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Students prep for TOEFL


the Test of English as a Foreign Language, known by its acronym, TOEFL, will be shortened by an hour of time, becoming a two-hour exam starting in July.

The Educational Testing Service, which produces TOEFL, says the change will make the test more competitive. But TOEFL has been losing competitiveness to Duolingo, which also provides a language test, and its test is an hour long. Duolingo began gaining ground on the TOEFL during the pandemic.

Even as most colleges have gone test optional in admissions, most have continued to require a test for those whose first language is not English to show that they have the English-language ability to succeed academically. There is not a cutoff score on either TOEFL or Duolingo, but individual colleges use the tests to judge language skills.

The change will not affect the TOEFL Essentials Test, a shorter version of TOEFL that is only 90 minutes. That test was introduced in 2021.

Nor will the change affect pricing on TOEFL iBT (as the longer version of the test is known). There is no set fee for the TOEFL iBT; its charges vary by country where it is given. It costs $255 to take in the U.S., less in some countries, more in others. Duolingo costs $59.

While TOEFL iBT still will be about twice as long as Duolingo, Educational Testing Service representatives argue that their test is better than Duolingo’s test.

“ETS is driving the future of assessment through product innovations across education and learning, and TOEFL is core to that effort,” said Amit Sevak, CEO of ETS. “TOEFL has been an industry standard for nearly six decades, and these enhancements further underscore its position. Most importantly, these enhancements were developed through the lens of our customers and stakeholders—because they are our highest priority to serve.”

Specifically, the new TOEFL iBT will have:

  • A shortened reading section with only two reading passages and 10 questions per passage.
  • A more concise and modern writing task, which replaces the current independent writing task.
  • Removal of all unscored test questions.

Jennifer Dewar, senior director of strategic engagement for Duolingo, does not believe the shortened time of the TOEFL iBT will lead to growth. She noted that Duolingo is still shorter than either TOEFL exam.

She said just about every college in the United States now accepts the Duolingo test. While she declined to cite the number of applicants who take the test (as did ETS on TOEFL), she said, “It continues to grow.”

“We don’t know what their volume is, but we’ve become near universal,” Dewar added.

She said she applauds ETS for using technology to improve its tests, but added, “I think we’re so fundamentally different in our approach” that she doesn’t spend a lot of time looking at TOEFL.

Srikant Gopal, executive director of TOEFL, said, “TOEFL iBT volumes have been growing for the last few years as the sector recovers from the pandemic, in large part credited to the launch of our at-home option in early 2020. Our volumes this year are on track to outpace last year’s volumes, led by growth momentum in several of our key markets including China and India.”

As for a comparison to Duolingo’s test, he said, “TOEFL continues to innovate, while continuously maintaining the industry-leading standard it’s known for, particularly when it comes to validity, reliability, security and fairness. Today’s announcement underscores these values—that we’ll continue to optimize while delivering on uncompromising quality.”

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