Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a ton of emails from people who have had their TOEFL scores canceled by ETS due to the use of unauthorized recording devices or software.  These people all got an email from ETS that looks like this:

Dear Smith, John:

We have cancelled your score from the January 12, 2022 TOEFL iBT® Home Edition administration. As a result of ETS’s rigorous score validation process, we have identified several factors that substantiate this score cancellation, in part because we detected unauthorized recording devices/software that were open during the test session which is a violation of ETS policy.

ETS reserves the right to cancel scores even after they are released if we find evidence to invalidate them. Please be advised that as indicated on the TOEFL iBT® Home Edition website, recording devices/software of any kind are strictly prohibited and that violating any ETS policy may result in score cancellation and/or your exclusion from future testing. If these scores were reported to any institutions, they will be notified of the cancellation. 

If you have further questions concerning this matter, please feel free to call 1-609-406-5430 between 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, or by email at [email protected].

If you wish, you may register for any future administration of this test.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe

Office of Testing Integrity

Educational Testing Service

Ref No. XXXX-XXXXXXX

In one case, a student received this email five months after taking the test. In that time, the student had gotten their scores, submitted them to a university and began studying at the university.  Terrifying.

It appears that students who experience a score cancelation do not receive a refund or a free re-test.  Nor are they given an opportunity to appeal the decision. But they are permitted to take the test again (if they pay for it).

I don’t think that all of these students deliberately set out to cheat or to steal questions. I think they unknowingly had some software running on their system which ETS detected.  Most users of modern operating systems aren’t even aware of what background processes are running on their computer.  It isn’t like the old days when we could just pop into the Windows task manager and quickly shut everything down.

To avoid experiencing the same problem, you can do a few things. Sadly, I’m a Windows 10 user (only) so I can’t make recommendations for MacOS users nor users of old Windows versions.

Shut Down Background Applications

First, in your Windows 10 search box, search for “Background Apps.” You should see something like the following screenshot.  Click the switch under “Let apps run in the background” so that it is set to “off.” Next, reboot your computer. When your test is finished, you should turn the setting back to “on.”

Shut Down Startup Apps

Next, in your Windows 10 search box, search for “startup apps.”  You will see a list of apps here, like in the picture below.  You will have to use your best judgement, and switch off anything that looks like it could be problematic.  As you can see, I left stuff from Microsoft and Intel, but turned off almost everything else.  Next, reboot your computer.  When your test is finished, you should turn everything back on.

Check for Nvidia Settings

Next, in the bottom right-hand corner of Windows, check to see if you’ve got an application called “Nvidia Settings” running (see below).  A lot of people run this, as Nvidia manufactures a whole lot of video cards.  If you do, right click and hit “exit.”  This application is part of a device driver, so you can’t actually stop it via the Startup Apps menu. You will have to repeat this step on the day of the test.  Interestingly, when this application is turned on, it runs a background process called “Nvidia Share” which is used for capturing and sharing your screen.  I wonder if this is the cause of some of the mystery cancellations. I’m a fairly advanced user, but even I had no idea I was running such a process at all times.

Disable Chrome Extensions

Many users have reported their Grammarly extension for Chrome starting up during the writing section of the test. I wouldn’t call it an “unauthorized recording device or software” but it is enough to get your scores canceled.  If you are a Grammarly user, open Chrome and click on “settings” and then “extensions.”  Turn off the Grammarly extension.  Actually, to be safe you should probably turn off all of your Chrome extensions, except for the ProctorU extension.  You can turn them back on after the test. 

Readers in New York may be interested in a new play by Sanaz Toossi that is now running at the Linda Gross Theater. The play, “English,” is set in an Iranian TOEFL class.  If you are interested in standardized testing beyond just the questions and scores you should check out the play.  Sadly, I am far from New York and won’t be able to attend, but I would love to hear what the readers of this blog think about it.  

Here’s an excerpt from Observer’s article about the play:

Set in 2008 in Karaj, a city an hour outside of Tehran, the play keeps a tight focus on Marjan and four students preparing to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): there’s neurotic medical researcher Elham (Tala Ashe); bubbly teenage Goli (Ava Lalezarzadeh); dryly arch grandma Roya (Pooya Mohseni); and mild-mannered Omid (Hadi Tabbal), a polite fellow who seems to be more advanced than the others. 

It runs until March 20.

Part of your TOEFL speaking score comes from the SpeechRater engine, which is an AI application that scores your responses during the speaking section of the TOEFL.  Basically, every one of your answers is graded by one human scorer, and by the SpeechRater engine.  These scores are combined to produce your final score for each response. We don’t know how the human rater and the SpeechRater are weighted.  I assume that the human rater is given greater weight, but I don’t have any evidence to support that claim. 

How does the SpeechRater engine work?  It is hard to answer this question with any certainty, since ETS doesn’t provide all of the details we want to read.  However, an article published recently in Assessment in Education provides some helpful information.

The article describes the twelve features used to score the delivery of a TOEFL response, and the six features used to score the language use of a TOEFL response in one study. It also describes the relative impact of each feature on the final score.

It is really important to note that the article only describes how the SpeechRater engine was used in a specific study.  Remember: when the SpeechRater engine is used to grade real TOEFL tests the feature set and impact of each feature might be different from this study.

So.  Let’s dig into those features and their relative impact. First, the 12 delivery features:

  • stretimemean (15% impact). This feature measures the average distance between stressed syllables. Researchers believe that people with fewer stressed syllables overall are less expressive in using stress to mark important information (source). SpeechRater measures this variable in time between stressed syllables, rather than in syllables themselves.  I would like to experiment with this using implementations of the SpeechRater (Edagree, My Speaking Score) but I find it difficult to eliminate stresses from my own speech.
  • wpsecutt (15% impact).  This is your speaking rate in words per second.  If you say more words, you get a better score.  This has been confirmed by my experiments with the above implementations.
  • wdpchk (13% impact).  This is the average length of uninterrupted speech (chunks) in words.  A chunk is a word or group of words that is separated by pauses (source).  Note that other implementations of SpeechRater have measured chunks in seconds rather than words (source). 
  • wdpchkmeandev (13% impact).  This is the “mean absolute deviation of chunk length in words.” The absolute deviation is important because obviously the average mentioned above can be skewed by the presence of one really long chunk and a bunch of short chunks.  This feature seems to reward people who give answers containing chunks of sensible lengths.
  • conftimeavg (12% impact).  This one is described as “mean automated speech recogniser confidence score; confidence score is a fit statistic to a NNS reference pronunciation model.” I don’t know what that means.  But the article says that it relates to your pronunciation of segmentals, so I suppose it measures how well you pronounce vowel and consonant sounds.
  • repfreq (8% impact). This measures the repetition of one or more words in sequence.  As in:  “I like like ice cream.”  I have experimented with this a bit, and was able to reduce my score by about two points (out of 30) by inserting a bunch of such repetitions.
  • silpwd (6% impact).  This measures the number of silences in your answer of more than 0.15 seconds.  Pauses hurt scores!  Note that I’ve also seen this referred to as measuring pauses of greater than 0.20 seconds, but don’t ask me for a citation.
  • ipc (6% impact).  This is said to measure the “number of interruption points (IP) per clause, where a repetition or repair is initiated.” I’m not quite sure what that means. Obviously, though, it has something to do with moments when the speaker backtracks to correct an error in grammar or usage (like:  “Yesterday, I go… went to school.”)
  • stresyllmdev (5% impact).  This is “the mean deviation of distances between stressed syllables.”  Again, it encourages the speaker to have sensible distances between stressed syllables, rather than merely having a nice average.  I think.  I’m not much of a mathematician. 
  • L6 (3% impact).  This is described as “normalised acoustic Model (AM) score, where pronunciation is compared to a NS reference model.”  I am not sure how this differs from “conftimeavg” above.  Again, though, it relates to your pronunciation of segmentals.  Teachers and students need to know that proper pronunciation is probably a good thing.
  • longpfreq (3% impact).  This measures the number of silences greater than 0.5 seconds.  It is interesting that the SpeechRater engine has a separate category for really long pauses.  Some implementations seem to combine these into a single reported result, while others provide two separate pause-related results.  This certainly warrants some experimentation.
  • dpsec (1% impact).  This measures all of the “umm” and “eer” disfluencies.  Interestingly, these don’t seem to matter at all!  I suppose, though, there is a risk that disfluencies can impact the pause and chunk related features.  I will experiment.

Next, the 6 language use features:

  • types (35% impact).  This measures “the number of word types used in the response.”  There is no definition for “word types” but we can assume it refers to: adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, determiners, nouns, prepositions, pronouns and verbs.  I guess the SpeechRater engine rewards answers that include all of those. Most of those will be used naturally in an answer, but it is easy for students to forget about adjectives and adverbs.  And, obviously, lower-level students will not be able to use conjunctions properly. I don’t really know if SpeechRater is looking for a certain distribution of types. 
  • poscvamax (18% impact).  Oh, dammit, this is another hard one.  It is described as “comparison of part-of-speech bigrams in the response with responses receiving the maximum score.”  It is touted as measuring the accuracy and complexity of the grammar in an answer. A bigram is a sequence of two units (source). I would assume, in this case, that it is two adjacent words.  Perhaps SpeechRater purports to measure grammar by comparing how you paired words together to how other high scoring answers paired words together.  Yes… you are being compared to other people who answered TOEFL questions.  In my experience, SpeechRater’s grammar results have been wonky and some implementations don’t bother showing them to students.  I think EdAgree removed this from their results recently.
  • logfreq (15% impact).  This measures how frequently the words in your answer appear in a reference corpus (the corpus is not named).  It purports to measure the sophistication of the vocabulary in the response.  I guess this means that the use of uncommon words is rewarded… but surely there is a limit to this.  I don’t think one can get a fantastic score by using extremely uncommon words (as they would sound awkward).
  • lmscore (11% impact).  This “compares the response to a reference model of expected word sequences.”  I’m not sure what this means, but it seems like you will  be rewarded for stuff like proper subject-verb agreement.  One imagines that “Most cats like cheese” is a more expected sequence than “Most cats likes cheese.”  Teachers and students should probably just assume that proper grammar is rewarded, and improper grammar is penalized.
  • tpsec (11% impact).  This measures the “number of word types per second.”  Again, we don’t have an official definition of “word types” but my assumption is that students are rewarded for using a greater variety of word types in the answer.  That is to say, the SpeechRater may not be looking for a specific distribution, but rewards a simple variety of types.
  • cvamax (10% impact).  This compares the number of words in the given answer with the number of words in other answers that got the best possible score.  Popular wisdom seems to be that the best scoring answers are 130 words in the independent task and 170 words in the integrated tasks.

I think I will leave it at that, but please consider this post a work in progress.  I’ll add to it as I continue to carry out research. 

 

 

A bit of a grab bag in today’s collection of recommended readings. But that’s never stopped me before, so let’s get started!

Behind the Wall Book CoverFirst up, I read another travel book by Colin Thubron.  This one is “Behind the Wall,” his first book on travel in China.  As you may have noticed, since beginning this column, I have slowly been working my way through all of Thubron’s travel books.  This one might be the weakest so far, but it is still worth reading.  Thubron spent about four months moving across the country in the mid 1980s, when the effects of the Cultural Revolution were still evident. To some extent it seems to lack the scholarship and erudition of the other Thurbon works I’ve mentioned here and veers into a depiction of the strangeness of the country.  You can get a copy on Amazon, or borrow it for free via the Open Library.  

Next, I read the January 17 issue of “The New Yorker” Magazine.  Now, you might wonder why a regular guy like me is reading such a fancy magazine.  Well, it’s because they have a really good subscription deal right now.  You can get 12 issues sent to you anywhere in the world for just $10.  And they’ll also send you a cute tote bag.  It is a good bag, too: my wife put our cat in the bag and carried him around the apartment for ten minutes.  All three of us were quite happy.  If you’ve got ten bucks to spare, the magazine is worthwhile. Much of the content is silly, but each issue has at least one good article with an academic bent.  In this issue, I enjoyed “The Great Siberian Thaw,” which talks about the effects of melting permafrost in Russia.  It’s a long article, but it is the sort of topic that you might find in the reading section of the TOEFL.  Indeed, I could even imagine a solution/problem integrated writing question based on this story.

After that, I glanced at the February issue of National Geographic at my local library.  At this point I should mention that if you are planning to stalk me, I’m often found at Doksan Library in Seoul.  It’s quite nice there.  Anyway, the magazine contained a decent article about the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  I was surprised to learn that the damage caused by the recent fire there was not severe, and that the restoration may be finished by 2023.  The article talks about the ongoing work, and also discusses the history of the famous site.

Finally, while visiting my other local library, I found a copy of the February issue of Reader’s Digest.  That amused me quite a lot, since I had no idea that Reader’s Digest was still published.  Also, it reminded me of a much simpler time, before everyone got irrationally angry about the state of the world.  I don’t think I’ll make reading it part of my monthly routine, but it is really reassuring to know that I could read it.  And, hey, if you want a mixture of casual and formal English content perhaps you can find a copy for yourself.   This month’s issue contained a decent article about the Danube Express, a train that travels between Istanbul and Budapest.  The thing about Reader’s Digest is that it prints edited (shortened) versions of popular articles.  If you want to read the full version of this story, you can find it in Travel and Leisure.

Okay.  That’s it for now.  Next month I’ll have yet more travel writing, a few more magazine articles and maybe a non-fiction book about a familiar topic.

When I check TOEFL essays, I often see grammar mistakes involving “stopped to VERB” and “stopped VERBing.” This is a dangerous mistake since these forms are used to express totally different ideas. The mistake often results in a sentence with the complete opposite of the writer’s intended meaning!

Here’s what you need to know.

I stopped VERBing” means that I stopped doing that action.

So:

I stopped dancing in 1997” means that I stopped dancing in 1997.

I stopped doing homework” means that I stopped doing my homework.

Easy, right? This is what most people want to express. This is probably what you should use in your essays.

Next:

I stopped to VERB” means that I actually did the action!

I was walking to school and I stopped to buy a sandwich” means that I bought a sandwich while you were walking to school.

Yesterday, I stopped to talk to Simon” means that yesterday I talked to Simon.

The tricky thing is that after some English verbs you can use either an -ing form or an infinitive. But after other verbs you cannot.

What’s worse is that after some verbs this results in a different meaning, but after other verbs it does not.

For reference and verb lists, I recommend sections 100, 105 and 110 of “Practical English Usage.”

A little while ago, I spoke at the virtual university fair hosted by EdAgree.  Specifically, I talked about how university applicants can craft a compelling and effective personal essay to include in their applications.  This blog post is an attempt to turn my speaking notes into something that everyone can use.  Forgive me if it is a bit rough – when I have more time I’ll turn it into a more formal article.

As universities move to de-emphasize standardized test scores and embrace more holistic approaches to admissions, students are seeking ways to show off unique aspects of their personalities and backgrounds.  Writing an amazing personal essay is a great way to do this.

As you write your personal essay, there are a few “best practices” to keep in mind.

Start Thinking About it Early

I’ll begin with the most obvious and boring advice –  start thinking about your personal essay as early as possible.  The more time you have, the better.  As you read this guide, you’ll see that my suggestions can be somewhat time consuming. Remember that having a few extra weeks will make it possible to write a few practice essays, to read effective samples, and to touch up your grammar and language use.

Another benefit of giving yourself extra time is that if you are given multiple prompts to choose from – as is the case for students using the Common App – you’ll be able to explore several of them, and to experiment with different ideas.

Be Honest – Write it Yourself

Seek help wherever you can get it. You can start by having friends that have gone through the admissions process look at your work.  From there you can move on to getting pointers from alumni or current students.  As an international student, you may also wish to have someone revise your grammar and language use (see below for more on this).  Keep in mind, though, that there is a difference between critical feedback and misrepresentation.  The essay needs to be your work, and your honest reflections.

There are platforms like EdAgree that are all about advocacy and helping students.  Lean on them as they are ethical and will steer you away from any bad decisions.

Narrow Your Focus

I know you’ve lived a full and rewarding life. But you don’t have room in a personal essay to write about everything that has happened to you.  Resist the urge to list your greatest accomplishments.  That will be boring, and you’ve probably done it elsewhere in your application (where it is more appropriate).  Moreover, resist the urge to depict your entire high school life.  That’s too broad for a short essay.

Instead, focus on a specific event or aspect of your life and illustrate it in an entertaining and engaging way.  An essay with a limited focus will have plenty of room for details that capture the reader’s attention.

If you have a moment, borrow “50 Successful Harvard Application Essays” from the Open Library.  Take a look at the second essay (page 9).  Note how the author limits the scope of the essay to a few days spent in the mountains.  Though short, the essay is engaging and reveals a lot about her character.

Tell a Story

Calling this a “personal essay” can be somewhat misleading.  The very best personal essays are closer to autobiographical short stories.  This means that as you write, you should remember the fundamentals of a good story – start by establishing a setting, then depict an interesting situation with some kind of conflict, and conclude with a resolution.

Reading some good sample essays can help you become a good storyteller.  There are a few decent sources I often recommend:

  1. 50 Successful Harvard Essays
  2. 50 Successful Stanford Essays

I believe that each new edition of the Harvard book has new essays (there are five editions so far), but I’ve only read the most recent Stanford book. I’m not sure if new essays are added. 

As you read the sample stories, use a highlighter or pencil to note how the authors introduce those three elements.  Try to use some of the same techniques and structures in your own work.

Likewise, try to highlight specific details mentioned by the authors.  What did they feel while the situation was unfolding?  What did they see?  What did they hear?  What did they smell?  These details can all be compelling and interesting.  And all are appropriate to include. Students often complain that they haven’t done anything worth writing about, but with effective storytelling techniques even a mundane experience is worth relating and can reveal a lot about your character.

Fine-Tune your Grammar and Language Use

Try to eliminate all of the errors in your grammar and language use.  There a few things you can do to facilitate this:

  • Ideally, you can hire an expert proofreader to check your essay.  I can do this for you, if you like.  Just contact me for details.  Ideally, your proofreader will be able to check several versions of your work and ask questions about your intended meaning.  Proofreading of this sort really ought to be a collaborative effort.
  • You could try a mass-market proofreading service like Ediket.  That will be cheaper, but perhaps less effective.
  • You can also try a website like Grammarly.

Choose A Topic that Matters to You

Avoid choosing a topic that you think sounds good, but which you don’t really care about.  For instance, you might think your target school cares a lot about extra-curriculars. While that is probably true, it isn’t something you should write about if extra-curriculars weren’t really meaningful to you while you were a student.

Open Strong

Try to grab the reader’s attention with an interesting opening line.  Avoid starting your essay by stating your name.  They already know your name.  Avoid starting your essay by repeating the question.  They already know the question.  Instead, try something really descriptive and enticing.  For instance, here’s the opening line of the very first essay in the very first edition of the Harvard book I mentioned above:

“The putrid stench of rotten salmon wafts through the boardwalk, permeating the Five Star Café with a fishy odor.”

Yeah, it is about rotten fish, but it sure is invocative.  It makes me want to read more!

Final Advice

Talk to someone.  Remember that you’re not alone in this and that people want to help you.  Universities really do want more students.  Whatever recruiter or aggregator you are working with really wants a commission from you.  As a prospective student you have a lot of value.  Take advantage of that.

Students often ask me why their TOEFL scores were canceled, and how they can reinstate them.  Here’s what you need to know.

When your scores are cancelled, you’ll see something like “Status – Scores Canceled” in your ETS account.  It will look like this:

TOEFL Scores Cancelled

There are several possible causes .

(Note that this is different from scores being “on hold” or “in administrative review.” If that is your problem, read this blog post)

Scores Canceled Accidentally (Most Common Cause)

Most of the time, scores are canceled because the test-taker accidentally clicked the “do not report scores” button at the end of the test.  This sounds silly, but I hear about it every week.  Seriously.  This is the cause most of the time.

If you accidentally cancel your scores you can pay $20 to reinstate the scores via your account on the TOEFL website. It might take up to three weeks for your scores to be reinstated (source).   Scores will not be sent to score recipients if they are cancelled, of course.

Scores Canceled Because of Inappropriate Test-Taker Behavior

If you do something wrong during the TOEFL Home Edition they might cancel your scores.  You will not be given the chance to appeal.  I have never heard of this decision being reversed.  Rule violations might include using your phone during the test (or break), talking to someone, wearing jewelry, or even looking away from the screen too long.  Better follow the rules.  There is no appeals process in this case, but you might get a chance to take the test again for free.

In cases where students insist that everything went smoothly, the problem is usually that some inappropriate software was running the background.  Such software includes Microsoft Teams, Skype, Discord, Google Drive, Zoom… and many more. This is common on computers borrowed from an employer.

If this happens you should call ETS and ask for a free re-test.  You might get one.

Scores Canceled For Statistical Reasons

Sometimes, your scores will be canceled because the ETS Office of Testing Integrity thinks your scores are not valid based on statistics. There are a few reasons I’ve seen:

  • There is a big difference in your performance on the scored questions vs the unscored questions in the reading or listening section.  This is called “inconsistent variable performance” by ETS.
  • There is a big difference in your performance in one of the sections vs one of the other sections.  This is called a “section score inconsistency” by ETS.
  • There is a big difference in your use of time in one of the sections (you got a high score even though you finished it way too quickly). 

There might be other reasons.

This is very rare.  If it happens to you, you will get a long e-mail from the Office of Testing Integrity at ETS.  You will likely be given the option to appeal the decision, or to permanently cancel the scores and take the test again for free.  If you decide to challenge the decision, there are a few things you should do right away:

  1. Request a copy of the “Score Review Summary” for your test. Use those exact words. This document will summarize the statistical evidence against you.  
  2. If you took the test in the USA, you should ask ETS to assign an arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to help with your case.  Use those exact words.  This person will help you challenge the case free of charge. Note that this will probably make it impossible to take legal action against ETS in the future.
  3. If you took the test outside of the USA, feel free to contact me for assistance.  I will help you free of charge.

Note that challenging the decision can sometimes take a few weeks.

Scores Canceled Because of Plagiarism

ETS often cancels scores if they detect plagiarism in the writing section.  I’m pretty sure they have a database of essays from the Internet.  Including the sample ones on this website.  Don’t plagiarize, people.  If this happens you won’t get your money back, and you might be banned from taking the TOEFL in the future.

When grading TOEFL essays, I often see mistakes when students use “one of the.”

Remember that “one of the” should be followed by a plural noun.

Here’s an error I spotted in an essay today:

“Following my graduation, I got a job at one of the largest law firm in New York.”

That’s wrong because of the singular “law firm.” The correct version is:

“Following my graduation, I got a job at one of the largest law firms in New York.”

Note the plural “law firms.”

Here’s another incorrect sentence:

“Only one of the student submitted his essay before the deadline.”

That’s incorrect because of the singular “student.” The correct version uses the plural form:

“Only one of the students submitted his essay before the deadline.”

Obviously this is tricky because “one of” makes us think about using a singular noun!

Also tricky is subject-verb agreement when your subject begins with “one of the…”, but that’s a topic for a different post.

 

On this page, I will collect student testimonials from 2022!  If I have helped you this year, consider sending me your own testimonial!

You can sign up for help with the TOEFL over here.

January, 2022:

I am pleased to inform you that I got 104 (R29,L29,S19,W27) on the TOEFL. I got a high score in writing because of you. Thank you for all your assistance.

-K.T., Japan

February, 2022:

He is an international treasure.

-J.H., Mexico

I just want to tell you that I passed the TOEFL with wonderful scores. Thank you for your help and support. My score in writing increased from 21 to 25, and I would not be able to do this without your help.

-L.I.

I got 28 points in writing section of the TOEFL!  And I got 110 in total!!!  I just followed your steps: keep it simple and accurate, just focus on examples, and reduce grammar mistakes. I flexibly adapted your structures in the integrated essays, which indeed made it easier for me to concentrate on the details. I don’t know how to describe my feelings. All I want to say is Thank You!!!  I have already sent your website and YouTube Channel to some of my friends. I believe your methods on speaking and writing will help them as the way you helped me.

-X.X., China

I would like to thank you for the help and great advice. I am happy to share that I received a score of 109, with 25 in the writing (+5) and 26 in the speaking (+5). I am sure  that the information on your website and the writing evaluation helped a lot.

-A.S., Israel

I am pleased to inform you that I got a score of 105!! R30,L27,S22,W26. Thank you so much for your kind advice!

-M.H., Japan

I’m writing to tell you that I got my TOEFL result. I scored 111, with a 25 in speaking and a 27 in writing. I really appreciate your help! Without your suggestions, I wouldn’t have achieved 25 in speaking. 

-Y.J.

I just want to let you know that I took the exam last week and I got 22 in writing after following your strategy and templates. I was always ranging between 18 and 19. Really appreciate your help.

-W.Z.

March, 2022:

I was admitted to my first choice graduate school with a total score of 105 (R29/ L27/ S23/ W26). My weak point was speaking and writing. Your line by line corrections and precise advice helped me to finally improve them. I am really grateful for that.

-Y.K., Japan

April, 2022:

I took the TOEFL iBT Home Edition last Sunday and I scored 104 out of 120 (my goal was 95 points).  In the Speaking Section, I received 30 points! I was very surprised about this outcome because I was really terrified about the Speaking Section. However, after your speaking evaluation, I truly gained so much confidence. In addition, I just want to let you know that I also used your Speaking and Writing templates. Both templates were perfect! Without these templates, I would have never received such a good score. Please continue your amazing work! 

-A.S.

I just wanna tell you that after your evaluation and comments on my essay last time I scored 28 in writing!  I jumped from 23 to 28!

-R.H

I am writing this mail to inform you that I achieved my desired writing score in the TOEFL exam that I took on 20th March 2022. Recently, I also received an offer letter from the University of Maryland College Park for a PhD in the Mechanical Engineering Department. I  followed every one of your steps when writing the Independent and Integrated essay and scored 25 in the writing section. 

-H.K

I would like to let you know I finally got 100 on the TOEFL (R29 L24 S21 W26) the other day! Thanks to your lessons, my writing score improved dramatically.  I wholeheartedly appreciate your advice.

-Y.S, Japan

May, 2022:

I just wanted to tell you that I passed my TOEFL! Finally the nightmare is over! Thank you very much for you support and help. It means a lot to me.

-H.H.

I want to thank you because I scored 24 in writing. I have been following you for writing for long time and only because of your method did this become possible. Not only in TOEFL but in general also I have improved my writing a lot. You are the best teacher.

-N.P

Writing 28! It’s incredible.  This would not have been possible without your guidance.  I hardly had any time to prepare, but thanks to your tips I managed! I scored far beyond what was required!

-J.G

Let me tell you some good news! I got my highest score, 102 (R29, L26, S21, W26), yesterday! I highly appreciate all your support.

-Y.S, Japan

I just want to say thank you for your advice. I got 25 points in the writing section. My score was just 15 points last year! 

-T.Y., Japan

June, 2022:

You really helped me a lot! Before contacting you, I felt desperate and did not know what to do. At that time, I kept getting similar speaking and writing scores. Your YouTube videos, website, and most of all your evaluations helped me to understand the test and practice effectively. Your teaching was much more helpful than local schools. Thanks to you, I was able to get 25 in speaking, 30 in writing, and 114 in total. I really appreciate your help! I strongly recommend your lessons to other lawyers these days.

-J.P, Korea

I got 28 in writing and 99 in total (28 21 22 28). In the test, I wrote 280+ and 390+ words for each essays and saved 2-3 minutes for double-checking as you suggested. Your website, YouTube videos and evaluation service really helped me a lot.

-Y.Y

July, 2022

I want to say thank you very much because you helped me a lot to achieve my goal. I got my results Before a couple of days and I got 27 in speaking and 24 in writing. I am so glad that took speaking and writing with you!

-R.Y

I just want to tell you that I got 26 in writing! I never expected that I would get this score. Thank you so much for your help!! 

-M.I, Japan

I got 101 overall, and 24 for Writing, which met my requirements. Thank you very much for your help!

-R, Japan

I’m writing to tell you that I took the TOEFL on July 11 and received my score yesterday. My score is 107 in total (R30 L25 W28 S24). Previously, my best writing score was 22. I didn’t expect to get such a satisfactory writing score this time! Thanks so much for your wonderfully detailed guidance on my writings! Both the templates from your website and your evaluations of my essays were truly helpful for me. I’m very keen on your teaching style and will definitely recommend you to all my friends who are as struggling with TOEFL writing like I was.

-S.B, China

Good news! My writing score is 25 and my total score is 102! Your videos helped me a lot! Thanks again for your detailed instruction and helpful videos!

-R.C, China

Finally, I could get 25 in the writing section!

-D.Y, Japan

August 2022

Michael provides the right advice right away. His resources, templates, and detailed instructions helped me to write a nice essay within the time limit. I got a 28 in writing and 113 in total which is the best score I’ve gotten so far. Thanks so much Michael for your help!

-H, Korea

I have good news! My last TOEFL writing score was 26. That’s my best score so far!

-H.K, Japan

Great news! I just passed the test and got 25 in writing! I like how you quickly identified the key problem in my writing which was hurting my score the most. Once I became aware and careful about that, I saw the results.

-A.A.

Thanks to your support, I achieved 104 (R:29, L:29, S:22, W:24) points on the TOEFL. Thank you for your advice on my practice essays!

-S.M., Japan

I just wanted to let you know that my writing score increased from 21 to 25 with your help. Although I couldn’t get your speaking evaluation, I watched all videos and helped me a lot. My speaking went from 20 to 24.  Thank you very much!! I am very grateful for all your help. 

-R.P

I got 28 points in the writing section. My total score was 109 (28/30/23/28). My score dramatically improved thanks to Michael’s essay evaluations. I am convinced that following Michael’s strategy is the best way to improve your TOEFL score.

-K.C

September 17

I am honored to announce that I received my dream score on the TOEFL. I got 119 on the test (29 on the speaking section). I would like to thank you for the tips you have provided on your channel. I used your template for both tasks of the writing section and scored 30 out of 30. Moreover, your collection of sample essays was a valuable resource to improve my essays and arguments. Initially, I could barely write 300 words for the independent task of the writing part, but thanks to your sample essays, I was able to write 440 words on the test day (310 words for the dependent task).

-A.I., Iran

On September 10 I took my test and I  got my required score for the NABP. Thanks a lot for your help. Finally this nightmare is over. Once again, thank you. 

-A.K, Pharmacist

I would like to let you know that I got 104(W30,L28,S22,W24)on Sep 16, so I achieved my goal! I genuinely appreciate your help. My writing skills improved thanks to your dedication, which has been useful for not only TOEFL but also for my daily work.

-Y.S, Japan

I just wanted to update you on my S and W scores: 30 and 28! I also got 117 total 🙂  Thank you so much for your help with writing. Thanks to you, I was able to get back on track with my writing score! 

-C.K, Korea

I am writing this email to thank you for your helpful materials. Thanks to your essay evaluation, sample essays, templates, and grammar tips, I was able to increase my TOEFL writing score from 20 to 28 in a month!

-Y.K, Korea

The most common sentence fragment error I see in essays is a misuse of “while” to contrast things.

Here’s an example of the error in an essay I checked this morning:

“In the past we needed to visit many stores to compare prices of products. While today we can compare hundreds of products on a single website.”

The second sentence is a sentence fragment since it lacks an independent clause.

Better is to combine those sentences so you have both a clear independent clause and a clear subordinate clause.  Like this:

“In the past we needed to visit many stores to compare prices of products, while today we can compare hundreds of products on a single website.”

Or:

While today we can compare hundreds of products on a single website, in the past we needed to visit many stores to compare prices of products.”

If you really want to use two sentences, change “while” to something like “in contrast.” Like:

“In the past we needed to visit many stores to compare prices of products. In contrast, today we can compare hundreds of products on a single website.”

This is a tricky error since you will hear the “incorrect” version in spoken English all the time. It sounds pretty normal if we emphasize “today” while speaking. Some people might argue that it is fine in writing as well.

I think you should avoid it in your TOEFL essays, since “sentence fragments” is an entire category in the e-rater.

I often see students use “until now” and “so far” incorrectly. Here’s a quick lesson!

Rule one: Use “so far” to describe a condition that is ongoing. As in:

“I moved to New York five weeks ago and I haven’t met anyone so far.” (this means that I still don’t have any friends)

Rule two: Use “until now” to talk about a condition that has just stopped occurring. As in:

“I didn’t call you because I didn’t have your phone number until now.” (this means I just now got your phone number)

Rule three: Don’t use “until now” to talk about a condition that is ongoing.

That’s it!

To further illustrate, here’s an error I commonly see:

“We met in high school and have been friends until now.”

In this case, the student wants to say that they are still friends, but the sentence actually means that they just stopped being friends… the opposite of his intended meaning!

Here’s an error that inspired this post:

“I took the TOEFL five weeks ago, and haven’t gotten my scores until now.”

In this case, the student wants to say that he is still waiting for his scores, so the proper sentence is:

“I took the TOEFL five weeks ago, and haven’t gotten my scores so far.”

It is February 1, and that means we’ve got a TOEFL iBT price increase.  As you can see in the chart below, the price increased in 18 of the countries on the tracker. Note that I only track 60 countries.  I deleted the column showing prices before August 2021, but you can get that information here.

If you are on mobile you will probably have to scroll sideways to see everything.  Sorry.

A few observations are worth mentioning:

  • Switzerland remains the most expensive place to take the test, at $335 dollars.
  • The lowest price on the tracker is now $190 (several countries).  It was previously $185.
  • The increases mostly seem to be in developing countries.  There are a couple of exceptions (Israel, Iceland).
  • I don’t have a price for China since ETS doesn’t handle the registration, but I’ll call around in that country to see if the price changed there.
  • I don’t track the price of the TOEFL Essentials Test since no one cares.
  • I don’t think there were any fee increases, but I will keep an eye on the ETS website for those.

 

Country

August 1, 2020

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

February 1, 2022

Afghanistan 

$220 

$220

$230 

$230

Argentina

$195

$205

$205

$215

Australia

$300

$300

$273 + tax

$273+tax

Azerbaijan

$195

$195

$205 

$205

Bangladesh

$200

$200

$205 

$205

Benin

$185

$185

$185

$190

Bolivia

?

?

$185

$190

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$245

$225 + tax

$225 + tax

Colombia

$240

$240

$202 + tax

$202 + tax

Congo, DR

$195

$195

$195

$195

Cuba

?

?

$205

$215

Egypt

$185

$185

$195 

$205

Ethiopia

$200

$200

$210 

$220

France

$265

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

$185

?

?

?

Georgia

$180

$185

$190 

$195

Germany

$260

$260

$265 

$265

Ghana

$220

$220

$220

$225

Guadalupe

$185

$195

$195

$200

Guatamala

?

?

$195

$195

Hong Kong

$245

$245

$255 

$265

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$220

$220

$220

$230

India

$185

$185

$190 

$190

Iran

$245

$245

$245

$245

Iraq

$215

$215

$225 

$225

Israel

$280

$280

$280

$290

Italy

$270

$270

$280 

$280

Japan

$235

$245

$245

$245

Jordan

$195

$200

$205 

$210

Kenya

$220

$220

$225 

$225

Korea

$210

$210

$220 

$220

Kosovo

?

?

$200

$200

Mexico

$185

$190

$200 

$200

Mongolia

$210

$210

$215 

$215

Morocco

$210

$220

$230 

$240

Netherlands

$265

$265

$270 

$270

New Zealand

$270

$275

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$195

$182 + tax

$182 + tax

Norway

$315 

$315

$325 

$325

Pakistan

$195

$195

$200 

$200

Palestinian Territories

$235

$245

$245

$255

Paraguay

?

?

$225

$230

Peru

$220

$220

$220

$220

Philippines

$215

$215

$225 

$225

Russia

$260

$260

$270 

$270

South Africa

$230

$235

$240 

$245

Spain

$250

$250

$255 

$255

Sweden

$280

$280

$290 

$290

Switzerland

$320 (!)

$320

$335 

$335

Tajikistan

$185

$185

$185

$190

Thailand

$210

$215

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$185

$157 + tax

$157 + tax

Uganda

$215

$225

$235 

$235

United Arab Emirates

$255

$255

$270 

$270

United Kingdom

$220

$220

$235 

$235

United States

$225

$225

$235 + tax?

$235 + tax

Vietnam

$220

$200

$200

$200

West Bank

$215

$215

$215

$215