The TOEIC test is a two-hour multiple-choice test that consists of 200 questions divided into 100 questions each in listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Each candidate receives independent marks for written and oral comprehension on a scale from 5 to 495 points. The total score adds up to a scale from 10 and 990 points. The TOEIC certificate exists in five colours, corresponding to achieved results: orange (10-215), brown (220-465), green (470-725), blue (730-855) and gold (860-990).
There are an estimated 3 million test takers in 60 different countries per year, but most of those are Japanese and South Koreans. For that reason, the TOEIC test is virtually unknown outside Japan, South Korea and some of their neighbouring countries in East Asia. Its precursor, the TOEFL test, has more international recognition and prestige. However, things are gradually changing in Europe.
The questions attempt to reenact international business environments and contain vocabulary and usage that are not necessarily needed in everyday life. Even a native speaker will find it hard to get full marks unless they have a good educational background, which strongly suggests it is not a true test of English communicative competence.
In answer to criticisms that the Listening Section hires only American and Canadian English speakers despite its "International" appellation, the year 2006 saw a major renewal. The changes can be summarized as follows:
Overall, passages have become longer.
Part 1 has fewer questions involving photo descriptions.
The Listening Section hires not only North American English speakers but also British, Australian and New Zealand English speakers.
The ratio is 25% each for American, Canadian, British and Aussie-Kiwi pronunciation.
Part 6 no longer contains the error spotting task, which has been criticized as unrealistic in a corporate environment. This part instead adopts the task wherein the test taker fills in the blanks in incomplete sentences.
Part 7 contains not only single passage questions but also double passage questions wherein the test taker has to read and compare the two related passages such as e-mail correspondence.
According to a survey conducted in 2006 by the Institute for International Business Communication (財団法人 国際ビジネスコミュニケーション協会, Zaidanhojin Kokusai Bijinesu Komyunikeishon Kyokai), 56.8% of the respondents who took both the older and the renewed versions of the TOEIC test in Japan find the latter version more difficult. The lower score the test taker achieves, the more marked this tendency becomes. As many as 85.6% of those who earned scores ranging from 10 to 395 points find the renewed TOEIC test more difficult, while 69.9% of those who earned 400 to 495 points think this way, so do 59.3% of those who earned 500 to 595 points. Among those who achieved 600 to 695 points 58.9% find so, 700 to 795 points 48.6%, 800 to 895 points 47.9%, and 900 to 990 points 39.8%.