I watched a webinar provided by ETS Global called “TOEFL Writing Without Secrets.”

It was, overall, a very useful webinar.  It contained insights that would be useful to both test-takers and test-prep people.  But look at this reading passage used to illustrate the first TOEFL writing task (the integrated essay):

Eagle-eyed readers will recognize that as the question used to illustrate this task in the Official Guide to the TOEFL.  Long-time readers will know that this isn’t what the TOEFL integrated essay actually looks like.  I am too tired to once again explain how the integrated question is designed, but basically the reading has four paragraphs (not two).  It has an introductory paragraph and it has three supporting body paragraphs, each with a concise argument.

This faulty question has been in the Official Guide since it was first published back in 2005. One imagines that the writers of the book were working from prototype versions of the TOEFL and didn’t have access to samples of actual test forms (’cause the test hadn’t actually been given at that point).  The original practice test in the book has a similarly faulty question, by the way.  It has also appeared in every new edition of the book.

What really gets my goat is that this has been sort of catastrophic for TOEFL test prep.  Countless third-party books have been published that also include crappy practice questions, seemingly influenced by the above content.  Overall, this makes the TOEFL a less attractive test than the IELTS.  IELTS test-takers have a crystal clear picture of what that test is like, partially because of all the amazing and accurate official test collections that have been published.

I feel that had the Official Guide been a bit more accurate the third-party books would also be more accurate.  And now the faulty question has even influenced the quality of an actual ETS webinar!  Oh the humanity.

Apparently an updated edition of the Official Guide will soon be published (to match the new version of the TOEFL).  If anyone from ETS is reading this, I implore you to touch up these sections.

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