Taking the TOEFL Internet Test: My First Thoughts

My colleague Jamal and I took the TOEFL internet test a couple of days ago and I wanted to make a few observations while the overall experience is still fresh in my mind. Please note that I won’t be talking about the pedagogical aspects of the test until we get our results, so watch this blog for updates!

We received an email before the test telling us to arrive 30 minutes early. As we nonchalantly sipped on our coffees in the McDonalds across the road (it was the only place open that time on a Sunday), my mobile rang. It was the lady from the test centre wondering whether we were still going to be taking our tests. I expressed surprise and referred her to the “30-minute” demand in the confirmation email. She said no, that we needed to be there 45 minutes early for the checking in procedures. We gulped down our coffees and scuttled across the street.

As we walked in, the lady asked to see our IDs. Each of us produced a valid Australian driver’s licence. “Where are your passports?” she asked. We both shrugged. Neither of us had realised it was necessary to bring one. “Well, each of you has to fill in the form and I’ll tell you if you can take the test,” she said ominously. With trepidation we filled in the forms, passed them back to her and she scanned them carefully.

“You can do the test” she said, pointing at me. Relief! “You can’t” she told Jamal. Oh no! Why not? It turns out that Jamal had ticked the wrong box when asked if she was taking the TOEFL test in the country of her citizenship. Rootless cosmopolitans that we are – both Jamal and I possess dual nationality and have lived in different countries – Jamal had got herself in a muddle. Luckily, the lady took her word for it and accepted that she is, in fact, an Aussie. Phew!

TOEFL Internet Test
Whatever you do, don’t forget your passport!

I should mention at this point that it was a very small test centre. In total, there were four of us taking the TOEFL internet test that afternoon: myself; Jamal; a young fellow from India who had got fed up with repeatedly failing in the PTE speaking section; and a young lady of indeterminate nationality who was taking the TOEFL for the second time with a view to migrating to Australia. Incredibly, she was being asked to get 117, which seems way too high for me.

We were all given a locker key on a ribbon to put our stuff away and told that we wouldn’t be able to touch any of it until the end of the test. At this point, Jamal left her lunchbox of fruit and a bottle of water on the table. (By the way, the test centre offered water and biscuits for anyone who wanted them.) We noticed that there were cameras everywhere.

One by one, the lady asked us into a little room – her control room, in fact – between the entrance and the exam space. It started to feel a bit like the TSA procedures at an American airport. She scrutinised my ID then asked me to sign a form and compared it to my signature on my driver’s license. I then took a picture for the system to identify me with my TOEFL number. She took a few and allowed me to choose one that I was happy with, but didn’t offer to photoshop it! I was next asked to stand up with my back to the wall, confirm that I was who I said I was, turn out my pockets, roll up my sleeves and trouser legs and spread my limbs to allow her to pass a metal detector over my body. It was pretty full on.

These formalities completed, we then entered the testing room having been given a piece of A3 ‘scratch’ paper and two sharpened pencils. There were six workstations in the room, each with a camera mounted in the ceiling above. I was asked to wait in the corner while the lady prepared my TOEFL internet test login. She beckoned me to sit down at workstation number 6, which I duly did, before putting on my headphones and starting the test.

Without getting into the technicalities of the TOEFL test itself, I’d like to leave you with a few non-test specific tips in advance of your next TOEFL internet test:

REMAIN CALM: Don’t let the security and red tape get you flustered. Just like at the airport, it can be stressful and time-consuming. Just remain calm and polite, and respect the authority of the test centre employee.

FAVOUR PRACTICAL SNACKS: The test can take up to 4.5 hours, although you may finish before that, and there is only one, strictly monitored ten-minute break between the listening and speaking sections. Bring something you can eat quickly and cleanly.

TOEFL Internet Test
Bring a snack that’s easy and clean to eat!

PASSPORT: Don’t risk being left out in the cold! Take your passport along just in case.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE: Don’t be tempted to chat about the first half of the test during your break or you risk having your test score cancelled. Topics you may wish to address during the break include religion, politics and sport.

SLEEP WELL: Arrive at your test well rested. You’ll be in a (probably) windowless and (possibly) airless space for hours.

SCRIBBLES: Use as many pencils and sheets of scratch paper as you like. It’s included in the price.

BACKGROUND NOISE: Use your headphones whenever anyone is speaking in the room. It won’t block out the chatter completely, but it helps to muffle it quite well.

TOEFL Internet Test
Make use of those headphones to block out noise!

ACCESS: Once your stuff is in the locker, there it shall stay until you’ve finished the test. Leave anything you need in the break out on the table.

SNOT A PROBLEM: If you need tissues, they will provide them for you. Used or not, they must be thrown in the bin on your way out of the test room.

PUNCTUALITY: Get there 45 minutes before the advertised start time (even if they tell you it’s 30 minutes).

Be sure to check back for an update on my TOEFL internet test soon!

 

Written by Colin David

 

Taking the TOEFL iBT Exam for Immigration Purposes: Not a Bad Idea!

For many years, the TOEFL iBT exam was more often than not taken by candidates in three broad categories: people who wanted to study in the United States or Canada; people who were obliged to take the TOEFL as part of their undergraduate or post-graduate degree; and a small group of weirdos who ‘just wanted to check’ how good their English was (seriously?!). To this list we can now add a fourth, rapidly growing group: people taking the TOEFL for migration purposes.

Since the end of 2014, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has been accepting TOEFL iBT test scores for every single one of its 26 visa subclasses for skilled migration. To give you an idea of what this means for the average high-stakes English test-taker, the minimum TOEFL iBT exam, International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) and Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic score requirements for Australian work visas at each level of linguistic proficiency are:

  • Functional – TOEFL iBT 32 (IELTS 4.5, PTE 30)
  • Vocational – TOEFL iBT 35 (IELTS 5.0, PTE 36
  • Competent – TOEFL iBT 60 (IELTS 6.0, PTE 50)
  • Proficient – TOEFL iBT 94 (IELTS 7.0, PTE 65)
  • Superior – TOEFL iBT 110 (IELTS 8.0, PTE 79)

All of which begs the age old question: Which of the big three English-language tests is the easiest? There is no straightforward answer to this, but based on our experience and that of our students, it is easier to obtain a 60 (out of 120) in the TOEFL iBT exam than it is to get a 6.0 (out of 9.0) in the IELTS.

At the higher levels, meanwhile, all of the tests are much of a muchness. One thing to bear in mind is that the IELTS – for the time being, at least – remains a pen-and-paper test, so this is appealing to technophobes and others who are unfamiliar with computers. The TOEFL iBT and the PTE Academic are both internet-based. Also, the IELTS speaking is done in front of an examiner whereas the TOEFL asks you to talk into a microphone: which would you find more nerve-racking?

For the potential immigrant, it is gratifying to know that your scores are made available to you up to ten days after you have taken the test. The ETS, which administers the TOEFL iBT, will send you an email advising you that your scores have been posted to your online TOEFL account. From that moment on, you are welcome to pour over your results at your leisure.

It shouldn’t surprise any readers of this article that the TOEFL iBT exam is the most widely available test of English proficiency, bar none. Whether you’re migrating from Asia, Europe or South America, you can be certain to find a suitable date at one of the literally thousands of secure, ETS approved test centres in your region. The last thing you want in the midst of all the other preparations for your departure for a new life on the other side of the world is a lengthy wait for your English test! As is the case with the PTE Academic, you can take the TOEFL as regularly as you wish and with a minimal waiting period. The rule to remember is that there must be at least 12 days between tests. Seeing as you usually have to wait about 10 days to receive your results, that’s not going to be the end of the world.

There is another huge benefit of the TOEFL for immigration purposes is that it is considered valid for three years. You may have been under the impression that the TOEFL iBT expires after two years, and you would have been correct. However, in an act of inexplicable generosity, the Powers That Be in Australia have thoughtfully extended this for one more year in the case of the TOEFL iBT exam. That’s right. You get three years between the date of your test and using the score for your immigration application!

Anyone preparing to move to Australia should remember that the ETS does not set a pass or fail score for the TOEFL iBT, but they do work closely with organisations that recruit and employ skilled migrants and international graduates, in order to assist in the identification of minimum scores that meet those oganisations needs. If you are in any doubt about how much you need to achieve in the TOEFL iBT, check the Department of Immigration website.

TOEFL iT exam
It’s easier than ever to use your TOEFL iBT scores for Australian Immigration!

In addition to the excellent material on the E2Language.com platform, there are several TOEFL test preparation websites you can look for genuine practice material, practice exercises for the TOEFL iBT, TOEFL exams, full mock tests, including TOEFL speaking tests with proper feedback:

TOEFL / IELTS research www.ets.org/toefl/institutions/scores/compare

TOEFL Australia website www.ets.org/toefl/australia

TOEFL Practice Online http://toeflpractice.ets.org/

Plan carefully, study hard, sit your TOEFL iBT exam and you’ll get the result you want. It’ll be one less thing to worry about before you leave for your new life Down Under.

 

Written by Colin David.