Our friends at EdAgree have just launched another wonderful tool.  If you create an account at EdAgree, you can now have your practice essays reviewed by the same e-rater technology used to grade the TOEFL test!  This service is provided free of charge.

To access this opportunity, first create an account on EdAgree.  This will involve answering a few questions and providing some personal information.

Once you have logged in, look for the “English Writing Practice” button the right side of the user dashboard:

Click that, and then click “start.” You can select a question prompt from the drop down menu or select “check my essay” from the bottom of the menu to just paste in your own writing.  Click the clock icon and you’ll have thirty minutes to write your essay.  You don’t need to use all of the time.  Click “submit” when you finished.

To experiment, I pasted in one of my essays, based on a classic TOEFL prompt about using books or the Internet to do research.

My essay was immediately given a score of 98%:

That’s not a perfect score, so I clicked “detailed results” to get more specific feedback.  I got a screen that looked like this:

I can click on each of those green buttons (grammar, usage, mechanics, style, organization & development) to get specific corrections and comments.  In my case, the e-rater detected no grammar, usage or mechanics errors so nothing is displayed   However, it did detect a “style” problem: I repeated the word “online” three times.  Perhaps that is too many times!  Check it out:

Next I clicked the “organization & development” button and confirmed that the e-rater could detect all of the traditional elements of an essay: background information, a thesis, main arguments, supporting details and a conclusion:

Users can also use that menu to highlight all of their transition words (I used 20) but I will let you explore that on your own.

So there you go.  Some free e-rater practice, thanks to our amazing friends at EdAgree.  A few things are worth mentioning here in closing:

  • This is a writing tool, and it is not explicitly designed to be a TOEFL tool.  Don’t use it to predict your TOEFL score.  Converting the score out of 100 to a score out of 30 and calling that a TOEFL score is probably a bad idea.
  • Some of the provided prompts are TOEFL prompts.  Some are not.  Again… this isn’t designed by EdAgree to be solely a TOEFL tool.
  • The tool seems to be somewhat weak at distinguishing between background materials and a thesis statement.  Sometimes it fails to detect an obvious thesis statement.
  • The tool wants three sentences in the conclusion, but that doesn’t seem to affect the score.
  • This is very similar to the “Criterion One” product sold by ETS.

 

 

This month I read the March 7 issue of “The New Yorker.”  It contained a captivating article about animal rights called “The Elephant in the Courtroom.” Like all New Yorker articles it is a bit too long and a lot too convoluted to stand in for a TOEFL reading passage, but it does contain a few interesting concepts that could be turned into TOEFL questions by readers with time on their hands.  It discusses self-recognition in animals, which would make a perfect type three speaking question.  One could even write a question about autonomy in animals.

The same issue also contains a long review of Sanaz Toosi’s play “English,” which I’ve written about here before.  The play is set in a TOEFL classroom in Iran in 2008.  I am far from New York and unable to see it, but it sounds really compelling.

Next, I read the March 14 issue of the same magazine.  It contains an article about the booming demand for deer antlers in the USA (and abroad).  I mention this one because it contains some details about the purpose of deer antlers which could become a TOEFL question.  Indeed, I am pretty sure it already has.

There is a fantastic article in the same issue called “The Access Trap” about a particular high school in the USA that switched from selective admissions based on test scores to a lottery-based admissions system.  This isn’t something you will read about on the TOEFL, but I mention it here in case any readers are as interested in standardized testing (and related topics) as I am.  The story perfectly encapsulates a debate that is raging right now across the country.  Interesting stuff!

My final New Yorker, was the March 21 issue.  It contains a fun article about the history of the fitness industry and of exercise science .  It’s a fun and breezy read.  And it is almost like a TOEFL reading.  As you likely recall, the TOEFL often focuses on the history of some field of study.

I also read the May/June issue of Analog, but it is 100% behind a subscription wall, so I can’t link to the articles.  But it contained a fantastic article about mining asteroids.  Which TOEFL fans will recall is a pretty common topic in prep materials.  One day I will adapt the article into a practice integrated writing passage.  It talks about how the economics of colonizing asteroids is bad right now, but that it will get better when new energy sources are discovered.  It talks about how prices for mined resources will drop, but that cultural motivations will take their place as a justification for colonization.  TOEFL, right?

The same issue also contains a long story about how human bodies evolved to cope with “yesterday’s problems” which means we are currently stuck with adaptations that are no longer useful (and in some cases detrimental) in contemporary life.  That’s a type three TOEFL speaking question right there!  If you are interested in this sort of stuff, you can probably buy a copy of the magazine through their website.

 

As promised, here is my updated list of nine commandments for better test-taker experience (TTX) before and after a standardized English test. 

I suppose I will post my list of suggestions specifically for the TOEFL program in the next day or two.  I’ve so far neglected to do that because I don’t wish to offend anyone at ETS.  I admire that organization and its mission.  That said, they seem to be in a period of renewal and transition (to something better).  Perhaps this is actually a good time to make suggestions.

These commandments, meanwhile, apply to every test providing organization.

1. Make all critical  information accessible within one or two clicks from the test’s home page.  Not five or six clicks. 

2. Provide a beautiful FAQ page that quickly answers questions that are asked every day.  Don’t bury important information in a bunch of PDFs or nested sidebar menus. This will not only improve test-taker experience, but will significantly reduce calls to your customer support lines.

3. If the test is taken at home, the price should be the same in every country (other than local sales taxes).  Don’t charge $185 to take the test from my bedroom in country X, and $340 to take it from my bedroom in country Y.

4. Make it possible for students to create an account, register and pay for their test in less than five minutes.

5. Provide a free practice test that is different every time the student takes it.   If your test uses automated scoring, implement that in your free practice test.

6. Eliminate most extra fees. If scores are sent electronically, don’t charge $15 per recipient. That looks exploitative. There should be one single transaction – registration for the test.  Give everything else away for free.

7. If you are selling access to the scores and personal data of test takers, make that opt-out by default. And if a student needs to opt-out at a later time, enable them to do so via the website. Don’t require a long-distance telephone call to your customer support desk.

8. Don’t play favorites when it comes to your target markets, or countries with the most growth potential. People are savvy, and they can see what you’re doing. It frustrates them. Make sure everyone has the same access to preparation materials, discounts, fee waivers and special promotions.

9. If you are running a non-profit organization, state explicitly how test-takers’ fees are used.

So it looks like students who registered for the TOEFL at a test center are mistakenly getting an email reminder intended for students taking the Home Edition.  It says:

“Be sure to keep this email safe until test day, because it contains the link to start your test. The link is also in the Appointment Details page in your ETS account

That seems to be an error.  I will let you know if ETS tells me anything.

 

Update: You can use the coupon code “JENNIFER30” to get a $30 discount on TOEFL registrations made before August 23.  This code comes from a partnership between ETS and Study in the USA, so be sure to check them out.  You should also read the terms and conditions.

Update: ETS Japan has distributed a bunch of codes for use in Japan.  Try SAYAKA22TOEFL (link) or TOFURE22TOEFL (link) or ETSJ22TOEFL (link) to get $61 off your registration until September 15 (or while supplies last).

Update: You can use the voucher code “DARREN30” to get a $30 discount on TOEFL registrations until July 26, 2022. Just enter the code at the final screen in the registration process. Go ahead and read the terms and conditions over here. This code was provided through a partnership with Study in the USA, so be sure to visit them.

I saw on the official TOEFL Facebook Page that if you enter the promo (voucher) code “VALERIA30” you can get a $30 discount when you register for the test.  This seems to work in all countries and for both the TOEFL iBT and the TOEFL IBT Home Edition.  Note that the stated expiration date is July 14, so use it soon.  Read  the terms and conditions over here.

I saw new ETS president Amit Sevak on The PIE Chat a few days ago.  He spoke about many interesting topics, but a few things he mentioned about the TOEFL program are worth repeating here.  They are:

  • He said that “almost a million students every year take TOEFL”.  That’s the first official reference to the number of test takers I have seen in a long time. 
  • He said that ETS would like to expand the use of TOEFL for migration purposes.  
  • He noted that ETS would like to expand the TOEIC program.  That’s interesting, and I would love to hear some details about how ETS figures they can go about this.

At the end, he noted (emphasis mine):

“I’m increasingly focusing on the student… we are standing up not only for the test, but we’re standing up for the test taker. And starting to get into the mind of what are test takers interested in, what kind of experience do they want, what is the goal that they have of taking that assessment.  So really being more customer centric or more student centric or more learner centric is a key component of it.”

That’s really key for the future of the TOEFL (and other ETS products).  Some outside of the organization have suggested that in recent years ETS has backslid in this regard.  I’ll dust off my blog post about test taker experience and post an updated version in the next day or two. 

If you get a weird blank screen that says “Select a Payment Method” when trying to pay for your TOEFL or GRE you should disable your adblocker and try again.  This seems to be a problem when people are using uBlock Origin and other common payment methods.

If you are getting a specific error message (error 481, error 101, error 476, etc) you should consult our main guide to payment errors .

Here’s what the blank screen problem looks like:

It appears that test takers can now register for “IELTS Online,” which is a version of the IELTS test that can be taken from home.  The registration page is right here.  It appears that the speaking section is offered only on Wednesdays, while the rest of the test is offered only on Thursdays.   Yes, that means the test must be completed across two separate days. The cost seems to be $229 USD. 

Sadly, registration seems to be limited to certain countries.  I’ve used my VPN to confirm that IELTS Online is currently available in Japan and Korea.  I have confirmed that it is not available in the United States and India.  Those are just the countries I have tested so far.  I’ll run a few experiments to figure out which other countries I can register from.

Honestly, though, don’t be surprised if this changes in the near future.  I don’t see any details about this on the main IELTS page, and I only know about the registration page because it was sent to me.  The only additional details provided right now seem to be in Japanese.

Update:  A test-taker guide to the Online Test is now available.

Update:  IDP has some unlisted YouTube videos with more information.  Find them here:

 

ETS has just published its “Test and Score Data Summary” for 2021.  This document contains a ton of valuable information, including average scores (and section scores) overall and in specific countries.

The average TOEFL score is now 88 points.  That’s an increase of one point since last year.

Here’s a history of the average score since the test began:

  • 2006: 79
  • 2007: 78
  • 2008: 79
  • 2009: 79
  • 2010: 80
  • 2011 (not available)
  • 2012 (not available)
  • 2013: 81
  • 2014: 80
  • 2015: 81
  • 2016: 82
  • 2017: 82
  • 2018: 83 
  • 2019: 83
  • 2020: 87
  • 2021: 88

As you can see, this year’s jump is not as wild as in 2020, but a one point increase is still significant.

Here’s how the section scores changed (compared to last year):

  • The average TOEFL reading score is now 22.4 (+0.2)
  • The average TOEFL listening score is now 22.6 (+.03)
  • The average TOEFL speaking score is now 21.1 (-0.1)
  • The average TOEFL writing score is now 21.6 (+0.1)

I pay special attention to trends in a few key markets.  I noticed that in all of the countries I track, the average score is unchanged.

  • The average score in China is 87 
  • The average score in Korea is 86 
  • The average score in Japan is 73 
  • The average score in Brazil is 90 
  • The average score in India 96 
  • The average score in the USA is 93

At first glance, it seems like the overall score increase is due to smaller markets “catching up” to the increases in the rest of the world that were observed in last year’s numbers.

 

The cost of taking the TOEFL in some countries increased this month.  Usually the price increases on August 1, but I think it was hiked on July 1 this season.  Note that some prices were increased on February 1 of this year as well.

A few things stand out:

  • I spotted increases in: Cuba, Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States.
  • Note that I only track 62 countries, so I probably missed some changes.  If you want your country added to the tracker (for next time) just leave a comment.
  • Switzerland remains the most expensive country to take the test at $345.  Sri Lanka seems to be the cheapest, at $185.
  • The price has increased in Morocco four times since February of last year.  Same for South Africa.
  • I don’t track China since ETS doesn’t handle the registration, but my sources there indicate that the price remains 2100 RMB, or about $314 USD.
  • I suppose I will check again on August 1 just in case there are further adjustments.

Here’s the master list.  I’ve removed the first two columns, but I have the data if you need it.  All prices are in USD.

Country

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

February 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

Afghanistan 

$220

$230 

$230

$230

Argentina

$205

$205

$215

$215

Australia

$300

$273 + tax

$273+tax

$273+tax

Azerbaijan

$195

$205 

$205

$205

Bangladesh

$200

$205 

$205

$205

Benin

$185

$185

$190

$190

Bolivia

?

$185

$190

$190

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$225 + tax

$225 + tax

$225 + tax

Colombia

$240

$202 + tax

$202 + tax

$202 + tax

Congo, DR

$195

$195

$195

$195

Cuba

?

$205

$215

$225

Egypt

$185

$195 

$205

$205

Ethiopia

$200

$210 

$220

$220

France

$265

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

?

?

?

?

Georgia

$185

$190 

$195

$195

Germany

$260

$265 

$265

$265

Ghana

$220

$220

$225

$235

Guadalupe

$195

$195

$200

$200

Guatamala

?

$195

$195

$205

Hong Kong

$245

$255 

$265

$275

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$220

$220

$230

$230

India

$185

$190 

$190

$190

Iran

$245

$245

$245

$245

Iraq

$215

$225 

$225

$235

Israel

$280

$280

$290

$300

Italy

$270

$280 

$280

$280

Japan

$245

$245

$245

$245

Jordan

$200

$205 

$210

$210

Kenya

$220

$225 

$225

$225

Korea

$210

$220 

$220

$220

Kosovo

?

$200

$200

$200

Mexico

$190

$200 

$200

$210

Mongolia

$210

$215 

$215

$215

Morocco

$220

$230 

$240

$250

Netherlands

$265

$270 

$270

$270

New Zealand

$275

$275

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$182 + tax

$182 + tax

$182 + tax

Norway

$315

$325 

$325

$325

Pakistan

$195

$200 

$200

$205

Palestinian Territories

$245

$245

$255

$255

Paraguay

?

$225

$230

$240

Peru

$220

$220

$220

$230

Philippines

$215

$225 

$225

$225

Russia

$260

$270 

$270

--

Saudi Arabia

?

?

$290

$300

South Africa

$235

$240 

$245

$250

Spain

$250

$255 

$255

$255

Sri Lanka

?

?

$185

$185

Sweden

$280

$290 

$290

$300

Switzerland

$320

$335 

$335

$345

Tajikistan

$185

$185

$190

$190

Thailand

$215

$215

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$157 + tax

$157 + tax

$157 + tax

Uganda

$225

$235 

$235

$245

United Arab Emirates

$255

$270 

$270

$280

United Kingdom

$220

$235 

$235

$235

United States

$225

$235 + tax?

$235 + tax

$245 + tax

Vietnam

$200

$200

$200

$200

West Bank

$215

$215

$215

$215