TOEFL Tester Aims PR Blitz at Korea

      May 11, 2009 10:51

      Controversial U.S. private English testing giant Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL and other widely accepted tests, has launched a public relations blitz aimed at Korea to counter growing criticism of the quality of its tests and the efficiency of its organization.

      Over 50 million tests are being taken under the supervision of the ETS in more than 180 countries every year. Although ETS describes itself as a nonprofit organization, it makes US$1.3 billion from test fees per year. And among its largest customers is Korea, where 2 million people last year alone took the TOEIC, accounting for 20 percent of all candidates worldwide.

      ETS last Friday invited correspondents from Korea to its headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey to explain current issues such as test fees and interpretation of test scores. Scott Nelson, who is in charge of PR at ETS, said the organization is "adjusting" all test fees including for the popular TOEFL, which costs US$170 in Korea, and the result will be out by the end of this year.

      ETS admits to being very sensitive to the Korean market. When the introduction of the Internet-based TOEFL in 2007 resulted in total chaos in Korea, ETS in June that year established a Korean office. The average score of Korean Internet-based TOEFL takers was 78 points last year, as against 66 for Japanese. But Alina von Davier, an R&D staff member at ETS, said it was inappropriate to make simple comparisons of TOEFL scores among different countries to gauge the level of English skills.

      Both the TOEFL and the simpler TOEIC are multiple choice tests, leading to charges that they can be "beaten" with proper preparation without the candidates speaking a word of English.

      ETS opened its distribution center in Ewing, New Jersey, to the media for the first time. The reporters were told that each box for test booklets has its own size, and when test booklets in a box of non-matching size are detected in the quality testing process and the person in charge of each box is held responsible. Boxes that pass the size test go through another round of weight screening.

      Some 500,000 boxes are distributed by this procedure every year, and the organization claims the process makes leakage of questions impossible even at the headquarters level. It claims the chances of simple mistake in distribution are nearly zero.

      The paper-based TOEFL is still being administered in some countries, and SAT and AP tests are still conducted on paper.

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