An Overview of the TOEFL -- Test Of English as a Foreign Language
TOEFL stands for Test Of English as a Foreign Language. The TOEFL was introduced in the 1960ies by ETS -- Educational Testing Services. Now, almost 800,000 people take the TOEFL exam every year worldwide.
You probably know that a growing number of universities and colleges offer courses and academic study programs in English so if you want to enrol in one of them you must have a good command of the English language. This is where the TOEFL comes into play. It is the most widely used academic English proficiency test in the world. Thousands of colleges and universities use the TOEFL to test and evaluate the English language competency of their students and academic personnel.
In addition, many government agencies, sponsoring institutions and other authorities require TOEFL scores.
The TOEFL test measures English language proficiency in these three disciplines: reading, listening and writing. In most regions of the world you can take the TOEFL on a computer (CBT: Computer-Based Test) somewhere near your home. In areas with limited access to computer-based testing facilities you can take a paper-and-pencil version of the test.
TOEFL Test Format
The Computer-Based TOEFL (CBT)
When you take the computer-based TOEFL (TOEFL CBT) you will first read a seven-step tutorial teaching you the computer skills necessary for taking the test. For reading the tutorial you have as much time as you want because it is not part of the test itself. The tutorial will teach you such things as how to use a mouse, how to scroll down a page and click on icons. All four sections of the TOEFL test (Listening, Structure, Reading and Writing) are covered in the tutorial so you when you have finished studying the information you will be well prepared the test.
The Listening and Structure sections of the TOEFL computer-based test (CBT) are computer-adaptive. This means that the computer first gives you a question of average difficulty. If you answer this first question correctly the computer gives you a question of higher difficulty. If your first answer was wrong your second question will be of lower difficulty. So, based on your answers the computer can evaluate your level of English and give you questions according to your level.
The format of the computer-based TOEFL (CBT TOEFL) test is as follows:
You start by reading the tutorials for which you have unlimited time. Then you take the Listening Section, which lasts between 40 and 60 minutes and you will answer between 30 and 50 questions. After the Listening Section you move on to the section called "Structure". This part takes between 15 and 20 minutes and there will be between 20 and 25 questions. After you have finished the Structure Section there is a short break of 5 minutes and then you start the Reading Section which takes 70 to 90 minutes and includes 44 to 55 questions. The last part of the TOEFL CBT is the Writing Section. Here you will be given one topic on which you have to write an essay within 30 minutes.
The Listening Section of the TOEFL test is made up of three parts. In the first part you will hear short conversations usually containing two sentences which are followed by a single question. In the second part you will hear a longer dialogue between two people. After the dialogue you will hear four of five questions. Each of those questions is followed by four answers (A, B, C and D). Only one of those four answers is correct. You have to select the correct answer.
In the final part of the Listening Section you will hear longer pieces of spoken communication such as lectures, radio talks, TV announcements or other broadcasts. Each of those talks lasts between one to two minutes and it is delivered by a single speaker. After every piece of information you have listened to, you must answer four to five questions.
Most of the questions in the Listening Section use the traditional multiple-choice format, this means you have to choose the correct answer out of three or more options. However, some questions involve visual elements you have to recognize and somtimes two out of four possible answers are correct. There are also some questions that require you to re-arrange or match objects, phrases or words.
In the Structure Section you have to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in vocabulary, grammar and proper usage of standard North American written English. You will have to recognize vocabulary items of an academic nature, this means, there will be subjects related to science, the arts, literature, culture and history. To answer the questions correctly it will be sufficient if you have an average level of knowledge of those subjects.
You will find two types of questions in the Structure Section of the TOEFL test. The first question type is a sentence containing a gap. On www.english-test.net this question type is called "Incomplete Sentences" you will find lots of examples here:
As you can see you must select a word or phrase that fills in the gap appropriately.
The second question type can be called "Errors in Sentences". Those questions consist of complete sentences with four separate underlined words. You must select which of the four underlinded words or word combinations contains an error in grammar or usage. You can familiarize yourself with type of question here:
Errors in Sentences1
Errors in Sentences2
Errors in Sentences3
In the Reading Section you will find short passages similar to the sort of texts used for academic purposes in the US, Canada or other internationally recognized universities. For example there will be texts about the arts, literature, biography of important people, science and scientific research as well as history related to North America. Even if you know a lot about any of the subjects covered in the Reading Section of the TOEFL test, it will not necessarily be to your advantage in answering the questions correctly because the TOEFL measures your English language proficiency rather than your knowledge of a specific area. After all, you take the TOEFL test before you actually start your study program at university.
So, your success on the TOEFL Reading Section depends on how well you understand the text passages and the attached questions. The Reading Section tests and evaluates your comprehension of main ideas and vocabulary as well as your ability to identify important facts and inferences. As is the case with the Listening Section the Reading Section too uses the traditional multiple-choice format. In addition there are also a number of computer-specific questions that either require you to match a particular word, phrase or paragraph from the text with a definition or to insert a sentence in the text where it is most appropriate.
In the Writing Section you have to compose an essay based on one single assigned topic. Your essay should include such elements as original thought, analysis, examples, evidence and organization in English. You can choose between composing your essay at a computer or using the traditional hand-written format.
Computer-Based TOEFL Test Scoring
The Listening and the Reading Sections of the computer-based TOEFL test are scored by using a raw score which is based on the number of questions answered correctly.
The raw score is then converted into a precise scaled score ranging from 0 to 300.
The Writing Section is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 and makes up about 50% of the scaled score on the Structure Section.
So, in the Listening Section you can achieve a score of 0 to 30. In the Structure/Writing Sections your score also can range from 0 to 30. The same holds true for the Reading Section. For you Essay you can reach a score of 1 to 6. After converting the raw score into the scaled score your Total Score can range from 0 to 300.
The TOEFL Paper-based Test (PBT)
The paper-based TOEFL (PBT) test consists of three sections, similar to the first three sections of the computer-based test. The PBT contains only multiple-choice questions. All answer choices are printed in a test booklet and you have to fill in your answers on a computer-scored answer sheet. With the computer-based test (CBT) available in most areas of the world it is rather unlikely that you will take the paper-based test (PBT).
Because computer-adaptive testing is not possible on the paper-based test, the PBT has three question difficulty levels. Thirty percent of PBT test questions are categorized as easy, forty percent are medium and thirty percent are difficult. At the beginning of each section you will find easy-level questions which are followed by medium-level questions and difficult questions at the end.
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