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.
(Updated May 20, 2023)
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 instructions. First you should read everything on the “before your test session begins” page from ETS. Don’t get these instructions from third-party websites and YouTube videos, since the test has changed a few times since it first launched and many videos are out of date.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! Next, 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 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! Pay special attention to stuff related to video and screen capture.
Some programs you should make sure are turned off BEFORE you take the test include:
Update: I’ve published a guide all about shutting stuff down.
Don’t Use a Company Computer
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-meaning mom decided it was okay to open the door!
Part Two – During the Test
Follow the Instructions
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 Look Around
You can look at your monitor and you can look at your notes. That’s it. Don’t stare off to the side or up at the ceiling as you think about hard questions. If you look around the room, you could trigger the automated anti-cheating software. That could result in your scores being put on hold.
Don’t Read things Out Loud
Speak during the speaking section of the test. Stay silent during the rest of the test.
Part Three – During the Break
Stay Silent During the Break
Don’t talk to anyone during the break. Remember that your microphone will be on. Several students have reported score cancellations and delays because the microphone caught them having a conversation with someone in another room during the break. Likewise, tell everyone in the house that they must not speak during the break (even better: don’t speak during the entire test).
Don’t Touch Your Phone
You will use your phone at the beginning of the test to give the proctor a “mirror” look at your screen before you begin. After that, follow the proctor’s instructions and put it away. Don’t touch it again! Most importantly, don’t pick it up when you begin your break. Leave it right where it is! After the break the proctor will ask you to show them the phone. It must be in the same place. I have received several reports about test scores being cancelled because a student absentmindedly picked up their phone while stepping out of the room to take a break.
Part Four – After the Test
Wait 4 to 8 Days for Your Score
Your score will arrive 4 to 8 calendar 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, your ETS account will indicate that your scores are “on hold” and you will get an email from ETS. Generally this takes about 2-4 weeks to resolve (following the initial email). Sometimes it takes much longer. The longest delay I’ve heard about is 197 days following the test.
You can contact the Office of Testing Integrity to request additional information about score holds and cancellations.