What Are the Different TOEFL® Topics?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2019
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The Test of English as a Foreign Language® (TOEFL®) is divided into several sections, and there are four TOEFL® topics that should be expected by a test taker. The topics depend on whether someone is taking the Internet-based test (iBT) or the paper-based test (PBT). Both tests share three sections in common, however, which are listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and a test of writing or written exam. The fourth section is different between the two test formats, with the iBT featuring a section on spoken English and the PBT including a section on the structure of written English.

TOEFL® topics generally refer to the different sections and topics covered on the TOEFL® test. Though these sections vary between the two different types of tests available, there are three sections with relevant topics shared by both tests. The TOEFL® is a test intended for students who are non-native English speakers interested in attending a college or university in an English-speaking country. Many colleges and universities require completion of the TOEFL® prior to acceptance as a student, and the different TOEFL® topics all feature questions using language that is similar to that found in college classrooms and exams.


There are three basic TOEFL® topics covered on both the iBT and the PBT versions of the test. Listening comprehension covers the ability of a person to listen to spoken English and understand what is being said, usually at the same complexity of language used during lectures in a college classroom. The reading comprehension section presents reading selections for test takers to read and then answer questions related to them. There is also a test of writing, which usually requires one or two short essays to be written.

While both the iBT and PBT feature some similar TOEFL® topics, there are also two TOEFL® topics unique to the different formats. The iBT version of the TOEFL® includes a section on spoken English in which the test taker must speak into a microphone, which records his or her spoken voice for analysis of clarity and understandability when speaking English. This section is not included in the PBT of the TOEFL® since no computer is used, and instead a section on analysis of structure in written English is presented. The nature of the questions often varies from year to year, though great effort is made to remove any possibility of cultural bias and to ensure that questions are equivalent to those that might be seen in a college classroom.


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