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TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an internationally recognized examination that determines proficiency in English.


The aim of the exam is not only to test the level of English but also to enable a candidate to receive a certificate which ascertains this level in points. The certificate is required by overseas universities and comes in handy if you are looking for a job: some companies expect their applicants to have a proof of their proficiency in English.


Certainly, like any other exam, TOEFL is not 100% objective, it has its own hidden tricks and requires a measure of good luck. Anyway, preparation is essential because the familiarity with the format helps to concentrate on the task more intently. Besides, a candidate does not have to waste time on frantically figuring out what and how to click, when to start speaking in the microphone and so on. Of course, while preparing, you will find out what language skills to work on.


The Exam Format


Generally, there are 3 variants of TOEFL: TOEFL PBT (Paper-Based Test), TOEFL CBP (TOEFL Computer-Based Test) and the most up-to-date and common TOEFL iBT (Internet-Based Test).


The highest score in TOEFL iBT is 120 points (the other variants have a different system of scoring and assessment). This sum is made up by separate scores on language skills, each skill can score up to 30 points. At the exam these skills come in the following order:


  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing


The exam lasts for over 4 hours, with one 10-minute break between Listening and Speaking.


Reading and Listening are receptive skills and test the ability to understand speech, while Speaking and Writing are productive (since they show how well you can produce the language). In «Reading» candidates are supposed to read 3-5 texts on different topics and then answer questions. There are 4 options for each question, each correct answer carries 1 point. The last question is the most difficult, therefore, the correct answer can carry 2 or more points. The recommended timing for each text is 20 minutes. Thus, Reading can take 60-100 minutes.


«Listening» consists of 7-9 recordings: 2-3 dialogues (5 questions for each) and 4-6 lectures on different subjects (6 tasks for each). While listening, look at the screen carefully because a recording is accompanied by pictures which may contribute to the understanding of the texts. Timing is also important here: 20-30 minutes to answer all the questions (excluding the time spent on the listening itself). The time given for answering the questions is always indicated on the screen.


As you may have noticed, there is no exact number of tasks in «Reading» and «Listening». The thing is that 2 types of these papers exist - long and short. If «Reading» is long (5 texts), then «Listening» will be short (7 recordings). The same thing could happen the other way round: 3 Reading texts imply 9 Listening recordings. In fact, both the long and short types contain the same number of tasks for assessment. "Extra" texts or recordings are an experimental part that is aimed for designing future tests. They are marked, but not assessed. Of course, you don't know which of them will be assessed, so your aim is to do them all well.


After the 10-minute pause that is timed on the computer screen, you need to do «Speaking». This paper is much shorter: the preparation time for each of the 6 tasks is 15-20 seconds depending on the type; the response itself is 45-60 seconds. The response is recorded and immediately sent to the marking centre via the internet, it is impossible to change it. An ideal response is coherent and complete, shows your good command of English grammar and vocabulary, if it fits but does not exceed the time limit.


«Writing» consists of two essays: the Integrated Essay and the Independent Essay, 150-225 and 300-350 words respectively. In order to write the first essay (the Integrated Essay that is related to the other texts and skills), a candidate is required to read a text and listen to a lecture on the same topic, then analyze the information and respond to a specific question, using this information.


The Independent Essay is your personal response to a question on a particular topic. It does not imply the use of the other skills, but its assessment is also quite thorough.


Planning and writing take 20 and 30 minutes respectively.


Preparation for TOEFL


If you need a good result, your level of English should be at least intermediate. If you are not sure that you are actually intermediate, brush up on your General English ( The sooner you start, the better. Certainly, you could practise TOEFL tasks.


A recommended book for TOEFL preparation is BARRON's TOEFL iBT that comes with 10 CDs. There are a lot of tips and tasks on specific skills and subskills. The recordings, texts and their format look the same as those at the actual exam. Even the preparation for speaking is timed on the CD like at the exam, you don't have to do it on your own. The course also contains all the answers, recording scripts and samples of 'model' 


You can test your «Reading» and «Listening» in a more authentic way at the website ( It gives an opportunity to do one text or recording on each paper free of charge and receive the score in points immediately. You can continue at affordable prices. You can also pay for doing «Speaking» and «Writing».


Sitting the exam


Note that TOEFL is taken only at some certified centers. The information about them and the dates can be found at This is the website which officially registers candidates.


Besides improving your English, you need to register and prepare your documents - at the exam you must have an ID with your photo, signature and name that is spelled in Latin letters exactly in the same way as during the registration. This data (your name in Latin letters, your photo, your signature) is provided in Russian international passports or driving licences. So remember to get your international passport or have it extended, copy your name from the passport verbatim during the registration. Make sure there are places available when you book a date.


I am convinced it is a bad idea to arrive late or bring objects that are not allowed at the exam. It is also not right to lose heart and adopt a negative attitude.


Plan the exam in advance and remember that will be always happy to help you in eitherGeneral English or TOEFL preparation!

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