Summary: Frequently asked questions about the TOEIC exam with answers

How long is the test?

Two hours

How many questions are there?

100 listening questions and 100 reading questions

What kinds of questions are there?

All the questions are multiple choice, where you choose the one correct answer from three or four options.

What things should take into the exam?

You will need a pencil and eraser, plus spares, but you will probably not be allowed to take them inside a pencil case to avoid cheating. You will not need a pen. You will also need photo ID with your signature written on it, for example a passport.

There is also quite a long list of things you can't take into the exam. As well as the things that could help you cheat such as notes and dictionaries, you are also need to make sure that your watch alarm and mobile phone do not ring and disturb the test takers, and that you do not take in highlighter pens or a ruler. These last two are to stop some people getting an unfair advantage by using special reading techniques.

What's the difference between TOEFL and TOEIC and which one should I take?

Both tests are written and administered by ETS, an independent non-profit organisation in the USA. TOEFL was designed as a university entrance test (similar to IELTS in Australia and now the UK) and contains some language which is similar to what you would hear and use if studying in an American university. TOEIC was designed as a test of Business English, but is perhaps better described as a test of more everyday English, including the English that you might use in your working life. Although many people choose TOEFL if they want to enter a university and TOEIC if they want to show their English level on a job application, both are often just used as a proof of General English level and you might want to choose which by how well they are recognized in the country you wish to use it in instead of how you want to use it. Alternatively, you can choose by which one you think you will get a better score in- if you have already used English in your studies that might help you to get a higher TOEFL score, and the same with business and TOEIC.

Does the TOEIC run out after two years?

No, once you have taken TOEIC you can write that score on your CV forever, but employers might be suspicious of an old score and ETS recommends that you retake the test after 2 years because your ability will probably have changed.

Is there a break between the listening and reading sections of the TOEIC test?


What can I do if I need to go to toilet during the TOEIC test?

Perhaps to make sure you don't drink too much before the exam and therefore don't disturb the other students, no information is given about this by ETS. It may be possible to go to the toilet during the reading test, but as people usually run out of time during this test it could have a very negative impact on your marks.

How well recognized is TOEIC outside Asia?

TOEIC is also popular in the USA, Canada and Mexico, and is used inside some large corporations in Europe. Although an employer in the UK might not have heard of TOEIC, it is still better known than BULATS (the equivalent Cambridge exam), and you should easily be able to explain on your CV and/ or in the interview that it is the world's most popular Business English test and what your level means.

Where can I get real past exam papers to do exam practice with?

You can't. ETS does not make past papers available to either students or textbook writers. If you see a book that claims to be based on real past papers or the analysis of past papers, it is not true. The closest thing you can find is probably a book with the official ETS logo on the cover.

What is the most difficult part of the TOEIC test?

Statistically, candidates score higher on the Reading paper than on the Listening test, but this might be at least partly due to these tests being most popular in countries where English listening skills are generally weak.

Do I need to take a class to improve my TOEIC score?

For most students, studying with a teacher is better than studying at home alone. You might want to particularly think about taking a class if:

1.      You are unmotivated

2.      The practice materials that you are using tell you which answers are wrong but not why

3.      You have taken the test or practice tests several times and your scores have not been rising

4.      You keep making the same kinds of mistakes

If a book says "TOEIC ®" on it, does that mean it is an official ETS exam book?

No. ETS gives official recognition to very few TOEIC preparation textbooks and test practice books, and although many of the others might also be good practice there are many examples of cheaply made and unrealistic TOEIC books out there who have not been checked by anyone. You should be particularly careful when choosing materials for the new (after 2007) TOEIC exam, as many small publishers printed books before the final details of the exam were made public by ETS.

What level should I be before I take the TOEIC test?

Although there is no fail in TOEIC, students who are less than Intermediate level will find that their scores go up and down quite a lot every time that they take the test because they have to guess quite a lot of questions. Low level students will also find that doing a TOEIC course or practice TOEIC exam papers will not teach them the language they need to improve their general English level. Perhaps for this reason, TOEIC has introduced the lower level "TOEIC Bridge test", but as yet it is not recognized by many employers and so might not be as useful on your CV as a TOEIC score.

Can I eat and drink in the TOEIC test?

No, you cannot take food and drink into the test. This probably also means no chewing gum and no sweets.

How can I explain what my TOEIC score means to someone who doesn't know the exam?

When you get your test score you will also be given a "can do" sheet that tells you what the score means that you can copy onto your CV and/ or explain in an interview when you apply for a job. It is also worth mentioning that TOEIC is the most popular test of Business English in the world.

Is the new style TOEIC more difficult than the old one?

Although the new test sounds more difficult because it has longer listening and reading texts and less of the easier Listening Part One (photograph) questions, ETS say that the tests are equivalent, and the first batch of official test takers in May 2007 in Japan did not especially complain of the difficulty or see an unexpected change in their scores. The skills needed are, however, slightly different, so some people will find one version of the test slightly more difficult than the other.

How long does it take to get the TOEIC test results?

It depends on the country you are in, but is usually less than a week.

What happens if I am late for the test?

You will not be allowed into the test centre, you will not be able to take the test on another day without paying the full fee again, and you will not get any refund. Please make sure you arrive at least 20 minutes before the arrival time you are told.

If I do really badly, will I still get a certificate?

As there is no pass and fail mark in TOEIC, everyone gets a certificate.

If I don't know the answer, should I leave it blank?

No, never leave a blank. As no marks are taken off for wrong answers, if you don't know the answer try to eliminate any you think are wrong and then quickly guess between those that are left and move onto the next question. In the reading test, if you finish everything and have time at the end you can go back and try these questions one more time if you like, but make sure you write down some answer the first time you try it in case you run out of time.

Can you cram for the TOEIC test?

No. You can improve your score with some tips and tactics for reading and listening, but as grammar is not a big part of the test there is no list of language points that you are sure to come up in the test that you can learn in a short time. TOEIC is a test of all proficiency levels up to very advanced, so virtually all standard American English could come up in the exam.

Do I need to be working/ be a businessman to do the test?

Using English in your working life or studying a Business or Economics subject in English can help a lot for the test, but having a generally high level of English and being prepared for the test are much more important.

Is TOEFL a General English version of TOEIC?

Many people use TOEFL that way, but in fact TOEFL was specifically designed to prepare people to study in American universities, and there is as much specialist academic language in TOEFL as there is Business English in TOEIC. In both tests, however, all of the "specialist" language used is stuff that native speakers who are not businessmen or university students would also use.

Many people say they can't finish the reading paper. Should I take a speed reading course?

Speed reading is not recommended for most non-native speakers, and some experts do not recommend it even for native speakers either. Speed reading is a way of reading a whole text quickly, whereas the best tactic in the TOEIC for reading quickly is usually to read the questions first and try to find the place where the right information is, or at least to skip unimportant parts like the tops and bottoms of emails.

Is TOEIC or TOEFL better known internationally?

In some parts of Asia TOEFL is not as well known as TOEIC, but in most of the rest of the world TOEFL is more famous. In Australia, the UK and parts of Europe, IELTS and the other Cambridge tests such as FCE are better known. However, if you can properly explain what the test consists of, what organisation gives the certificates and what the level means on your CV or in conversation, any of these international qualifications should be useful.

Is TOEIC a test of American English?

It certainly helps to study American English for the TOEIC, especially for the Listening part of the test. If, for example, you only know British English business terms, some time spent studying the American equivalents can be very useful. However, the new format exam also includes some British English and Australian English speakers, and people who have only studied American English since school can find these parts difficult to understand.

What are the differences between the versions of the TOEIC before and after the 2007 changes?

The main changes are that in the new style test there is no error correction section and some of the listening and reading texts are longer with more questions per text. The length of the exam and the number of the questions stays the same, and although the new version seems more difficult ETS say the level of difficulty is also the same.

What TOEIC level is good enough to get a job in English?

Although some jobs such as translators ask for scores of 800 or above, any score above about 300 shows a basic ability to use English in the workplace, it simply depends on the job.

I've heard different opinions on whether TOEIC is a Business English test or not. Is it?

TOEIC was specifically designed to be a test of Business English and the English that people need to use in the workplace. As business is part of all of our lives nowadays, however, it is perfectly useable as a General English test.

How long do I need to study before I take the exam?

In terms of doing exam practice, it is perfectly possible to do the test without any practice at all but even just doing one practice test is very useful at least for making you feel less nervous on the day of the test because you know what you are doing in each part of the test. Make sure, however, that you do not do any practice on the night before the exam. The longest you will probably want to do just exam practice is a month- any longer than that and a good proportion of your preparation for the exam should focus on getting your general English and Business English level up. For example, a one year course or self study plan should probably be 60 to 80% general practice of English and the rest grammar, vocabulary, skills and exam practice for the TOEIC.

Why did my last TOEIC score go down even though my English is at the same level?

It could be due to outside factors like you being tired or stressed. Alternatively, it could just be a statistical blip because you were or unlucky in the match between the questions and texts in a particular paper and your knowledge. In some cases, silly mistakes like writing the answers next to the wrong question number can also have an impact.

Why did my TOEIC score stay the same, even though I have been studying lots of English?

Apart from the reasons given in the question above, this could be because you have been studying lots of new language that you can't yet use quickly in test conditions and/ or haven't been revising the language you knew before and so have got slower at understanding it. Another common problem is that as your ability to understand the reading and listening texts increases you start trying to understand every word rather than looking out for the most important information.

What TOEIC materials should I buy?

In terms of making sure it is close to what you will see in the exam, it is best to choose something officially certified and recommended by ETS (the company that writes the TOEIC and TOEFL exams). You will need to carefully read the back of the book to make sure this is true, as many other publishers understandably want their materials to look official too. If you can't find anything with the ETS logo on, have already finished those books or will be using them in class and want something different for self-study, books from the other big international publishers are also usually okay.

In terms of the kind of book you want to buy, that will depend on how much time you have before the exam, if you are taking a class and what materials you are using in it, and what your own strengths and weaknesses are.

What is the single most important part of my English to improve if I want to improve my TOEIC score?

Most people find that a lack of Business English and General English vocabulary is what is most holding down their score. The second biggest factor is often a lack of reading speed, and the third is often not understanding fast, natural speech.

Why does my TOEIC teacher have speaking and pronunciation parts in class, even though I am only going to do listening and reading in the exam?

Speaking in a TOEIC class can be very useful- in getting you ready to listen to or read something, in discussing exam tactics, and in practising vocabulary and pronunciation so that you understand it when it is spoken at natural speed during the test.

Is TOEIC an Advanced level exam?

To get 850 points or above in TOEIC is a proof that you have Advanced listening and reading skills and can use those skills quickly and efficiently in a business setting. However, some people find it possible to reach that mark without having truly Advanced level writing and/ or speaking skills, and employers might want to give you an additional test on these skills in order to check your all round English level. Jobs that only ask for TOEIC 700 or below might not need an Advanced level of English, but students generally need to be at least Intermediate in order to benefit fully from studying for the test.

Do I need to do well in both the Reading and the Listening papers?

Not necessarily. The final mark is the total score from both papers, so if you make some mistakes in one paper it might be possible to make those marks up by doing better in the other one.

Although there is no grammar paper, I heard that they secretly test your grammar in the reading and listening papers. Is that true?

There are a few questions that you can get wrong by, for example, mixing up the meaning of tenses. However, most people find that the vocabulary is more difficult and more important for passing the exam.

Copyright © 2008

Written by Alex Case for

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