Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a ton of emails from people who have had their TOEFL scores canceled by ETS due to the use of unauthorized recording devices or software.  These people all got an email from ETS that looks like this:

Dear Smith, John:

We have cancelled your score from the January 12, 2022 TOEFL iBT® Home Edition administration. As a result of ETS’s rigorous score validation process, we have identified several factors that substantiate this score cancellation, in part because we detected unauthorized recording devices/software that were open during the test session which is a violation of ETS policy.

ETS reserves the right to cancel scores even after they are released if we find evidence to invalidate them. Please be advised that as indicated on the TOEFL iBT® Home Edition website, recording devices/software of any kind are strictly prohibited and that violating any ETS policy may result in score cancellation and/or your exclusion from future testing. If these scores were reported to any institutions, they will be notified of the cancellation. 

If you have further questions concerning this matter, please feel free to call 1-609-406-5430 between 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, or by email at [email protected].

If you wish, you may register for any future administration of this test.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe

Office of Testing Integrity

Educational Testing Service

Ref No. XXXX-XXXXXXX

In one case, a student received this email five months after taking the test. In that time, the student had gotten their scores, submitted them to a university and began studying at the university.  Terrifying.

It appears that students who experience a score cancelation do not receive a refund or a free re-test.  Nor are they given an opportunity to appeal the decision. But they are permitted to take the test again (if they pay for it).

I don’t think that all of these students deliberately set out to cheat or to steal questions. I think they unknowingly had some software running on their system which ETS detected.  Most users of modern operating systems aren’t even aware of what background processes are running on their computer.  It isn’t like the old days when we could just pop into the Windows task manager and quickly shut everything down.

To avoid experiencing the same problem, you can do a few things. Sadly, I’m a Windows 10 user (only) so I can’t make recommendations for MacOS users nor users of old Windows versions.

Shut Down Background Applications

First, in your Windows 10 search box, search for “Background Apps.” You should see something like the following screenshot.  Click the switch under “Let apps run in the background” so that it is set to “off.” Next, reboot your computer. When your test is finished, you should turn the setting back to “on.”

Shut Down Startup Apps

Next, in your Windows 10 search box, search for “startup apps.”  You will see a list of apps here, like in the picture below.  You will have to use your best judgement, and switch off anything that looks like it could be problematic.  As you can see, I left stuff from Microsoft and Intel, but turned off almost everything else.  Next, reboot your computer.  When your test is finished, you should turn everything back on.

Check for Nvidia Settings

Next, in the bottom right-hand corner of Windows, check to see if you’ve got an application called “Nvidia Settings” running (see below).  A lot of people run this, as Nvidia manufactures a whole lot of video cards.  If you do, right click and hit “exit.”  This application is part of a device driver, so you can’t actually stop it via the Startup Apps menu. You will have to repeat this step on the day of the test.  Interestingly, when this application is turned on, it runs a background process called “Nvidia Share” which is used for capturing and sharing your screen.  I wonder if this is the cause of some of the mystery cancellations. I’m a fairly advanced user, but even I had no idea I was running such a process at all times.

Disable Chrome Extensions

Many users have reported their Grammarly extension for Chrome starting up during the writing section of the test. I wouldn’t call it an “unauthorized recording device or software” but it is enough to get your scores canceled.  If you are a Grammarly user, open Chrome and click on “settings” and then “extensions.”  Turn off the Grammarly extension.  Actually, to be safe you should probably turn off all of your Chrome extensions, except for the ProctorU extension.  You can turn them back on after the test. 

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