The Test of English as a Foreign Language, better known as TOEFL, is designed to measure the English profi ciency of people whose native language is not English. TOEFL scores are accepted by more than 6,000 colleges, universities, and licensing agencies in 110 countries. The test is also used by governments, and scholarship and exchange programs worldwide.
a. The Computer Base TOEFL
In July 1998, ETS introduced the computer-based version of the TOEFL test (TOEFL cBT) in many areas of the world. This move was the first critical step toward along-term goal of enhancing assessments by using electronic technology to test more complex skills. A primary goal of the TOEFL program is to provide more extensive information than it has in the past about candidates’ English proficiency. In response to institutions’ requests to include a productive measure of writing, the program added a Writing section.
(essay) as part of each TOEFL cBT test administration. This addition was one step toward a more communicative test. Essay ratings were integrated into section and total scores, but were also reported separately on official score reports for informational purposes. New types of questions were added to the Listening and Reading sections, these new question types moved beyond multiple-choice questions. Visuals were also added to the Listening section, providing a significant enhancement to that portion of the test.
Two sections of the test — Listening and Structure — were computer adaptive, meaning the test was tailored to each examinee’s performance level. The test started with questions of moderate difficulty. As an examinee answered each question, the computer scored the question and used that information, as well as the responses to previous questions, to determine the question it would present next. As long as examinees responded correctly, the computer typically selected questions of greater or equal difficulty. In contrast, if examinees answered questions incorrectly, the computer typically selected questions of lesser or equal difficulty. The computer was programmed to continuously find questions of an appropriate difficulty for test takers of all performance levels.
Test Preparation—The TOEFL program took steps to ensure that an individual’s test performance was not influenced by a lack of computer experience. A set of tutorials, designed especially for nonnative speakers of English, was developed to teach the skills needed to take the test on computer. The interactive tutorials, presented at the beginning of each test session, provided instruction and practice in using a mouse, scrolling text, answering the various types of questions in the four test sections, and typing the essay using a standard word processing system for those examinees who elected to type their essay instead of handwriting it.
b. The Paper-Base TOEFL
The paper-based version of the TOEFL test (TOEFL pBT) continues to be administered on specified dates in some countries, particularly in areas where accessibility to the Internet-based test (e.g.,TOEFL iBT) is a concern. Each form of TOEFL pBT consists of three separately timed sections, the questions in each section are multiplechoice, with four possible answers or options per question. All responses are gridded on answer sheets that are scored by computer.
- Section 1 of the test, Listening Comprehension, measures the ability to understand English. The oral features of the language are stressed, and the problems tested include vocabulary and idiomatic expression as well as special grammatical constructions frequently used in spoken English.
- Section 2, Structure and Written Expression, measures recognition of selected structural and grammatical points in standard written English. The language tested is formal, rather than conversational. The topics of the sentences are of a general academic nature so that individuals in specific fields of study or from specific national or linguistic groups have no particular advantage.
- Section 3, Reading Comprehension, measures the ability to read and understand short passages that are similar in topic and style to those that students are likely to encounter. Examinees read a variety of short passages on academic subjects and answer several questions about each passage. The questions test information that is stated in or implied by the passage, as well as knowledge of some of the specific words as they are used in the passage.
The total test time is approximately two and one-half hours. However, approximately three and one-half hours are needed for a test administration to admit examinees to the testing room, to allow them to enter identifying information on their answer sheets, and to distribute and collect the test materials.
Language specialists prepare the material for the TOEFL test. The TOEFL Committee of Examiners establishes overall guidelines for the test content and specifications. All item specifications, questions, and final test forms are reviewed for cultural and racial bias and content appropriateness, according to established ETS procedures.