What Are the Differences and Which is Best for You?

If you’re planning to take the TOEFL test, you might find yourself wondering whether you should take TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) or TOEFL PBT (Paper-based Test). Well, the answer is simple. You should take the one that is required by the university, or scholarship, or job position, or program that you’re applying for.

Before we start, I should clarify that the TOEFL PBT is also known as the TOEFL ITP in Indonesia.


In our last blog, we discussed broadly what TOEFL is? The similarity between TOEFL iBT and PBT is that both iBT and PBT certificates are valid for two years since they are released.

Also, both iBT and PBT have Reading & Listening modules.

But that’s pretty much it. So now, on to the differences!


We briefly outlined some general differences between iBT and PBT in our previous blog. So, in this article, we will delve into these differences in more detail.

TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT are different in so many ways. Let’s just dive in.

1. Duration

TOEFL iBT lasts for 4.5 hours, whereas TOEFL PBT lasts for 2.5 hours.

2. Skills Tested

TOEFL iBT tests all four essential language skills, namely listening, reading, writing, and speaking. TOEFL PBT doesn’t test speaking but it does test structure. Also, as we mentioned in our previous article, there is a version of TOEFL PBT that doesn’t include writing called TOEFL ITP (Institutional Testing Program). Confusing, isn’t it? Well, here’s a brief summary to make things simpler:



* Listening

* Reading

* Writing

* Speaking


* Listening

* Reading

* Structure

* Writing


* Listening

* Reading

* Structure

3. How the Skills Are Tested

This is where things start to get a litte more complicated!

Reading in iBT vs Reading in PBT

  • First, reading is the first skill to be tested in TOEFL iBT. By comparison, reading is the third skill tested in TOEFL PBT after listening and structure.
  • Next, in TOEFL iBT the reading passages are based on academic topics, and the materials might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Question types include main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, sentence insertion, vocabulary, filling out tables, and completing summaries.

In TOEFL PBT, the reading passages are historical or biographical narrative, argumentative, or exposition of a subject. Question types include main idea; stated, unstated, and implied details; vocabulary; and locating information.  

  • The next differences concern duration and the number of questions in the reading test. TOEFL iBT reading is 60 to 80 minutes long, while TOEFL PBT reading is 55 minutes. The duration of the TOEFL iBT reading section depends on the number of texts and questions. For some reason, it isn’t always the same. TOEFL iBT reading has a total of 36-65 questions, whereas TOEFL PBT reading always has 50 questions.
  • Scoring in TOEFL reading is also different between the two kinds. TOEFL iBT reading scores range from 0 to 30, but in PBT they are between 0 and 67.

Listening in iBT vs Listening in PBT

  • To begin, TOEFL PBT starts with listening. However, in TOEFL iBT, listening comes after reading.
  • In TOEFL iBT, the conversations in the listening test are all set in academic settings. Normally, they involve students and a professor in a lecture, or a student and a university staff such as a librarian.

For TOEFL PBT, the listening test is basically divided into two parts. The first part contains short conversations in both academic and non-academic settings, and the second part has longer conversations and lectures

  • As for duration and the number of questions, in TOEFL iBT, there are 39-57 listening questions and the test lasts for 60-90 minutes. TOEFL PBT has 50 listening questions (17 from short conversations and 33 from longer ones) and the test itself is 30-40 minutes long.
  • Just like in reading, scoring in TOEFL listening is also different between iBT and PBT. TOEFL iBT listening scores range from 0 to 30, but in PBT they are between 0 and 68.

Writing in iBT vs Writing in PBT

Writing in iBT is divided into two tasks; one integrated and one independent.

  • The first task is called integrated because test takers have to read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a lecture on the same topic, then they have to summarize the important points from the lecture and how they are related to the reading passage. This task lasts for 20 minutes.
  • In the independent task, test takers will be given a short statement and then they have to state their opinion, and support their argument with examples. This task lasts for 30 minutes.
  • Writing in TOEFL iBT is scored based on development, organization, coherence, and language use. Unlike listening, reading, and speaking which are scored at each test location, writing in iBT is scored by ETS examiners centrally. The scores range from 0 to 30.
  • For TOEFL PBT, there is only one essay that is similar to the independent task in iBT, and it lasts for 30 minutes. However, unlike in TOEFL iBT, writing in TOEFL PBT is graded separately on a scale of 0-6 and is not part of the final score. Meanwhile, TOEFL ITP doesn’t have a writing test.

Speaking in TOEFL iBT

  • Speaking is only tested in TOEFL iBT, and not in TOEFL PBT. Just like writing, this section has independent and integrated tasks. However, there is one independent task and three integrated tasks here. Speaking test in TOEFL iBT lasts for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • In the first task, which is an independent one, test takers express their opinion on familiar topics. The score is based on how able they are in speaking spontaneously, clearly, coherently, and logically.
  • In task 2 and 4, test takers have to read a short passage and then listen to a lecture or a conversation related to college or university life. Similar to writing, they then have to synthesize what they read and listen to answer the questions. In task 3, test takers only listen without reading. The score will be based on their ability to synthesize information and organization of their speech, and it will range from 0 to 30.

Structure in TOEFL PBT

In TOEFL ITP, there is a structure test instead of speaking. This skill is tested after listening and before reading. In this test, test takers answer 15 questions where they have to complete sentences correctly and 25 questions where they have to identify errors in sentences. The scores range from 0 to 68.

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Anthony McCormick,

IELC Managing Director