Knowing what kinds of questions to expect on a test makes it much easier to practice for it. The TOEFL IBT test has 4 sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing – which each have a variety of question types. There's the content of the questions such as, is it asking about vocabulary, asking for a detail or fact, or asking for an inference to list a few. Then there's how the questions are answered. You might have to select one answer, select more than one answer, choose the correct column in a table for each option, or you might have to match answers.
Since the IBT test is done on the computer, there's a lot more types of questions than there are possible to have with a paper based one. The Speaking section didn't exist before the IBT version of the TOEFL test. You might groan at having to study for it, but being able to speak English well is a crucial skill. It's hard to communicate effectively if you can't express yourself.
Details for each of the 4 test sections will be covered in the next 4 pages of our info guide. What follows is just a quick overview.
The Reading section consists of several reading passages with a set of questions based on each passage. The passages are academic, topics that you would read in textbooks at university. Multiple choice question is the format mainly used. For these, there are always 4 answer options and only one correct answer. There are 7 types of questions asked with the multiple choice format: vocabulary, detail, purpose, negative factual information, essential information, reference, and inference. Question formats you will see a few of are choosing 1 out of 4 places to insert a sentence, matching 3 out of 6 options to a summary statement, and choosing 5-7 out of 7-9 options that match to 2 or 3 facts in a table.
The Listening section has several passages with a set of questions based on what you heard. You don't just listen to audio, these talks are mini movies with still images. There will be 1-3 people talking in each one. Some are purely academic, others are conversations between students or a student and a faculty member discussing some aspect of school life, like the details of an assignment.
The single multiple choice answer (4 options, only 1 is correct) is the most common question format. There are 5 types of questions asked with the multiple choice format: main idea, detail, purpose, organization and imply. Another question format asks about details, but you need to choose 2-3 answers from the options given. The third question format is a table with options related to the question asked. For each option, you have to click on which column of 2-3 possible choices correctly applies to the option. The last format involves listening again to a small part of the talk and then answering the question which relates to something said. The 2 types of questions asked are imply (why does the speaker say something) and inference (what does the speaker mean).
The Speaking section has 6 tasks. There are 3 formats used. For each you are given an amount of time to prepare your answer and a set time in which to respond. The first format gives 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. The first question will be about a familiar topic that you answer based on personal experience. The second question will also be about a familiar topic that you answer by giving your opinion. The second format gives 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak. For each of the 2 questions you read a short passage and then will hear and watch (like in Listening) a talk related to the same topic of the reading. The first question's passage and talk will be about some aspect of campus life. The second question's passage and talk will be on an academic topic. The third format gives 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to speak. For the first question, you will hear and watch a conversation between 2 speakers (2 students or a student and a faculty member). You will answer a question based on what you heard. For the second question, you will hear and watch an academic talk. Again, you will answer a question based on what you heard.
The Writing section has 2 tasks. For the first task you will have 3 minutes to read a short text. You will then hear an academic talk on the same topic. The question asks about a relationship between the text and the talk. You will have 20 minutes to write your essay and should write at least 150 words. The text you saw will be available to reference as you write. For the second task, you will have 30 minutes to write an essay about the topic given to you. The topic should be something familiar, like the increasing shortage of oil, and you are expected to give your opinion and support it. Your essay should be at least 300 words long.
If you do all of our free mini-TOEFL tests, you will see examples of all the question formats and types used in all 4 sections. So be sure to check them out. You might even win yourself an iPod. If you've never seen the IBT test, you might want to look at our IBT demo first, where you will see a sample question of each type plus a review page for each.