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The Ultimate TOEFL Guide

About the TOEFL and TOEFL Preparation

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is an evaluation of English language skills taken by university applicants whose native language is not English. Most students who received their secondary and/or tertiary education in another language will be required to demonstrate their suitability for university study in English-speaking countries by passing the TOEFL. Minimum score requirements are set by individual universities, schools, departments, and degree offerings.

The TOEFL currently exists in two versions: the internet-based test (iBT) and the revised paper-delivered test. The paper exam is only provided in countries where online testing is not available, and about 98% of students take the test through the internet. The TOEFL iBT consists of reading, writing, listening, and speaking sections, while the TOEFL revised paper-delivered test has only the first three of these sections. Scoring for both tests is from 0 to 30 per section, in one-point increments. Total scores for the TOEFL iBT are reported from 0 to 120, while no composite score is given for the revised TOEFL paper-delivered test. The iBT is provided more than 50 times per year at test centers in 165 countries, and a required 12-day waiting period between test attempts is the only official limit with respect to multiple administrations.

In terms of timing, the iBT takes between three hours and 20 minutes and four hours and 10 minutes to complete, including a single 10-minute break. TOEFL reading consists of 3-4 passages and 36-56 questions (12-14 questions for each passage), running between 60-80 minutes. TOEFL listening covers 4-6 sample lectures and 2-3 conversations, with 6 questions per lecture and 5 questions per conversation for a total of 34-51 questions in 60-90 minutes. The TOEFL speaking section is the shortest at 20 minutes, and it consists of two independent tasks and four integrated tasks. Finally, the TOEFL writing portion includes an integrated task that takes 20 minutes and an independent task that takes 30 minutes, for a total of 50 minutes.

The revised TOEFL paper-delivered test should not be confused with the TOEFL paper-based test, which was most commonly referred to by its acronym (PBT). The latter was discontinued in 2017 with the introduction of the former. The revised TOEFL paper-delivered test includes reading, listening, and writing sections, but no speaking section. The structure of these sections is different than the TOEFL iBT, and the questions and timing are as follows: reading (42 questions in 60 minutes), listening (34 questions in “approximately” 60 minutes), and writing (two “constructed responses” in 50 minutes). Total revised paper-delivered test timing is two hours and 50 minutes. Once again, the vast majority of students must take the TOEFL iBT, and the PBT is not offered in most countries.

Structure of the TOEFL

The administration of the iBT begins with a 60-80-minute reading section, followed by a 60-90-minute listening section. Test-takers are then given a 10-minute break. The TOEFL iBT concludes with a 20-minute speaking section and a 50-minute writing section. Total testing time can range from three hours and 20 minutes to four hours and 10 minutes (the exact timing is determined by the number of passages in the reading section and by the number of experimental questions, which are unscored). The revised TOEFL paper-delivered test presents its sections in the following order: reading, listening, and writing, at 60, 60, and 50 minutes respectively (total of 170 minutes). The best way to familiarize yourself with the exam is to take a free TOEFL practice test on the Manhattan Review website.

TOEFL Reading

The reading portion of the TOEFL evaluates three core skills: basic reading comprehension, reading to find information, and reading to learn. The reading section includes 3-4 reading passages that are each approximately 700 words in length. These passages are taken from college textbooks in a several subjects, and they are either expository, argumentative, or historical in nature. Test-takers will see three distinct question formats, all of which involve multiple-choice answers. Reading section question formats consist of traditional multiple choice with a single correct answer, exercises that ask test-takers to choose the most appropriate point to insert a given sentence into reading passages, and multiple choice with more than one correct answer. The TOEFL reading section is graded electronically.

TOEFL Listening

The TOEFL listening section emphasizes listening for basic comprehension, listening for pragmatic understanding, and correcting and synthesizing information. Listening exercises include 4-6 academic lecture excerpts (each running between 3–5 minutes in length) and 2-3 conversations (approximately 3 minutes each). Academic lectures can be either professor-only or classroom discussion. Conversations are based on typical out-of-class interactions with faculty and staff. TOEFL listening questions are given in four formats: multiple choice with one correct answer, multiple choice with more than one correct answer, ordering of events or steps in a process, and matching text or objects to categories in a chart. Test-takers must be able to understand tone of voice and other verbal cues in order to optimally complete the TOEFL listening section. Grading for the TOEFL listening section is completed by computer.

TOEFL Speaking

The TOEFL speaking section measures test-takers’ competence with spoken English in classroom and non-classroom academic settings. This section is intended to ensure that students can answer questions, contribute to classroom discussions, summarize lectures and reading assignments, express their own views, and function in situations commonly encountered in university life. Students must complete six tasks in spoken form, with responses preserved via audio recording. The first two are independent tasks, in which test-takers answer question prompts with their own opinions and ideas. The other four are integrated tasks, characterized by synthesis of reading, listening, and speaking. TOEFL speaking exercises are graded by 3-6 human graders. Assessment criteria include clarity of delivery, effectiveness of language use, and coherence of topic development.

TOEFL Writing

The TOEFL writing section consists of an integrated writing task and an independent writing task. The former task requires listening, reading, and writing skills, and students must devise a written response to a reading passage and a spoken lecture excerpt on the same topic, for which they are given 20 minutes. On the latter exercise, students write an essay that expresses and supports their own opinion of an issue raised by the essay prompt. Typical independent essay questions ask test-takers to select between two sides of an argument or discuss why they agree or disagree with a particular statement. The suggested length of the independent essay is a minimum of 300 words, and the time allotment is 30 minutes. TOEFL writing exercises are also evaluated by human graders, who consider the quality of writing in terms of organization, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, accuracy, and development.

The TOEFL iBT vs the TOEFL Revised Paper-Delivered Test

The revised TOEFL paper-delivered test is offered only in places where the TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) is not available, for reasons such as lack of infrastructure or internet restrictions. The revised paper test is taken by fewer than 3% of students who choose the TOEFL for their English language requirements. Many colleges and universities will still accept paper TOEFL scores, but some will consider the iBT only. The revised paper-delivered test was developed to more closely align with the content and structure of the iBT, but the two tests are not identical. The iBT has a speaking section, while the paper test does not. With up to 50 dates available annually, the iBT is much more easily accessible (the paper test can be taken four times per year at most).

TOEFL Administration

First offered in 1964, the TOEFL iBT is now administered at test centers in more than 180 countries and territories around the world. The test is usually offered on Fridays or Saturdays, and test centers are mostly in or near major cities. Educational Testing Service (ETS) lists available test centers and dates several months in advance on its website, which allows students to search TOEFL availability by country and city. Students may register for the TOEFL online, by phone, or by mail. Online registration is the most practical method of signing up for the TOEFL, and it is completed by creating an account on the ETS website. Test-takers with an ETS account can fill out a user profile, register for the exam, pay the associated fees, view scores, and designate institutions to receive score reports.

TOEFL Scoring

Students who take the TOEFL iBT are given a total score of 0 to 120 in addition to sectional scores for writing, reading, speaking, and listening of 0 to 30 each. Scores for the listening and reading sections are converted to the 0-30 range from the total number of correct answers, with no penalty for guessing (points are not deducted for incorrect answers). The 0-30 score for the speaking and writing sections is based on the evaluation of each task. The six speaking tasks are graded from 0 to 4, and the two writing tasks are evaluated from 0 to 5. In both cases, the final sectional score is the average of the task scores, converted to the 0-30 scale.

Highly selective universities usually require upper-percentile TOEFL scores, because these institutions have many more applicants than they have available seats. They are therefore easily able to turn away candidates who lack the appropriate credentials, such as fluency in the English language. Low-ranked schools often face the opposite situation. Such institutions are starved for students and tuition income, and they are consequently more willing to admit applicants with less-than-stellar TOEFL scores. A total iBT score of 100 is sufficient for all but a handful of universities in the English-speaking world, and a total score of 110 is acceptable everywhere. A number of the less selective public universities in the United States will admit candidates with TOEFL scores as low as 60, although admission for these students will sometimes be granted only if they complete remedial English requirements. According to the most recent ETS data on the TOEFL iBT, a total score of 110 is approximately the 95th percentile of all test-takers. Total scores of 100 and 60 represent the respective 79th and 14th percentile rankings, and the mean total score is 82.

ETS has not established an official “passing” score for the TOEFL, and each institution is therefore free to create its own standards. Individual schools and departments within these universities often have TOEFL sectional and total score requirements that are distinct from those of the university as a whole, and TOEFL expectations can be determined by factors such as academic discipline, degree level, or consideration for teaching assistantships. Prospective undergraduate or graduate students should verify the TOEFL standards of their chosen programs, and they should also understand that meeting these expectations will (at the very least) allow them to avoid expensive and time-consuming remedial English courses.

TOEFL IBT Test Centers in the Philippines

There are a variety of places to take the TOEFL in the Philippines, with many different testing dates available. Regions where ETS offers the TOEFL include Baguio City, Binan, Laguna, Cebu City, Legazpi City, Makati, Manila, Pasig City, and Quezon City. To find specific locations and test times, please register on the ets.org website here.

TOEFL Preparation and Strategy

The TOEFL is designed to be a rigorous evaluation of English language skills for non-native English speakers. In order to produce optimal scores, test-takers must show more than the distinct skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking. They must also demonstrate that they are capable of combining these skills into functional communication in English. Students required to take the TOEFL must be prepared for the exercises on each section of the exam, and adequate performance is almost always the result of careful preparation. Even students with a fairly strong understanding of the English language can falter on the TOEFL without the focused skill development that professional methods of preparation generally provide. Passing TOEFL scores are rewarded by full admission, assuming students are otherwise qualified applicants. Some institutions offer provisional admission for international students with scores below the established minimums, but this admission is usually accompanied by expensive and time-consuming language requirements. Thorough TOEFL preparation ultimately saves students both time and money.

International students are urged to remember the primary purpose of the TOEFL, which is to ensure that they have the English abilities necessary to succeed in their university coursework. Obviously, a “passing” score is the short-term goal, but students without sufficient language skills are likely to struggle in college classes. Informed and experienced TOEFL educators therefore suggest setting score goals of 100 composite and 25 on each of the test’s four sections. Students who achieve this level of TOEFL proficiency can be confident in their command of the English language in academic contexts, and these scores are acceptable to almost all degree programs. A quick internet search will show a large number of degree offerings that accept lower scores (in some cases much lower), but many of these programs have low TOEFL standards because their poor academic reputations give them no other choice. Inadequate language skills create numerous difficulties for international students, regardless of the specific institutional TOEFL standards.

To find out about TOEFL preparation options with Manhattan Review in the Philippines, please check out this website or directly fill out this form to receive further information.

About Manhattan Review:
Manhattan Review is an international test prep firm that mainly offers preparation for admissions tests needed to apply to US-based universities and schools, including the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and TOEFL. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Joern Meissner, an internationally renowned business school professor, the company helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review offers SAT Prep in the Philippines and many cities in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Himayatnagar, Chennai, and Hong Kong. Please also check out our official website for Manhattan Review India.

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