Sometimes when people attempt to make an account on the ETS website to register for the TOEFL or GRE they get this error message:

EIAS System error occurred – unable to process the request.

A user finally figured out what causes this.  The error occurs when certain special characters are used in your password.  To eliminate the error, only use the recommended special characters:  [email protected]#$%^&*() .  Using other characters may cause the error to appear.

If this solution works for you, please leave a comment below.

Here’s a screenshot of the error:

 

Recent changes to the Duolingo English Test to TOEFL score conversion table have inspired me to begin a new series of blog posts.  Over the next year I’ll track whether schools adjust their score requirements in light of these changes.  In the chart below are 17 schools across the United States and Canada.  Also listed are their required Duolingo and TOEFL requirements as listed on August 11, 2022 and in the spring of 2022.  I used the Wayback Machine to get the older scores, so they are not all from a specific date.  I’ll check in with these schools now and then to see if the requirements have been adjusted.

A few things are worth mentioning:

  • Update:  I found a couple of schools in the UK.
  • There are a couple of community colleges at the bottom of the list.
  • The schools were selected mostly at random.
  • I have not listed IELTS scores, but I will create Wayback Machine archives along the way so perhaps those can be added later.
  • Many schools still list TOEFL PBT and CBT requirements.  Yikes.
  • I can’t think of any licensing boards or non-academic institutions that take DET scores.  But if you can think of any please let me know.
  • All scores are for undergraduate admissions.

Before we begin, note that:

  • So far, none of the tracked schools have updated their requirements.
  • However, the University of Pittsburgh recently updated its DET requirement!  The TOEFL requirement is currently 100, while the DET requirement is 125.  In don’t know exactly when it was adjusted, but in March of this year the requirement was 120.  This should not come as a surprise, as I believe that a relationship exists between that school and Duolingo.  In any case, the campus is within walking distance of Duolingo HQ.
  • A few of the schools have fairly high DET requirements and don’t need to adjust them to match the current conversion chart.  But most of the schools may wish to consider making adjustments to match the chart.

If any readers of the blog have an attachment to a particular institution, I will be happy to add it to the tracker.  Just leave a comment below.

Enjoy.

School

Spring 2022

DET / TOEFL


August 11
DET / TOEFL

MIT

120 / 90

120 / 90

U of Toronto

120 / 100

120 / 100

Cornell

120 / 100

120 / 100

UBC

125 / 90

125 / 90

Emory

120 / 100

120 / 100

U of Arizona

100 / 70

100 / 70

Carnegie Mel.

125 / 102

125 / 102

Brown

125 / 100

125 / 100

U of Utah

105 / 80

105 / 80

Rice

120 / 100

120 / 100

UCLA

120 / 100

120 / 100

Columbia

125 / 105

125 / 105

Dalhousie

115 / 90

115 / 90

City College of SF

85 / 56

85 / 56

De Anza College

95 / 61

95 / 61

Imperial College London

115 / 92

115 / 92

U of Chichester

95 / 79

95 / 79

 

Recently, the charts that convert Duolingo English Test Scores to TOEFL and IELTS scores were adjusted.  You can see the current charts right here.  An archive of the old charts is available via the Way Back Machine. 

For instance, previously a Duolingo English Test score of 125 converted to 103-107 on the TOEFL iBT.  Now, that converts to 93 -97 on the TOEFL iBT.

Likewise, a score of 125 on the Duolingo used to equal an IELTS score of 7.5, but now that is equal to an IELTS score of 6.5.

There are also changes to the Duolingo to CEFR conversion chart.

I suppose this is due to the inclusion of new question types on the DET.  I don’t know if any institutions have adjusted their score requirements at this time.  I suspect that many institutions are totally unaware of the change.

To illustrate, here is the top of the current Duolingo to TOEFL chart:

And here is the top of the old chart (forgive the broken image):

 

 

Update: It is working again!  Everyone can register.

I think the TOEFL registration system has stopped working again.

When I try to register for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition Test I get this error:

“No available slots in this time range” 

others have reported this error:

“The test center and/or test date/time are no longer available” 

I think it is still possible to register to take the test at a test center.

People on social media are reporting the same thing right now for the past 24 hours.  I think that the same error has been reported in the past.  It seems to get fixed eventually.  

Yesterday I wrote about ways to improve the pre- and post-test experience for test-takers.  I suppose “improve the backend” could be added to that list.  It seems to be that registration for the TOEFL is quite often offline for maintenance, or offline because of a mysterious error.  

Update: People on social media have indicated that it is not possible to register for a test at a test center at this time.

Update 2: Users attempting to register for the GRE get the same error.

 

As promised, here are my thoughts about how ETS can help test-takers to have an enjoyable experience throughout their TOEFL journey. Since I’m not qualified to speak about the content of the test, this article will focus entirely on the pre- and post-test experience.

Keep in mind that I’m not trying to pick on my friends at the Educational Testing Service.  I am a great admirer of that organization, its people and its mission.  But ETS is seems to be going through a period of transition (into something more streamlined and responsive) so perhaps my thoughts can be of use now. Needless to say, I’ve hesitated to share such ideas in public in the past.

Note also that these suggestions don’t just come from my experience.  They come from the opinions of the thousands of test-takers I’ve worked with directly, and from the comments of the thousands more who have contacted me via the blog and on social media.

Here goes.

  •  The TOEFL website may be considered old-fashioned. Key information is hard to find.

In the “For Test Takers” section of the website, critical information is spread across approximately 90 static pages, 17 embedded videos, a dozen PDFs and a few ZIP archives.  This is a somewhat dated approach to website design.  As a longtime user of the site, it seems like various UX elements have been grafted onto an original frame dating from 2011.

Consider the path a student must follow to get to a practice test:

Start on ets.org/toefl → scroll and click on “test takers” → click on “about the test” → click on “prepare for the test” in a sidebar → click on “practice tests” in the body of the page → click on “launch the TOEFL iBT Free practice test.”

Compare this to the Duolingo English Test website, where the same goal is accomplished with a single click from the homepage.

Next, compare this: https://www.pearsonpte.com/preparation/on-test-day

To this: https://www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/test-day/

The difference is clear.  Pearson has a much more modern design.  Key information is presented on a single page, and superfluous information is omitted.  Meanwhile, ETS uses ten different pages (and a couple of videos) to share a similar amount of information.

Suggestion:  Scrap the website and start again.  The user experience is so dated that yet another patchwork revision would just make it worse.  Eliminate all of the extraneous stuff. Rewrite the stuff people do look at. Modernize the interface of the user account.  Use the new PTE Academic website (https://www.pearsonpte.com/pte-academic) as a model.  Get rid of all PDF and ZIP files.

  •  There is no FAQ or Help Center.

I am puzzled by the fact that ETS doesn’t provide an FAQ page for the TOEFL Test.

Answers to simple questions (like “when will my PDF score report be available for download” or “how do I reinstate canceled scores” or “what does scores not available mean” or “what the heck is an Error 476”) are either not available or are buried deep in the website. Some information is only available in the “TOEFL Bulletin” PDF file that is rarely read.  Students resort to making long distance calls to the customer support department for answers.

Here’s what Pearson offers:  https://www.pearsonpte.com/help-center/general-faqs

And Duolingo: https://testcenter.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

Calls to the support center could be drastically reduced by providing easy access to this kind of information on the website.

Suggestion:  Implement a modern “help center” page using something like Zendesk.  Or just create a static page that answers the most common questions. Talk to people within and outside the company about what questions they are asked again and again.  Remember that young people nowadays feel very uncomfortable talking on the phone. 

  •  The registration process could be overwhelming and stressful

Consider the process students must follow after selecting a test date and location:

  • An acknowledgement that they have read a huge chunk of provided legalese and that they have also read the 41 page TOEFL Bulletin.
  • A long pitch to sign up for the TOEFL Search Service.
  • A request for background information.
  • A request to select score recipients.
  • A baffling request for an Agent ID number and a review of the above.
  • An attempt to upsell them practice materials that scrolls on forever.
  • A shopping cart
  • A checkout screen
  • A payment screen

This can take from 10 to 20 minutes to get through.  Compare that to other tests, where registration is completed in just a few minutes.

Suggestion:  Move as much of this as possible to sometime post-registration.  When possible, move it to the post-test stage.  Run a study tracking how long it takes to sign up for the test.  Adjust as needed.

  •  The free practice material is limited

Note how the free practice test provided by Duolingo is a fairly accurate simulation of their test.  It even implements automated writing and speaking scoring. That was a game changer for Duolingo and likely played a huge part in its rapid ascent. It makes students really familiar with how the test works.  It makes test-takers feel that they are getting something from the testing company instead of being asked to give, give, give.

In contrast, the free practice test on ETS is not an accurate simulation of the real test, nor does it include automated scoring.  Additional content is provided in a zip archive (!!!).

Suggestion:  Provide a free online practice test that is different every time a student takes it.  Just pick and mix sections from those 65 TPOs that are currently sold to Chinese schools.  I can’t do math, but that sounds like it would make possible thousands of unique variations.  Implement the SpeechRater and e-rater in the speaking and writing sections.  This is all possible.

  •  The fee to send scores is perceived as onerous

Some test-takers feel that it doesn’t cost ETS anything to send scores to universities. So being charged $20 per school is problematic to them.

They also know that Pearson allows students to send an infinite number of scores to an infinite number of schools at no cost. Same for the Duolingo English Test. That makes them feel good about the TTX over there.  

Suggestion:  Eliminate this fee.

  •  The pricing of the Home Edition is perplexing

Test-takers have noticed that it costs $185 to take the TOEFL Home Edition from their bedroom in Sri Lanka, and $335 to take it from their bedroom in Switzerland.  They can’t wrap their heads around this fact.

Suggestion:  Fix this.

  • Some people find the TOEFL Search Service is frustrating

For me, the search service only comes up in conversation when a test-taker asks “what the heck is going on with all these unwanted calls?”  No one has ever spoken to me about the search service in a positive light.  Some students have shared negative opinions of the marketing methods used by participating institutions.  Stopping these pitches currently requires a long-distance call to ETS.

Suggestion:  Make the search service “opt-out” by default, and don’t include it in the registration process.  Simplify the opt-out process.  

  •  OTI waiting times are sometimes quite long

Some students have told me that they have waited more than 100 days for their scores to clear the OTI’s review process.  That’s too long, and it creates a negative experience for them.  Reduce these waiting times. Consider bringing back the old position of “test-taker advocate” to help students who are dealing with exceptionally long waiting times.

Update: Just so I don’t forget, here’s my list of miscellaneous suggestions, as I remember them:

  • The old score reports were great.  They provided a level (not a score) for each writing task, and each natural pair of speaking tasks.  Students loved them as they provided a little guidance re: what to study.  Bring back something like that, even if it is just part of the ETS account.
  • Fix the GRE/TOEFL account login bug.  That’s still annoying.
  • Provide more descriptive error messages for billing failures.  Those are perplexing.  At least suggest a solution.
  • Fix the EIAS system error bug, or provide a proper error message.
  • Clear up the remaining issues in the Official Guide.

A few notes from the publishing world:

  1.  Book Depository now lists the 2023 edition of Princeton Review’s “TOEFL iBT” with an on-sale date of February 2023.  I think this one will be almost identical to the 2022 and 2021 editions.  Princeton Review sometimes fixes small typos, but doesn’t seem enthusiastic about making large revisions.
  2.  Book depository also has listings for new editions of all four TOEFL books from Harper Collins with on-sale dates in May and June of 2023.  I like those books, so new editions are certainly welcome.  The existing editions were published many years ago.
  3. Barron’s is now selling an ebook version of their most recent TOEFL iBT book!  That’s the first ebook edition of a major TOEFL book I have seen in ages.

It is about time for me to write a new “best TOEFL books” blog post.  Keep an eye out for that.

ETS has confirmed that students in Russia and Belarus can now register to take the TOEFL Home Edition and the at home GRE from within Russia and Belarus.  However, they may not take those tests at a test center. 

Here is the press release announcing this change:

Beginning August 4, ETS is updating its March 2022 policy and will now allow test takers in Russia and Belarus to register for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, TOEFL Essentials and at home GRE tests barring any financial restrictions they may encounter.

Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, students in Russia and Belarus remain unable to take these tests at a test center within these countries. Students who prefer to test in person are welcome to take an exam in other countries or regions barring any travel and financial restrictions they may encounter.

We remain firmly committed to supporting all learners on their education journeys and hope peace prevails as soon as possible.

Testing in Russia and Belarus was suspended in March by ETS with an announcement that the testing organization stood “in unity with the people of Ukraine with hope that peace prevails.”

According to reports from Mediazona, test-takers in Russia and Belarus will be permitted to take the TOEFL Home Edition starting August 4.   Testing in those countries was shut down in March of this year when ETS ceased operations following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  For a few hours this month, that ban actually extended to Russian citizens around the world.  

Interestingly, the report indicates that students will only be able to take the TOEFL Home Edition… and will not be able to take it at a test center.

Mediazona cites an ETS rep as the source of this news.  I guess the GRE will return in a similar fashion, since it is also an ETS test.

Update: ETS has now issued a press release confirming the above information.  Students in Russia and Belarus can take the TOEFL Home Edition and the at-home GRE.

It is worth keeping an eye on the IELTS test, which was shut down in Russia around the same time.  Same for Pearson’s PTE.

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.