Alright, so there is a bit more variety in this week’s “You Should Read More” column!  

First up, I read the February 2023 issue of National Geographic.  A few stories stood out:

  • Why these colorful fish engage in mouth-to-mouth showdowns is a short article about some weird and wonderful fish.  The sarcastic fringefish has a unique way of fighting, but also of avoiding fights with others of its species.  This is an example what I think it called agonistic behavior, which I am 100% sure has been used as type three speaking question.

  • Origami is revolutionizing technology, from medicine to space is the month’s title story.  It is about practical and high-tech uses of techniques inspired by origami.  It isn’t exactly the sort of thing that would appear on the TOEFL, but it is a lengthy academic-level passage that will probably hold your attention.

  • The extraordinary benefits of a house made of mud is about the use of mud in construction.  Mud is actually a traditional building material in parts of Africa.  The article discusses some of its advantages.  There is plenty of good science in here, and I can picture a TOEFL reading passage about this construction material!

Meanwhile, I read the February 27/March 6 issue of Time Magazine.  A couple of things are worth mentioning:

For a recent project I read Did we get the ‘old-age dependency’ of aging countries all wrong?  It’s about the way we think about the productiveness of “old” people in society.  Traditionally, societies have considered those above the age of 65 to be “dependent” on the rest of society, and therefore when those people make up a greater and greater proportion of the overall population, alarm bells are sounded.  But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.

Finally, I’ve been plugging away at a large textbook called “They Say, I Say.”  It’s a guide to essay writing for freshman students, but also contains a huge number of academic readings meant to stimulate critical thought and written discussion.  I am not quite finished with it, so I think I’ll save it for next month, when I will discuss it both as a source of writing advice and as a source of academic reading material.

Someone posted a recommendation last month.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t forgotten you, and I’m going to hunt around for a copy of the recommended text.  I’m always open to recommendations!

Test-takers have asked me if the price of the TOEFL will be adjusted when the test changes in July.  I don’t know the answer to that question.  But at this time it’s worth comparing the cost of taking the TOEFL to the cost of taking the Pearson PTE-Academic test.  The latter test is about two hours long (as will be the new TOEFL) and it is rapidly gaining market share.  It’s possible that the revisions to the TOEFL are a specific response to the growth and attractiveness of the PTE.

Below is a chart comparing the cost of the two tests in twenty countries right now.  These are the twenty countries which send the most visitors to this website.  As you can see, the PTE is almost always a little bit cheaper than the TOEFL.  A few things are worth mentioning, though:

  • The TOEFL seems to be cheaper in China.  I don’t think ETS controls the price in China.
  • I indicated with an asterisk countries where Pearson charges a fixed fee in a local currency.  I converted them to USD based on today’s exchange rate.  Those rates will fluctuate, of course.
  • Note how the prices are pretty much identical in India, which is a target market for both tests. 
  • The selected countries are the ones that send the most traffic to this blog.

Shorter tests don’t always result in major price savings for test-takers, but I think there are some opportunities for the test-makers to create a more affordable testing experience moving forward.  Shorter tests have reduced item-preparation costs.  The use of AI can reduce scoring costs.  And, obviously, the introduction of at-home testing eliminates the cost of running test centers.  These things, combined with more competition in the market, will be beneficial for test-takers in the long run.  I like to think that even if prices don’t come down that prince increases will be less frequent in the future. I also foresee testing companies abandoning their tendency to see themselves as fee generating machines. When so much is automated, it is increasingly difficult to nickel and dime test-takers like they did in the 1970s.




United States






South Korea



















































United Kingdom



Huge changes are coming to the TOEFL iBT in July.  Here’s what you can watch for:

  • The test will be shorter.  It will take just about two hours to complete the whole test.
  • The reading section will have just two passages (twenty questions in total)
  • The listening section will be the same (but no unscored questions)
  • The speaking section will be the same
  • The independent writing question will be eliminated, but the integrated essay question will remain.
  • There will be a new “academic discussion” writing question.
  • There will be no unscored questions.
  • There will be no break during the test

I’m happy about all of these things.  I think test-takers will like them too.

If you are curious what the “academic discussion” question looks like, I’ve created and uploaded some samples for you.  Each contains a question and a sample response.  You might recognize it from the TOEFL Essentials Test!  Update:  I have also put together a guide to this question.

In addition to the aforementioned changes, the instructions given during the test will be streamlined and the test software will be improved.  Those will also result in some time savings.

Best of all, the user experience will be improved.  The test registration process will be made shorter and easier, and the user account will be modernized.  It should be a lot easier to find essential information in the account now.  Both of those things make me really happy.  As regular readers know, I’m really interested in improved test-taker experience.

This is scheduled to begin on July 26, but of course that date could change.  ETS will make an official announcement of all this stuff on April 11.  You don’t have to take my word for it… just check the TOEFL website on that date!

I’ve summarized these changes in a YouTube video as well!

A new article in British newspaper i is critical of the Duolingo English Test.  It reports that:

“Professor John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter linked the acceptance of ‘things like Duolingo tests’ to lower English language standards and described it as a ‘major issue’ when he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week.”


“Aston University in Birmingham is one of the many UK institutions that adopted Duolingo at the height of the pandemic but has now dropped it. A spokesperson told i that the decision was taken because of concerns about student performance.”

And quoting a spokesman from that university:

“There is no evidence that those students on Duolingo were failing or, indeed, fraudulent, but just not performing at the same level as peers on their course, so we have chosen to remove acceptance for the test.”

I’m going to babble a bit now.  Pardon me.

Older tests like the TOEFL and IELTS are designed around a particular conception of validity. For instance, the makers of the TOEFL would likely argue that we can look at a TOEFL score and make inferences about the test-taker’s ability to do well in university classes because the tasks on the TOEFL resemble (and, more importantly, involve the same knowledge, skills and processes) as the tasks done by students at post-secondary institutions.

Similarly, IDP would tell you that the IELTS General Training Module is a great test for immigration because it includes tasks that resemble what we do in everyday life.  Meanwhile, the TOEIC leans heavily on memos and invoices and emails that people encounter in an office environment.

You can read about this concept of validity in Carol Chapelle’s 2008 doorstopper about the creation of TOEFL iBT.

The Duolingo English Test is a little bit different.  It is certainly a test of one’s English abilities.  That much is obvious.   But is it appropriate for university admissions? While questions of an academic nature have been added to the DET in recent months much of the test score is still determined by “describe this picture” tasks and “fill in the missing letters” tasks that don’t closely resemble things done on a university campus.

Duolingo might argue that such tasks totally suit the purpose of the test and that they really do require the relevant skills and knowledge.  They could be right.  Who knows?

What interests me is that if we reject the idea that validity requires that test items closely resemble tasks performed in real-world contexts we can go ahead and discard all of the older tests and use the Duolingo Test for all possible purposes.  Will the receiving institutions bite?  That remains to be seen.

I’ve spent some time this week trying to help students from Iran affected by score cancellations salvage their academic futures.  To be honest, I haven’t been able to help much.

Here’s something that bugs me: 

A student’s scores were cancelled.  Like many others, she was told:

“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”

This could mean anything.  Maybe she set out to cheat and was caught.  Or maybe she forgot to turn off Skype after talking to her grandma.  Who knows?  ETS won’t provide any more information.  But, hey, both are valid reasons to cancel the scores, I suppose.

In any case, she suffered greater consequences than a cancelled score. A very fine university withdrew its offer of admission to grad school and  informed her that (due to the seriousness of the offence) she may never apply again.

I really hope that this institution was given all of the information that was needed to make such a life-changing decision.  I really hope that it knows that sometimes (often?) this particular rule is violated entirely by accident.  To react in such a way they darn well better have been told that the student set out to cheat.  And if this decision was made in error, perhaps the verbiage used to inform them of the violation needs to be adjusted.  Words have meaning and weight, damn it.

In the ancient past, test-takers could call ETS customer service and ask for a “test taker advocate.” I don’t know if they were effective advocates, but the position did exist.  It might be time to bring that position back.  Or to create some sort of ombuds position.  As it stands, students with problems like this often appeal to me for advocacy, and I’m feeling pretty helpless right about now.  

Changes are coming to the GRE subject tests. They are:

  1. After the April 2023 administration, the Chemistry test will be discontinued.
  2. The Physics and Psychology tests will be shortened to two hours.
  3. After April 2023, the Mathematics, Physics and Psychology tests will be offered on computer at test centers, and via at-home testing.

Read about these changes on the ETS website.

The subject tests have really  been whittled down to just the basics.  The Biochem test was eliminated in 2017, while the Biology and Literature tests were eliminated in 2021.

Students often mix up “so” and “so that” in their essays.  Here’s what you should know.


“So” is used to indicate an effect or consequence of something.  Like:

I studied hard, so I got a high score.

The effect of studying hard is that I got a high score.

There was a drought, so the people moved west.

The effect of the drought was that people moved west.

I’m tired, so I’m going to bed.

The effect of being tired is that I’m going to bed.

So that

“So that” is used to indicate the purpose or reason for doing something.  Like:

I turned up the heat so that we will feel more comfortable.

My reason for turning up the heat was to make us feel more comfortable.

People moved west so that they could grow crops.

The reason people moved west was to grow crops.

I should go to bed early so that I have plenty of energy tomorrow.

My reason for going to bed early is that I want to have more energy tomorrow.

Some old-fashioned writing uses “in order that” in a similar way.  I don’t recommend using that form in contemporary academic writing.

It was just announced that the GMAT test will be made shorter. Currently, the exam takes 3 hours and 7 minutes to complete. The new version will take just 2 hours and 25 minutes to complete. The exam’s analytical writing assessment will be eliminated. Test-takers will be allowed to “bookmark” a number of questions and return to them later. Reports indicate that the Graduate Management Admission Council hopes to recover market share it has lost in recent years to ETS and its GRE test.

Note that the test was previously shortened (by 30 minutes) back in 2018. It seems like the standardized testing industry is strongly embracing the idea of shorter tests.

The report from Poets and Quants paints a pretty bleak picture of the GMAT’s popularity in their report on the changes. They note that 260,000 people took the GMAT in 2016, while only 156,000 took the test in 2021. Some people I’ve talked to have partially attributed this decline to an online testing experience they call subpar.

Anyway, social media sleuths have uncovered a few additional details through sneaky methods. They suggest:

  1. Sentence correction questions will be eliminated.
  2. More integrated reasoning questions.
  3. No geometry?

Consider these three changes totally unofficial.

Our good friends at EdAgree have 100 TOEFL discount codes to give away before the end of the month.  Update: sorry… the codes have all been claimed.  But stay tuned to the blog for updates.

I believe requests are manually processed, so you might have to wait a day or two to get your code.   You can use the code to register for any test date… but you need to complete the registration before March 31.  The codes can be used for registrations all over the world.

Remember that only 100 codes are available and they are first come first served.  If you want a code you should request one right away.

It is impossible to get a definitive count, but it seems like a significant number of GRE and TOEFL scores from Iran were canceled last week. The scores are from tests taken between November and February. A total of 413 people have signed a petition  regarding the situation, while a Telegram channel serving as a hub for updates now numbers 105 members.

I spoke to an individual with canceled scores (from December) who has already began studies in Canada. Not surprisingly, he is nervous about what happens next.

It seems that in each case, test-takers were notified that the cancellation was due to unauthorized software running during their test administration.

Affected test-takers have reached out to media outlets covering higher education (not me) and to parties in the USA they think will advocate on their behalf (not me). One imagines this story will be reported on in the near future.

Reports are starting to come in that a significant number of TOEFL and GRE scores from at-home tests taken in Iran were canceled last week. I woke up Friday to a handful of emails about the situation. A trusted contact in Iran I spoke to yesterday said there have been “more than thirty” cancellations. Others have mentioned larger numbers.

One of the individuals who emailed me said her scores were successfully reported back in January only to be canceled last week due to unauthorized software being detected during her test. On social media, people have talked about scores from five months ago being canceled.

If any journalists on the higher education beat are reading this, I hope you’ll do a little digging. It looks like a story worth telling. I know it’s difficult to report on Iran in 2023, but I can point you in the right direction if necessary.

I spoke to a fellow last week who had experienced difficulty with an at-home test.  He checked in with the proctor, showed his ID, did a room scan, showed his screen with a mirror… but immediately after the test commenced it was terminated because unauthorized software was detected running on his computer.

The test-provider wouldn’t tell him what software had been detected, and they wouldn’t refund his $215 registration fee.

But, hey, this guy was determined to take the test. He registered to try again the following week.  Sadly, the exact same thing happened.  He found himself down $430.

Picture this: he doesn’t have a score, his deadlines are fast approaching, and he still has no idea what software caused the termination.  No refund has been offered.

Needless to say, the guy decided to take a different test.

For the record, the average monthly wage in his country is $556.

I hear about this sort of thing quite frequently (though most people switch to a new test after the first termination).

I don’t think this guy really set out to cheat.  Some background process was running in Windows, but this dude has no idea what a background process even is.

I recently read that the “Skills for English” test has created a proctoring position called a “Check-in Specialist.”  This individual is responsible for examining the testing environment and checking the test-taker’s ID before the test begins. After these things are done, the rest of the proctoring is handed off to someone else.  I love it.  

Perhaps all testing organizations should consider creating such a position. In addition to the above, the specialist could be trained to detect unauthorized software and quickly shut it down before the test begins.  I mean… the proctors have the ability to remotely control the test-taker’s machine, so why not?

It’s important for the people who design online proctoring services to put themselves in the shoes of the young people taking their tests.  I’ve learned that a lot of young people today don’t really know about the finer details of desktop operating systems.  Many of them don’t know what the Windows Task Manager is.  Some don’t even know what the System Tray is. In 2023 everyone lives and dies by their smartphones, so that level of knowledge is no longer necessary. They think that programs stop running when they exit them.  So… stuff is left running when they take the test. A trained proctor could step in and compensate for  the test-taker’s lack of expertise.