I watched a webinar provided by ETS Global called “TOEFL Writing Without Secrets.”

It was, overall, a very useful webinar.  It contained insights that would be useful to both test-takers and test-prep people.  But look at this reading passage used to illustrate the first TOEFL writing task (the integrated essay):

Eagle-eyed readers will recognize that as the question used to illustrate this task in the Official Guide to the TOEFL.  Long-time readers will know that this isn’t what the TOEFL integrated essay actually looks like.  I am too tired to once again explain how the integrated question is designed, but basically the reading has four paragraphs (not two).  It has an introductory paragraph and it has three supporting body paragraphs, each with a concise argument.

This faulty question has been in the Official Guide since it was first published back in 2005. One imagines that the writers of the book were working from prototype versions of the TOEFL and didn’t have access to samples of actual test forms (’cause the test hadn’t actually been given at that point).  The original practice test in the book has a similarly faulty question, by the way.  It has also appeared in every new edition of the book.

What really gets my goat is that this has been sort of catastrophic for TOEFL test prep.  Countless third-party books have been published that also include crappy practice questions, seemingly influenced by the above content.  Overall, this makes the TOEFL a less attractive test than the IELTS.  IELTS test-takers have a crystal clear picture of what that test is like, partially because of all the amazing and accurate official test collections that have been published.

I feel that had the Official Guide been a bit more accurate the third-party books would also be more accurate.  And now the faulty question has even influenced the quality of an actual ETS webinar!  Oh the humanity.

Apparently an updated edition of the Official Guide will soon be published (to match the new version of the TOEFL).  If anyone from ETS is reading this, I implore you to touch up these sections.

I’ve heard many reports of TOEFL scores being cancelled over the last couple of months because the test-taker “may have received assistance” during the test administration.  The message to test-takers goes something like this:

“We have no reportable score for you from the May 26, 2023 TOEFL iBT Home Edition Administration because you may have received assistance during the test administration.”

and also:

“Please be advised that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and that repeated violations may result in score cancellation and/or your exclusion from future testing”

As best I can understand it, there is no appeal process, no refund and no evidence provided to the test-taker.

It seems like a switch has been flipped in Lawrence Township as the volume of reports I have seen has greatly increased in recent weeks.  Weird.

I always encourage test-takers to stand up for their rights but also to be proactive regarding important deadlines.


It’s time for more reading recommendations!

I read the June 14, 2021 issue of The New Yorker (I got it from the discard pile of my local library).  I liked:

  • How Nasty Was Nero?, which discusses the legend of the Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero might have been a nasty guy.  Like, a really nasty guy.  But maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe he was smeared after his death for political reasons.  This could form the basis of a decent integrated writing question, or maybe a reading passage.
  • The Classicist Who Killed Homer, which discusses whether Homer (you know, the guy who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad) actually existed.  This would make for a perfect integrated writing question!

I also read the August 22, 2022 issue of the same magazine.  It had a few relevant articles:

  • Africa’s Cold Rush and the Power of Refrigeration is a dense article about a challenging topic.  It isn’t the most enticing of articles, but it is important that TOEFL test-takers strengthen their ability to pay attention in the face of boredom. 
  • The Untold History of the Biden Family is a fascinating examination of the lives of American President Joe Biden’s father and grandfather.  At that same time it is a compelling examination of the life of Bill Sheene (Biden’s great uncle) and his decedents.  This isn’t a TOEFL-like article, but it is one of the best things I’ve read in this magazine lately. 
  • American Democracy was Never Meant to be Democratic is about the fine art of gerrymandering.  I haven’t highlighted too many political science articles in this column, so do check this one out if you want to strengthen your ability to read stuff in that realm.

Meanwhile, I read a few books this month:

  • Shortchanged, by Annie Abrams is an examination of the Advanced Placement (AP) program which retains an iron grip on American schools.  The book presents a compelling argument against continued use of AP curriculum and tests, but for me the best part was Abrams’ detailed history of the creation and implementation of the AP program.  TOEFL test-takers can find better stuff to practice their reading skills with, but test-obsessed tutors might enjoy this one.
  • Fear of Falling, by Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the better political science texts of the past forty years.  Again, it isn’t great TOEFL practice, but I mention it here since I love it to bits.  Read it if you want an explanation of why America seems so bonkers at times.

Earlier this month I found myself at a library in Canada and finally read a copy of “Collins Cobuild English Usage.”  I think it is a great book for English learners.  Here’s my review from Goodreads:

The book lists thousands of words (or pairs of easily confused words) and attempts to explain their proper use. For each word various possible uses are listed and common errors are also highlighted. This isn’t a dictionary, though – the focus here is on explaining how to use the words in a grammatically correct way.

Rounding out the book are a short “topics” section that highlights words and phrases used in certain contexts (letter writing, talking on the phone, advising someone, etc) and a very short chapter about how language has changed over the past decade.

I like this book a lot. It is a good companion to something like Michael Swan’s “Practical English Usage,” which covers much of the same territory.

More New Yorker articles next month as I continue to work my way through a stack of unread copies from 2022.  And at least one more library find.  Stay tuned!

ETS has published ten new sample writing for academic discussion questions on their website.  That’s really wonderful news for people who plan to take the TOEFL when it is revised on July 26.  

But that’s not all!  Users can submit their responses to the questions and get an AI score from 0 to 5!  That will help everyone predict how they will do on the real test.

The folks have ETS have indicated on LinkedIN that the collection of questions will be expanded in the future.  And, as I have already reported here, ETS plans to release a test-prep app which includes new questions of every type along with AI grading for both the writing and speaking sections.

Our friends from My Speaking Score were cool enough to provide a discount code exclusive to readers of this blog.  Register here and at the time of purchase use the code TESTRESOURCES to save 10% on your purchase of SpeechRater credits.

My Speaking score makes use of the same SpeechRater AI used by ETS to score the real TOEFL.  You can submit your practice responses and get an accurate score prediction, along with specific scores for metrics like fluency, pronunciation, coherence and grammar.  I use it with all my students.  

The site provides questions you can answer or you can just use your microphone to record responses to your own practice questions (like, say, from the TPO sets or Official Guide).

The PIE News reports:

“Former graduate students [from Iran] have told The PIE News that expenses such as application fees, language tests along with flights and their first month’s rent are preventing talented scholars from studying abroad.”


“[one student] put out an advertisement for his kidney (which is legal in Iran) and found a buyer. Fortunately a friend intervened before the operation could go ahead.”


“An experienced teacher makes $200 a month. Saving $250 for a language test is very difficult. You also need to save for the application fee, money for the first month.”


“He also said that institutions should accept more affordable English proficiency tests.”

Not from the article:

A few months ago, seemingly hundreds of test-takers from Iran had their English test scores canceled for unclear reasons. Refunds were not offered. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories, knowing what I did about the economy of that country. It is more heartbreaking after having read this article.

Duolingo has done quite a lot to provide vouchers for free tests to students outside the USA from underprivileged backgrounds. I think the larger and more established testing organizations should follow their lead. I recall running into a brick wall of bureaucracy trying to get voucher programs set up for test-takers affected by the fall of the government in Afghanistan and those affected by the ongoing war in Europe. I ultimately gave up and decided it was more efficient to just volunteer my time as a language tutor.

I read today that the Law School Admission Council has concluded its contract with ProctorU. Beginning next month, proctoring of the at-home LSAT will be done by Prometric.

While ProctorU has been criticized by a lot of people, it seems like LSAT test-takers have been particularly vocal about their negative assessment of ProctorU’s quality of service.

 Students often ask me how long it takes for score recipients to get their TOEFL scores.  The answer is that it takes eleven days for recipients to get the scores. You can find this information buried deep in the TOEFL Bulletin for 2023.  Here ya go:

“Official score reports for the TOEFL iBT test will be sent to your designated recipients within 11 business days after your test (15 days for the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition). It could be sooner, depending on what score delivery method each specific institution uses. “

The scores are sent electronically, so this means the institutions should have them eleven days after you take the test.  ETS does not provide confirmation that the scores have been properly received, but you can call the admissions department of your school to confirm if necessary.

Of course if you have chosen paper score reports this could take a lot longer.  ETS says:

However, if we mail the score report, keep in mind that ETS has no control over mail delivery to various locations around the world. Allow another 7–10 days for mail delivery in the U.S., and 4–6 weeks for mail delivery to other locations. For information specific to your postal system, contact your post office for an estimated arrival time for mail from the U.S.

How Long Until Scores Appear in your ETS Account

In case you are wondering, scores appear in your ETS account 4-8 days after you take the test.  The PDF score report can be downloaded two days after that.

I stumbled across a copy of the fifth edition of Rawdon Wyatt’s “Check Your English Vocabulary for the TOEFL” today.  This isn’t a particularly popular book, but it does come up now and then when I talk to students.

It must be said that this is barely a TOEFL book.  The TOEFL is referenced in the title and mentioned in the introduction to the book, but otherwise this is just a general vocabulary workbook.  It contains 50 chapters of fill-in-the-blank activities, crossword puzzles and other skill building things.  The vocabulary presented in the book is certainly useful, but it isn’t particularly focused on the TOEFL in any way.  Nor will you find any activities or questions that resemble what you’ll find on the TOEFL (like you will find in the TOEFL vocabulary book published by Barron’s).  It isn’t even focused on the sort of peculiar academic vocabulary one finds on the TOEFL.  Keep that in mind if you plan to use this as a self-study resource or a teaching tool.  This is fine as a vocabulary book, but it is about as useful as any old vocabulary book when it comes to TOEFL prep.  It isn’t any better than, say, “English Vocabulary in Use” or any other good vocabulary resource from a reputable publisher.

Note for teachers: this book is perfect if you are looking for photocopiables and your boss wants you to draw from something with “TOEFL” in the title.

You can get a copy from Amazon.

I learned today that ETS has partnered with Preply to connect test-takers with tutors who have “the official Teaching TOEFL iBT® Skills certificate.” Details here. The average fee for tutoring seems to be about $20 per hour, and participating test-takers also get a discount on their test registration.

I really like this. Test-takers often find themselves in a sort of “wild west” situation when looking for tutoring. In the worst cases, they spend huge sums of money and don’t get very good instruction. If properly managed, the Preply-ETS partnership could be a really consumer-friendly development.  This is also a great opportunity for talented tutors to get some attention and experience.