What’s New about the TOEFL iBT Test?

As TOEFL test-takers may notice, an announcement was made on the ETS official website addressing some major changes on the TOEFL test starting August 1st of this year. In the announcement, ETS only mentioned the format changes but is that all they changed in the new TOEFL iBT test? Here’s what you will need to know before you actually take the test.

Reading Section

The total of reading passages in the reading section has now been shortened from 14 questions to 10 questions, which means you will get three or four passages to read. Although this might sound like a great news, you might still get the same amount of passages as the old TOEFL test because there will still be an “experimental” passage. “Experimental” passages are what ETS used to try out their new question banks and see if these questions function the same as the other passages in the test. These “experimental” passages will not be counted toward your final grade. However, you will need to be focused because you will not know which one of them will be the “experimental” passage.

Even though the length of the section has been shortened, the context maintains the same. If you have taken the TOEFL test multiple times before or done several TPOs before, you might notice that the topics in the reading section repeat itself. From this, we can easily conclude that it is important to master these repetitive topics because the possibility of seeing these topics are higher than usual. Frequent topics like Jurassic Period, Mass Extinction, Organisms and Evolution, Renaissance Period and Industrialization can be found easily in previous TOEFL tests. Therefore, it never hurts to practice TOEFL test by doing the TPOs over and over again.

Listening Section

One major change that worth to be mentioned is that the British accent has been used more than before. Moreover, the British accent is now thicker than what we’ve heard in the old TOEFL iBT test. For many of you might think that accent change is not a big deal. However, for test-takers who rely strongly on a specific accent, you must be extra careful from now on. A way to keep yourself in the British accent environment will be listening to broadcastings like UK radio channels or watch BBC where British accents are being used in their content. Fortunately, topics in the listening section are also the same as usual. Revisit the TPOs and get an idea of what kind of questions you will be facing. Practice constantly even when there are no listeners to help you judge your answer.

The format of the listening section has also been shortened. It was originally 34 questions with 4 lectures. Now it is 28 questions with 3 lectures only. Thus, the listening section used to take 90 minutes but now it changes into 50 minutes only. The basic format of the listening section 1 dialogue with 2 lectures following with another dialogue with 1 lecture. This change makes the process easier for test-takers. Unfortunately, if you are unlucky, you will still be facing an “experimental” listening comprehension question and that means there will be an extra lecture needing to be listened and extra 17 questions to be answered.

Speaking Section

The speaking section is the one section that has the most changes. In the old TOEFL test, there are 6 different parts in this section: Personal Preference, Choice, Fit and Explain, General/Specific, Problem/Solution and Summary. However, in the new TOEFL test, ETS eliminated 2 of them. Consequently, there are only 4 parts of speaking questions now. You might be wondering which parts they deleted. ETS decided to cross out the Personal Preference part and the Problem/Solution part. Nevertheless, the degree of difficulty becomes higher in the Choice part.

For example, in the old TOEFL test, questions in the Choice part might be something like:

Some people like to dress up on a daily basis. Others prefer only to dress up on special occasions. Which do you prefer?

Now, the questions might be like:

What is the most important invention of the last 100 years?

The questions in the new TOEFL test are deeper in its sense. It is nothing like the old TOEFL questions where the questions are more relative to our daily life. The new questions require test-takers to be more professional in their reasoning skills. Test-takers need to think fast within limited time and provide constructive ideas to support their statements.

In the Summary part of the speaking section, it is harder to answer than before because the format of the question has now been changed. In the past tests, the question in this section is very clear on what to ask and test-takers can simply read off the phrases used in the question to start with their answer. However, ETS noticed this pattern and decided to make the question vague, thus test-takers will not be able to read off and will have to come up with their own opening of their answer. For example,

Old TOEFL test question:

Using points and examples from the lecture. Explain the difference between the innovation of the mobile phone and the innovation of the radio.

New TOEFL test question:

Using points and examples from the lecture. Explain the two different types of items.

You can see now in the new TOEFL test, ETS takes out the keywords in the question so that the test-takers will need to rely on their own notes completely. If they misheard anything, the question won’t be there to provide any extra information anymore.

Other changes

The interface of the test has a minor change too. First of all, the spacing of the questions is now closer than before. That means it will be harder to scan through the question, especially for fast-readers. With a closer spacing, the possibility of misunderstanding the context will be higher. Therefore, test-takers need to be more mindful when reading. The second change of the interface is about the timer. The timer used to be a long horizontal blue line. However, it is not the case anymore. In the new TOEFL test, the timer is now a stop-watch that counts down like an alarm clock.