How ETS Protects the Integrity of the TOEFL® test
Prevention. Detection. Communication.
Recently there has been an increase in the competition among students applying to institutions abroad. This has brought about a rise in the number of attempts to falsify test scores. To combat these and other test security concerns, ETS employs a three-pronged approach of prevention, detection and communication to ensure the integrity of test scores.
In addition, the ETS Office of Testing Integrity constantly monitors testing, investigates security issues and strives to ensure score validity worldwide, maintaining its long-standing commitment to reliable and secure test scores.
Prevention — Five Ways ETS Works to Prevent Fraud
ETS has various procedures in place to prevent fraud in both testing and scoring. These can be seen from the test design right through to the score reporting process. Here are some of the ways the TOEFL® test is protected from fraudulent activity from beginning to end.
1. Using the Highest Standards to Create Test Content
Our prevention methods start with the design of the TOEFL iBT® test. ETS creates new test questions each year to ensure that the items are fresh and to reduce the risk of memorization and cheating. In addition, to minimize the risk of using previously administered test content to which students may have access online, ETS has contracted with a company to search the internet for TOEFL test content. Watch our video, How ETS Develops Test Questions (Flash).
2. Establishing Secure Test Centers
Test administrations occur at Certified Test Administration Sites (CTAS). Each CTAS undergoes a rigorous process through ETS to ensure testing security.
- Test center applicants receive an initial pre-qualification interview to determine if the facilities meet security and technical requirements and to secure verifiable references.
- ETS uses the same Internet security protocols as those used by major financial institutions for their secure transmissions. The communication channel uses state-of-the-art encryption, and our software is able to detect whether a transmission was altered or disrupted.
- Test content that is downloaded to a test center computer is encrypted and cannot be accessed until the actual test administration begins.
- Internet delivery ensures that no one can access test questions prior to the actual administration.
At the beginning of each test administration, the test software automatically closes all non-TOEFL iBT windows or applications, including instant messaging (IM). It closes any applications that try to open during the test and then automatically logs the incident. The software also locks the desktop, suppressing key combinations so the test taker cannot switch to any other task.
3. Ensuring the Training of Test Center Administrators
Test center staff is thoroughly trained by ETS personnel to prepare for managing test administrations. As such, test center staff are required to pass a certification exam to demonstrate their knowledge of test delivery policy, practices and procedures before they can serve as Test Center Administrators. Training includes the following security-related topics:
- Identification requirements
- Check-in procedures on the day of the test
- Security of test data and computers used for testing
- Test center layout and required distance between test takers
ETS provides a Policies, Practices and Procedures Manual to test center supervisors, featuring proprietary information from ETS. All policies and procedures in the Manual must be followed.
ETS conducts announced, unannounced and undeclared visits to test sites to observe and ensure that the highest standards are being applied to testing environments around the world.
4. Instituting and Enforcing Test-taker Rules and Requirements
On the day of the test, test takers have to meet several security requirements in order to test, including:
- Showing ETS-approved forms of identification that contain a photograph and signature
- Providing handwriting and signature samples
- Taking digital photos at the center and embedding those images into the score reports
- Passing through security wanding and ID with electronic chip (select locations)
- Monitoring with video cameras, submitting a thumb scan and submitting to metal detector scans (select locations)
To reinforce these procedures, test takers are encouraged to watch our TOEFL iBT Testing Site video (Flash) for a preview of what to expect on test day.
After checking in at the test center, test takers:
- Are prohibited from bringing items into the test center that could be used as a testing aid or to collect, share or collaborate on test content.
- Have no access to personal items such as electronic devices, books, handbags and backpacks, all of which are stored separately from the test takers to maintain security.
- Must have their identity verified by the test center administrator before starting the test, using the digital photo taken at check-in.
- Are subject to voice biometric identification and any other form of electronic confirmation.
- Must present their identification to the test center administrator and have their identity verified upon returning from breaks.
5. Maintaining the Quality of Scoring and Score Reporting
To further safeguard against fraud, scoring does not occur at the test center. ETS separates the scoring process from the testing process, eliminating many security issues. Also, test administrators cannot be directly involved in English-language instruction or test preparation, and they cannot administer the test to an individual where it could present the appearance or actual possibility of a conflict of interest.
Because ETS separates scoring from test administration, raters receive spoken and written responses from test takers worldwide; there is no possibility they will know the individuals whose responses they are given to score. See our scoring page to read more about how ETS scores the TOEFL test.
Another way ETS ensures the integrity of scores is through the security measures implemented for paper score reports. There are two types of TOEFL score reports issued on paper:
- The official score report, which is sent directly from ETS to the institutions or agencies designated by the test taker. Prior to test day, test takers can select up to four score recipients at no charge. They can also order additional score reports later for a nominal fee.
- The test taker score report, which is sent from ETS to test takers who request a paper copy.
Official score reports are printed on purple security paper; test taker score reports are on green paper. ETS uses secure paper for TOEFL score reports, including the following features:
- The security paper is Appleton DocuCheck® Watermark with TonerFuse 2. It contains a chain-link watermark on the back of the paper, which is visible when held at a 45-degree angle. This is the easiest, most obvious method of verifying the authenticity of an official score report.
- There is a Full Chemical Sensitive VOID on the face of the paper. The word “VOID” is continuously repeated on an angle throughout the entire face of the document. “VOID” is produced in multiple languages when activated by a bleach, hypochloride or ink eradicator.
- In addition, TOEFL score reports now include the words “ETS® Security Guard” in the upper right-hand corner, printed with a special heat-sensitive ink for security. To activate this security feature, recipients can apply heat to the text, either by rubbing it or blowing on it, and the ETS Security Guard text will disappear. This feature will not work if the score report has been photocopied.
- There is a Laser Lock on the face of the paper. This makes it difficult to remove toner from laser- or ion-printed documents.
- There are also laid lines on the back of the paper. Evenly spaced lines in a specially formulated grey ink, these laid lines make alteration by cutting and pasting difficult.
Detection — ETS is Vigilant in Identifying and Taking Action Against Fraudulent Activity
Even with the most stringent security prevention measures in place, fraudulent activity can occur. To ensure the integrity of TOEFL test scores, all reported incidents of fraud are taken seriously and investigated closely. Investigation of test takers can include photograph review, handwriting analysis and score analysis.
ETS closely monitors all test centers and tracks all security incidents. If it is determined that a test center does not meet ETS standards and it fails to correct the issue, it is closed. ETS also conducts random inspection of test centers as well as site visits to centers where concerns have been raised through supervisor reports, tips or test taker complaints. ETS works with national law enforcement agencies to prosecute professional impersonation rings.
Monitoring Score Statistics
Statistical analysis methods are used to help detect possible cases of cheating. The ETS Statistical Analysis team monitors score trends by test center, country and region.
- Large score differences software is used to detect significant changes in scores for repeat test takers.
- System-generated irregularity reports are reviewed after each administration.
- Site historical performance data is maintained to identify any discrepancies that need to be addressed.
- Sites are subject to quality audits and third-party observations.
Watch Psychometrics at ETS: The Science of Assessment (Flash) to learn more about ETS’s Statistical Analysis, Data Analysis & Psychometric Research areas.
When ETS has reason to suspect cheating may have taken place, a security review is conducted that can include photograph review, handwriting analysis, the use of voice biometric identification and score analysis.
Communication — Keeping Institutions Informed is Our Priority
ETS works very closely with the institutions we serve around the world. ETS informs institutions that have been designated as score recipients when scores have been canceled. In addition, any concern regarding test results can be reported by the institution and will be investigated.
In the academic community, we are all dealing with a world where motivation and capability to commit academic and admissions cheating is on the rise. ETS will continue adapting best practices and creating new technologies to prevent and detect fraud. ETS always keeps institutions informed whenever improper behavior by students or test sites is discovered.
ETS is committed to giving you results you can trust.
For additional security questions or concerns, please contact us at TSReturns@ets.org or call the Security Hotline at 1-800-750-6991 (United States) or +1-609-406-5430 (all other locations).
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Among admissions officers recently surveyed, and who expressed a preference*, four out of five prefer the TOEFL test.
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* Source: Survey of 263 admissions officers at U.S. universities, of which 212 accept both the TOEFL test and the IELTS™ test and 152 state a preference.