topic and you have to write an opinion on the same. Some of the topics that can be asked are as follows:

  • Alone vs group
  • Business ideas, leadership and management
  • Children growth in the era of technology
  • Education system, group study, foreign education, school education system of recent time
  • Game performance of a country or club
  • Innovative ideas
  • Job perspectives
  • Overuse of technology, online and offline
  • Personal experience of fear or happiness or any feeling
  • Personal growth, personal taste, personal values
  • Presentation

shivkumar dama
Can I get the topics for listening section?
diya suresh

TOEFL listening section consists of 3 types of audio:

  • Audio of conversation between a university student and professor
  • Lecture in a class with interruptions
  • Lecture in a class without interruptions

The topics are unpredictable and diverse from different sections of science and arts including the following:

  • Physics
  • Sociology
  • Life Science
  • Poetry
  • Social science
  • Historical Architecture
  • Weather science
  • Literature
  • Geographical areas and their theory
  • Biography
  • Pollution
  • Books
  • Solar energy
  • Current happenings from journals, magazines, and newspapers
  • Planets, astronomy, and cosmology
  • Music and theory among others

Find details at list of TOEFL listening topics.

sandesh kumar
Is there any difference in syllabus of TOEFL iBT and PBT?
diya suresh

TOEFL PBT does not have speaking section while iBT mode has 4 sections including speaking. Apart from this there is no severe difference between the two modes in terms of syllabus. Most of Universities accept score of iBT over PBT.

TOEFL iBT scoring is done on a scale of 0-30 for each of the 4 sections while in case of TOEFL PBT, a more complex scoring is used where each section is between the range of 310-677. Find more details at TOEFL iBT 2021.

What is the marking scheme of the exam?
diya suresh

Each section has different criteria fro alloting raw score. The score is then averaged or combined to get the overall score for the exam in a scale between 0 and 30. Raw score is converted into scaled score. Each section will be given a score out of 30 but Universities mostly considers overall test sore for admissions. 

md hussain ansari
Is TOEFL PBT easier than TOEFL iBT?
manisha malik

There is no clear distinction whether PBT is easier or not than iBT. It is simply an alternative in the countries where the candidates can’t always opt out for iBT exam. TOEFL PBT isn’t always accepted by all the colleges during admission. 

prachi doshi
What is the time duration of TOEFL IBT in December 2020? If the time has reduced then in which section do we get less time now?
diya suresh

Hi Prachi, The total time duration for TOEFL IBT is approximately 3½ hours that includes 3 hours of exam and half an hour for check in formalities. Tiem for each section is given below:

  • Reading – 54-72 minutes
  • Listening – 41-57 minutes
  • Speaking – 17 minutes
  • Writing – 50 minutes

For more details on TOEFL 2020 exam details click here

sadim ansari
Has there been any change in exam pattern this year?
swati srivastava

Hi Sadim, TOEFL exam timing has been reduced to 3 hours else there is no change till date. For more details visit: TOEFL EXAM

utkarsha khatri
TOEFL PBT has reduced syllabus for 2021 exam?
manika gupta

Hi, No, there is no official update on the reduction of syllabus, Hence, students are advised to prepare from the previous syllabus only.

swati srivastava

Hi Utkarsha, the no. of questions has been reduced but there is no reduction in the syallabus till date. For more details visit: TOEFL EXAM

What is the change in TOEFL- paper delivered test?
diya suresh

Hi Pradeepraj, TOEFL paper delivered test as the name suggests does not require internet.

  • does not include speaking section
  • time duration is 1 hour less than internet version
  • less preferred than iBT mode
  • exam centers for paper delivered test is less
  • markings scheme is different

For more details on TOEFL PBT mode click here.

ashish singh
Can I prepare for exam online?
swati srivastava

Hi Ashish, you can prepare for exam online. For details visit: TOEFL EXAM PREPARATION

uma goenka
What is the syllabus of writing section?
gurpreet singh

Hi uma,

To get complete information about TOEFL writing section patter and syllabus, please refer to the article mentioned below: TOEFL Exam Pattern

dharshini rajendran
From where should I prepare for TOEFL iBT listening?
diya suresh

Hi Dharshini, Practise more and more sample papers on TOEFL iBT listening from here.

fauzia shahid
Will TOEFL syllabus change next year or is it the same?
diya suresh

Hi Fauzia, the syllabus and other details on TOEFL 2021 will be announced soon. Check here for latest updates on TOEFL exam pattern.

vanshika chandra
Why is the total score and scores of differnet scetions varies in TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT?
devnath tiwary

Dear Vanshika Gupta

Greetings from Collegedunia. The Average Score in all 4 Sections demanded by the Universities is between 22-24 for each section out of score range 0-120 in all 4 sections of the TOEFL Exam. The highest score can be between score range 90-110. For more information, kindly go through this link – TOEFL Score Range

ramesh kumar gupta
Where can I get study material to prepare for exam?
swati srivastava

Hi Ramesh, in order to get help regarding the preparation and study material please click here.

devnath tiwary

Dear Ramesh Kumar Gupta

Greetings from Collegedunia. You can prepare for the TOEFL exam with our practice papers of 4 sections Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. For more exam, kindly go through this link – TOEFL Practice Papers

sheetal chib
Is there any difference in TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT syllabus?
swati srivastava

Hi Sheetal, there is no vast difference in syllabus between the two. For details visit: TOEFL EXAM SYLLABUS

rinki mahapatra
What is TOEFL exam eligibility?
manika gupta

Hi Rinki, Generally, a person who has passed in 10+2 level of education from any recognised institution is an acceptable qualification for TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test. In other words, a candidate should have passed from the high school or equivalent to appear for TOEFL test. For more information, please refer to the following link, TOEFL Exam.

What does TOEFL iBT mean?
manika gupta

Hi neha, iBT is an abbreviation for “internet-based test.” As the name suggests, the TOEFL Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT) is the online version of the TOEFL test .