Students often ask if they can take notes or write templates on their scratch paper during the ten minute break in the middle of the TOEFL.  The answer is no.  You are not allowed to write anything during the break.

Here’s what the TOEFL Bulletin for 2021-22 says (on page 23):

The scratch paper is provided for appropriate note taking during the timed sections of the test. Scratch paper is not to be used before the test, during the untimed sections of the test, or during breaks.

On the next page, it says:

You cannot use the scratch paper provided or notes of any kind to prepare your essay at the beginning of the test or during breaks.

And then on page 25 it says that your test will be stopped for:

Using the scratch paper provided or notes of any kind to prepare your essay during breaks.

Later on the same page it says that your test will be stopped for:

Attempting to remove scratch paper or a piece of scratch paper from the testing room or using scratch paper before the test, during the untimed sections, or during breaks.

Get the point?

I should also mention that you aren’t allowed to access your phone during the break.  Here’s what the bulletin says (on page 24):

You cannot access your phone or other devices during the test session or during breaks to check messages, make a call, check the time or for any other reason.

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 tsreturns@ets.org.

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. 

Students often ask me why their TOEFL scores were canceled, and how they can reinstate them.  Here’s what you need to know.

When your scores are cancelled, you’ll see something like “Status – Scores Canceled” in your ETS account.  It will look like this:

TOEFL Scores Cancelled

There are several possible causes of this.

Note that this is different from scores being “on hold” or “in administrative review.”  In that case, read this blog post.

Scores Canceled Accidentally (Most Common Cause)

Most of the time, scores are canceled because the test-taker accidentally clicked the “do not report scores” button at the end of the test.  This sounds silly, but I hear about it every week.  Seriously.  This is the cause 99% of the time.

If you accidentally cancel your scores you can pay $20 to reinstate the scores via your account on the TOEFL website. It might take up to three weeks for your scores to be reinstated (source).   Scores will not be sent to score recipients if they are cancelled, of course.

Scores Canceled For Statistical Reasons

Sometimes, your scores will be canceled because the ETS Office of Testing Integrity thinks your scores are not valid based on statistics. There are a few reasons I’ve seen:

  • There is a big difference in your performance on the scored questions vs the unscored questions in the reading or listening section.  This is called “inconsistent variable performance” by ETS.
  • There is a big difference in your performance in one of the sections vs one of the other sections.  This is called a “section score inconsistency” by ETS.
  • There is a big difference in your use of time in one of the sections (you finished it way too quickly). 

There might be other reasons.

This is very rare.  If it happens to you, you will get a long e-mail from the Office of Testing Integrity at ETS.  You will likely be given the option to appeal the decision, or to permanently cancel the scores and take the test again for free.  If you decide to challenge the decision, there are a few things you should do right away:

  1.  Request a copy of the “Score Review Summary” for your test. Use those exact words. This document will summarize the statistical evidence against you.  
  2.  If you took the test in the USA, you should ask ETS to assign an arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to your case.  Use those exact words.  This person will help you challenge the case free of charge. Note that this will probably make it impossible to take legal action against ETS in the future.
  3. If you took the test outside of the USA, feel free to contact me for assistance.  I will help you free of charge.

Note that challenging the decision will likely take a long time.

Scores Canceled Because of Inappropriate Test-Taker Behavior

If you do something wrong during the TOEFL Home Edition they might cancel your scores and not give you the chance to appeal.  Rule violations might include using your phone during the test (or break), talking to someone, wearing jewelry, or even looking away from the screen too long.  Better follow the rules.  There is no appeals process in this case, but you might get a chance to take the test again for free.

If this happens you should call ETS and ask for a free re-test.  You might get one.

Scores Canceled Because of Technical Problems

This is pretty much the same as the above, but not done maliciously. Perhaps you forgot to turn off some background software running on your computer, or maybe your internet stopped working during the test.  Be careful.  Test your equipment before you begin. There is no appeal process in this case.

If this happens you should call ETS and ask for a free re-test.  You might get one.

Scores Canceled Because of Plagiarism

I am not totally sure, but I think that if ETS thinks you plagiarized an essay in the writing section your scores will be canceled and you will not be given a chance to appeal.

If this happens you will get an email from ETS.  I’ve seen this email, so keep an eye on this blog post for an update.

It is February 1, and that means we’ve got a TOEFL iBT price increase.  As you can see in the chart below, the price increased in 18 of the countries on the tracker. Note that I only track 60 countries.  I deleted the column showing prices before August 2021, but you can get that information here.

If you are on mobile you will probably have to scroll sideways to see everything.  Sorry.

A few observations are worth mentioning:

  • Switzerland remains the most expensive place to take the test, at $335 dollars.
  • The lowest price on the tracker is now $190 (several countries).  It was previously $185.
  • The increases mostly seem to be in developing countries.  There are a couple of exceptions (Israel, Iceland).
  • I don’t have a price for China since ETS doesn’t handle the registration, but I’ll call around in that country to see if the price changed there.
  • I don’t track the price of the TOEFL Essentials Test since no one cares.
  • I don’t think there were any fee increases, but I will keep an eye on the ETS website for those.

 

Country

August 1, 2020

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

February 1, 2022

Afghanistan 

$220 

$220

$230 

$230

Argentina

$195

$205

$205

$215

Australia

$300

$300

$273 + tax

$273+tax

Azerbaijan

$195

$195

$205 

$205

Bangladesh

$200

$200

$205 

$205

Benin

$185

$185

$185

$190

Bolivia

?

?

$185

$190

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$245

$225 + tax

$225 + tax

Colombia

$240

$240

$202 + tax

$202 + tax

Congo, DR

$195

$195

$195

$195

Cuba

?

?

$205

$215

Egypt

$185

$185

$195 

$205

Ethiopia

$200

$200

$210 

$220

France

$265

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

$185

?

?

?

Georgia

$180

$185

$190 

$195

Germany

$260

$260

$265 

$265

Ghana

$220

$220

$220

$225

Guadalupe

$185

$195

$195

$200

Guatamala

?

?

$195

$195

Hong Kong

$245

$245

$255 

$265

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$220

$220

$220

$230

India

$185

$185

$190 

$190

Iran

$245

$245

$245

$245

Iraq

$215

$215

$225 

$225

Israel

$280

$280

$280

$290

Italy

$270

$270

$280 

$280

Japan

$235

$245

$245

$245

Jordan

$195

$200

$205 

$210

Kenya

$220

$220

$225 

$225

Korea

$210

$210

$220 

$220

Kosovo

?

?

$200

$200

Mexico

$185

$190

$200 

$200

Mongolia

$210

$210

$215 

$215

Morocco

$210

$220

$230 

$240

Netherlands

$265

$265

$270 

$270

New Zealand

$270

$275

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$195

$182 + tax

$182 + tax

Norway

$315 

$315

$325 

$325

Pakistan

$195

$195

$200 

$200

Palestinian Territories

$235

$245

$245

$255

Paraguay

?

?

$225

$230

Peru

$220

$220

$220

$220

Philippines

$215

$215

$225 

$225

Russia

$260

$260

$270 

$270

South Africa

$230

$235

$240 

$245

Spain

$250

$250

$255 

$255

Sweden

$280

$280

$290 

$290

Switzerland

$320 (!)

$320

$335 

$335

Tajikistan

$185

$185

$185

$190

Thailand

$210

$215

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$185

$157 + tax

$157 + tax

Uganda

$215

$225

$235 

$235

United Arab Emirates

$255

$255

$270 

$270

United Kingdom

$220

$220

$235 

$235

United States

$225

$225

$235 + tax?

$235 + tax

Vietnam

$220

$200

$200

$200

West Bank

$215

$215

$215

$215

There is some fascinating new data about the TOEFL iBT Home Edition available from the International Education Association of Australia.  I’m leaving on a holiday in just a moment, but I want to quickly draw attention to a few tantalizing data points.  Please note:

  1. The Home Edition is even more popular than I thought.  At least among Australia-bound students, by June of 2021 it accounted for 40% of testing.  I bet it is even higher now.
  2. Note how the mean score of Australia-bound students was 93.4 in 2019.  That is a bit higher than I would have guessed, but only a little.  You can also see the mean scores for each section.
  3. Next, note how the mean score of Australia-bound students taking the test center version of the TOEFL iBT from January to June 2021 was 94.6.  That’s a healthy jump, but it is typical of the fact that the mean increases almost every year in most countries.  This our very first look at 2021 data, by the way.
  4. But note that the mean score of Australia-bound students taking the Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT from January to June 2021 was 96.9!  More than two points higher than people taking it at a test center.  That’s wild.
  5. For people taking the Home Edition reading scores were 0.8 higher, listening scores were 1.0 higher and writing scores were 1.2 higher.
  6. Interestingly, speaking scores on the Home Edition were 0.6 lower.  That’s curious, but I think it means my advice about getting a good microphone and testing it is solid.  I can say, from experience, that trying to assess a spoken answer recording with a crappy microphone can be a frustrating experience.  My “scores” tend to be lower when assessing students who decline to use a proper recording device.  This is worthy of further study by ETS, I think.

Does this mean the TOEFL Home Edition is “easier”?  No, of course not.  It is the same test.  Does this mean that the TOEFL Home Edition is a more pleasant testing experience for test takers?  Probably.  I suspect that students who can test in a comfortable and quiet environment get higher scores.  Being able to test at a time of day when they have more energy likely helps as well.

It is worth noting that Chinese students were taking the test exclusively at test centers during this part of 2021, which might also account for the difference.   The mean score of Chinese students in 2020 was 87 points, the same as the worldwide mean.

Remember that we have worldwide data for 2020 which showed a massive increase (four points) to the worldwide mean score which, at the time, puzzled me.  I think this new report explains that jump and it makes me think there will be a small jump in the 2021 data… and another big one in the 2022 data that will reflect an environment where Chinese students have access to the Home Edition.

The TOEFL iBT Information Bulletin was updated recently.  Just a couple of changes are worth mentioning:

  • The Bulletin now confirms that the ID required at the test center merely needs to match the name on the ID given during the registration process.  Previously, the bulletin stated that it needed to be the exact same ID.  This was a point of contention for some people in the past.
  • The Bulletin, curiously, refers to “video” a few times.  It says that score recipients will be able to “view your personal video statement” and the confidentiality section now refers to “personal information, photograph, and video.”  Perhaps ETS will add a personal video statement to the end of the iBT, like the TOEFL Essentials Test.

When application deadlines are approaching, people always send questions about when the schools they selected will get their TOEFL scores.

The answer is not exactly clear.  ETS says a few things.

On this page, they say:

Score reports are sent to your designated score recipients approximately 8–16 days after your test date.

On this page, they say that it depends on the system used by the school:

ETS® Data Manager: 6–8 business days 

Scorelink® Service: 8–10 business days

And, finally, in the most recent TOEFL Bulletin, they say:

Official score reports for the TOEFL iBT test will be sent to your designated recipients within 11 business days after your test.

I suppose this means they could arrive as long as 16 days after you take the test.  That seems to be the longest possible wait mentioned by ETS.  If you are on a tight deadline, keep that in mind.  They could get sent sooner than that, but don’t count on it.

Note, also, that scores for tests taken at a test center are reported to students more quickly than tests taken at home. It could be true that schools get those scores more quickly as well. 

 

 

As expected, the price of the TOEFL increased this month. Below you can see the list of countries I’ve been tracking since last year and their changes.

This year the changes are somewhat different than usual.  While I tracked prince increases in 30 countries, I also tracked price decreases in five countries.

However, those are not actual decreases. In those countries sales taxes are now added at checkout. This page at the ETS website lists the countries where sales tax is added.  However, it omits Canada… where sales tax is also collected.

A few observations are worth mentioning:

  • Switzerland remains the most expensive place to take the test, at a whopping $335. That’s an increase of $15 compared to February of this year.
  • The test costs 2100 RMB in China, or about $325 USD.  That’s quite a lot.  I don’t list China in the chart since the test is handled by NEEA in China.
  • The cost in India increased by $5 to $190.  I think India is one of the biggest markets for the TOEFL outside of China.
  • The cost in Korea increased by $10 to $220.  Korea might be a bigger market than India, now that I think of it.
  • The cost in the United States increased by $10 to $235.  Obviously the USA is also a huge market for the test.
  • The United States is a patchwork of local and state laws. You may or may not actually get sales tax added to your purchase.

I think prices will be adjusted again in February of 2022.  Check back at that time for a full report.

 

Country

Pre August 1, 2020

August 1, 2020

February 1, 2021

August 1, 2021

Afghanistan 

$200

$220 

$220

$230 

Argentina

$195

$195

$205

$205

Australia

$300

$300

$300

$273 + tax

Azerbaijan

?

$195

$195

$205 

Bangladesh

$190

$200

$200

$205 

Benin

$185

$185

$185

$185

Brazil

$215

$215

$215

$215

Canada

$245

$245

$245

$225 + tax

Colombia

$240

$240

$240

$202 + tax

Congo, DR

?

$195

$195

$195

Egypt

$180

$185

$185

$195 

Ethiopia

?

$200

$200

$210 

France

$255

$265

$265

$265

French Polynesia

$180

$185

?


?

Georgia

?

$180

$185

$190 

Germany

$255

$260

$260

$265 

Ghana

$200

$220

$220


$220

Guadalupe

$180

$185

$195

$195

Hong Kong

$225

$245

$245

$255 

Indonesia

$205

$205

$205

$205

Iceland

$230

$220

$220

$220

India

$180

$185

$185


$190 

Iran

$225

$245

$245


$245

Iraq

$195

$215

$215


$225 

Israel

?

$280

$280

$280

Italy

$255

$270

$270


$280 

Japan

$235

$235

$245

$245

Jordan

?

$195

$200

$205 

Kenya

$200

$220

$220

$225 

Korea

$200

$210

$210

$220 

Mexico

$180

$185

$190

$200 

Mongolia

$195

$210

$210

$215 

Morocco

?

$210

$220

$230 

Netherlands

$255

$265

$265

$270 

New Zealand

$270

$270

$275

$275

Nigeria

$195

$195

$195

$182 + tax

Norway

$290

$315 

$315

$325 

Pakistan

$195

$195

$195

$200 

Palestinian Territories

?

$235

$245

$245

Peru

$210

$220

$220

$220

Philippines

$200

$215

$215

$225 

Russia

$260

$260

$260

$270 

South Africa

$230

$230

$235

$240 

Spain

$245

$250

$250

$255 

Sweden

$270

$280

$280

$290 

Switzerland

$295

$320 (!)

$320

$335 

Tajikistan

?

$185

$185

$185

Thailand

$195

$210

$215

$215

Turkey

$185

$185

$185

$157 + tax

Uganda

$195

$215

$225

$235 

United Arab Emirates

$240

$255

$255

$270 

United Kingdom

$210

$220

$220

$235 

United States

$205

$225

$225

$235 + tax?

Vietnam

$190

$220

$200

$200

West Bank

?

$215

$215

$215

I’ve been getting a lot of reports about TOEFL scores being put “on hold” lately.  These reports are mostly from students who took the TOEFL Home Edition.  Students have told me that they are still waiting for their scores weeks (or months) after taking the test at home.  Scores are supposed to arrive ten days after taking the home edition of the TOEFL.

It is impossible to say why your scores are “on hold,” but there are a few common causes.  They include:

  • Technical problems with your computer or the test software
  • Issues detected by the automated anti-cheating AI used by ProctorU
  • Loud noises
  • Someone entering the testing room during the test
  • Suspicious activity by the test-taker

When one of these things happen, a recording of your test is manually checked by a human expert at ETS.  This is called “Administrative Review.” Officially, it takes 2-4 weeks  for this process to be completed.  Sometimes it takes longer than that.

To talk to someone about this, you should contact the TOEFL Office of Testing Security.  You can call  them at the following numbers:

  • 1-800-750-6991 (in the USA)
  • +1-609-406-5430 (all other locations)

They will answer the phone from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.  If you call, it is sometimes possible to be connected to the specific ETS staff member who is reviewing your scores.  Usually they will tell you to wait ten days and call back again, but sometimes it speeds up the process. 

You can also email them, but that might take longer. If you want to try, their email address is: communicatetestsecurity@ets.org  or maybe:   otiassist@ets.org.

I do not recommend using the regular TOEFL customer support phone number for this problem.

Update:  Here’s a copy of the email that ETS sends when this happens.

Dear XX,

At ETS, we are highly committed to the quality and fairness of our tests. We go to great lengths to make sure that every score is accurate and valid. As part of this process, sometimes we take additional quality control steps before scores are released.

For these reasons, your TOEFL scores from the XX/XX/20XX test administration are delayed because they are under administrative review. Most of these routine reviews are completed in 2-4 weeks. In rare cases, the review may take longer. These reviews are necessary to ensure that the results are accurate and valid.

At the conclusion of the review, you will be notified of the status of your scores.  If they are released, your scores will be reported to you and to any institutions or agencies you have designated to receive them.

If you have not been notified after four weeks, you can call to inquire about your scores at 1-609-406-5430 or 1-800-750-6991, 7:30 a.m – 5:30 p.m. U.S Eastern time, Monday through Friday, or email us at otiassist@ets.org.

Sincerely,
Office of Testing Security
ETS
Rosedale Road
Princeton, NJ 08541

Remember:  I’m not an employee of ETS. I’m just a guy on the Internet.

 

 

Students often ask what it means when their TOEFL account says something like:

“Scores not available”

Or:

“Tested – Scores Not Available”

This kind of status is totally normal.  Everyone gets it while waiting for scores.  If your status says “scores not available”, you just need to wait for the scores to arrive.  If you took the test at home it will take up to 10 calendar days for the scores to arrive. If you took the test at a test center, it will take 6 calendar days for your scores to arrive.  If you took the paper edition, it will take up to 13 business days.

The other common status is something like

“On Hold”

Or:

“Tested – Scores On Hold”

This status is not good.  It means your scores are in “administrative review” and you will have to wait longer.  According to ETS, you will have to wait 2 to 4 weeks after they send you an email about the hold. 

This usually  happens during the TOEFL Home Edition if there was some technical problem, or if the proctoring software’s AI detected something abnormal.  The challenge for students is that they think everything was totally normal… but the scores still get put on hold.  I’ve got an entire blog post about this issue.  Basically, though, you can call the office of testing security at ETS.

Those are the main status states shown in your account.  Sometimes even after the test you might still see:

“Scheduled”

or

“Checked In”

Those are also normal.   Don’t worry about them.  It often takes a few days for your account to stop saying “scheduled” even if you have already taken the test.

Remember: if you took the test at home it will take up to 10 calendar days for the scores to arrive. If you took the test at a test center, it will take up to 6 calendar days for your scores to arrive.  If you took the paper edition, it will take up to 13 business days for your scores to arrive.

If you guys see any other statuses please let me know and I will add them to the list.

It is a great day for the world, everyone!  The new TOEFL Bulletin has been published.  You know, one of my great regrets in life is that I wasn’t active as a teacher back when ETS distributed hard copies of this document.

The new version and (for now) the old version can be downloaded here.

Here’s what’s new in this year’s edition (I have omitted superficial and minor changes):

Page 5: The TOEFL Home Edition is described.

Page 7: ProctorU is mentioned in the list of contacts.  It also suggests that users can contact ETS via the chat function on their website.

Page 9: The word “drinks” was changed to “beverages.”  

Page 9: There is another reference to the home edition.

Page 11: Western Union is no longer offered as a payment option.  This matches changes to the ETS website a few months ago.  The link to the score posting dates has been removed.  

Page 12: The test frequency has been adjusted to reflect the Home Edition.

Page 12: The new guide mentions that “late phone registration” closes five days before the test date.  The old version didn’t mention phone registration. 

Page 12: The guide no longer links to “toeflgoanywhere.com”.  It seems like ETS has largely stopped using that site.

Page 13:  ETS will now collect sales taxes for things like late registration and score reviews. I suppose this is an effective fee increase. Previously, students were supposed to send the sales tax to their local government themselves.  LOL.

Page 13:  There is now a long paragraph about credit card failures.  I suspect ETS has seen statistics about how often purchases fail.  It might help.

Page 14:  No more Western Union.  I understand that Western Union is not great (to say the least) but it is too bad that students no longer have this option.

Page 15:  The line “test center staff can’t make schedule changes for you” has been removed.  Weird.

Page 16:  More Home Edition references.

Page 23:  More Home Edition references.

Page 29:  Scores are now reported “6-10” days after the test.  The old version says that they are reported “6” days after.

Page 30:  Scores now range of “0” to 30 points instead of “1” to 30 points.  This is a correction.

Page 32:  A reference to requesting score reviews by fax has been dropped.