How to Pass the TOEIC Test
Updated 23 June 2021
What Is TOEIC?
The Test of English for International Communication, or TOEIC test, is a widely used English Language skills test designed to assess language skills for the workplace in a fair and unbiased way.
The test is used globally by employers, workers and higher education institutions to:
- Certify English language skills
- Assess suitability for employment
- Demonstrate that graduates from non-English speaking backgrounds have the necessary language skills to navigate the workplace
There are two separate TOEIC tests:
The Listening and Reading TOEIC test and the Speaking and writing TOEIC test. These are suitable for intermediate to advanced English speakers who need to demonstrate their language skills to employers.
TOEIC bridge tests are suitable for beginners and will help identify weaknesses in certain English skills to prepare for the full TOEIC test.
History of TOEIC
TOEIC tests were designed in Japan by Yasuo Kitaoka at the end of the 1970s to meet the demand across Japanese corporations for a standardized English skills test.
After creating a steering committee, the TOEIC tests gained government approval and were used to demonstrate English to improve Japanese businesses’ access to the global market by improving the language skills of their employees.
Speaking and writing tests were introduced to the TOEIC test in 2006.
Other amendments include long passages in the listening and reading sections, and listening tests read with Australasian, North American and British accents.
There is no longer a spelling and grammar error spotting exercise, and there are fewer photo description questions.
The test better prepares employees for 21st century communication (online, on video calls and through email) than it did when it focused on writing and reading letters and official document passages.
Who Uses the TOEIC?
Businesses and TOEIC
Businesses across the world use the TOEIC test during recruitment and selection, to verify the English skill levels of candidates in an unbiased and standardized way.
It is the most used English Language test in businesses in the US.
It is important for businesses to recruit new workers with suitable communication and ensure that they are not discriminating against candidates who do not speak English as a first language.
It is not uncommon for some businesses and professions to require all candidates to sit a standardized English language test.
Before being issued a teaching license, for example, all prospective teachers will be asked to demonstrate their English language skills, regardless of their background.
Higher Education Institutions and TOEIC
Higher education institutions will often ask international applicants to sit the TOEIC tests as part of the application and entry process.
Some will also ask candidates to sit the TOEIC test before graduating, as universities are under increasing pressure to produce graduates who are ready for work.
A TOEIC test helps the university demonstrate that a graduate has adequate English communication skills to enter the workplace.
English Language Training providers use TOEIC tests to ensure students are learning at the right level and to recognize when students have learned enough English to use in a business setting.
There are other intermediate and advanced English language skills tests that are standardized and globally recognized, but the TOEIC test is business-specific.
Therefore, individuals looking to advance their careers chose the TOEIC tests over other English Language skills tests to demonstrate that they can communicate in business environments, both in writing and in conversation.
What to Expect When Taking the TOEIC
There are two separate TOEIC exams, and it is possible to apply for one or both of these.
The Listening and Reading test takes around two hours to complete, and contains 200 questions, 100 in each section.
The Speaking and Writing test takes one hour, and also contains 100 questions in total. This test is taken at the same time as the Listening and Reading test, as an extension.
The tests are computer-based and are administered at testing centers across the US.
The listening section of the TOEIC test comprises 100 questions split into four sections. The listening section of the TOEIC test takes 45 minutes.
In the photographs section of the TOEIC, four short statements are each spoken once.
The candidate should select the one which best describes the photograph.
There are six questions in the photograph section.
These statements will be read aloud once:
a) The women are both watching a film
b) The women are sitting very close together
c) The women are using a computer and tablet
d) The women are standing up at their desk
Correct answer: c) The women are using a computer and tablet
The question response section comprises 25 questions. Each question is read out loud once and candidates should pick the most suitable answer from a list of three options.
The question and answers will be read out loud:
Question: "Where will the conference lunch take place?"
a) Delegates will be welcomed in the hotel lobby
b) Delegates will eat in the hotel dining room for lunch and dinner
c) The conference break out rooms will have tea and coffee available
Correct answer: b) Delegates will eat in the hotel dining room for lunch and dinner
The conversations section comprises 39 questions. For each question, candidates are played a conversation between two or three people.
The conversations are not printed and are only played once.
Whilst listening, candidates can read the questions, which will then be read aloud, and candidates should select the best response for each question.
Some questions might have additional information in the form of diagrams or pictures.
The conversation will be read out loud:
“Hi, My name is Emma. I’m calling about collecting my car”
“Hi, Emma. Can I ask you to remind me of the make of your car?”
“Sure. It’s a blue Citroen Berlingo. I needed to have the exhaust replaced.”
“Oh yes. We had to order some parts. They arrived this morning. The car will be ready to collect this afternoon. I’ll call you when it is ready to collect”
“Ok. I’ll give you a call later and find out if the work is done.”
“Sure, if we can’t get it done today, we will get it repaired by tomorrow morning.”
1. What information does the man ask Emma for first?
a) Her full name
b) The color of her car
c) The make of her car
2. Where is Emma calling?
a) A garage
b) A hotel
c) A cafeteria
3. What is the man going to do next?
a) Order some parts
b) Call her when the car is ready
c) Wait for new parts to arrive
1. c) The make of her car
2. a) A garage
3. b) Call her when the car is ready
The talks section of the TOEIC test comprises 30 questions. In each question, an announcement or narration read out loud by one person will be heard one time.
Whilst listening, candidates read questions about the passage.
The questions are then read aloud and candidates should select the best response for each question.
The passage will be read aloud:
Today I am going to give you some advice about record keeping. Record keeping is very important as customers may return to make a complaint about our accountancy services and we need an accurate record of phone conversations.
When taking records, always write your name, the date and the time of the phone conversation. Use the main section to take accurate notes of all complaints. Use the lower section of the form to detail your next actions. Show the ticket to your supervisor for review straight away.
Please use black or blue ink, not colored pens. If you make a mistake, cross it out. Don’t use correction fluid. Do not file the report yourself. Your supervisor will make sure it is filed in the right place.
1. Where does the woman work?
a) In a shop
b) In a train station
c) In a customer service office
d) In a doctor surgery
2. What should the employee do if they make a mistake?
a) Correct with correction fluid
b) Cross it out
c) Use colored pens to highlight the mistake
d) Show the ticket to their supervisor
3. What should employees write in the top part of the ticket?
a) Their name and date
b) The time of the phone conversation
c) Their name, the date and the time of the phone conversation
d) The name of the customer
1. c) In a customer service office
2. b) Cross it out
3. c) Their name, the date and the time of the phone conversation
The reading section of the TOEIC test lasts for 75 minutes and comprises 100 questions.
There are four subsections of the reading test:
- Incomplete sentences
- Single passages
- Multiple passages
- Text completion
1. Incomplete Sentences:
The incomplete sentences section of the TOEIC test comprises 30 questions.
In each question, there is a sentence with one space to fill with a word. Candidates should select the best word from a list of four options.
Strong sales ____ in driving second profit, rising 60% from six months earlier.
a) played a large role
Correct answer: a) played a large role
2. Text Completion:
The text completion section of the TOEIC test comprises 16 questions.
Similar to the incomplete sentences section, the text completion section asks candidates to select the best words or phrases to fill gaps in an extended passage, with a list of four options for each space in the text.
Colleagues must keep (1)________records of communication with customers, by saving and organizing their email inboxes. If colleagues feel other members of their team are communicating in an unprofessional way, they should (2) ______ to their supervisor. It is crucial to company communication that everyone on a team keeps online communication (3) __________ and use email to keep a record of any customer complaints or inquiries.
a) up to date
d) write down
a) to a minimum
d) On the shelves
1. a) up to date
2. b) contact
3. a) to a minimum
3. Single Passages:
The single passages section comprises 29 questions with multiple-choice answers.
The candidate should read each paragraph, read the question and select the best answer from a choice of four by marking it on the answer sheet.
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1. What does the company offer to new businesses?
a) Accounting services
b) Advertising services
c) Recruitment services
2. What does the service provide?
a) Job adverts in newspapers
b) Adverts for jobs only on LinkedIn
c) Cross-platform advertising and handling of all applicant communication
d) Help with the interview process
3. Which of the following is not included in the company’s basic deal?
a) Writing job adverts
b) Onboarding new employees
c) Managing LinkedIn
d) Communication with applicants
1. c) Recruitment services
2. c) Cross-platform advertising and handling of all applicant communication
3. b) Onboarding new employees
4. Multiple Passages:
The multiple passages section comprises 25 questions with longer passages of text split into multiple paragraphs.
Candidates should read each set of passages then answer the multiple-choice questions by marking them on the answer sheet.
To all Staff at Horizons,
I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend. I am writing to ask for final confirmations from those of you who would like to attend our annual weekend retreat on the 25th of July. I have already booked transport and accommodation for those who have confirmed that they will be attending but need to give final numbers to the hotel by the end of the day on Friday.
Horizons have agreed to cover the costs of transport and accommodation for all staff wishing to attend the retreat. Currently, we have booked the train to Georgetown at 0700 on the 25th of July, and the return train back to Boston Central at 1900 on the 27th.
We will be sharing twin rooms at the Palace Grand Hotel, which is just opposite the station, and attending our program of activities at the Georgetown outdoor centre, which is a short walk away each day, from 1000 until 1500. After this, staff will have free time to explore the area before returning to the hotel for dinner and drinks.
If you would like to attend the retreat weekend but are yet to let me know, please can you confirm your attendance as soon as possible.
Thank you for your email and apologies for my delay in confirming that I would like to attend the retreat weekend. I have been away at a conference running training for another company.
I was wondering if it is possible for me to have my own room at the hotel? I find it hard to get rest if there is another person in the room and I think it would be more comfortable. I am happy to book and pay for this myself.
I would also prefer to drive to Georgetown so I have some flexibility in my return journey. I am on annual leave from the 28th of July and would like to visit family in the DC area, so there is no use in me returning to Boston for one night.
Please let me know if there are any issues.
*Kind regards, *
1. Why was Jenna late in responding to the email from Alan?
a) She was ill
b) She has been busy at work
c) She was at a conference
d) She was taking part in a training course
2. Which of the following statements is true about the hotel that has been booked for Horizon employees?
a) They will eat dinner at the hotel
b) The rooms do not have bathrooms
c) They will all have their own rooms
d) The attendees need to book and pay for the hotel themselves
3. What is Alan likely to do after receiving Jennas reply?
a) Book trains for Jenna
b) Tell her she is not able to attend the retreat weekend
c) Ask her to book a room in the hotel for herself
d) Cancel a train ticket
4. Where will Jenna go after the retreat weekend?
a) Back to Boston with the rest of the company
b) To visit family in the DC area
c) Jenna will stay in Georgetown
d) To a training conference
1. c) She was at a conference
2. a) They will eat dinner at the hotel
3. c) Ask her to book a room in the hotel for herself
4. b) To visit family in the DC area
The speaking test is a short test comprising 11 questions, each with a different demand.
In summary, the speaking test lasts 20 minutes, and the different questions test:
- Describe a picture
- Propose solutions
- Express an opinion with good justifications
Then, your voice is recorded and sent to be marked. Scores arrive in three to four weeks.
Questions 1–2 are reading questions. Candidates have 45 seconds to read the passage, before reading it out loud to be recorded, also within a 45 second time frame.
In question 3, candidates need to describe a picture, with 45 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak their answer out loud.
Questions 4–6 are response questions. In each, a candidate hears a question and has only 3 seconds to respond to the first question, with 15 seconds to respond to questions 5 and 6.
In questions 7–9 candidates should respond to questions with informational answers. Each question has a different time limit to answer, differing between 3 and 30 seconds, increasing as the questions get more difficult.
In questions 10 and 11, candidates propose a solution to a problem. Again, each question has a differing time limit, depending on how complex the question is.
The writing section of the TOEIC test comprises 8 questions.
The writing section tests candidates’ abilities to:
- Accurately use grammar
- Spell & use vocabulary
- Express and justify opinions
In questions 1–5 candidates need to write one sentence based on a picture, which must include two words or phrases given on the answer sheet.
In questions 6–7, candidates should respond to a written request in email form. Candidates have ten minutes to read and answer each email.
The final question is an essay question. In a minimum of 300 words, candidates should state, explain and support their opinion in response to a simple question.
Write ONE sentence that is based on a picture. With each picture, you will be given TWO words or phrases that you must use in your sentence. You can change the forms of the words and you can use the words in any order.
Words to include: Desk/Together
How the Test Is Scored
The test scores your English speaking abilities on a scale of 5 to 495.
It is really important to understand that there is no pass or fail grade.
The number of correct answers on a test are converted to a scaled score. This means the test scores for each section of the test are combined, but adjusted to give an overall score for the test, as each section is scored differently.
The highest level for listening is 400, and the highest score for the reading test is 450.
The speaking and writing test is marked on a scale of 0 to 200, and you will be given a separate score for each section.
An overall score of 400 or above would indicate to an employer that you have an excellent command of English.
A score of around 300 indicates that your command of English is quite good, but you might miss key details when listening or reading and make some mistakes in writing and speaking.
A score of 200 or less would indicate that you still have a lot of work to do in English and may not be ready for working in an English speaking environment.
Every employer or institution will have its own ideas about what it is looking for in a TOEIC test score. There are no verbal grades, such as pass, merit or honors, attached to these scores.
What a business will look for will depend on the extent to which you will need to communicate in English on a day-to-day basis. So, do your best.
A score of 200 or less may be adequate for some workplaces, and so the outcome of the test isn’t something to dwell on too much.
Key Tips for Success
Use the Official ETS Preparation Resources
ETS, the company that designs, regulates and administers the tests via testing centers, provides thorough preparation materials on its website.
- Online practice tests
- Test preparation books
- Free sample questions
- An examination handbook
- A full preparation course
Other test resources are available from practice test websites; however, the ETS resources are the most thorough and accurately reflect the updated content of the TOEIC test.
Take a Practice Test First
Assess your language level and weaknesses by taking a practice test as the starting point of your preparation.
As the ETS resources are paid, you can establish whether you need to buy the full test preparation materials or whether the free sample questions will be enough to support you whilst you prepare for the test.
Get to Grips With the TOEIC Test Format
The TOEIC test comprises a wide variety of question formats with tight time restrictions.
It is important to spend time practicing sample questions that follow the format of the test, with questions that are read out loud and have multiple-choice answers in the same format as the TOEIC test.
Look for the Best Answer, Not the Right Answer
If you are unsure how to answer a question, look for the best option on the list.
There are likely to be subtle cues as to what the right answer might be in the text or listening passage; for example, repetitions of vocabulary in the text and the answers.
Use a Process of Elimination
Another strategy for finding the best answer is to eliminate any answers which definitely do not fit the question.
If the best answer doesn’t jump out from the list of four on the first or second reading, carefully read the answers again and eliminate any which definitely don’t fit.
Guess if You Don’t Know the Answer
If you are still not sure of the answer, it is best to guess the answer.
Marks are not deducted from the score of the TOEIC test for incorrect responses, and with four answers for the multiple-choice questions, there is a 25% chance you will guess correctly.
Use TV, Film and Radio to Practice Listening
Get into the habit of listening to English in English-speaking tv and films, music, online broadcasts or radio to automatically improve your language skills.
By using subtitles when watching TV, you can improve your listening and reading skills at the same time.
Pay careful attention to the language used, and seek out content from Australia, America and different parts of the UK, as different accents are used in the TOEIC test.
This will help you adjust to the different rhythms and inflections of each regional dialect and accent.
Use Online Articles, Magazines and Newspapers to Practice Reading
When reading online, get into the habit of visiting American, Australian and British news sites, as well as other sources of information written in English.
As the TOEIC is a business English test, seek out work-related content and articles, and buy newspapers or magazines with business sections that relate to a wide variety of industries.
If you are reading articles, you can improve your vocabulary retention by using a dictionary or google translate.
To look up any new and useful vocabulary you come across. A great vocabulary retention habit is to write down ten new words per day in a small notebook.
Write the definition on the right-hand side and the word on the left, then fold the paper over, say it out loud, write it down somewhere else and open it to check it.
In this way, you are creating your own revision resource, and compounding your retention of vocabulary and spelling by using new words straight away.
Write an English Journal
Spending five to ten minutes a day journaling in English can help you practice writing quickly and fluently, but will also help you think in English more proficiently.
By writing about anything in your day, and trying to describe feelings and experiences in detail, you will quickly build the ability to write within a time constraint.
You could even time yourself whilst journaling to improve your accuracy when writing under time pressure.
Use English Everyday
Find as many opportunities to practice English in your day-to-day life as you can.
These could include speaking to your family over dinner in English or finding a friend you can arrange a short, regular English phone call with.
The more you speak, the more confident and fluent your English will become.
How to Register for the Test
You can register for the TOEIC test either online or by post. All the information for registration is available on the ETS website.
Tests take place 12 times a year in the US, on Saturdays. If you are registering for a test, the deadline for registration is the Thursday in the week before the test or nine days before the test.
So, if you are applying for the test on Saturday 14th of April, you will need to register and pay for the test by Thursday the 5th of April.
All the dates for TOEIC tests can be found here.
The test fee for public testing sessions in the United States is $75. Other fees may apply for sending scores to the United States or international locations.
The TOEIC test is a demanding test for intermediate or advanced English speakers looking to demonstrate their 'business English' capabilities to future employers.
More general English tests are available through other providers, so only apply to take the TOEIC test if it will be beneficial to your career.
If you are working toward gaining the full TOEIC qualification, but are working more at a beginner English level, then taking a TOEIC bridge test is a good introduction to the TOEIC testing format and can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in business English, to prepare for the full tests.
The TOEIC test has been adjusted to focus on listening and speaking skills, with reading and writing taking up less space in the test. TV and radio can therefore be great practice tools, as in the TOEIC test, passages will only be read once.
When preparing, focus on these sections first.