What you need to know about iBT TOEFL

Information provided below is based on the author’s personal experience and may be referred to as a personal advice. For more recommendations and information go to ETS official website.

MY TOEFL Scaled Scores

Reading ……………………………..19

Listening ……………………………..21

Speaking ……………………………..29

Writing ………………………………..25

Total Score …………………………..94

I took my first TOEFL iBT test (Internet Based Test) in Summer, 2011, and it was a terrific experience which I would like to share with you.

A few lines to introduce some basic facts about TOEFL for those who know nothing or very little about this exam

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. There are two formats for TOEFL, which you chose depending on your location, location of your test center and the requirements of the establishment to which you are going to send your scores later. The two formats are: PBT (Paper Based Test) and iBT (Internet Based Test).

The PBT is taken on paper and iBT is administered via Internet. Both formats of the Test are taken at certified centers. Though iBT is administered via Internet, it does not mean that the test takers do the Test via Internet from their homes. The same as in the case with the PBT, you come to one of the certified centers and do the test on a computer, and after you complete the test and submit your results, the latter are sent to another certified center, which is responsible for checking your work.

PBT and iBT differ not only in format, but in a number of other characteristics:


    Time limited for each section varies, so that iBT lasts for 4 1/2 hours and PBT lasts for 3 1/2 hours.


    The number of tasks is different.


    There is no speaking section in PBT.


    PBT fees are fixed at 160 USD and iBT fees range from 160 USD to 250 USD as for 2011 depending on the country.


    The highest score for iBT is 120 and it is 677 for PBT.

Once you have made your decision to take TOEFL, prepare, prepare and prepare. This is a very mechanical test. Knowledge of English grammar and spelling, speaking and writing skills, a good listening command and understanding the nuances of what you have just heard at a high level is a must, but even so it does not guarantee that you will get high scores. The question arises, what helps you to get the desired 120 besides knowledge? A quick answer would be: calm state of mind with a healthy drop of adrenaline, many weeks of studying and a good breakfast.

A brief review of the test structure

As my personal experience is based on iBT, I shall speak about Internet administered TOEFL format. The Test is divided into four parts: Reading, Listening, break, Speaking and Writing. Each section is valued from 0 to 30. Do not be surprised to find out that one of the sections will include extra material. For instance, there can be 2 reading passages instead of one in the Reading Section. It is done to estimate for the future the level of the test takers, which is growing from year to year today when students take advantage of modern technology in learning English.

Reading Section

The most challenging section to me was the Reading Section, because of some extra material included. I did not know about the extra material and panicked that I would not complete the task within the given time. In fact, the extra material would not count, as they say, but I did not know that. The section consisted of two endless passages and rather confusing questions. I did not have enough time to complete reading the second text, so I decided to scan it through, and obviously, it was not sufficient enough to give correct answers.

Listening Section

If you too much count on your strong listening command while preparing for the Listening Section, you may overestimate your abilities. No matter, how well you understand native speakers, practice in listening to nuances. Some of the statements will seem not logical to you, still they are, if you get and feel all the slightest nuances and even catch the mood of the speaker.

Speaking Section

The speaking section was quite a challenge to me while studying for the test, and to my surprise I got a very high score (29 out of 30 possible) in the end, probably due to a long-time and proper practice. My tips on this Section to you would be practice in strictly structuring your answers. Do not take a philosophical approach to expressing your thoughts on a suggested subject. It is always better if you speak about what you know for sure or from your own experience. There are awesome TOEFL workshops given at the American enter in Moscow each month, where teachers guide you through each Section, provide advice and offer to practice in class. If you attended any of them, please, leave a comment here and give the name of the teacher who did the workshop.

Writing section

I never doubted in my rather good writing skills, which is why I finished this section before the time expired and left the room with a relief and very tired. Preparing for the Writing Section I followed the advice, which was given to me by one of my friends. Be concise enough. Before you write a sentence you need to think «what do I want to say and how can I say it with the least words possible?» Also, you need to have one paragraph for each subject you want to develop. Writing and speaking are not the same. One can speak in a somewhat disorderly way, and repeating the same thing several times, but not write that way. So each paragraph should deal with only one subject. The sentences should follow logic, from one idea to the next.

My advice to you

Once you decided that you are going to take TOEFL, do not hesitate to register online and pay the fees on official TOEFL site . After you complete your registration, you will be offered to do the sample test at any convenient time. The sample test is very similar to what you are going to do in real, but there is nothing to be compared with the stress you go through on the day of the test. Manage your time while preparing, be honest and be merciless to yourself.

Purchasing the test in advance is a big advantage, which allows you to choose the desired date and convenient location of the test center. If you are leaving the country soon, if the dates for your application are very close, there’s a chance that you won’t be able to sign up for any of the near dates. You will either have to choose an inconvenient location of the test center or even go to another city to take the test. Besides, the test scores are posted online only 2 weeks after the test date, and they are also mailed to the University and any other Institution you selected.

Why the location of the test center is so important? You should arrive at least 30 minutes before the test begins, and it usually begins at 9 AM. Add 30 minutes and another hour or more to get to the test center, get your pass, find the room and breath out. It is easy to calculate that you need about two hours to get to the center and feel at ease in the place.

Have a good breakfast. No personal items are allowed into the room of the test center. Don’t take any valuables with you. Some of the test centers will offer you to check in your bag, and only you are responsible for your valuables. If you need anything for medical reasons or any other reasons, you need to fill in a special form on official TOEFL site requesting what you need.

I strictly followed these requirements and I took very little water with me. It was a mistake. It was too warm for me in the room of one of the Moscow test centers located at People’s Friendship University of Russia. The Coordinator cruised around the room and opened the windows from time to time. But the light was so bright and a lot of computers were heating the air in the room. Bring enough water with you. Be prepared that the toilet use is allowed, but the time ticking on your computer would not stop. All in all I remained very satisfied with that test center, where all computers were brand new and no one had any problems while taking the Test. The Coordinator did a great job registering all of us and making no mess about it, which is very important to help the test takers to remain cool and concentrated.

A break

OMG, at last there is a moment to stretch your legs. I came to the test center with my husband who was waiting for me in the corridor. He had a pack of yoghurt, which I greedily ate. The break was scarcely enough to have a snack and use the bathroom, which was located on a different floor with very slow elevators.

In the beginning, the Speaking section seemed a real nightmare to me. My neighbors started to speak aloud while I was still reading the instructions or even doing the listening part. I was afraid, I was dragging behind and needed to hurry up to catch up with the rest. Then, I tried very hard not to get distracted by a dozen of voices loudly sounding around me. The stress was gone after I started to speak myself. I tried to speak at an even pace and sounded very firm.

TOEFL is the exam which requires from you to manage your emotions and to be stress resistant. If you are not strong enough, if you do not train your strong will, you’d better start doing it right now.

Summing up, I am giving you 10 tips how to pass TOEFL with less stress

  1. Pay the test fees in advance and register for the convenient date and choose the convenient location of the test center.
  2. Fill in your information very carefully while registering online. You won’t be able to review your profile and make changes as for the year of birth and name after you take the test. If you made a mistake, apply to ETS providing your registration code and official documents bearing your picture where your name and birth date, year and month are correct.
  3. Do the sample test. It will help you to get used to the interface of the Test and to get familiar with the Test structure.
  4. If you feel that you need more practice in a particular section, purchase an additional sample test section on official TOEFL site (it is only possible after you register and request your sample test).
  5. Have a good breakfast before the test and plan your trip to the test center beforehand.
  6. Fill in the necessary online forms if you need special conditions on the day of the test due to your health.
  7. Read a lot of scientific literature to prepare for the reading section. There are plenty of books on science in the library of the American Center in Moscow.
  8. Prepare structured and well-reasoned answers on different topics.
  9. Break your essay writing into equal paragraphs, each of which should have a logical ending and prepare the reader for the next paragraph.
  10. Join the TOEFL Facebook Group to prepare for the Test in a group, share your experience and get tips from those who have already done it.

Good Luck to everyone! Come back and share your experience, report about your achievements which you’ve made with the help of the resources of the American Center’s library or TOEFL workshop or with the support from the volunteers who founded TOEFL Facebook Group. Check the next workshop on calendar page on this site and create an event in your calendar. Your experience is unique and valuable, and it will help others to make their decisions and to avoid mistakes.

Though I have a relatively high TOEFL score, I am not satisfied with it and am going to retake the Test. I shall keep posting on my progress and which technics I am going to use while preparing for my next Test.