More on the TOEFL test


I attended a very comprehensive workshop on the TOEFL test yesterday, conducted by Ron Campbell and organized by MEESA (Miyagi English Education Support Association).

I came away with a much better idea of what the TOEFL iBT is, and what it isn’t. I had been under the impression that it was an adaptive test (ie the questions changed based on whether you got the previous question right or wrong) but this is not the case.

Apparently the TOEFL will be part of the civil service examinations from 2015, which is very interesting.

I also learned that the government is planning to make all public school English teachers take the TOEFL. I think this is a good idea, as it will hopefully motivate less proficient teachers to work on their language skills. I have always been surprised at how little time and effort many English teachers put into their own language study. This is a big contrast to the language teachers I know in the UK.

However, after learning about the structure of the test and doing some practice exercises, I am more convinced than ever that using the test in its current form to test all high school students is an awful idea. It is simply way too hard and focuses on academic English, an area most students who are not planning to study abroad do not need to prioritize.

I am planning to take the TOEFL myself at some point in order to understand it better, but the very high cost is a stumbling block.

You can see my previous post on using TOEFL for university entrance selection here.


Thanks for the info Ben. I think the TOEFL and TOEIC (and similar) will, for better or worse, always be a part of English language education. I actually taught at a TOEFL ‘cram school’ for a while, and wanted to take the test myself in order to better understand it, and empathize with the students. However, as you mentioned, cost is prohibitive. I think the second best option for language teachers is to absorb as much information about the test as possible. Posts such as this help in that respect.



Hey Paul
It was a very good presentation. Ron was an in-house TOEIC/TOEFL teacher for a company English program for ten years, so he really knows what he is talking about. Hopefully he’ll be presenting more on the topic in the future.

Just to play devil’s advocate, ‘cos you know I’m all about that…

“it will hopefully motivate less proficient teachers to work on their language skills”

Yes, but to what end? The general standard of most JTE’s English is weak, absolutely, but what added value will the extra time and effort necessary to pass another test bring them or their students? Especially compared to how else they would normally be spending it. A few are lazy, yes (especially the older ones nearer retirement), but a lot just don’t have the time.

I too was amazed by how little time JTEs put into subject study, before I was even more amazed by how much extra-curricular stuff they have to deal with on top of their academic duties. A lot of it’s stuff we’d expect parents to deal with in the UK, if we’re comparing things to back home.

If ‘the government’ was planning to allocate extra resources to allow them time to study (i.e. reduce their pastoral duties) I could see it being valuable, but as it stands it’s just going to be more work to add to the already overwhelming pile. Those few already motivated to improve will continue to do so, and it’ll just cause resentment amongst those who don’t. The ‘effort/reward’ maths just don’t add up.

You don’t need to be perfect at a subject to teach it, just have a level sufficiently higher than your students’. ‘Good enough’ is just that, and of the 100+ JTEs I’ve worked a lot were poor, but maybe only 3 or 4 had a level of English that genuinely wasn’t up to the task. They can plough as much money as they like into teacher ‘training’, ALT recruitment, and the like, but as long as the system continues to attach no value to communicative, spoken English (by which I mean actually test it), then it’s all just shuffling deckchairs.

Hey Kamo

I love your comments, but I am going to have to disagree slightly. I don’t think any teacher is too busy to listen to a CD or a podcast in their car, to read an English reader or newspaper a couple of times a week, or to chat to their ALT for five minutes on a topic of interest. I didn’t notice many JTEs doing that when I was working with public schools.

Also, I agree that pretty much all JTEs have enough English proficiency to do what they are doing at the moment, which is talking students through the textbook. However, I also think that is a pretty poor definition of ‘teaching English’ and they will need more skills if they are going to move beyond that.

If the TOEFL test or some variant does end up in use, students are going to need much much more from their teachers.

5 Jun 2013, 4:39pm
by Ron Campbell


Ben: I would strongly agree that the TOEFL, in its current form, is way too hard and overly skewed toward western collegiate style to make it applicable for use in high schools. Its use in evaluating Japanese teachers of English is another matter… In my opinion, asking them to hit the 80 point mark should not be that onerous – at least as a re-certification test.

I am interested to see how ETS modifies the content of the exam for the upcoming TOEFL-Junior: Comprehensive. It will obviously be simplified and the choice of materials will range from textbook excerpts to pop-culture narratives to ?? conversations – pretty much like the eiken. And as Cory also mentioned, Eiken is actively working with Sophia University to try and craft their own one-size-fits-all, 4-skills test.

Thanks Ron! I really enjoyed the seminar and hope to see you presenting more. Would be a great session for Sendai JALT 🙂


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