Inside Higher Ed reports that ETS has laid off six percent of its employees, which is estimated to be about 150 people.  This is at least the fifth round of layoffs at the testing firm since 2021.  Impacted staff were contacted personally and a video featuring CEO Amit Sevak was sent company-wide.

A few highlights from the article:


  1. Sevak said in the video: “We need to rethink how we serve our customers and align ourselves to new ways of working, re-evaluate our skills and staffing to make sure we have what we need to move forward, and to continually, effectively and efficiently manage our financial health”


  1. A recent employee satisfaction survey obtained by Inside Higher Ed showed displeasure with the leadership of the group.  One responded noting: “…we still lack a coherent, actionable strategy, and leadership seems completely out of touch with the organization and its people, to the point of it seeming disrespectful.”


  1. Inside Higher Ed notes that other responses “show a distinct lack of confidence in the organization’s leadership.”  Says one: “There is a general consensus across the company that Sr Leadership is not honest with staff, there is no real strategy, and decisions are being made that go against supporting data.”


  1. Says another:  “Everyone is working under the constant possibility of having their job eliminated or outsourced… We’ve gone through so many staff reductions over the past year that it is demoralizing staff … Many people have left ETS, and many of those who remain at ETS are looking for jobs.”


  1. The article notes:  “In 2004, a minor schism between ETS and the College Board led the latter to shift from ETS to Pearson as its main test scorer; 10 years later, that rift deepened when the College Board opted to bring test development, formerly ETS’s purview, in house.”


  1. And: “ETS’s contract with the College Board to administer the SAT is up for renewal next June. When asked via email whether it was likely to renew the partnership, a spokesperson for College Board said the company doesn’t comment on vendor relationships.”


The last note is worth watching.  Just two days ago I wrote in this space about how College Board work accounts for about 30% of ETS’s revenue. A loss of that contract could be significant (though, of course, part of that revenue likely comes from work on the AP tests).

I believe there were also several rounds of layoffs in the pre-pandemic period.

It is worth noting that many of the best and brightest minds at rival testing firm Duolingo seem to be former ETSers.  I am unsure if they were affected by those layoffs or, perhaps, if they took buy-outs during the period.  Or just departed.

I do encourage readers to check out the original article.

Best of luck to those affected.

You know, I’ve been really busy this month.  Last month, too.  I think the “enhanced TOEFL” is a hit.  Traffic to this website is up about 20% (to nearly all-time highs).  I’m getting a lot of requests for tutoring and for my usual writing and consulting services.  Earlier this month I spoke to the owner of a major TOEFL prep company and they told me that their sales are higher than ever.  Go figure.  Good for ETS.

But I have found the time to read a few things.

  • Continuing my read-along with the Norton Library Podcast, I read “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B Du Bois.  This one is hard work so I don’t really recommend it to people just trying to improve their TOEFL reading skills.  That said, Du Bois seems to come up in conversation quite a lot these days.  The freshman students at Columbia University that I work with are all exposed to Du Bois and an archival article by him coincidentally appeared in the issue of “Foreign Affairs” I read this month (see below).  Perhaps America-bound students should check him out at some point.


  • I read the May/June issue of “Foreign Affairs.”  This is the last of the magazines I grabbed from Starbucks.  Sad.  This publication isn’t fantastic for TOEFL preparation either, but a few things might be worth checking out.  The Age of Energy Insecurity describes the desire of some in America to wean their nation off of oil supplied by unfriendly regimes.  This could certainly be the topic of a reading on the TOEFL.  Meanwhile, Iraq and the Pathologies of Primacy describes the flawed thinking that led the United States to war in Iraq, and how the same flawed thinking contributes to yet more war in the Middle East.  Nothing like the TOEFL, but I found it insightful.  Check it out if international relations are in your wheelhouse. 


  • I also read the July/August issue of “Apollo: The International Art Magazine.”  It included a lovely article about a cottage named Munstead Wood. And this is not just any cottage – it is an important historic structure in the UK.  Perhaps you may not be interested in cottages or buildings in general, but the field of architecture could show up when you take the test.  I once wrote a whole reading passage about Frank Lloyd Wright for a major TOEFL publication.  One day you might be able to read it!


That’s all for now, but check back in about 30 days for more recommendations.




Those with an interest in knowing where all the money goes will be happy to know that the 2022 audit of the College Board is now available via Propublica

Operating revenue is up a shade to 915 million dollars.

That’s an impressive figure, though it is still below the pre-pandemic high of 1.04 billion dollars (from 2019).

Total assets are now two billion dollars. As usual, that’s an all-time high.

The amount College Board paid ETS for services rendered hit 312 million dollars in 2022. That makes up 35% of College Board’s expenses (and about 30% of ETS’s revenue). I’m always surprised when this number goes up, as I rarely hear anyone from ETS talk about the work they do for College Board nowadays.

According to statistics provided by ETS to news agency PTI, the TOEFL test is becoming more popular in India. Says PTI:

“According to data exclusively accessed by PTI, there was a 53 per cent growth in Indian TOEFL test takers in 2021 compared to the previous year. In 2022, the number of test takers saw a 59 per cent rise over 2021.”

I’m impressed.

Indians also make up a larger proportion of TOEFL test-takers overall. The article notes:

“Corresponding with the trend, Indians accounted for 12.3 per cent of the total test takers globally in 2022, up from 7.5 per cent the previous year.”

More details in the article.

Coincidentally, visitors from India make up about 12% of the traffic to this website nowadays. Only the USA sends more traffic (about 14% of all visitors).

I read on the ETS Naver blog that express shipping of TOEFL score reports has been expanded to countries across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. For a fee of $25, test-takers can get their paper score report in 2-3 days (more or less) with some kind of tracking. Reports sent via the regular mail are still free.  This option can be selected during the registration process.

Note that for reports requested after the test is completed, the total fee is $45 for express mail and $20 for regular mail.

This is really great news because, inexplicably, a lot of people still need official paper score reports (and they generally need ’em RIGHT NOW). I don’t understand why that is the case in 2023, but the issue is raised quite often by test-takers I communicate with. Moreover, it seems like many young people nowadays don’t really grasp how the “regular mail” works and get frustrated when told that their score reports will arrive whenever their local letter carrier decides to swing by their place.

I just noticed that Amazon now has The Official Guide to the TOEFL (Seventh edition) available for pre-order!  The product listing indicates that it will ship on January 5, 2024.  It also indicates that the book has been updated to match the new version of the test.  Moreover, there are listings for Official TOEFL Tests  Volume 1 and Volume 2.  Both have shipping dates of March 22, 2024.

Meanwhile, Princeton Review has a new TOEFL book with a shipping date of February 6, 2024.  Barron’s has a new TOEFL book coming April 2, 2024.  Barron’s also has an updated version of their venerable TOEFL vocabulary book with an on-sale date of November 7 of 2023, but curiously only a Kindle version is listed (no paperback).

The University of Toronto adjusted its TOEFL score requirements this month.

Previously, the requirements were:

Discretionary: 89-99 (at least 22 in writing)

Minimum: 100 (at least 22 in writing)

Now, the requirements are:

Minimum: 89 (at least 22 in both writing and speaking)

U of T accepts a ton of test scores, but the only other adjustment I noticed was to their Duolingo requirements. Those remain at an overall score of 120, but now require that all subscores be 100 or above (previously, there were no subscore requirements).

The IELTS requirement remains at 6.5 (no band below 6.0). That is still a somewhat low requirement, compared to the TOEFL requirement. If we go by the comparison table provided by ETS, 6.5 on the IELTS is comparable to a 79 on the TOEFL. That’s close enough now, but back when U of T was requiring a 100 on the TOEFL, would anyone bother going the TOEFL route?

The paper-based IELTS has been suspended in Iran since August 1. Some test-takers have been told that the suspension is due to concerns about cheating at test centers. The computer based version (also delivered at test centers) is still available, and registrants for the paper version can switch for free.

People in Iran are frustrated, as testing has been a real challenge in their country for some time. As I wrote in March, seemingly hundreds of individuals who took the TOEFL iBT Test in Iran faced unexpected cancellations of their scores. Some received notice of the cancellations months after taking the test, and lost offers of admission to prestigious schools abroad.

I read today that Meazure Learning (aka “ProctorU”) has acquired rival proctoring company Examity. As readers already know, Meazure Learning is majority owned by private equity firm Gryphon Investors.

Not sure this is great news in terms of test taker experience moving forward. Meazure Learning gets the job done, but there have been complaints about their work from test-takers as long as I’ve been watching. And I worry that consolidation could reduce the motivation of proctoring firms to innovate and improve.

To be honest, I don’t think that something as important as online test proctoring should be outsourced to private equity. Testing firms should have done this entirely in-house to begin with.

It is worth digging into the documents (here and here) released by the Australian Department of Home Affairs re: the REOI for English language tests for visa applications. A few things stand out.

  1. While the process for selecting tests for Australian visas is well documented, the process for selecting tests for Canada’s SDS remains a mystery. Later today I’ll pay $5 and ask Canada to send me everything they’ve got.


  1. The Australian requirements seem to value customer experience and nudge testing firms towards being better versions of themselves. That’s nice. It also mandates that ample research into the validity of the tests be published. I counted 45 requirements stated by the department, most of which are really useful. I’m particularly impressed by the request (with some caveats) that concordance studies have more than 1000 participants. I’m also pleased that currently-accepted tests have to go through the same comprehensive procedure.


  1. Wholly at-home tests will not be considered. However, the government will “consider accepting an English language test that includes only one test component delivered remote-proctored online, noting this one component need not necessarily be conducted in a test centre.” That’s interesting. I am certain that all firms would love to give test-takers the option of doing R/L/W at a test center, while doing all of the speaking at home.


  1. One of the testing firms asked “Can an English language test that is currently undergoing revision and refresh, which is yet to be completed in the next 18 months, be submitted under this REOI process.” That may have been asked by ETS in light of changes to the TOEFL. The response was curt: “No. The Department will evaluate tests submitted as part of a Response to this REOI as being complete at the point of submission.” Whoops! HOWEVER, that seems to have been overridden by a memo from June 2023 which allows firms to revise their REOI response to include “in certain cases, a ‘new test’ or a ‘new ‘product’.” I think it will be okay, folks; my reading of this is that Australia-bound students should be able to submit new TOEFL scores again by mid-2024.


When the process is complete I hope at least one Australian reader will submit a Freedom of Information request so we can get our mitts on even more details.

People with an interest in the business of language testing might want to keep an eye on this REOI from the Australian Department of Home Affairs.

Opened in 2022, it concerns the updating of acceptable tests for Australian visas. Currently, visa applicants may submit IELTS, PTE-Academic, OET, Cambridge C1 advanced or TOEFL scores (TOEFL scores only from tests administered before July 26).

This REOI may result in the acceptance of other test scores, though it isn’t clear which testing companies have expressed interest. Assuming that wholly at-home tests are off the table, I’d love to see both the CAEL and “Skills for English” tests accepted. Not because some tests are better than other tests, but because more choice in the market is generally a good thing.

I can’t find it in writing, but I think the results of this REOI will be implemented in mid 2024.

Always one step ahead of their Canadian brothers and sisters, the Australians broke up the IELTS monopoly on language testing for visas back in 2014/15 (yes, I know the OET was accepted in some cases back then).

There are a few fun features of the REOI that made me chuckle. I’ll highlight those in a separate post.

I just heard back from Collins that the new TOEFL books they published in June are not fully updated to match the current version of the test.  They still reflect the old 3.5 hour version of the test.  That’s unfortunate, as the Collins TOEFL books are generally really good.  It is also unfortunate for Collins that their publishing schedule couldn’t be delayed somehow to allow for revisions. 

I might still buy one or two of the books as I’m always interested to see what the big publishers are up to.  

If you want to go shopping for them on Amazon, you can start here.  Collins is usually pretty accurate when it comes to practice questions, so I’m sure they are still a valuable study resource.