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August 03, 2007

The iBT TOEFL: A Test of Real English Abiility

One recent change that is effecting most international applicants to graduate programs (1) who did not graduate with a bachelors from a university where English was the primary method of instruction and/or (2) are not native English speakers, is the new iBT (Internet Based TOEFL).

For high level English speakers, especially those with less than perfect grammar, the new test is probably no harder and, may in fact be easier than the old CBT, but for everyone else, IBT (see below) appears to be much more difficult.

Since I first taught TOEFL in 1995, it has gone through significant changes in an attempt to make it a real test of English. From 1997-2001, when I marketed US residential English language programs at UC Berkeley and for the international division of a major US testing company, the TOEFL course was part of an integrated English language program, a program that combined typical English language study with test preparation. Such courses made the correct assumption that there was a disparity of some degree between learning English and studying TOEFL. I think the situation has changed quite a lot with the development of the iBT because it was clearly designed to be a test of real English ability:

The TOEFL iBT emphasizes integrated skills and provides better information to institutions about students' ability to communicate in an academic setting and their readiness for academic coursework. With Internet-based testing, ETS can capture speech and score responses in a standardized manner.

I have not taught or sold the iBT, so my knowledge of it is limited to the public domain, but based on what ETS says about it, it is clearly more difficult than the old CBT, not to mention the PBT:

Is the Internet-based test more difficult?
Summary: The iBT is more difficult because it is a more realistic measure of English ability.

According to Longman, the major educational publisher:
Preparation for the Next Generation iBT requires a lot of different components. It requires lots of language skills, some academic skills, test-taking strategies, realistic test practice on the computer, and good basic computer skills.

I wanted to provide some analysis about how long it will take to improve scores, but I was unable to find anything that clearly answered that (If anyone knows, please email me). Regarding English language acquisition in general, I think the following statement by TOEIC Europe is worth considering:
Improvement in overall English ability generally takes a considerable amount of practice and study. There are many things that affect an individual’s progress in learning English such as motivation, amount of practice, the number of hours or weeks of classroom study, previous exposure to English, and the type and quality of instruction. It is difficult to say exactly how much learning time is needed before a significant improvement in English proficiency is seen.

I know this is not much of an answer, but what it means to me is that since the iBT is a better measure of English ability, it will take longer to study for. For those MBA applicants who must take GMAT and other applicants who must take GRE, this will indeed be added pressure.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
-Adam Markus
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MBA留学, LLM留学, 大学院留学

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