The PTE Core test is now open for booking. Tests begin February 12. This new test, from Pearson, is accepted by the Government of Canada for all work and migration visas.

So ends the last IELTS monopoly. I’m a big fan of the IELTS, of course, but I realize that consumers benefit a lot when they have a greater range of tests to choose from.

I’ll try to take the test myself in the very near future. As I’ve written here a few times, what makes the Pearson suite of tests attractive to me is the contemporary and modern test-taker experience they provide from the beginning of the registration process right through to the sending of scores to recipients. Indeed, if you check out the recent quarterly report from Pearson, you will learn that their test volume is skyrocketing. While their competitors are making great strides in those regards they haven’t quite been able to keep up. 

Check the website for info re: test format, prep materials and scoring.

The cost of taking the PTE Test increased in a bunch of countries this week. At first glance, it seems like all of the price increases are in Asia-Pacific countries (though I could be wrong). Here’s a list of increases in countries I’m most interested in:

  • Australia: $410 AUD → $445 AUD
  • China: $310 USD → $317 USD
  • Hong Kong: $295 USD → $303 USD
  • Lao: $180 USD → $185 USD
  • New Zealand: $410 NZD → $445 NZD
  • Philippines: $220 USD → $230 USD
  • Singapore: $270 USD → $300 USD
  • Taiwan: $240 USD → $260 USD
  • Thailand: $200 USD → $205 USD
  • Vietnam: $180 USD → $185 USD

Source.

UpdatePearson has now raised the cost of taking the PTE in countries around the world.  Earlier I noted here that prices only went up in Asia-Pacific nations.  Here are the increases in a handful of countries that interest me:

  • Canada: $330 CAD → $340 CAD
  • India: ₹15900 → ₹17000
  • Pakistan: $215 → $220
  • South Africa: 4300 ZAR → 4600 ZAR
  • Brazil: $225 USD → $230 USD
  • Germany: $250 → $260
  • Saudi Arabia: $340 USD → $350 USD
  • Switzerland: $300 USD → $330 USD
  • United Kingdom: 190 GBP → 200 GBP
  • USA: $235 USD → $245 USD

Stay tuned for TOEFL price hikes, which usually occur around the end of January.

Worth mentioning here that Pearson’s website now indicates that the PTE Core Test “will be available to book in early 2024” (previously: late 2023). Says Pearson: “[the test is] for people who wish to work, migrate, or seek permanent residency in Canada, and will be recognized by the Canadian Government (IRCC) for all economic visa categories.”

In many (all?) of the above categories only IELTS and CELPIP scores are currently accepted, so the introduction of a new test is a consumer-friendly development. The IELTS and CELPIP tests are also 3+ hour tests which can be pricey. I predict that the Pearson test will be shorter and cheaper. But we’ll see.

I’ve been writing about this test since February of 2023, and am looking forward to seeing some concrete details.  Note that this was formerly called the PTE Essential Test.

As promised, here are the prices for English tests in China:

  • IELTS: 2170 RMB ($303 USD)
  • TOEFL: 2100 RMB ($294 USD)
  • PTE: $310 USD

A few things are worth noting:

  1. Per Chinese law, the IELTS and TOEFL tests are administered in China via partnerships between their owners and China’s National Education Examinations Authority (NEEA). This inserts an extra level of bureaucracy into the whole process. This means that test-takers register for the tests via the NEEA website, get their scores via the same website, and pay the test fee directly to the NEEA. Test-takers are subject to the NEEA’s privacy policies. Moreover, at-home testing in China requires a clunky workaround. The NEEA also keeps some (a lot?) of the test fees, but I guess that’s the cost of doing business in China.

  2. Many people view this partnership as the reason test fees are so high in China. As you can see, the cost of taking a TOEFL or IELTS test in China is way above the worldwide average (which is close to $230 USD). On the flip side, fees are set in RMB, so Chinese test-takers are protected against the slow and steady rise in value of the USD. When I started tracking prices a few years ago China was the most expensive place in the world to take the TOEFL. I think it is the ninth most expensive now.

  3. It seems like Pearson administers its tests on its own. I’ve always wondered how that is possible. The NEEA handles the whole registration process for all the major tests in China – the TOEFL, the IELTS, the GRE, the GMAT, the LSAT. Even the CAEL. Am I missing something here?

  4. Students looking for a good deal in China might try the CAEL, which is fixed at 1920 RMB (267 USD).

A repost from LinkedIn:

Remember: a standardized English test doesn’t necessarily have to be 55 minutes long and cost $59 to succeed in today’s market. A test can still be 2+ hours and frigging expensive while growing its market share… as long as the firm behind it offers a modern test-taking experience and treats customers with some amount of dignity and respect.

Consider the rapid growth of the PTE Academic Test in recent years. By my calculations, it is now the second most popular test used for university admissions and student visas (behind the IELTS, ahead of the TOEFL). On the rare occasions when testing firms ask me for advice I often suggest that they study what Pearson has done in recent years, and emulate it when appropriate.

This has come up in real-world conversation a few times in recent weeks, so I figured it would be good to mention it here (again).

(Disclaimer: people reading this post probably know that I’m a big proponent of lower testing fees, but I realize that in 2023 low fees aren’t required for success)

Which standardized English test is the most affordable?  Well, the Duolingo English Test is $59 and that’s the best deal (and probably always will be).  But what if you are locked into the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE tests?  Which one of those is the best deal? It seems that the PTE is the cheapest test.

To answer this question, I compared the prices in ten countries which send a lot of traffic to this website.  Note that I omitted Iran, China, Turkey and Russia for various reasons.

United States

This one is hard to track since sales tax is usually added to the price, and the cost of the IELTS differs from place to place.  But, basically, the prices seem to be:

  • IELTS: $280 (taxes included)
  • PTE: $235 +tax
  • TOEFL: $255 +tax

India

  • IELTS: $195
  • PTE: $191
  • TOEFL: $205

South Korea

  • IELTS: $220
  • PTE: $199
  • TOEFL: $220

Japan

  • IELTS: $193
  • PTE: $230
  • TOEFL: $245

Taiwan

  • IELTS: $240
  • PTE: $240
  • TOEFL: $245

Germany

  • IELTS: $273
  • PTE: $250
  • TOEFL: $265

France

  • IELTS: $277
  • PTE: $265
  • TOEFL: $270

Brazil

  • IELTS: $245
  • PTE: $225
  • TOEFL: $240

Indonesia

  • IELTS: $204
  • PTE: $200
  • TOEFL: $210

Mexico

  • IELTS: $239
  • PTE: $225
  • TOEFL: $250

Armenia

  • IELTS: $248
  • PTE: $210
  • TOEFL: $235

 

Average of the above countries (not counting the USA)

  • IELTS: $233
  • PTE: $223
  • TOEFL: $238

As promised, here are a few notes about the Versant by Pearson English Certificate.  By way of a disclaimer, some folks at Pearson gave me a voucher so I could take the test for free.

Likes:

  1. As I said in an earlier post, my favorite part is that the practice test accurately simulates the test-day experience, including the same UI and security checks.  Click through to my profile for 500 words about that.
  2. The UI is, generally, pretty decent.  I like the absence of tense beeps and tones and I appreciate that the user has some control over the flow of the test via buttons that move things along as needed.  There is a bouncing “spectrogram” (probably not the right word) that indicates audio is being detected by the test.
  3. The proctoring is asynchronous.  I know this generates a lot of dialog whenever I bring it up, but I think the whole high-stakes English testing industry will go this route in the future.  It is probably for the best.
  4. There are some really challenging questions here.  The reading section required me to make some tricky inferences.  The “integrated speaking” question that requires test-takers to listen to (and later summarize) a conversation between three speakers is really tricky to do without note-taking.  I’d love to see this sort of thing on other tests.
  5. It uses the “sign in with Google” service.  Every test maker should provide this option. The cost of implementation will be recouped by reduced customer support costs. I promise.
  6. Test-takers get a Credly badge they can easily share on social media.  Other test makers should provide something like this, if only for the free advertising.

Dislikes:

  1. Some of the test security prompts were clunky.  I received a prompt indicating that I had two microphones on my system, and was told that was not allowed.  It did not indicate which microphones it had detected, though.  I flicked off my Bluetooth headset but there was no confirmation that I had solved the issue.  I just proceeded and hoped for the best.  More detailed feedback would be welcome.  The need for this is especially urgent on tests without a live human proctor.
  2. I received a score of “below level” in writing on the practice test.  I think this is likely due to the vagaries of wholly AI scoring rather than my poor writing skills.
  3. Like on most modern tests, the score report is something of a black box.  I got an 83 in speaking and an 83 in writing.  Where did those numbers come from?  How were the various tasks weighted and considered?  That isn’t really indicated. Same for R and L, of course. I still prefer the older approach used in IELTS and TOEFL where the test-taker can look at a given section score and broadly figure out where the number came from over the newer approach favored by DET and PTE that creates a score using a formula that isn’t public knowledge.  Again, though, I suspect that in a few years time all of the major testing firms will use the newer approach.

I took the new Versant by Pearson English Certificate test last week.  In a few days I’ll write about what I liked and didn’t like but right now I want to highlight a feature that I liked a lot and I think other test makers should consider.

I really like that to complete a practice test, the test-taker must download Pearson’s secure browser and go through all of the same setup and security setup (except for providing ID, of course) as they do when taking the real test.  Anything anomalous in the test-taker’s setup is highlighted and they are prompted to correct it.

In my case, the browser pointed out that I had multiple webcams running on my system.  That message left me puzzled, but after 30 minutes of troubleshooting I was able to figure out that ages ago my screencasting software had silently installed a “virtual webcam.”  Fifteen minutes more and I was able to find the batch file deep in the program’s plugin folder necessary to uninstall it. When I took the test the following day everything went smoothly.

A fairly obscure problem like this can be tough to handle on test day – it’s the sort of thing a proctor might not be able to figure out, and a test-taker might not be granted 45 minutes to solve it on their own if their test is scheduled for a specific time. In the worst possible case, it could result in a test termination without a refund. I’ve certainly gotten reports of hundreds of mysterious terminations over the past three years (on various tests).

My potential problem is just one example of how requiring test-takers to go through a nearly complete setup process during the preparation stage might be a good idea. Basically, I want testing firms to do everything humanly possible to reduce the number of terminated tests and the number of rescinded test scores.

Is the implementation perfect?  Well, no. Some might find it frustrating to download some software and click through a bunch of setup stuff when they just want to practice for the frigging test.  I get that. As a concession to this (I suppose), while all of the warnings are displayed in the practice test, the user is totally free to ignore them and simply proceed with the test. This could blunt the effectiveness of the whole rigmarole.

Also: it is really nice to have a practice test that accurately simulates the look-and-feel of the real test. Like… it is 100% the same software, as far as I can tell. The buttons are all the same, the clocks are the same. The flow is the same. I’ve written some very kind words about the new TOEFL Go App from ETS. As a TOEFL prep guy, that app is like a dream come true.  It brought a tear (of happiness) to my eye.  That said, whenever I recommend it I’m forced to remind my students that the timers and clocks in the app are not like on the real test.  Then I need to spend 15 minutes explaining how the real timers work.  When students ask me why ETS didn’t include accurate timers in the app I glower at them until they leave the room.

Our friends at Pearson have a new English test called the “Versant by Pearson English Certificate.”

At first glance, it seems like a test for people seeking to demonstrate their English proficiency for workplace purposes. I imagine that it is very similar to the “Versant by Pearson English Test” line of products which is used internally by businesses to assess the language skills of their employees.

There is a lot to like here.

The UI is very pretty. The test is cheap. Proctoring is done by AI during the test and by humans only after the test is finished. No appointment is needed. Test-takers are clearly told they should have 8 gigs of RAM. Complete results come in a couple of hours and are certified within two days. If the test-taker’s internet cuts out during the test they can finish the test as normal and have 24 hours to re-establish a connection and upload their work. There is a cool badge from Credly.

Perhaps Pearson views this test as a modern alternative to the TOEIC test. Will the test challenge the TOEIC in the same way that the DET has challenged the TOEFL? Probably. But that market will be a fairly tough nut to crack since it is so regional and entrenched (Japan and Korea alone probably make up 80% of total test volume). I guess that even grabbing a small share of the market could be considered a success since the TOEIC is really really really popular.

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)