The TOEIC Test
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The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is designed for individuals whose first language is not English but who will need to speak, read and write the language confidently and competently, either in employment or education.
Although the test is not a pass or fail assessment, you will be assigned a level and this will reflect your degree of proficiency. The higher the level, the more proficient you are - and the more opportunities you could potentially have, whether in the workplace, access to training or opportunities in education.
The TOEIC test was first introduced by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the late 1970s. The company created the test to evaluate English-language proficiency within a business environment. The idea was developed by Yasuo Kitaoka to be used in Japan.
Kitaoka approached the ETS to develop a test that would assess English communication skills, but he soon realised that this was not an option. Yasuo spoke with the Ministry of Education but they were reluctant to change the English assessments, since there was already an established STEP Eiken test in place.
Yasuo didn’t give up and collaborated with his friend Yaeji Watanabe. Using Watanabe’s status, they created the TOEIC steering committee, which eventually secured government support. The first TOEIC test was developed in 1977; by 1979 students had begun to complete the TOEIC test papers.
There are various elements to the TOEIC test, including reading, listening, speaking and writing. The test is used by countless educational providers and employers to assess the language skills of interested students or candidates. The test is used in many ways:
Many different types of businesses use the tests, from small enterprises to large corporations.
Typically they are used in the recruitment and selection process, international projects, for staff that are expected to work regularly with English speaking clients, general training and career progression.
A significant proportion of higher education institutions will ask students to complete the TOEIC test before they graduate. In an educational setting, the TOEIC is used to determine whether students have an acceptable understanding of the English language, can understand English well and use it in their career after graduation.
There are specific training providers who teach English to non-native English speakers. They use the TOEIC to ensure that students are learning at the right level for their knowledge and ability, to measure student achievement and recognise when students have developed enough proficiency to use English in a business setting.
There are various elements to the TOEIC test. The main test has two key categories: listening and reading.
In the listening category, there are four sections; the reading category is slightly shorter with three sections.
The main test is two hours long and has a total of 200 questions, with 100 in each category.
There is also a speaking and writing section and this operates independently to the main listening and reading test. The speaking and writing section will take about an hour.
The listening category is the first part of the test and consists of four distinct sections. All sections (detailed below) will need to be completed in 45 minutes.
- Section 1: Photographs. Within this section, you will be presented with a series of photographs and then a set of four descriptions that explain what is happening in the photographs. You need to select the most suitable description that reflects what is happening in the photographs.
- Section 2: Response. Candidates will need to complete a total of 30 questions. After each question, you will be provided with some verbal responses. You need to choose the most accurate response to the question.
- Section 3: Conversation. A further set of 30 questions built around 10 dialogues. After each conversation, there will be three questions based on what was said. Candidates will be asked to review the answers and provide one that accurately reflects the content of the conversation.
- Section 4: Short Discussion. The final section involves a further 30 questions based on a series of 10 discussions. At the end of each discussion, you will have to answer three questions, choosing the most suitable response.
This category is divided into three sections, based on written information and comprehension. Participants have 75 minutes to complete this category.
- Section 1: Sentence Structure. Candidates are presented with 40 sentences, each of which has a word missing. You will be asked to select the most suitable word to complete the sentence.
- Section 2: Completeness. There are 12 questions in this section and you will be provided with some text. This could be from a letter, a business document or similar. There will be a section of text missing and you will be asked to complete the missing information.
- Section 3: Reading. The final part of this category consists of 48 questions. You will be asked to read a passage of text and then answer a question based on what you have read.
The speaking and writing category will cover English vocabulary, sentences and situations. You will have one hour to complete the test.
- Section 1: Speaking. You will be asked to read some information verbally, describe the content of a picture and provide answers to a series of 11 questions. You will also need to demonstrate that you can identify a solution and provide an opinion. Your skills in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and content will be assessed, and you will have 20 minutes to complete the questions.
- Section 2: Writing. Candidates will have an hour to work through eight questions. The first five questions will ask you to look at a picture and then create a sentence. The final two questions will ask you to provide a response to a request in writing (typically a letter). For the final question, you will need to form an opinion and then draft a response.
The TOEIC test is challenging and, in places, complex. Once you have completed each part of the test, your responses will be reviewed to formulate an overall score.
To give you an idea of what to expect in the TOEIC test questions, here are some examples of question formats.
The test provides a conversation for you to listen to. You will only hear the conversation once and it won't be written down, so you need to pay close attention to what is being said. Then you must choose the best answer for each question from the options provided.
1. Why did the man make a phone call?
a) To make an appointment
b) To cancel an appointment
c) To reschedule an appointment
d) To confirm an existing appointment
2. Who is the appointment with?
a) A veterinarian
b) A dentist
c) A physiotherapist
d) A psychiatrist
Read the sentence and then select the best answer to fill in the gap and complete the statement.
1. I think the course material is very __.
2. James __ the interview and got the job.
You will also be required to read a variety of texts and answer multiple-choice questions based on the text. As with all the questions, carefully read any provided text and questions to help you choose the best answer.
It is important to understand that the TOEIC test is not a pass or fail assessment; candidates cannot fail. Rather, the test assesses your competence in the English language on a scale between 5 and 495.
Your score will be calculated based on the number of correct answers that you provide, and this will then be converted to what is known as a scaled score. The scaled scores for each category are combined to create a single score that indicates your level of proficiency.
The listening and reading sections have their own bands for scoring. The highest level of proficiency for listening is 400.
The next level is 300, which indicates you have a good understanding of the English language but may have overlooked some of the finer details or had difficulty understanding parts of the test.
The lowest range is around 200. If you score at this level, there is a good chance that you may have asked for information to be repeated multiple times before you could grasp what was being said.
In the reading section, you will be scored in a similar way. The highest level you can attain in this section is 450, and to achieve this you must be able to demonstrate a high degree of competence.
If you score around 350 you have a good understanding of English but struggle with certain elements such as complex words. If you score at 250 or less you will have had difficulty in several areas, mainly when trying to paraphrase information. The lowest level that you can attain is 150, which indicates you were only able to recognise a few basic sayings.
The speaking and writing test is scored on a scale of 0 to 200. You will be given a score for each skill.
An employer or educational institution will have their own ideas about what is an acceptable level for your English language skills. There won’t be an ideal score that would apply to all businesses. It will depend on a variety of factors such as the role and the extent to which you will need to communicate.
The best approach to this test is to practice all four elements as much as you can (see below).
The TOEIC test can appear challenging – so the right technique and adequate preparation are important. Consider the following:
Understand your strengths and weaknesses – Before you start to prepare for the test, take the time to identify your weaker language skills. There are lots of practice tests that you can complete online, so take advantage of these to find out how proficient you are.
Apply common sense – The way that the test is designed means that there are no ‘wrong’ answers. There are just certain answers that make more sense than others. So use your initiative and apply common sense. One of the best ways to answer the questions is to think of yourself as though you were in a business situation. What response would you provide? Which one sounds the best?
Look for cues – There may be some questions that you have absolutely no idea how to answer. In which case, remain composed, read the question again and look for subtle cues that might indicate the best response. Look at the context of the scenario being described, since this will provide hints as to what the answer could be. Try to eliminate responses first; the one that you are left with could be the strongest answer.
The context of certain words – The English language is complicated, even more so when you encounter two words that are spelt exactly the same but have a completely different meaning. The same applies when two words are spelt differently but sound the same, eg ‘peace’ and ‘piece’. Be careful of these words and ensure that you get them in the right context.
Conversation – During the test, you will be expected to listen to and understand conversations and discussions. Before the test, you should listen to English conversations to ensure that you can keep up with the natural pace. Familiarise yourself with how conversations are structured and how various words and phrases are used.