TOEFL 2020: Exam Pattern and Syllabus, Section Wise Details

    Sayantani Barman Sayantani Barman
    Study Abroad Expert

    TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language is a language proficiency exam taken mostly by those who want to pursue higher studies or migrate to English speaking nations. ETS conducts TOEFL at least for 50 dates a year. Test takers can take exams either in TOEFL iBT (Internet Based Test) or TOEFL PBT (Paper Based Test).

    TOEFL 2020: Exam Pattern

    TOEFL iBT is a four-hour computerized exam pattern precisely with four sections: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Each section has its own time limit. Each candidate gets 20 minutes for Speaking and 50 minutes for Writing. For Reading and Listening sections, test takers have to read excerpts taken from different sources.

    Mostly the time allotment for the Reading section in TOEFL is 60-80 minutes whereas time allotment for Listening section is 60-90 minutes. Candidates get a 10 minute break in between sections. For these 10 minutes, there will be a pause in timer. Following this test takers will appear for Writing and speaking section. Candidates should know properly about TOEFL Score before appearing for exam. 

    SectionsTime DurationNo. of QuestionsDetails
    Reading60-80 minutes36-56 questions3-4 reading passages to answer questions
    Listening60-90 minutes34-51 questionsAudio clips of 4-6 short lectures and 2-3 long conversations
    Break10 minutes--
    Speaking20 minutes6 TasksNeed to speak on familiar topics, or any academic related issues
    Writing50 minutes2 TasksArticulate opinion, logic and argument after a comparison between a reading passage and classroom lecture

    TOEFL 2020: Reading

    Test takers have to attempt Reading section in TOEFL first. For this section, candidates have to attempt 36-42 questions within a time period of 60 minutes. In reading section of TOEFL, candidates have to read passages from different texts and to answer variable questions. Usually reading passages for this section are taken from academic topics, art, technology, science, history and psychology. In TOEFL, reading section mostly measures reading skills of the test takers and how well one can comprehend opinions and arguments out of those passages. 

    • 3-4 reading passages will be given for this section 
    • 12-14 questions will be asked from each passage 
    • Scores will be given in raw points and later will be converted to a scale of 30

    TOEFL Reading Section: Types of Questions 

    • Multiple Choice Questions- 1 raw point for each question 
    • Inserting a sentence: In section blanks will be given in which new sentence has to be inserted where it suits the most 
    • Reading to Learn: In this reading section of TOEFL, test takers have to arrange main points taken from the reading passage within a chart and to maintain a coherence within the chart 
    • For Reading to learn section, test takers get 2-3 raw points and one can also manage partial credits if one has answered correctly few of answers. 

    TOEFL Reading Section: Preparation Tips

    • Time management is one of the important things in this section. Test takers have to manage reading each passage within 5 minutes. 
    • Try to read questions before reading passages to know better what to answer
    • Try to answer each question within 1 minute 
    • Attempt to complete a question set within 15 minutes 
    • Try to keep difficult questions for later time 
    • Attempt all the questions, as there is no negative marking in TOEFL 

    TOEFL 2020: Listening

    In Listening section of TOEFL, test takers have to listen to each audio clip with complete concentration as the audio will be played once. Questions set from listening section can vary due to its length. This section measures listening skills of the test takers. In TOEFL, this section measures how well test takers understand the different accents of English. Besides, it also measures how well a test taker listens to every single section with apt concentration. 

    • In this section, test takers have to attempt 34-51 questions within a time period of 60-90 minutes 
    • There will be 6 lectures and 2-3 conversations as listening audio clips 
    • Each lecture audio will last from 3-5 minutes and each conversation audio will last for 3 minutes 
    • 6 questions will be asked from each lecture audio clip 
    • 5 questions will be asked from each conversation audio clip 
    • While playing audio clips, speakers of audio will appear on screen 
    • 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 
    • Listening score will be calculated as total of raw points later it will be scored on a scale of 0-30 

    TOEFL Listening Section: Types of Questions

    • Multiple Choice Question is one of the common types in listening section 
    • Each question in multiple choice question carries 1 raw point 
    • Multiple Answer is the second type of question pattern, where test takers have to choose more than one answer suitable for question
    • For each answer, 1 raw point is allotted 
    • Replay section is also one kind of question type in Listening section, where only a slice of audio clip will be played to answer a particular question 
    • In this section, each answer carries 1 raw point 

    TOEFL Listening Section: Preparation Tips

    • While listening audio clips, test takers have to write down important points for easy to remember
    • Except for Replay questions, test takers can listen to audio clips only for once 
    • Always play attention closely to those Replay questions 
    • Test takers have to understand which part of audio clip is required specifically for question 
    • Always go through options to find out the suitable one for question 
    • Never attempt the first one if it sounds right to one. Always read every option before answering 

    TOEFL 2020: Break

    After Reading and Listening section, test takers get a break for 10 minutes. This little break will help the test takers to concentrate aptly for next sections. With little relaxation in this section, test takers get little time to energize.


    TOEFL 2020: Speaking

    In speaking section of TOEFL, test takers have to attempt six tasks at a stretch. This section is considered to be the shortest one in the exam. Speaking section in TOEFL measures English speaking skills of the candidate. In foreign nations, when a test taker travels to pursue higher education, it is obvious to check speaking skills of the candidate. 

    • Total time allotted for TOEFL speaking section is 20 minutes 
    • Test takers get 45 seconds to speak out opinions around familiar topics for first two independent tasks 
    • Total time allotment of 60 seconds for each audio clip and reading passage is given to the test taker 
    • Speaking section in TOEFL is scored out of scale of 0-4 
    • Later this speaking section is converted out of scale of 0-30 
    • Usually a score above of 22 is considered as good score for speaking section 

    TOEFL Speaking Section: Types of Questions

    • Mostly speaking section in TOEFL is of Independent and Integrated task types 
    • In Independent tasks, there has already been Task 1 and Task 2 focusing on familiar topics 
    • For Task 1 in Independent Task, test taker has to choose 1 option out of many to speak about 
    • For Task 2 in Independent Task, test taker has to choose 1 option out of 2 
    • For both tasks, 15 seconds are allotted to prepare the response and 45 seconds to speak for each task 
    • Speaking section measures how well the test takers articulate opinions with ample number of reasons and examples 
    • Next part in Speaking section is Integrated speaking which consists of 3-6 task types 
    • In Integrated section of Speaking, test takers have to make combine both reading and listening skills along with speaking 
    • For Task 3 and 4, test takers have to read a passage followed by listening to an audio clip. Both reading and listening are required for Task 3 and 4. 
    • 40-50 seconds are allotted to read the passage completely, 60 seconds is required to listen the clip with concentration 
    • 30 seconds are given to test takers to prepare the response and only 60 seconds to explain the point through speaking skills 
    • For Task 5 and 6, test takers have to listen an audio clip properly to answer questions 
    • Audio clip is about 2 minutes long and test takers get 20 seconds to prepare response and 1 minute is allotted to speak 

    TOEFL Speaking Section: Preparation Tips

    • Always use a rough paper to make out a rough diagram what to speak for speaking section 
    • Each section gets 15 seconds as preparation time that should be utilized to get ideas clear 
    • Always point out 4-5 main points to talk about and discuss around the topic 
    • While listening to audio clips, always make bullets for important points 
    • Mostly each passage is of 100 words, therefore it will be easier for test takers to write down notes 
    • For reading passages in detail, test takers get around 45 seconds 
    • Usually length of audio clips vary between 1 minute and 2 minutes 
    • Learn to modulate voice properly while using microphone 
    • Never yell into microphones 
    • If examiners fail to understand what one tries to say, test taker will lose point 
    • Always speak at a natural pace to make every word clear to the examiner 
    • Never use any kind of fake accent 

    TOEFL 2020: Writing

    Writing section of TOEFL measures mostly the writing skills of test takers. This section is crucial for a test taker as one has to articulate logical and rational argument properly through writing skills. The examiners evaluate how well one writes to express opinion about a topic. 

    • Test takers have to write two essays within a time period of 50 minutes 
    • Task 1 is an integrated essay whereas Task 2 is an Independent essay 
    • For Task 1, test taker gets a time period of 20 minutes and for Task 2, total time period of 30 minutes is allotted 
    • Test takers will be measured out of scale of 0-5 for each essay 
    • After two essay scores, number will be converted to a scale of 30 
    • In TOEFL, if a test taker gets a score above 25 is considered as good score 

    TOEFL Writing Section: Types of Questions 

    • In writing section of TOEFL, test takers will have two types of writing tasks to attempt. One is Integrated task and other one is Independent task 
    • For Integrated writing task, test takers will get 3 minutes to read an academic text of around 300 words. 
    • Later test taker has to listen an audio clip of 2 minutes on 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 
    • 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 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 its 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 opinion 

    TOEFL Writing Section: Preparation Tips

    • Before attempting any writing section, always make an outline of both essays 
    • Make bullets to jot down all important points 
    • Never spend too much time in reading passages 
    • One can spend up to 3-4 minutes to get an outline for both essays 
    • Always keep a good amount of time for writing essays properly cratering all points 
    • While writing audio clips, always take notes while reading and listening lectures 
    • Test takers can listen to audio clip once and there is no option of replaying it 
    • Always find out easier points to articulate as support statement 
    • If one is confident enough to articulate logical argument properly, then one can feel free to express rationality to support that 
    Preparation Tips

    TOEFL 2020: Preparation Tips

    Before deciding to take the exam, test takers should have a proper approach to improve TOEFL score. Few steps as preparation tips for TOEFL are as follows 

    • First get a proper overview on the format of TOEFL before appearing for exam 
    • Always go for a score that can be easily achieved 
    • Never hope for too high 
    • At least give 6 months for preparation period 
    • Always take innumerable numbers of mock tests to understand the format 
    • Take an early date for TOEFL exam so that if one thinks of retaking the exam then has an ample time before application deadlines to the session
    • It is advisable to take exam at least 10 weeks before application deadlines 
    • Always find out your strengths and weaknesses to focus during preparation 
    • Focus on practicing weak sections to improve 
    • Make a proper strategy before preparation to find out ample time to focus on each section 
    • Try to practice previous year’s question papers to understand exam pattern 
    • For better vocabulary, start learning new words from books, novel, newspaper, handbooks 
    • Start listening English news or radio to cope up with accent 
    • Practice multiple answer questions because it is quite difficult for test takers to choose more than one correct answers from multiple choices 
    • Get a proper idea of score scale for TOEFL before preparation 

    CheckTOEFL Sample Papers 


    Ques. How many sections are there in TOEFL question paper?

    Ans: TOEFL 2020 exam will have four sections- Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. The purpose is to examine your all round proficiency in English language.

    Ques: How many questions are asked in the Speaking Skills sections? How much time will I be given to finish answering this section?

    Ans: In the Speaking Skills section, you can expect around 4 tasks which will be given to you. You will be given exactly 17 minutes to answer this section.

    Ques: What will I be required to do to clear the Speaking Skills section?

    Ans: You will be given a topic to speak on. The topic will be something familiar to you.

    Ques: How many questions are asked in the Reading Skills sections? How much time will I be given to finish answering this section?

    Ans: In the Reading Skills section, you can expect around 30 to 40 questions. You will be given 54 to 72 minutes to finish answering the given questions.

    Ques: What kind of questions will I be asked in the Reading Skills section?

    Ans: You will be provided with 3 to 4 excerpts from academic texts. You will be asked questions based on the given paragraphs.

    Ques: How many questions are asked in the Listening Skills sections? How much time will I be given to finish answering this section?

    Ans: The Listening Skills sections consists of 28 to 38 questions and you will be allowed to finish answering this section within 41 to 57 minutes.

    Ques: What kind of tasks will I have to complete in the Listening Skills section?

    Ans: You will be asked to listen to lectures, conversations and classroom discussions. Thereafter, you will be given questions to answer on the basis of what you were made to listen to.

    Ques: How many questions are asked in the Writing Skills sections? How much time will I be given to finish answering this section?

    Ans: To successfully complete this section, you will have to finish 2 tasks within a maximum time of 50 minutes.

    Ques: What kind of tasks will I be given to complete in the Writing Skills section?

    Ans: In this section, you will have to write essays responses based on reading and listening skills. You will also be expected to support your arguments and opinions through your writing skills.

    Ques: Is there any break between the 4 sections of TOEFL exam?

    Ans: Yes, there is a break of 10 minutes after the first two sections, that is, Reading and Listening. Thereafter, you will have to appear for the next two sections, that is, Speaking and Writing.

    Ques: Please tell me more about the division of marks among the four sections of TOEFL exam.

    Ans: Have a look at the table below to get a fair idea about the division of marks in TOEFL.

    SectionMaximum Marks
    Reading Skills30 marks
    Listening Skills30 marks
    Writing Skills30 marks
    Speaking Skills30 marks
    Total marks120 marks

    Ques: What is the mean score in the 4 sections of TOEFL exam?

    Ans: In the table below is provided the mean score for each section of TOEFL.

    SectionMean Score
    Reading Skills20 marks
    Listening Skills19 marks
    Writing Skills20 marks
    Speaking Skills19 marks
    Total marks80 marks

    Ques: What are the best books that I should read to cover the syllabus of TOEFL in a comprehensive manner?

    Ans: These are some of the books you should refer to prepare for TOEFL in the best possible manner:

    • Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test
    • Vocabulary, and Grammar for the TOEFL Test
    • Oxford Preparation for the TOEFL iBT Exam
    • NorthStar Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT
    • TOEFL iBT: The Official ETS Study Guide
    • The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test iBT Edition by Bruce Rogers
    • Delta's Key to the TOEFL iBT: Advanced Skill Practice

    *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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