Since its introduction in late 2005, the Internet-Based test (iBT) has progressively replaced both the computer-based (CBT) and paper-based (PBT) tests, although paper-based testing is still used in select areas. The iBT has been introduced in phases, with the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy in 2005 and the rest of the world in 2006, with test centers added regularly. The CBT was discontinued in September 2006 and these scores are no longer valid.
Although initially, the demand for test seats was higher than availability, and candidates had to wait for months, it is now possible to take the test within one to four weeks in most countries. The four-hour test consists of four sections, each measuring one of the basic language skills (while some tasks require integrating multiple skills) and all tasks focus on language used in an academic, higher-education environment. Note-taking is allowed during the iBT. The test cannot be taken more than once a week.
The Reading section consists of 3–5 passages, each approximately 700 words in length and questions about the passages. The passages are on academic topics; they are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook. Passages require understanding of rhetorical functions such as cause-effect, compare-contrast and argumentation. Students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, sentence insertion, vocabulary, rhetorical purpose and overall ideas. New types of questions in the iBT require filling out tables or completing summaries. Prior knowledge of the subject under discussion is not necessary to come to the correct answer.
The Listening section consists of 6 passages, 3–5 minutes in length and questions about the passages. These passages include 2 student conversations and 4 academic lectures or discussions. A conversation involves 2 speakers, a student and either a professor or a campus service provider. A lecture is a self-contained portion of an academic lecture, which may involve student participation and does not assume specialized background knowledge in the subject area. Each conversation and lecture stimulus is heard only once. Test takers may take notes while they listen and they may refer to their notes when they answer the questions. Each conversation is associated with 5 questions and each lecture with 6. The questions are meant to measure the ability to understand main ideas, important details, implications, relationships between ideas, organization of information, speaker purpose and speaker attitude.
The Speaking section consists of 6 tasks, 2 independent tasks and 4 integrated tasks. In the 2 independent tasks, test takers answer opinion questions on familiar topics. They are evaluated on their ability to speak spontaneously and convey their ideas clearly and coherently. In 2 of the integrated tasks, test takers read a short passage, listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and answer a question by combining appropriate information from the text and the talk. In the 2 remaining integrated tasks, test takers listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and then respond to a question about what they heard. In the integrated tasks, test takers are evaluated on their ability to appropriately synthesize and effectively convey information from the reading and listening material. Test takers may take notes as they read and listen and may use their notes to help prepare their responses. Test takers are given a short preparation time before they have to begin speaking.
The Writing section measures a test taker's ability to write in an academic setting and consists of 2 tasks, 1 integrated task and 1 independent task. In the integrated task, test takers read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker discuss the same topic. The test taker will then write a summary about the important points in the listening passage and explain how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. In the independent task, test takers must write an essay that states, explains and supports their opinion on an issue, supporting their opinions or choices, rather than simply listing personal preferences or choices.
Task Description Approx. time
READING 3–5 passages, each containing 12–14 questions 60–100 minutes
LISTENING 6–9 passages, each containing 5–6 questions 60–90 minutes
BREAK - 10 minutes
SPEAKING 6 tasks and 6 questions 20 minutes
WRITING 2 tasks and 2 questions 55 minutes
It should be noted that one of the sections of the test will include extra, uncounted material. Educational Testing Service includes extra material in order to pilot test questions for future test forms. When test-takers are given a longer section, they should give equal effort to all of the questions because they do not know which question will count and which will be considered extra. For example, if there are four reading passages instead of three, then three of those passages will count and one of the passages will not be counted. Any of the four passages could be the uncounted one.