Should I Take the TOEFL iBT or PBT?

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.


Some of the countries and regions that offer both the PBT and iBT

Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo DRC, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Suriname, 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.) However, as mentioned, these may be only some of the countries that offer both versions of the TOEFL. The official TOEFL search engine for iBT test centers isn’t really designed for searches at the national level, and is instead geared toward city and town searches. So even if you don’t see your country above, you may want to look at the official PDF list of TOEFL PBT countries and cities. Then, if your city is on that list, you can log into your TOEFL iBT account, search for test centers, and see if your city or a nearby one also offers 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.


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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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