A number of years ago Educational Testing Services (ETS), the people responsible for the TOEFL test, brought the test into the computer age by transitioning it from a paper-based test to a computer-based test. This allowed them to stop the practice of previewing questions and answers while listening to material, and it allowed them to add some unique testing questions, such as matching up items and placing a sentence within a paragraph. It also allowed them to individualize the listening and grammar sections of the test by catering items to the ability of the student. A student’s score was no longer dependent on the number of correct answer he or she gave but the degree of difficulty of questions he or she was able to answer correctly. However, the computer-based TOEFL was an assembly of separate skills – reading, listening, grammar, and writing. In this format it was possible for students to learn tricks to increase their performance in each of these areas, a practice that did not reflect their true ability to handle the language. Students could demonstrate their reading skills separate from their listening skills and writing skills, but true language is seldom so fragmented. This weakness in the test was made worse by the absence of a speaking component. If a student wanted to demonstrate a competency in this skill, he or she had to take a separate speaking test such as the TSE, the Test of Spoken English, also produced by ETS. It became obvious that a change in the TOEFL was necessary to reflect the true nature of English to see whether a test taker could handle the language in more true-to-life situations. Enter the Internet, the ultimate medium.
With the Next Generation iBT TOEFL, students go on-line and take the test directly from ETS at test centers throughout the world. There are roughly forty-five sessions a year, all on Fridays or Saturdays. Details can be found on the ETS web site at http://www.ets.org. The iBT, Internet-based test, is an integration of all four language skills – reading, listening, speaking, and writing – in which grammar plays a more minor but still a necessary component. In other words, there is no longer a grammar section on the TOEFL, but grammar is taken into consideration in the evaluation of both the speaking and writing sections. Another change is in the scoring. Whereas the computer-based TOEFL was scored out of 300, the iBT is scored out of 120, 30 in each of the four skills. To succeed in this new format, students need to be good note takers as they will be required to read passages and then listen to lectures or long conversations in order to respond either orally or by writing to questions, usually about how the written material relates to the listening material. The language skills of gist, details, inferences, vocabulary, reference, and insertion are still tested along with the new skills of paraphrasing and determining overall organization and purpose. The addition of these new skills, along with the integration of the sections, makes the Next Generation iBT TOEFL a more valid evaluation of a student’s real-life language skills and his or her ability to succeed in a real academic setting.
Since preparing for the Next Generation iBT TOEFL is challenging, a student is well advised to take a class or join a study group to develop the necessary skills to pass. Also, it is essential that a student get a good preparation textbook, but there are only a few that have kept up with the changes in the test, Next Generation iBT and Delta’s Key to the Next Generation TOEFL Test. Many private and community colleges offer one- or two-term preparation courses, but there may be prerequisites a student must satisfy before being admitted to these classes. There is an alternative, however, for people who want to bypass prerequisites or are unable to invest three to six months preparation time. The TEST PREP Team offers a 45-hour intensive TOEFL Preparation Course over ten Saturdays.