What Research Supports the TOEFL® Essentials™ Test and Sets It Apart?



Video duration: 3:24

So the TOEFL Essentials test really started as a test innovation project where we asked ourselves, how can we, with maximum efficiency, test English language learners language proficiency and at the same time, have an effective test of their ability to communicate in English. So, based on that innovation project we came up with a number of new task types, which we then took out on the road to try it out with lots of learners in a series of really three different research projects. The first project was a prototyping project, where we talked to learners around the world, had them do our tasks, and got their feedback. We found out that first of all they were very interested in the kinds of tasks we had them do, and second, that the tasks function pretty well at distinguishing learners at different proficiency levels. We then went bigger, we went to 10 different countries around the world and we got test takers or likely test takers from different student populations to try out the same task types and there we were able to really establish that our tasks were doing a good job of identifying learners at different proficiency levels and showing how well they can communicate in English. Finally, and most recently, we conducted a very large-scale study in more than 20 different countries with more than 5,000 different potential test takers and there we’ve been able to again really confirm that our test is working like we want it to work and we’ve been able to show that it works with different kinds of learners at different proficiency levels from these contexts where we want to help learners determine their proficiency levels and do what they can do in English. All told, we’ve engaged in a number of rounds of research and I think the backing for the TOEFL Essentials test at launch is really substantial.

So there are lots of innovative and unique aspects to the TOEFL Essentials test, I’ll mention a few that come to mind. First of all, the test is adaptive and that means that we tailor the content of items and the difficulty to the proficiency level of the test taker. We do this through a process it’s called multi-stage adaptive testing. Second, TOEFL Essentials was intentionally designed to measure all levels from very early learners of English to very, very advanced learners of English in one test and we’re able to do that because of the efficiency provided by the multi-stage adaptive approach. And third, TOEFL Essentials features some really unique and interesting, and even fun, test tasks. So one example is a task that puts learners into a university situation where they’re training to do public speaking, for example, giving a weather report on a student radio station. What we find is that students really respond positively to these kinds of tasks and that the tasks are able to really efficiently identify learner’s proficiency levels.