Academic English & TOEFL Prep The many versions of TOEFL exam

The many versions of TOEFL exam


There is a lot of confusion surrounding the various versions of TOEFL exam. Let’s look at them chronologically.


The Paper Based TOEFL  exam is the oldest version of the test. It had served well for over 40 years, before being replaced by the newer versions (TOEFL  CBT, iBT and ITP). Although ETS stopped administering TOEFL PBT, if you took this version of the test less than two years ago, your score might still be valid.

TOEFL PBT had the following sections: Reading, Listening, Structure (grammar) and optional Writing (known as TWE)

In my experience, a few non-English speaking countries have adapted parts of TOEFL PBT and used them for their own evaluation, in the recent past.


The Computer Based TOEFL exam was  a relatively short-lived version of the test. This was the first computerized TOEFL exam. It was used in the late 1990s and early 2000s, for the same purposes we use TOEFL iBT  today.

TOEFL CBT had the following sections: Reading, Listening, Structure (the adaptive Grammar section) and Writing (independent essay only).

Not too many people know about this version of TOEFL (except for those who took it during its short life span, and those who used to teach test preparation)


Most TOEFL takers today are required to take TOEFL iBT, if they are planning to study or work as Professionals, in North America and some English Speaking countries outside of North America

TOEFL  iBT  was introduced in 2005-2006. It was the first version of the TOEFL exam to contain the Speaking section and the mandatory, two-part, Writing section. Up until then, Speaking was not among the skills tested.

The need for assessing the Speaking  and Writing skills was brought about by  the rapid globalization of Higher Education and increased mobility of International Professionals.

After decades of research and thousands of ESL students who have ‘fallen through the cracks” of the North American Higher Education system, it became obvious that the older versions of TOEFL  did not measure these productive skills.  The passive skills ( Reading , Listening and Structure) were not enough, when students had to attend academic lectures, participate in projects and discussions , and produce academic papers.  Thus TOEFL  iBT was born. The universities and other academic institutions finally had a tool they could use to evaluate international students’  Functional Academic English.

From the technical standpoint, the spread of the Internet was definitely what contributed the most to establishing TOEFL iBT as we know it. It enabled the creation of standardized Official Testing Sites, all over the world, while keeping the scoring objective (not dependent on  individual local examiners)


Although it is, in essence, the revamped version of the PBT, this version of the TOEFL exam was based on the need to have a credible ESL assessment  for Academic institutions in non-English speaking countries, where English has become the language of Academic studies.  According to the ETS Official Site, it is mostly used for placement, progress monitoring, exit testing and admissions to certain programs in some non-English speaking countries. You can find more details here.

TOEFL ITP has the following sections:  Listening Comprehension, Structure and Written Expression and Reading Comprehension. You can get more information on the content here.

This version of TOEFL is a traditional, paper-based, multiple choice test. Because it can be taken at schools and other institutions and administered by local staff, it is more affordable than TOEFL iBT.

Since this version of TOEFL  relatively new, there are few preparation resources.

TOEFL Paper-delivered Test

This is the latest revision of the pen-and-paper version of TOEFL exam.  It is administered in parts of the world where testing via the Internet is not possible.

This version of TOEFL  has the following sections: Reading, Listening and Writing. Yes, you read that right, no Speaking section. Other than that, it is very similar to TOEFL iBT. 


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