What to Expect on the TOEFL® iBT test day

Before the Test

Plan your trip to the test center to be on time

The test starts at 9:00 am. All test-takers must arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before the test begins, to check in. Late arrivals include students without enough time for check-in, who will not be allowed to take the test.

Plan your trip to the test center, learn the way there, and note the traffic, parking situation, etc.

Check-in

Check-in involves electronic scanning of all test-takers for test security, producing your ID document, signing a confidentiality agreement, and the assigning of test stations.

Lock up your personal items

When checking in, you will be told to place all your personal items in a secure locker.

Other than the key for your locker and your glasses, the only item allowed in the test room is your ID document. Therefore, put everything else in the locker. If you bring water or a snack, you will be able to access them during the 10-minute break.

In some test centers where there are no lockers, you may receive a plastic bag in which to store your personal items. You will need to place the plastic bag under your chair.

Use the toilet before going into the test room!

Once you have gone into the test room, you will not be able to leave until the 10-minute break after the Reading and Listening sections.

Tip: You can be excused once for the toilet during the Reading and Listening section of the test. Just raise your hand and the supervisor will go with you to the toilet; however, the test clock will not stop during this time. If you ask to go to the toilet a second time, you will not be allowed to continue the test.

Dress in layers

Dress in layers so you can be comfortable in different room temperatures. If you take off an item of clothing during the test (e.g., a sweater), you will be told to place it in the storage area provided.
Inspection before going into the test room

The electronic scanning is to check the presence of metals, especially mobile phones. The administrator will check your ID. This is to prevent someone, who is not you, taking your test.
Going into the Test room

The test room is a computer room, usually with 30-40 computers. Most test rooms have a divider between each computer station.

The test is due to start at 9:00 am, but many test-takers start at 8:45 am. There will be test takers coming into the test room one after another before 9:00 am, which can be disturbing for those already doing the test. Being aware of this should help you deal with the situation.
Photo-taking and seating

After you go into the test room, a test administrator will ask you to sit on a chair at the side of the podium for photo-taking. Your photo will be placed at your assigned seat and will also appear on your score report.

After photo taking, you will be guided to your seat. Seats are randomly assigned, so being first into the test room does not mean you will sit in the first row.

Starting test and sign-out during the break

Before you start, wait for the test administrator to enter the password to begin the test software and confirm your identity on the test interface.

Sign-out and sign-in

During the 10-minute break, the test administrator will enter the password again (to sign you out) and will do the same before the Speaking section (to sign you back in). If the administrator does not enter the password for you, just raise your hand.

Microphone and headphone testing

Your microphone and headphone will be tested by you to make sure they are working properly. If there is a problem, raise your hand to ask for help.

TOEFL iBT Reading Section

Reading is the first section of the TOEFL iBT test. There will be three to five passages, with 12-14 questions each. You have a total of 60-100 minutes for this section, including time for reading the passages and answering the questions.

Tip: You must read through and scroll to the end of each passage and click the “Continue” button to get the questions on that passage.

Experimental questions (extra passages and questions)

ETS is doing experimental questions for the Reading and Listening sections, and some test-takers will be chosen to do them. After completing the questions on the third passage, if you see a fourth and fifth passage, it means you have been selected to do the experimental questions. Another 40 minutes is added for these questions.

The marks you get for the experimental questions will not be counted toward your score; however, you will not know which two of the five parts are experimental; they may not be the last two. Therefore, answer all questions very carefully.
Tip: For the Reading section, you can go back to the previous pages to change your answers. You will not be able to do this for the Listening section.

TOEFL iBT Listening Section

The TOEFL Listening section starts with putting on your headphone and getting the volume right. The computer will not go to the next step until you click the “Continue” button.

The Listening section should have two parts, each of about 20 minutes. Students who have been chosen for the experimental questions will have one extra part.

Each task consists of two academic lectures and a campus conversation.

The conversations are usually:

  • between a student and a professor, e.g. about the student’s learning progress or essay writing.
  • between a student and administrative staff, e.g., from the dormitories or libraries, about dormitory issues or borrowing books.

The academic lectures are longer than the conversations and may be just the professor talking or involve discussion with students, often the major part of the questions.

After the listening material is played, you both see and hear each question before seeing the answer choices. The countdown will then start, and you have 10 minutes to answer questions in each part. This is an average of 3 minutes 20 seconds to answer five to six questions, and most test-takers take only about 10 minutes to answer all the questions.

Remember: Unlike the Reading section, in the Listening section, it is NOT possible to go back and change your answers.

If you have experimental questions for the Listening section, you will have nine listening tasks in total: three conversations and six lectures. Again, you will not know which questions these are. If you do not have any experimental questions, you will have only six listening tasks in total (two conversations and four lectures).
10-minute break

After the Listening section, you will have a break for 10 minutes. During the break, your computer will go into countdown status, and you cannot start the next section.

Tip: Test-takers start this break at different times.

You can go to the toilet during your break. However, most test centers allow only one male and one female test-taker to leave the test room at the same time. Most test centers allow test-takers to eat and drink during this break, but only outside the test room.

If you have brought some materials to prepare for the Speaking section, you can make use of this break to write down anything useful on the scratch paper.

TOEFL iBT Speaking section

After the break, the administrator will re-enter the password to sign you back into the test. Before the actual speaking question, a recording test with one question is done to ensure your microphone is working properly. Usually, this question is something like: “Describe the city you live in.”

As all the test-takers have the same questions, many of them listen to what their neighbors say to “predict” their own questions, but a question about your city is probably for testing the recording.

If you fail to record your voice, try to speak in a much louder voice. Some test-takers adjust the volume several times before the recording test is successful. If this happens to you, speak louder during the recording test, and make sure you speak at least as loud for the actual test.

The Speaking section is about 20 minutes long and includes six tasks.

For the first two tasks, you have 15 seconds of preparation time after you both hear and see the question, and 45 seconds to record your answer.

Speaking Task 1

Task 1 will be about a familiar topic – a person, place, object or event, e.g., a person that you respect and the reason, a book that you like and the reason, a memorable event and the reason.

Speaking Task 2

Task 2 asks you to make a personal choice between two contrasting behaviors or courses of action.

The remaining questions (Tasks 3-6) combine reading and/or listening with a spoken question.

Speaking Task 3

Task 3, Fit and Explain, has a passage of 75-100 words about a campus-related issue. You will have about 45 seconds to read it before it is hidden. Take notes! You will then listen to a recording of about 1 minute; then you are asked to summarize the speaker’s opinion about the issue. You have 30 seconds of preparation time and 60 seconds to record your answer. The most common topic for Task 3 is a school notice about a new rule or policy, and the reasons for it. The recording is usually a discussion about it between students.

Speaking Task 4

Task 4 is about academic issues, based on a reading passage of 75-100 words and part of a lecture (150-220 words). You have 30 seconds of preparation time and 60 seconds to record your answer.

Speaking Task 5

Task 5 has a 1-minute recording, usually about a problem that a student has, with another student or teacher trying to find a solution, often suggesting two solutions. You will need to summarize what you have heard, choose one solution and explain why you chose it. You have 20 seconds of preparation time and 60 seconds to record your answer.

Speaking Task 6

Task 6 is about academic issues, based on part of a lecture (90-120 seconds; 230-280 words) that explains a term or concept and gives examples. You need to summarize what you hear and show your understanding of the examples. You have 20 seconds of preparation time and 60 seconds to record your answer.

During the test, you will probably hear some of the other test-takers answering their questions. Being aware of this should help you deal with the situation.

Tip: The actual test is about 56 minutes; this includes the 4 minutes of test instructions and waiting time.

TOEFL iBT Writing section

Integrated task

The integrated writing task tests your ability to understand material from different sources (reading and listening), and whether you can combine information from those sources in a well-organized written summary.

You have 3 minutes to read an academic passage of about 250-300 words. Then the passage will be hidden, and you will hear a recording about the passage. After the recording, the passage is shown again. You have 20 minutes to write a response that refers to both sources (reading and listening).

Tip: During the writing time, you will be able to read the written passage, but you won’t be able to hear the recording again. To do well, you must take many notes and write down keywords and key phrases while you listen to the recording.

Independent task

You will be asked a question on a particular topic or issue. You have 30 minutes to write a response, expressing your opinion about it.

The computer will do a word count as you write. Your response should be at least 300 words.

The two writing tasks are done using a standard QWERTY English-language keyboard.

The computer will not correct spelling mistakes. Try to prepare yourself for the test by practicing on a piece of paper, or using software that does not automatically correct typing errors.

At the end of the TOEFL iBT test, you will be asked if you would like to do a survey by ETS for research purposes, and whether you agree to ETS using your information (including your answers).

Tip: At the end of the test, you will be asked to submit or cancel your scores. If you choose not to submit them, they will be lost, unless you pay to restore the results within 10 days after your test date. Your score will be ready for you to check online about 10 days after the test date.

If you have asked to have your scores submitted to a school, ETS will automatically forward them as soon as they are ready. Once this request has been made, it cannot be canceled.