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October 05, 2005

Asian Students Fretting Over New TOEFL

Revisions to the TOEFL test have got Asian students worried, according to an AP network news story in yesterday's Daily Yomiuri. Test administrators Educational Testing Services (ETS) introduced the "next generation" test in the US on September 24, and have integrated the previously available but little used speaking test, meaning a greater emphasis on communicative skills. In the new speaking section, "students express opinions on familiar topics and discuss academic material they read and hear." Student responses are recorded digitally and downloaded by examiners for grading. In listening, "more emphasis (is placed) on discerning a speaker's purpose or degree of certainty." Test-takers must respond in writing to reading and listening material. Grammar is now "tested throughout instead of in (a) stand-alone section." Many Asian students interviewed at a test preparation course in the US expressed concern that the English language education style most common in their part of the world has not prepared them for a speaking test. As one student put it, "(o)ur speaking is weak, because sometimes it's impolite to speak out, to describe an opinion, or talk to the teacher. When we take a class, we just sit and take notes and memorize."

Last year about 750,000 students worldwide took the old, largely multiple-choice test in either a computer- or a paper-based version, many looking to enter the 5,200 colleges and universities in 90 countries that require TOEFL scores. The new test, called the TOEFL "iBT" (Internet-based test), is administered via the Internet at secure testing centers. The new technology will allow ETS to increase the number of centers from 500 to 3,000 by 2007. The length of the test has been increased from three and a half to four hours. The score system has also been changed: the paer test was scored 310-677, the computer test 0-300. The iBT is scored 0-120. The new test will begin in Japan in May 2006.
Educational Testing Services website
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