It seems like ETS might be taking plagiarism in the TOEFL writing section a bit more seriously than before.

In February of this year, the following sentence was added to the “Why and How ETS Questions TOEFL Scores” page:

“When there are concerns regarding plagiarism in the Writing section, the scores from the test administration are automatically canceled.”

Since then, I’ve been contacted by quite a few students whose scores have been cancelled for this reason.  In every case, the decision has been final, and no appeal process has been provided.  The entire test is cancelled, and no refund is offered.  Before this year I was never contacted about this issue.

Each time, the student gets an email like this:

I am writing to advise that the test scores issued in your name for August 21, 2022 have been canceled. In the quality control process, the ETS Writing staff noticed that your response(s) to the integrated/independent Writing task did not reflect a response to the assigned task. This was noticeable since the responses for which you receive a score should be your own original and independent work. Further reviews determined that a portion of your Writing response(s) contains ideas, language and/or examples found in other test taker responses or from published sources.

Everyone seems to get an almost identical form letter, without many details.  It is not indicated which of the essays was in violation of the misconduct policies.  Nor does it really indicate exactly which of the possible violations was spotted.

Due to the vagueness of the letter, I’m not really able to provide much guidance other than a reminder to not plagiarize when you write an essay.  Don’t memorize examples.  Don’t rephrase examples that other people have written.  Don’t memorize long stretches of content.

It is worth mentioning that when asked, the students with canceled scores have insisted that they didn’t plagarize, or use any “templates” or “shell text” at all.

Part of me wonders if this change is a response to journal articles like this one by Sugene Kim out of Nagoya University who wrote about how plagiarism is a common approach to TOEFL test preparation in South Korea.  

I like the change, of course.  Plagiarism is terrible for everyone involved.  It would be nice to have a bit more information about what is detected in each case, of course.

If this has happened to you, by all means contact me.

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