As you start your preparation for the TOEFL, you may hear and see a lot of acronyms tossed around: iBT, PBT—what does it all mean? TOEFL tests are available in both an electronic version (iBT) and a paper version (PBT). But, even with that explained, you may still be asking, “Should I take the TOEFL iBT or PBT?” As Lucas has mentioned before, this question is usually unimportant, because the PBT and iBT are seldom offered in the same place. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions. Look at the lists below to see if you can choose between the two formats.
The 20 countries and regions that offer both the PBT and iBT
Afghanistan, American Samoa, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgistan, Libya, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo
If you live in one of the above countries or regions, you may have access to both versions of the test. (Depending on where you live, and how far you’re willing to travel.)
The 12 cities that offer both the PBT and iBT
Herat (Afghanistan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Thimphu (Bhutan), Ouagadougou (Burkina Fasou), Addis Abada (Ethiopia), Baghdad (Iraq), Astana (Kazakhstan), Shymenkt (Kazakhstan), Windhoek (Namibia), Lisbon (Portugal), Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Capetown (South Africa), Lome (Togo)
If you live in any of the 12 local areas above, you can definitely choose between the PBT and iBT, because both are offered locally. (One exception: In Riyadh, women are given a choice between the PBT and iBT, but men must take the iBT.)
The difference between the two exams
So if you do have access to both tests, which one should you choose? To answer this question, you need to look at the basic structure of both exam.
As loyal readers know, the TOEFL iBT has four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Reading and Listening are multiple choice. Speaking and Writing require production of language. Because the iBT is completely computer-based, test-takers will read from the screen, listen from their headset, record speech into a microphone, and type written responses on a keyboard.
The TOEFL PBT has four sections too. Like the iBT, the PBT has sections for Reading, Listening, and Writing. However, the PBT’s fourth section is “Structure and Written Expression,” not Speaking. The TOEFL PBT Structure and Written Expression section focuses on grammar. The skills tested in this section closely relate to the skills of proofreading, editing, and revising in English writing. However, the section doesn’t have any lengthy writing tasks. Instead, correct grammatical forms and proper revisions are selected by multiple choice. You can see some example questions on the official TOEFL PBT website here.
Which exam to choose
There are few things you should consider when choosing between the PBT and iBT. I’ve outlined those considerations below.
There is also one more thing to consider when choosing between the PBT and iBT. You need to remember that the PBT is outdated. It doesn’t reflect the expectations of modern higher education. The iBT’s emphasis on speech instead of grammar is more in line with the kinds of English you’ll actually have to use once you begin your studies. So the iBT can probably better prepare you for your academic career, even at a school that accepts both versions of the test.