Beat the Test.

July 10, 2007

Criticism of the TOEFL

Filed under: Uncategorized — beatthetest @ 5:12 am

A Shortcoming in the TOEFL
And how you can exploit it to score high

One major criticism of the TOEFL is the fact that native speakers who take the test often get mediocre marks.


This means the TOEFL is not really an accurate measure of how well one speaks English. If it were, native speakers would consistently get very high scores, right?


Instead, the TOEFL in many ways is more a test of how familiar students are with the very formulaic structure of the iBT, and how well they can think quickly and under pressure.


While this is on one hand a bad thing, it could actually be a very good thing for test takers. It means that even students with a low level of English can get a high score by studying the common patterns in the test.


As you study more and more, you will increasingly notice patterns in questions and answers. Eventually, you’ll be able to predict questions, know the patterns for answering them ahead of time, know exactly where to look for the right information – you’ll see the TOEFL just like Neo sees the Matrix. Seriously. I’ve been teaching this test for years, and that’s exactly how I feel. It’s one big pattern.


Usually it takes many months of practice for a student to understand the test enough to attempt it and get a high score. My goal is to provide you will ALL of the patterns, presented in a very organized manner, in order to greatly reduce the amount of time you need to study.


I want you to beat this test. I want you to succeed. I want you to become a confident English speaker armed not only with skills to ace the TOEFL, but also ones that you can use throughout your lifetime of speaking English.


If there’s anything specifically that you need, do not hesitate to leave me a comment or send me an email.





  1. Robert,
    I teach esol in a university in Oman and our univ is one of the last here to use toefl as an exit exam. It gives a modified (old) version of the test, not the IBT. (A passing score is also required for our students to pass from the Foundation Program to their major and this is a big hold up). After 7 years of using toefl, most of our students cannot get the required score (450) to graduate so are stacking up like cord wood. They will take it multiple times (I’ve heard as many as 20) and pay each time. Students feel it is a cash cow for the univ. They believe they can guess the answers and pass. Thousands of hours are spent teaching toefl skills and still the log jam at these two points. My feeling is that this test is not appropriate for our students. They have no entrance requirements to get into this univ. We take all the students who get scholarships (based on need) from the Sultan. There are those who say all the students need to do is learn English and they will pass toefl. I find this very simplistic and way off base. With only 2 semesters in Foundation, many will not come close to this. I feel that this test is very unsuitable for these students. Could you possibly weigh in with your take on this situation? Thanks.

    Comment by Sara Lawrence — December 1, 2011 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Sara.

    Yes, the TOEFL does indeed present a blocade for students as an exit exam and conflict of interest for the University.

    Academic and social English need to be and can be integrated within the given domain of EFL or ESL.

    If you want more help, simply explore resources among the EFL domain you are living among.
    I am assuming English is not the L1 where you are/were teaching.

    The details of success in any pedagogical environment dwell within the needs of the learners.

    Wishing you well, Jaymes

    Comment by Jaymes Robert Lawrence — June 4, 2012 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  3. I found that TOEFL has greatly misleads my understanding in English. Specially in reading section, some questions are vague, lack of critical thinking, and thereafter contradicts norms of learning a language. (If you just scanned through those passages and questions, it seemed easy. but when you really trying to do it in the time limits, you will find some questions are annoy as fuck!) I guess you are right, it’s never about English, it’s about the pattern!!
    I’ve been study in college for years now and have done a lots of writing. But I still get scores like 70 on TOEFL. My grades for college writing was around A- and B+, anyway. I did Psychology and Sociology papers too, they are mostly higher than B. I hate to see things like some monkeys or trees growing in Africa in TOEFL! I’m not a biologist!! However, I still need to pass it!!! Help!!

    Comment by Voxel13 — March 13, 2015 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  4. […] to one English teacher, the test focuses on “how well they can think quickly and under pressure” and not necessarily […]

    Pingback by How Do Schools Test Students' English Proficiency - 美国留学签证 — September 28, 2017 @ 8:27 pm | Reply

  5. I see a lot of people leaving comments of criticisms but no one actually criticize the MAFIA of ETS for making such inauthentic tests such as TOEFL IBT and GRE. In the TOEFL test, specially in the Speaking section, the parts ask you to listen to a lecture or read a passage and then read the question in order to talk about it for a few seconds. Well, I have to ask WHY? Where on earth even at university we perform such a task. Testers must test the things that have a very close resemblance to the real-world activities. In addition, the questions need to be asked first so that the test taker can differentiate what features to take note of;otherwise, it would become a memory test: people with stronger temporary memory can recall things better.
    The third problem is that I personally ,a graduate of ELT (English Language Teaching), do not talk the way most of the TOEFL guides ask us to speak. Normal or educated people hesitate a lot; they use a lot of false starts, gap fillers; they even make grammatical mistakes. If you doubt what I say , I suggest you listen to the talks of distinguished figures such as Chomsky, Halliday, Ellis, or your professor at college or university.
    Let’s mention GRE. In our real life, we read a piece of text for several times and then write a summary of it in at least a one-day duration. Where on earth have you seen such kinds of attitudes.
    I strongly believe that the people who are working at ETS are uneducated and have ulterior motives. Universities should not ask their students to take the test for they are supporting their non-academic work.

    Comment by Amir — January 14, 2018 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

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