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 “Scores Canceled” in your ETS account.  It will look like this:

TOEFL Scores Cancelled

There are several possible causes .

(Note that this is different from scores being “on hold” or “in administrative review.” If that is your problem, read this blog post)

Scores Canceled Accidentally

Sometimes, 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.  Scores will not be sent to score recipients if they are cancelled, of course.

If you accidentally canceled your scores you can pay $20 to reinstate them via your account on the TOEFL website. It might take up to three weeks for your scores to be reinstated (source).  

Scores Canceled Because of Inappropriate Test-Taker Behavior

If there is a problem when you take the TOEFL iBT Home Edition your scores might be canceled.  You will probably not be given the chance to appeal, as I have never heard of this decision being reversed.  Rule violations might include using your phone during the test (or break), running some inappropriate software in the background, talking to someone, wearing jewelry, or even looking away from the screen too long.  You’d better follow the rules. 

In cases where students insist that everything went smoothly, the problem is usually that some inappropriate software was running the background.  Such software includes Microsoft Teams, Skype, Discord, Google Drive, Zoom… and many more. This is common on computers borrowed from an employer.

If this happens you should call ETS for details.  Check their website for contact information.

Scores Canceled For Statistical Reasons

Sometimes, your scores will be canceled because the ETS Office of Testing Integrity thinks your scores are not valid for statistical reasons. 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 something inconsistent about your use of time on the test (you got a high score in a section even though you finished it way too quickly). 

Usually more than one of these things needs to be detected at the same time to cause scores to be canceled.

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, to accept the cancelation and get a refund, or to accept the cancelation and get a voucher for a free test.  If you decide to appeal 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 help with 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 after you have requested the score review summary.  I will help you free of charge.

Note that challenging the decision can sometimes take a few weeks.  

Scores Canceled Because of Plagiarism

ETS often cancels scores if they detect plagiarism in the writing and speaking sections.  I’m pretty sure they have a database of sample answers from the Internet, including the sample ones on this website.  It seems like ETS has some software called “AutoESD” that determines if essays are copied.  Don’t plagiarize.  If this happens you won’t get your money back.

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. 

 

 

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 iBT Home Edition. When this happens, their TOEFL accounts say something like “Tested – Scores on Hold.”

This means that either ETS or ProctorU detected something out of the ordinary during the test, and the test needs to be reviewed.  Officially, this process takes 2-4 weeks.  It can sometimes take longer.

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: [email protected]  or maybe:   [email protected]

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 [email protected]

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.

 

 

Here is how the scores are reported if you take the test at a test center:

  1. Right after the test = unofficial reading and listening scores
  2. Six days after the test = official reading, listening, speaking and writing scores are posted in your ETS account (source)
  3. Eight days after the test = you can download the PDF score report
  4. Between eight and sixteen days after you take the test = scores are sent electronically to score recipients (source)

Note that the unofficial reading and listening scores are almost always the same as the official scores.

Here is how the scores are reported if you take the TOEFL Home Edition:

  1. Right after the test = unofficial reading and listening scores
  2. Between six and ten days after the test = official reading, listening, speaking and writing scores are posted in your ETS account. Two days after the scores are reported, you can download a PDF score report. (source)
  3. Between eight and sixteen days after you take the test = your scores are sent electronically to score recipients (source)

 

 Okay.  One last bit of free customer support for ETS.  Students often ask me how long it takes for score recipients to get their TOEFL scores.  The answer is that it takes eleven days for recipients to get the scores. You can find this information buried deep in the TOEFL Bulletin for 2020.  Here ya go:

“Official score reports will be sent to your designated recipients within 11 days after your test – or sooner, depending on what score delivery method each specific institution uses.”

The scores are sent electronically, so this means the institutions should have them eleven days after you take the test.  ETS does not provide confirmation that the scores have been properly received, but you can call the admissions department of your school to confirm if necessary.

Of course if you have chosen paper score reports this could take a lot longer.  ETS says:

However, if we mail the score report, keep in mind that ETS has no control over mail delivery to various locations around the world. Allow another 7-10 days for mail delivery in the U.S., and 4-6 weeks for mail delivery to other locations. For information specific to your postal system, contact your post office for an estimated arrival time for mail from the U.S.

How Long Until Scores Appear in your ETS Account?

In case you are wondering, scores appear in your ETS account after six days (if you take the test at the test center) or ten days (if you take the Special Home Edition).  The PDF score report can be downloaded two days after that.

It’s a great day, everybody!  The TOEFL Test and Score Data Summary for 2019 is available!

These annual reports provide valuable data about test taker performance.  While this year’s figures are similar to last year’s figures, the following data points were mildly interesting to me:

  • The overall mean (average) score is still 83.  But that figure is rounded, and it looks like there was still a significant fractional increase this year.
  • The mean reading score is now 21.2 (+.4)
  • The mean listening score is now 20.9 (+.3)
  • The mean speaking score is now 20.6 (+.1)
  • The mean writing score is now 20.5 (-.2)

It is interesting that the writing score has decreased.  That may represent an ongoing trend.  Here are writing scores since 2010:

  • 2019: 20.5
  • 2018: 20.7
  • 2017: 20.8
  • 2016: 20.9
  • 2015: 20.6
  • 2014: 20.3
  • 2013: 20.6
  • 2012: No data
  • 2011: No data
  • 2010: 20.7

Some students do claim that the writing section has been getting more difficult in recent years.  They may be correct about that, but it looks like the test was really challenging back in 2014.  And it is exactly where it was a decade ago.

Interestingly, the other sections are all up since 2010.  Some by a lot:

  • Reading: 20.1 –> 21.2
  • Listening: 19.5 –> 20.9
  • Speaking: 20.0 –> 20.6

It is also worth noting that the use of automated speaking scoring does not appear to have affected average speaking scores, but that technology was only used during the last five months of 2019.


As always, it seems like a lot of the overall increase in scores is coming from the test-prep powerhouses of East Asia.  Scores in China are +1 (to 81), scores in Japan are +1 (to 72) and scores in Taiwan are +1 (to 83).  However, scores in Korea are -1 (to 83).

Scores in the key markets of Brazil (87) and India (95) are unchanged.

I would love to see which countries have the most test-takers, but I suspect that information is confidential. 

The highest scoring country is now Austria, where the average score is 100.


Women still outperform men in listening, speaking and writing.