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Context Bias in the Test of English as a Foreign Language TOEFL ESL

Angoff, William H.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-89-10, TOEFL-RR-29
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Context Clues, Cultural Background, English as a Second Language (ESL), Language Tests, North American Culture, Test Bias


This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis advanced by Traynor (1985) that items of the TOEFL® test that contain references to American people, places, regions, customs, institutions, etc., tend to favor examinees who have spent some time living in the United States. Two samples of examinees were drawn from the March 1987 administration of the test—one, tested in the United States, consisting of individuals who had lived in this country for more than a year; the other, tested in their native countries, consisting of individuals who had spent less than a month in the United States. Mantel-Haenszel analyses were carried out for each of the 146 operational items of the test. Of all 146 items in the TOEFL test, only one gave a consistent advantage, found in every one of the five regions of the world studied here, to examinees tested domestically. It is noteworthy, however, that this item made no reference to Americana. On the strength of the information provided in the tables of this report, and on the strength of the review of the items cited here, it may be concluded that there is no support for the hypothesis that TOEFL items that make reference to American people, places, institutions, customs, etc., tend to advantage TOEFL candidates who have lived in the United States for a year or more.

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