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 business 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.
This category is divided into three sections, based on written information and comprehension. Participants have 75 minutes to complete this category.
The speaking and writing category will cover English vocabulary, sentences and situations. You will have one hour to complete the test.
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.
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: