TOEFL stands for Test of English as Foreign Language. It evaluates the ability of an individual to use and understand English in an academic setting. It sometimes is an admission requirement for non-native English speakers at many English-speaking colleges and universities.
These days, the paper based model of TOEFL is very rare and one needs to appear for the internet based test (iBT). The four-hour test consists of four sections, each measuring one of the basic language skills (while some tasks require integrating multiple skills) and all tasks focus on language used in an academic, higher-education environment. Note-taking is allowed during the iBT. The test cannot be taken more than once a week.
|Reading||3–5 passages, each containing 12–14 questions||60–100 minutes|
|Listening||6–9 passages, each containing 5–6 questions||60–90 minutes|
|Speaking||6 tasks and 6 questions||20 minutes|
|Writing||2 tasks and 2 questions||55 minutes|
The Reading section consists of 3–5 passages, each approximately 700 words in length and questions about the passages. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Passages require understanding of rhetorical functions such as cause-effect, compare-contrast and argumentation. One needs to answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, sentence insertion, vocabulary, rhetorical purpose, and overall ideas. New types of questions in the iBT require filling out tables or completing summaries. Prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer.
The Listening section consists of 6 passages, 3–5 minutes in length and questions about the passages. These passages include 2 student conversations and 4 academic lectures or discussions. A conversation involves 2 speakers, a student and either a professor or a campus service provider. A lecture is a self-contained portion of an academic lecture, which may involve student participation and does not assume specialized background knowledge in the subject area. Each conversation and lecture stimulus is heard only once. Each conversation is associated with 5 questions and each lecture with 6. The questions are meant to measure the ability to understand main ideas, important details, implications, relationships between ideas, organization of information, speaker purpose and speaker attitude.
The Speaking section consists of 6 tasks, 2 independent tasks and 4 integrated tasks. In the 2 independent tasks, one answer opinion questions on familiar topics. One is evaluated on one’s ability to speak spontaneously and convey one’s ideas clearly and coherently. In 2 of the integrated tasks, one reads a short passage, listens to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and answers a question by combining appropriate information from the text and the talk. In the 2 remaining integrated tasks, one listens to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and then responds to a question about what they heard. In the integrated tasks, one is evaluated on one’s ability to appropriately synthesize and effectively convey information from the reading and listening material. One may take notes as they read and listen and may use one’s notes to help prepare one’s responses. One is given a short preparation time before they have to begin speaking.
The Writing section measures a test taker’s ability to write in an academic setting and consists of 2 tasks, 1 integrated task and 1 independent task. In the integrated task, one read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker discuss the same topic. The test taker will then write a summary about the important points in the listening passage and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. In the independent task, one must write an essay that states, explains and supports one’s opinion on an issue, supporting one’s opinions or choices, rather than simply listing personal preferences or choices.
It should be noted that one of the sections of the test will include extra, uncounted material. Educational Testing Service includes extra material in order to pilot test questions for future test forms. When test-takers are given a longer section, they should give equal effort to all of the questions because they do not know which question will count and which will be considered extra. For example, if there are four reading passages instead of three, then three of those passages will count and one of the passages will not be counted. Any of the four passages could be the uncounted one.
It depends on the school you are applying to. All Asian schools and many western schools do not require TOEFL if your undergrad was in English medium. However, many schools require TOEFL scores and do not process your application until they receive the score. Please check with schools’ requirements before taking a TOEFL slot as it is a very boring (and easy) test and adds no value to your application other than proving that you are comfortable with western English.