ETS Changes the format of the TOEFL PBT, effective October 2017.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is making major changes to the TOEFL Paper-Based Test (TOEFL PBT) so that it more closely resembles the TOEFL Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT), which was introduced in 2005. Even though not many students take the TOEFL PBT, reports ETS, test officials still offer the test in locations where the TOEFL iBT test is not given due to problems with electricity disruptions, unstable or unreliable Internet connections, or political chaos. The new TOEFL PBT will replace the current TOEFL PBT version in October 2017.

Moreover, many universities in the US offer the TOEFL PBT in their English Language Programs as 1) A way of assessing students’ academic English language proficiency at the beginning of end of their study and 2) An admissions readiness tool for undergraduate or graduate study. In regard to the second reason, most US universities only allow the scores from the TOEFL PBT if a student taking the test took it within that institution. In most other cases, students will be required to take the TOEFL iBT, which is the international test used in a majority of academic admission situations.

To illustrate how the TOEFL PBT may be used, consider California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), where I have been teaching since 1994. ESL Students in our English Language Program may take the TOEFL PBT in order to get admitted into undergraduate and graduate programs at our university. Our university requires that students score 500 and 550 respectively in order to get admitted in most of our undergraduate and graduate programs.

The New TOEFL Paper-delivered Test

The new TOEFL Paper-delivered test will consist of three sections: reading, listening, and writing. The current Grammar section, consisting of structure and written expression questions, will no longer be a part of the test. Students will spend approximately 3 hours to complete this academic-based English test.

The reading section measures students’ ability to understand materials written in English, takes 60 minutes, and consists of 42 questions.

Similarly, the listening section tests students’ ability of spoken English as it is used in campus-related discussions, academic discussions, and lectures, takes about 60 minutes to complete, and consists of 34 questions.

The newly-revised TOEFL PBT may have extra questions on the reading or listening section that will not be factored in the overall score. These questions are used to help ETS create consistency in scores from one school to the next, and they be new questions that ETS wants to try out to see how the questions function under actual testing conditions.

Finally, the writing section measures students’ ability for college level coursework, takes 50 minutes to complete, and is comprised of an independent and integrated writing task.

During the listening and reading sections of the exam, students should work quickly and carefully. These test takers will notice that some questions are easier than others, but they should answer every question as best they can.

From a personal standpoint, I am delighted that ETS has finally decided to eliminate the grammar section of the test. Instead of answering multiple-choice questions addressing stale, formal grammar structures, students will be required to complete personal experience and academic writing tasks, both of which more accurately mirror the kinds of writing that students will encounter in college. Further, as the testing and placement coordinator in the English Language Program under the auspices of the College of Extended Learning, I can say with definiteness that seeing student writing responses gives me a lot more information about students’ readiness for college than a multiple-choice grammar test.


The author of this article is Michael Buckhoff, who is the founder, owner, and materials writer of the Online TOEFL Course “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.”  In addition, as Buckhoff stated in his article, he is also the placement and testing coordinator in the English Language Program at California State University, San Bernardino.

If you need a higher score on the TOEFL iBT, visit his web site at to learn how he and his course can help you achieve your dream TOEFL score. In fact, Buckhoff specializes in helping students reach the subtotal scores of 26 and 24 on the speaking and writing sections of the exam.

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