The TOEFL is a somewhat misunderstood test. There is a lot of incorrect information about it online, and in print. I suppose this is because most major American publishers have retreated from the world of TOEFL, and a lot of the online companies that emerged with the creation of the iBT in 2005 have let their products wither away. This means that online TOEFL prep is still a sort of “wild west” where myths and legends run wild!

With that said, here are the top seven TOEFL myths that still drive me bonkers.

Myth One: There is a penalty for writing more than the suggested word count

Regular readers of this blog will be tired of me constantly ranting about this myth, so I will keep this one short.  You can write as much as you want! There is no penalty for writing long essays.

Proof: Official Guide, page 199.

Myth Two: The TOEFL is Easier in Some Countries

This is the weirdest myth I hear.  Some people are convinced that the TOEFL is easier in certain countries. This has existed since before the IBT was introduced. People still take international flights because they are duped by this myth.  Crazy, right?

Proof: Honestly, I don’t have any.  But use your brain, people.

Myth Three: The Unscored Listening and Reading Content is Experimental

A lot of people still believe that the unscored listening and reading content on the test is experimental content, or questions that will appear on the test in the future. In fact, the opposite is true.  This content is old stuff, and is used to carry out a process called “score equating” that ensures that the difficulty of the test is the same every week.

Proof: TOEFL Research Insight Series, Volume 3

Myth Four: The Human Rater and E-Rater Have Equal Weight

This is an enduring myth, but I don’t believe ETS has ever stated anything of the sort. Actually, they have stated that “human ratings for the integrated task currently receive twice the weight of machine scores.”  Keep that in mind.

Proof:  Andre Rupp, 2019

Myth Five:  Students Ought to Mention the Lecture First in Writing Task One

This one drives me bananas.  A lot of teachers insist that every body paragraph in the first essay task ought to mention the lecture details before the reading details.  This is based on an overly-zealous close reading of the question prompt.  Fortunately, this isn’t mandatory.  A quick look at the various “high scoring responses” published in the three ETS books reveals that students can present the details in whatever order they prefer.

Proof:  The sample essays in the Official Guide to the TOEFL and the Official iBT Tests book.

Myth Six:  The Lecture Sometimes Supports the Reading in Writing Task One

Look, anything is possible.  ETS could change the test at any time. You should be prepared for anything.  But they’ve published four tests in the Official Guide, ten tests in the Official iBT Tests books, two on the website and maybe a couple more in deprecated products.  And 50 more tests through New Oriental in China.  And a few more in Korea via Digital Chosun.  That’s like 70+ tests.  The lecture opposes the reading in all of them. Some people might call the “problem/solution” style questions supporting essays… but that’s a stretch.

Proof:  All of those tests!

Myth Seven: Each Reading Passage Always has Ten Questions

Okay, now we’re getting into “who cares” territory, but this is another myth! A lot of people think there will always be ten questions per reading passage and panic when they only get nine.  Or, worse yet, they assume that a passage with nine questions is an “experimental” set and skip it. Avoid problems on test by being aware that sometimes (especially when a fill-in-the-table question is used in the set) there will be only nine reading questions. That’s totally normal.

Proof: Official Guide, Practice Test 1 (third reading).  It’s only got nine questions!

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