It is worth digging into the documents (here and here) released by the Australian Department of Home Affairs re: the REOI for English language tests for visa applications. A few things stand out.

  1. While the process for selecting tests for Australian visas is well documented, the process for selecting tests for Canada’s SDS remains a mystery. Later today I’ll pay $5 and ask Canada to send me everything they’ve got.


  1. The Australian requirements seem to value customer experience and nudge testing firms towards being better versions of themselves. That’s nice. It also mandates that ample research into the validity of the tests be published. I counted 45 requirements stated by the department, most of which are really useful. I’m particularly impressed by the request (with some caveats) that concordance studies have more than 1000 participants. I’m also pleased that currently-accepted tests have to go through the same comprehensive procedure.


  1. Wholly at-home tests will not be considered. However, the government will “consider accepting an English language test that includes only one test component delivered remote-proctored online, noting this one component need not necessarily be conducted in a test centre.” That’s interesting. I am certain that all firms would love to give test-takers the option of doing R/L/W at a test center, while doing all of the speaking at home.


  1. One of the testing firms asked “Can an English language test that is currently undergoing revision and refresh, which is yet to be completed in the next 18 months, be submitted under this REOI process.” That may have been asked by ETS in light of changes to the TOEFL. The response was curt: “No. The Department will evaluate tests submitted as part of a Response to this REOI as being complete at the point of submission.” Whoops! HOWEVER, that seems to have been overridden by a memo from June 2023 which allows firms to revise their REOI response to include “in certain cases, a ‘new test’ or a ‘new ‘product’.” I think it will be okay, folks; my reading of this is that Australia-bound students should be able to submit new TOEFL scores again by mid-2024.


When the process is complete I hope at least one Australian reader will submit a Freedom of Information request so we can get our mitts on even more details.

People with an interest in the business of language testing might want to keep an eye on this REOI from the Australian Department of Home Affairs.

Opened in 2022, it concerns the updating of acceptable tests for Australian visas. Currently, visa applicants may submit IELTS, PTE-Academic, OET, Cambridge C1 advanced or TOEFL scores (TOEFL scores only from tests administered before July 26).

This REOI may result in the acceptance of other test scores, though it isn’t clear which testing companies have expressed interest. Assuming that wholly at-home tests are off the table, I’d love to see both the CAEL and “Skills for English” tests accepted. Not because some tests are better than other tests, but because more choice in the market is generally a good thing.

I can’t find it in writing, but I think the results of this REOI will be implemented in mid 2024.

Always one step ahead of their Canadian brothers and sisters, the Australians broke up the IELTS monopoly on language testing for visas back in 2014/15 (yes, I know the OET was accepted in some cases back then).

There are a few fun features of the REOI that made me chuckle. I’ll highlight those in a separate post.

Now in Open Access at “Language Testing” is a summary of the enquiry (aka score review) and resit policies of all our favorite language tests (Cambridge English Qualifications, Duolingo, IELTS, LanguageCert, PTE, PSI Skills for English, TOEFL, Trinity).

It was done by William S. Pearson of the University of Exeter.

Really useful information to have.

If you are curious about how happy the language testing industry is about changes to the SDS system in Canada, consider the following:

  1. Canada issued 590,570 study permits in 2022. The number of study permits issued increased year over year by 5% in Q1 of 2023 and a whopping 35% in Q2 of 2023.
  2. Immigration minister Marc Miller estimated today that the total number of study permit holders in Canada will hit “about 900,000” in 2023. Compare that to the 948,000 international students currently studying in the USA, according to the most recent Open Doors Statistics.

Almost everyone applying for study permits has access to the SDS system at this point.

My point here is that it’s a pretty big deal for everyone involved in language testing that SDS applicants can pick from a wide range of language tests, and are no longer forced to use IELTS scores. Other language tests certainly have opportunities to grow their market share as a result of this change.

(data source)

The Cheat Sheet” has covered the Pearson cheating problem. Forgive me, but I can’t resist quoting at length. It says:

…according to reports, apparent cheating on the PTE Academic Online Test, a test of English, has caused the test provider to cancel some scores, in turn causing some U.K. universities to hold or delay acceptance offers to foreign applicants.

According to the coverage, cheating was limited to the online versions of the test, delivered in China, by test provider Pearson. After an inquiry, the scores were canceled and some schools removed the test as proof of English competency.

So, two things.

The cheating was during the online test. The news coverage says:

The organisation’s in-person tests are unaffected.

Surprise, surprise.

And, though this is not exceptionally clear in the reporting, it does appear that the cheating was uncovered by the schools – not the test provider. The schools, the paper says, noticed a high number of prospects, ‘applying with full or very high marks.’

So, again – I just do not understand what test providers are doing if they’re not safeguarding their own exams.

But this is a good example of what happens when you don’t. First, people cheat. Second, it becomes public. Third, people stop using your test. Really pretty simple.

Before we move on, this issue apparently impacted hundreds of students. Hundreds. So much so that the coverage says:

Pearson has now stopped delivering the online test in China

Boy, there’s a show of confidence.”

Back to me:

While it is true that university administrators don’t pay a lot of attention to language testing (witness the number of schools that still list score requirements for, say, the TOEFL CBT), this particular substack is widely read by decision makers. Testing companies need to do better if they want their at-home tests to be widely accepted. At this rate they’ll never reach the holy grail of getting an at-home test accepted for immigration purposes.

Distressing news today regarding Pearson’s PTE Academic Test. Everyone ought to read this report in The PIE News, but I’ll provide a few highlights:

  1. Some universities have raised concern about test-takers getting “full or very high scores” on the at-home version of the PTE Academic Test.
  2. Pearson has begun withdrawing and cancelling scores of some test-takers.
  3. Some universities in the UK have withdrawn offers from applicants with canceled scores. Students in China and South Asia seem most heavily impacted.
  4. Several universities in the UK have stopped accepting scores from the at-home version of the PTE Academic test, including the University of Edinburgh, the University of Sussex and the University of Southampton.
  5. Pearson has stopped offering the at-home PTE test in China.

There is a lot of cheating on high stakes tests taken at home. Not just for English tests, of course, but for all tests. Testing companies are working hard to stop it, but I’m not sure it will ever be eliminated completely. As long as test-takers are using their own Windows or Apple machines to take the tests, remote access will be an ongoing concern. Even Amazon, which obviously has access to infinitely more resources and talent than Pearson, has been pretty frank about the amount of cheating that goes on in its at-home AWS certification exams.

Those changes to the Student Direct Stream (SDS) are now in effect. The IELTS monopoly is broken, and students may now also use scores from the TOEFL, PTE, CAEL and CELPIP tests. This is very, very good for students. Monopolies, as we know, are bad.

I just noticed one other change, which is that students using IELTS scores are no longer required to achieve a score of 6.0 in each of the four skills. Now they only need to achieve an overall score of 6.0. That’s probably too low, but I guess it won’t really matter too much as few schools (other than the sketchy degree mills) will admit students with band scores below 6.0.

I also noticed that students submitting an IELTS score need 6.0, students submitting a TOEFL score need an overall score of 83. That seems a bit high. According to the conversion tables published by ETS, an IELTS score of 6.0 matches a TOEFL score of 60.

Similarly, students submitting a PTE score need an overall score of 60. But according to the conversion tables published by Pearson, an IELTS score of 6.0 matches a PTE score of 46.

Again, this probably doesn’t matter since accepting schools do a better (but not perfect) job at properly matching score requirements but I think it is worth noting.

Pearson recently published its half year results for 2023. They include a report that the Pearson Test of English (PTE) was taken 606,000 times in the half year, way up from 344,000 in the first half of 2022.

As I’ve written here in the past, the growth of the PTE is really amazing. Remember that for all of 2019, it was taken just 547,000 times.

I imagine that the PTE is now the second most popular English test, by test-taker volume. If the PTE Core (nee “PTE Essential”) variation gets approved for more markets, Pearson could possibly move into the top position.

One day I will make a blog post that lists the estimated popularity of all of the major English tests.

Pearson just published its annual report. The PTE (Pearson Test of English) was taken 827,000 times in 2022. That’s up from 436,000 times in 2021. I nearly fell out of my chair.

Here are the historic volumes, culled from past reports:

  • 2022: 827,000
  • 2021: 436,000
  • 2020: 350,000
  • 2019: 547,000
  • 2018: 467,000
  • 2017: 359,000

(the last four are estimates based on percentage changes quoted in the annual reports)

It’s worth repeating once again that if a test-maker provides a pleasant experience for test-takers their product will take hold. Even if the test is two hours long, and even if it has a high price tag.  Not every test has to be the Duolingo English Test… 

Think about it!

I learned that Pearson’s new “PTE Essential” test will be only available at test centers. There will be no at-home version.

Last year Duolingo pushed hard for its test to be accepted for immigration purposes… but I suspect they don’t want to launch a test center version of the DET. Similarly, ETS head Amit Sevak also suggested that he wants ETS to get into language testing for immigration, but perhaps ETS is reluctant to launch a test-center version of the TOEFL Essentials Test.

In any case, I think it will be a very long time before immigration authorities will accept results from tests taken at home. I’m glad Pearson recognizes the reality of that.

I hope to learn more about the new Pearson test. It is worth mentioning that Duolingo’s test has been a gamechanger in terms of language testing for university admissions. It costs fifty bucks and takes an hour to complete (including 15 minutes of non-testing stuff). Scores are reported in two days. There are no fees for sending scores. Best of all, it’s good enough for most prospective test-takers. The percentage of test-takers who still have a good reason to take a 3 hour test that costs $250 is declining every day.

I don’t think that Pearson’s new test will be as cheap and short as the Duolingo Test. But if they can produce a sub two-hour test that costs less than $150 and provides results in two days they could totally change how language testing for immigration is done.

So far only the Canadian government has announced that it will accept the PTE Essential Test… but I’m sure Pearson is working on greater acceptance.