The TOEFL changed on August 1, 2019. Basically, it got shorter. Two speaking questions were removed, and the reading section has fewer questions, and the listening section has fewer lectures.
As a result of these changes, a lot of students have asked me if the test has become easier… or harder. My response is that the difficulty of the test is about the same.
I base this response on the ETS’s “Frequently Asked Questions” document for the new test. In that document they state:
“A comparison of the reliability estimates for the TOEFL iBT test in its previous longer version and in its shorter version revealed that there is no meaningful effect on test reliability as a result of shortening the test. “
This implies that student scores are pretty much the same (overall) on the new version of the test as they were on the short version.
A more telling statement is:
“There is no need for universities to change their TOEFL iBT score requirements. “
If ETS is telling universities that they don’t need to change their requirements we can assume, again, that scores are pretty much the same as before. If scores were expected to go up or down, schools would be required to change their score requirements accordingly.
Okay, well, everyone is different. The test could be easier or harder for some students based on their specific strengths. Question five in the speaking has been removed, so all of those students who really kicked butt at question five might get lower scores. That said, the two questions that were removed from the speaking section were (in my experience) the hardest (question 1) and the easiest (question 5), so perhaps they balance each other out.
Likewise, students do get a few more seconds per reading question now, which could make the test easier, but my guess is that the added time isn’t enough to make a significant change to overall scores. Meanwhile, the amount of time per question in the speaking section is exactly the same as before, so that section’s difficulty can’t have changed much.
Finally, it must be said that a shorter test center experience could be beneficial to those students who experience fatigue towards the end of the long test. Again, though, I don’t think that 30 minutes will make a big difference.
That’s my take on the changes to the TOEFL. I think the difficulty level of the test is mostly unchanged, but I accept that it could be easier or harder for some students.