There is some fascinating new data about the TOEFL iBT Home Edition available from the International Education Association of Australia.  I’m leaving on a holiday in just a moment, but I want to quickly draw attention to a few tantalizing data points.  Please note:

  1. The Home Edition is even more popular than I thought.  At least among Australia-bound students, by June of 2021 it accounted for 40% of testing.  I bet it is even higher now.
  2. Note how the mean score of Australia-bound students was 93.4 in 2019.  That is a bit higher than I would have guessed, but only a little.  You can also see the mean scores for each section.
  3. Next, note how the mean score of Australia-bound students taking the test center version of the TOEFL iBT from January to June 2021 was 94.6.  That’s a healthy jump, but it is typical of the fact that the mean increases almost every year in most countries.  This our very first look at 2021 data, by the way.
  4. But note that the mean score of Australia-bound students taking the Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT from January to June 2021 was 96.9!  More than two points higher than people taking it at a test center.  That’s wild.
  5. For people taking the Home Edition reading scores were 0.8 higher, listening scores were 1.0 higher and writing scores were 1.2 higher.
  6. Interestingly, speaking scores on the Home Edition were 0.6 lower.  That’s curious, but I think it means my advice about getting a good microphone and testing it is solid.  I can say, from experience, that trying to assess a spoken answer recording with a crappy microphone can be a frustrating experience.  My “scores” tend to be lower when assessing students who decline to use a proper recording device.  This is worthy of further study by ETS, I think.

Does this mean the TOEFL Home Edition is “easier”?  No, of course not.  It is the same test.  Does this mean that the TOEFL Home Edition is a more pleasant testing experience for test takers?  Probably.  I suspect that students who can test in a comfortable and quiet environment get higher scores.  Being able to test at a time of day when they have more energy likely helps as well.

It is worth noting that Chinese students were taking the test exclusively at test centers during this part of 2021, which might also account for the difference.   The mean score of Chinese students in 2020 was 87 points, the same as the worldwide mean.

Remember that we have worldwide data for 2020 which showed a massive increase (four points) to the worldwide mean score which, at the time, puzzled me.  I think this new report explains that jump and it makes me think there will be a small jump in the 2021 data… and another big one in the 2022 data that will reflect an environment where Chinese students have access to the Home Edition.

The TOEFL iBT Information Bulletin was updated recently.  Just a couple of changes are worth mentioning:

  • The Bulletin now confirms that the ID required at the test center merely needs to match the name on the ID given during the registration process.  Previously, the bulletin stated that it needed to be the exact same ID.  This was a point of contention for some people in the past.
  • The Bulletin, curiously, refers to “video” a few times.  It says that score recipients will be able to “view your personal video statement” and the confidentiality section now refers to “personal information, photograph, and video.”  Perhaps ETS will add a personal video statement to the end of the iBT, like the TOEFL Essentials Test.

Hey, it’s my third favorite day of the year – the day of the ETS annual audit!

You can grab it by searching the Federal Audit Clearinghouse.  It will likely be up on ProPublica later this month.

Here’s what I learned:

  • ETS’s total assets are up about 10% to $2,083,345,000.  I believe that is an all-time high for ETS.
  • Operating revenues are up about 5% to $1,071,304.  That is definitely not an all-time high.
  • Operating expenses are up very slightly.  
  • ETS’s investments are valued at $1,627,711. That is an increase of 10%.
  • The year’s acquisitions are described, but they aren’t specifically named.  Nothing seems out of the ordinary, though.  I think they refer to (in order): Pipplet, CIEE, Vericant and GradSchoolMatch.
  • Some divestures are described.  I have no idea what they refer to.
  • ETS’s effective tax rate was 1.7% in 2021, which is up from 2020 when it was… lower than that.

Information about ETS’s current financial situation is limited to this audit as, sadly, publication of 990 forms from the IRS is delayed.  But if you want to go digging into old data, you can do so over here.

My friends at EdAgree are holding a Virtual University Fair on January 21.  You can register over here.  More than twenty partner schools will have representatives on hand, and participants will have a chance to interact with them live at virtual “booths.”  There will also be presentations about how to successfully navigate the application process.

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in a presentation about the cost of perusing higher education in the United States and how to find and apply for scholarships.  I certainly get a lot of questions about financial support.

I understand, also, that EdAgree is offering a $500 scholarship for students who enroll in one of the partner schools.  That’s a nice development.

Happy holidays!  It’s just about the end of the month, and that means it is time for my monthly list of recommended academic readings.  Check out the following links if you want to strengthen your reading skills before you take the test.

This month I started my reading with the November issue of History Today.  A few stories stood out:

  • In Good Spirits highlights the role of alcohol in the diplomacy of early modern Russia.  It turns out that everyone had to drink back then.  A lot.
  • Swimming in the Sahara is about rock art from about ten thousand years ago, and differing opinions as to what it means.  This is a bit closer to what you might get on the real test, as the TOEFL makers love articles about distant (but not too distant) history.
  • A Donkey’s Day in Court is a humorous article about an abused Donkey that was able to get justice in early 19th century England.  I enjoyed this one a lot.

Next, I read the December issue of the same magazine.  This will be the last issue of “History Today” I cite here, as my subscription has ended and one of my ground rules for this column is that I only mention stuff I’ve read in hard copy.  This issue was quite good.  A few pieces are worth highlighting:

  • Crimes of Fashion is a curious article about the lengths people went to to update their wardrobes in seventeenth century English. Apparently, new clothing was extremely expensive, so some folks resorted to crime when they wanted something new to wear.
  • How Father Christmas Got His Reindeer arrives just in time for Christmas.  It is a surprisingly long and detailed article about how the characters of Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came to be.  I liked it.

I should mention that, as usual, some of the best stuff in these magazines are hidden behind the paywall.  You might consider subscribing.

Apollo MagazineNext, I checked out a new magazine – the December issue of “Apollo: the International Art Magazine.”  You see, I got a deal on a three issue subscription last month.  This is a fascinating  publication.  Part of its business model seems to be the paid promotion of sales of art and antiquities.  Looking through the adverts, I was struck by the sort of stuff one can buy, if one has the right sort of bank account. Like £90,000 for a 2500 year old vase. Or £1,200,000 for a portrait by El Greco.  Or, heck, you could just buy a microscope that belonged to Charles Darwin (well, “the Charles Darwin Family”) for £350,000.

Anyways, the magazine did have a few interesting articles:

  • Travel fans will like this article about the puzzling (but, yes, inspiring) Rocchetta Mattei castle in Italy.
  • There is a really wonderful article about the history of the Faberge firm (famous for the Faberge Eggs) but sadly it is available only for subscribers. As a substitute, here is a similar article from an earlier issue of the mag.

Finally, I read the Fall/Winter issue of “Modern Cat.” Sadly, the content of Modern Cat isn’t quite as good as what is found in Modern Dog.  But…

  • Cats Prefer a Free Meal is basically academic reading material.  It’s about studies.  If you squint hard enough, it sort of resembles the fourth TOEFL speaking question. 

That’s my last house pet magazine, by the way.  No more cats and dogs on the blog.

Stay tuned until next month when I’ll have at least one book to recommend.  Finally!

No book recommendations today.  Sorry.  My personal reading was mostly fiction this month.  But, as usual, I did plow through a few magazines. 

First up, I read the September issue of “History Today.”  I enjoyed:

Next, I read the October issue of the same magazine.  In that one, I liked:

Both of these magazines contain a lot of great long-form articles… but alas they are for subscribers only.

Finally, I read the  Fall 2021 issue of Modern Dog (oh yes I did).  I spotted:

I think I’ve got one more issue of “History Today” and one more issue of “Modern Dog” coming before my subscriptions run out. Stay tuned!

Continue reading “You Should Read More – Part 15 (of 100)”

The TOEFL Home Edition is a wonderful addition to the TOEFL family of tests.  According to a recent presentation given by ETS it has been taken more than 500,000 times since March of 2020. Students all over the world have enjoyed the flexibility that the home edition provides, especially in today’s tumultuous times.

That said, I do get messages from students with scores that have been put “on hold” or have been cancelled. Test takers must understand that this is always a possibility when taking a remotely proctored exam.  Fortunately, with some planning and effort the chance of something like this happening can be reduced.  Today’s blog is about what you can do to have a comfortable test experience and ensure that your scores are not delayed.

Part One – Before the Test

Read the Instructions from ETS

Okay, this one might be too obvious.  However, I do get a lot of e-mails from people who clearly haven’t read the instructionsHere’s a link.  Read that page word for word.  Read it three times.  It describes system requirements, it links to the software you need to download, it talks about what your room should be like and what you can wear.  Don’t get these instructions from third-party YouTube videos, since the test has changed a few times since it first launched and many videos are out of date.

Test Your Computer and Equipment

Make sure your computer equipment is working properly before you take the test. The easiest way to do this is to run the ProctorU online equipment test.  But don’t stop there!  You should manually test your microphone. Make a test recording using something like “Voice Recorder” (Windows) or “Voice Memos” (Mac OS) and actually listen to it. How does it sound? If your audio quality is poor, you should get a new microphone. Microphone problems are a major cause of cancelled scores. Remember that the online equipment test just checks if your microphone is receiving input; it does not test the actual quality of its recordings.

Test Your Writing Materials

Writing on a whiteboard or a transparent sheet can be tricky at first.  Experiment a bit with different surfaces, markers and erasers before you begin the test. Figure out what you feel most comfortable with. I highly recommend that you get a whiteboard with a nice thin marker.  A thick marker will lead to constant erasing.

Shut Down Background Apps

Shut down everything else that is running on your system before you start the test.  Certain types of applications could cause your scores to be put on hold. The proctor is supposed to shut down everything, but don’t depend on them to do that.  Do it yourself!

Put a “Stay Out” (and “Shut up”) Sign on Your Door

Before starting the test put a sign on your door telling everyone else in the house to leave it closed at all times.  The sign should also tell people to avoid talking to you at all times.  Remind everyone that even if your test is scheduled to last three hours, you might still be taking it four hours later, or five hours later.  They should not assume that you have finished and that it is okay to open the door or to talk to you.  I’ve gotten many reports about test scores being cancelled after a well-being mom decided it was okay to open the door!

Part Two – During the Test

Follow the Instructions

It is awkward to write this, but here goes.  I’ve gotten several reports that uniformed proctors have allowed students to break the rules… and thus caused scores to get cancelled.  Don’t let this happen during your test.  Don’t take an 11 minute break just because the proctor says it is okay.  Don’t start the test without showing ID just because the proctor says it is okay.  Don’t drink water during the test just because the proctor says it is okay.  Those things are all against the rules.  Doing them could result in a score cancellation.

Don’t Touch Your Phone

You might use your phone at the beginning of the test to give the proctor a “mirror” look at your screen before you begin.  After you do that, follow the proctor’s instructions and put it away.  Don’t touch it after that.  Most importantly, don’t pick it up when you begin your break.  Leave it right where it is during the break!  I have received several reports about test scores being cancelled because a student absent-mindedly picked up their phone while stepping out of the room to take a break. To avoid this possibility, you could just use an actual mirror to show the proctor your screen at the beginning of the test.

Look.  Straight.  Ahead.

Keep looking forward.  Don’t stare off to the side or up at the ceiling as you think about hard questions.  Keep looking forward.  If you look away from the screen for even a moment, you could trigger the automated anti-cheating software.  That could result in your scores being put on hold.

Part Three – After the Test

Wait 6 to 10 Days for Your Score

Your score will arrive 6 to 10 days after you take the test (not counting the day of the test). Your PDF score report will be available 2 days after that. Your recipients will get the scores a few days after that. Be patient.

If there is a delay, ETS will send you an email.  You can contact the Office of Testing Integrity to request additional information.



According to yesterday’s earnings call, revenue for the Duolingo English Test in Q3 2021 was $6,695,000. At $49 a pop, we might extrapolate that the test was taken 136,000 times in July/Aug/Sept. The actual number is probably a bit higher than that due to discounts and freebies.

This is up from $5,607,000 in Q3 2020.

Here are the historic revenues:

Q3 2021 – 6,695,000  
Q2 2021 – 4,833,000
Q1 2021 – 5,035,000

Q3 2020 – 5,607,000
Q2 2020 – 4,598,000
Q1 2020 –    753,000

(I don’t have a number for Q4 2020)