Last month I published a list of things I would change about the TOEFL to make it better. Since I am neither an assessment expert nor an linguist, the list focused mainly on everything except the content of the actual test. As I promised at that time, I sent the list to a few other teachers and asked what they would change about the test. Today I’m happy to share those comments.  At the end of today’s blog post you’ll find a few more of my own ideas.

Kathy Spratt, author of Mastering the Reading Section for the TOEFL iBT suggested:

  • Be more vigilant about the quality of test centers. I have seen test centers in which the seats were separated by a sheet of cardboard, which is hardly soundproof.
  • Have some appointments available in the evening. Many students work during the day and would benefit from a test that starts at six or seven in the evening.

Jane Birkenhead of Birkenhead English feels a lot like I do!  She suggested:

  • Increase the number of full ‘paid for’ practice tests. And update them frequently. It’s ridiculous that there are only 4 and the same ones have been there for years. 
  • Make the ETS TOEFL website easier to navigate. There’s no logic to it. There’s actually some decent free practice advice on there but hardly anyone can find it.
  • Rewrite the scoring rubrics using language that TOEFL students can actually understand. They take some unraveling right now.
  • Put the SpeechRater software on the ETS website so students (and teachers!) can practice. They’ve made it available on the EdAgree website but it’s a great tool for all TOEFL students so why hide it away on some obscure website that no one knows about.
  • Stop scoring speaking responses out of 4 and essays out of 5. Either score everything out of 30 and take the average or do speaking responses out of 7.5 and essays out of 15 then we can do away with the mystery of score conversion charts.

I wish I was as thoughtful as Jane.  But a few more ideas do come to me now:

  • Bring back the detailed score reports.  Students used to get separate “levels” for each writing task, and for each pair of speaking tasks.  That removed a bit of the mystery from the reports.  Now students just get a single overall writing level and a single overall speaking level.  Many students are puzzled about which specific questions are bringing down their scores.
  • For the home edition of the test, remove the instructions that say to “put on the headset.”  Because, of course, if students do that their test will be immediately cancelled. Surely this would take just 30 seconds of work at ETS headquarters.
  • Staff up the Office of Testing Integrity. Get those tests confirmed as fast as possible!
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