As of March 25, 2020, the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to spread around the world. This pandemic has forced ETS to suspend TOEFL testing at various locations around the globe, but what does that mean for TOEFL takers?
How am I supposed to take the TOEFL now that it is canceled?
In response to this growing problem, ETS created an at-home version of the TOEFL iBT for students in select countries who have been affected by this change. It is known as the Special Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT.
Head Instructor at TST Prep, Josh MacPherson, recently sat down with Srikant Gopal, the Executive Director of the TOEFL Program at ETS to discuss these changes.
And if you need help preparing for the exam, check out our TOEFL Emergency Course.
TOEFL Home Edition – Everything You Need to Know
Watch the full 20-minute interview to learn:
- What is the Special Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT
- How you can register for this version of the TOEFL iBT
- What equipment you need to take this version of the test
- How this version differs from the regular TOEFL iBT
- Whether or not this at-home test solution will continue after COVID-19 pandemic… and more!
Here are the notes to our interview about the at-home version of the TOEFL iBT in response to the coronavirus outbreak:
- 1. Introduction of Josh MacPherson and Srikant Gopal, Executive Director of the TOEFL Program
- 2. Has the content of the TOEFL test changed?
- 3. Will institutions accept the scores from the Special Home Edition version?
- 4. How will human proctoring work during the test?
- 5. When everything is back to normal, will the Special Home Edition still be used?
- 6. How will students know if they are qualified for this at-home version?
- 7. Will this edition follow the new format? (as of August 1st, 2019)
- 8. What is the test takers experience like (check-in, meeting with the proctor, etc.)
- 9. Guidelines and restrictions, two checks of the test-takers equipment
- 10. The TOEFL Special Home Edition is available on PC only, no Macs
- 11. No headsets allowed
- 12. Test-takers will have a 10-minute break
Introduction of Josh MacPherson and Srikant Gopal, Executive Director of the TOEFL Program
Welcome everybody, thanks for joining us. I am here today with (I hope that I pronounce the name right) Srikant Gopal, (correct me if I get it wrong), from ETS will join us today. Unfortunately, nowadays with the COVID situation, there are some updates on the TOEFL, and now you can take the TOEFL at home. He’s been kind enough to join me.
My name is Josh MacPherson from tstprep.com, and we are going to talk about these new changes to the test, and well, experience to the test.
Srikant, welcome, thank you for joining us.
Thank you, Josh. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Thank you! So, can you tell us a little bit about your title at ETS and what you do there?
Hello everybody, I am Srikant Gopal, I am the executive director of the TOEFL program here at ETS in Princeton, New Jersey. I’ve been with the ETS for just over two years in all aspects of the TOEFL program and TOEFL business. And I am very happy to be here today helping to answer some questions about TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition.
Thank you. This is a brand-new announcement with the situation going around the world right now. Lots of people can’t go to the test center, so now there is at-home version, Special Home Edition of the TOEFL. It’s now available in select countries. Students have a lot of questions, and I think this is a great opportunity to ask some of those questions and get to know more about this new version of the test. Basically, you know, you were telling me before, Srikant, this is going to be pretty much the same exact test.
Has the content of the TOEFL test changed?
So, the content of the test is pretty much exactly the same, is that right?
That’s exactly right. The Special Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT is still the TOEFL iBT. It is identical to the test center version in terms of test format, test content, the on-screen experience, the test-taker experience, and the scoring. The scores can be accepted and used exactly the same way as the regular test center version.
Great! So, some students – I asked some students before our meeting – what questions they have – It’s exactly pretty much …
Will institutions accept the scores from the special home edition version?
People are concerned that their school or certification board won’t be able to accept this score. So, I know that they are separate organizations from ETS, but will it be accepted just like every other test?
We have announced the launch of the Special Home Edition version of the TOEFL iBT just yesterday. And what we have been doing and will continue to do is to assure score users and accepting institutions about a new product and they can be confident in the scores that they get from this version of the test the same way as they were about the test center version of the test. We anticipate that the institutions can and will accept and use the scores in the same way, but, of course, it depends on each institution what they decide to do.
So, let’s say, for example, students ask their institution or certification board, “Do you accept this?” and they say “What is this?” or “We are not sure”, what should the students do, what steps should they take? Should they contact ETS, who is the best person to get in touch with?
I think students should always check with their institutions if they have special questions about acceptance. What we have emphasized for institutions, and will continue to do so, is that it’s exactly the same test in terms of format, content, experience, and scoring. The only difference is how the test is delivered. Instead of being delivered in a test center, which is not possible to do in today’s circumstances, it´s delivered in the safety and comfort of test-takers home, but under very specific and rigorous security conditions.
How will human proctoring work during the test?
One of the things to note is that throughout the test there is live human proctoring so there are human beings watching the test-taker, to ensure that security is being maintained, and it is combined with some artificial intelligence, to make sure that the security procedure is followed and the right things are being done. That is why we feel confident that the Special Home Edition version of the iBT is equally valid and reliable in terms of its scores and that is what we assure institutions that they can be confident in the security of the scores they receive from this version of the test.
I see. So it’s very new, most people are used to going to the test center, I guess we should give a little context that today is late March, March 24th for me, and so with this situation with the coronavirus lots of people can’t go to the test center, so that’s why there is now an at-home version. Will this, do you guys feel like this will continue after the situation, that there will still be an at-home version available, or it’s something just temporary for just a couple of months?
So, Josh, we obviously designed and launched this version to meet the urgent demands of the current situation, primarily when test centers are being closed and students cannot access the test centers. When things start returning to normal, the idea is that people go back to a regular test mode, but, of course, we don’t know how it will take and how quickly it will happen. I think for the foreseeable future we will have this version of the test available for students, and I imagine we will transition back to the original version over the period of time.
When everything is back to normal, will the special home edition still be used?
I see. As of now, it’s been launched so people can start taking this at-home version this week, but there is no end date, so to speak, right now when this will be finished.
That’s right, and there is no end date because we have no idea when the public emergency situation will begin to calm down or end.
How will students know if they are qualified for this at-home version?
Let’s take for example you are living in a country, I’ll put links in a description, in various places, to ETS, so students can find out more because this situation is unfolding and it’s changing every day.
Let’s say, for example, a student is located in a country where some test centers are closed, how do they know if they are qualified for this at-home version since not everybody has closed centers? How do students find out about it?
We made it really simple. As you know, we’ve announced a launch of this product in a select group of countries in phase 1. Of course, our goal is to introduce it in many more countries in the weeks ahead. The way we always do it is when a country is added to the list, it is available to everybody in that country, regardless of where they live in a country, or whether a test center near them remains open or closed.
For some people, they actually have to take this test in a certain country, for example, some students I know, pharmacists, for example, they have to take the test in America, they have to go to a center in America. I guess, how the score report will be the same as the test center version. How, the score report, what will it say for the test center, will they give a country based on their IP address, how this kind of get reported exactly?
Well, I mean, the score reports today always notate the address of the country of origin of a test taker. So that won’t change. The score reports will have annotations for Special Home Addition in a variety of ways depending on the format of the report. It will be noted that this is the special home edition of the test.
Apart from that, everything is identical about the score report, including, for example, the My Best Score feature introduced several months ago. That will also be available for this format of the test.
Will this edition follow the new format? (as of August 1st, 2019)
I guess that recently there have been some changes to the test on August 1st, I believe, that kind of the new format changes. The new Speaking section got shorter, and the Reading and Listening got a little shorter as well. So, it’s still this newer version of the test? That includes the Reading and Listening scores come after, and there’s one other thing that I am missing, I can’t remember now.
Josh, it’s a great point. Again, I want to emphasize that the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition is TOEFL iBT but just delivered in a different way. All the changes we have made in the last several months are still in this version as well. So, for example, the test is shorter by 30 minutes, compared to what it was before August 1 of last year. As you may recall, just last month we introduced the instant scores feature where people can get their unofficial Reading and Listening scores right at the conclusion of the test. That remains here. As I mentioned, the My Best Score feature will still be in the reports, and everything else. The only thing that is different is that it’s delivered at home in a secure manner to ensure the confidence of the scores.
So just to emphasize, it’s the same exact test, it’s at home, pretty much, nothing really has changed about the test experience or (the text experience has changed) the test itself hasn’t changed.
What is the test takers experience like (check-in, meeting with the proctor, etc.)
I guess let’s talk about the experience a little bit. With the at-home version, if the student qualifies, as long as he is in the country and he can do this at home version, I´ll put a link in the description, links for students to find out about it. So, you say a proctor will see a student when they are taking the test. How does this work exactly, will a student see a proctor too? Will it be like us talking right now or will it just be a student talking to a camera? There’s a couple of questions. Will a proctor see a whole room of the student or just one, couple questions about the way it is proctored.
The test will be proctored from many different proctoring centers around the world. All proctors will be fluent in English, they are trained in all these procedures that will be in a remote proctor of this session. And they are also trained to administer the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition test. What happens at a high level is that, once somebody has registered for the test, and they’ve got their appointment, and the appointment is ready to start, the first thing that happens is the check-in and launch process. That can take several minutes, let’s say in average 10-15 minutes. The experience will vary, depending on a test-takers unique situation environment. During this time there is one-time interaction with a proctor who checks you in, who verifies your ID, who checks your environment, and ensures that everything is ready and secure for the test. So that´s a one-time interaction with a proctor.
The test-taker is interacting with a proctor going back and forth, for example, the proctor will ask the test-taker to use their computer camera, to scan the room in a 360-degree manner so the environment is verified to be secure. It’s one of the many things that the proctor does is part of the check-in process.
For example, if you are the proctor and I am taking the test, I´ll have to move my camera around to 360 degrees, all around the room?
That’s right, the test taker will use a cell phone or a handheld mirror, for example, to show the proctor their computer screen to make sure it’s secure as well.
So, I would hold my phone with the camera on and use that to kind of show my computer screen like this.
That’s exactly right, yes. That’s when it’s usually taking the time, it varies between a test taker and test taker, it depends on the individual circumstances of the test-taker, their specific room environment.
Sorry, go ahead.
Guidelines and restrictions, two checks of the test-takers equipment
I was just saying that we have some very specific restrictions and guidelines and test-takers should read before they come to their appointment. It will all be laid out on our website, exactly what equipment they need, what security requirements they need to follow before they are eligible to start a remote TOEFL section.
So, all this stuff will be laid out, they will get an email verification, get everything ready beforehand, and I guess that would include things like passport, usual kind of check-in stuff, they have to bring at the test center, right?
That’s exactly right. The ID requirements for this version of the test haven’t changed, it’s the same as a regular test. The other thing I should point out that will be helpful for students to hear about this, even before students register for the test, they go to the same registration site they would normally use for TOEFL iBT, there is a special link there for this version of the test. What they’ll have to do is, we will have them do two checks of their system, one from ETS and one from our remote proctoring partner. The equipment has to pass those two checks. Only then they will go in and register for the test and pay the test fees.
We want to ensure that students know that their equipment is qualified to do the test before they actually pay the test fees and go to the scheduling process.
The TOEFL special home edition is available on PC only, no Macs
I actually have a question that brings a question about the equipment. No Macs?
No Macs, it’s only PC, and it’s just because of the constraints of the technology that we are working at this point.
Will it ever be available for Mac or this is not in plans in the foreseeable future?
No plans at this point, but we hope that we are not too long in this situation, and then it returns to normality in months ahead, hopefully.
Hopefully, I hope so, yeah, it’s a very unique situation. Also, you know, with the equipment usually at the test center there’s a headset. There´s no headset as well, right?
No headsets allowed
There´s no headset in this case, and that is only to make sure that security can be equivalent to that in a test center in this environment and the only way we can do this is obviously not having headsets.
Again, I´ll encourage the students to read some of the guidelines so they get an outline of all the things they have to make sure because the big thing you don’t want students to be cheating pretty much. So that´s securing .. the securing of it.
Test-takers will have a 10-minute break
Something else I was going to ask. Let me see, oh, so the test is pretty long, it could be 3 – 3,5 hours. How is it dealt with … and maybe this is on a case by case basis, but you know, things happen, let’s say a student has to … maybe he gets interrupted, maybe they, you know, they have to go to the bathroom. You know, usually, there are rules at the test center and a proctor to watch, of course, and there is a proctor here as well. What are the types of ways that these unexpected things that could happen while taking the test at home will be dealt with?
So, the basic format of the test as I mentioned is exactly the same. People will start with the Reading section followed by Listening and there is a scheduled 10-minute break just as we have in the test center version, so that doesn´t change.
So students can take a break.
Students take a break, yeah, the one thing that is different in this version is that there are no unscheduled breaks allowed. In the test center version that´s typically allowed, but, of course, the unscheduled breaks are taken at the cost of the test time. The test doesn’t stop if someone takes a break for whatever reason. We are not able to allow that in this version because of the at-home security environment. So that’s the one notable difference from the test center version. But again, this is a restriction to ensure the security of the test and the confidence the institutions will have, of course. Otherwise, the conditions under which the test exists are very similar, and, hopefully, it works the same way for most test-takers.
I guess if you get a unique situation, probably it’s a temporary solution, how might this impact the TOEFL in the future. Some people thought that the TOEFL may become just a digital test eventually in the future. Are there any plans to kind of change the format, kind of cut the test centers out of it, do it from home, people just gonna be .. pretty much the same as usual for a while.
Again, I should stress that you know, this special home edition of the TOEFL iBT has been designed to meet the urgent and immediate needs of the current situation. As I mentioned earlier, we should expect that the solution will be available for as long as the current situation continues. We have no plans to not do the test center version when things come back to normality. We expect that the TOEFL iBT will be tested in test centers just as always has been when things go back to normal.
Thank you, Srikant, I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me today and share this information with everybody. I am sure you’ve answered a lot of questions that were kind of burning, at least for me, it was very helpful. I guess we should emphasize, and you probably have emphasized already that this is the same exact test, just delivered in a different format. Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap things up?
I just wanted to wish everybody all the best. I know the times are challenging and a lot of people, just like me and all of us, cooped up at home so I just wanted to ask everyone to stay safe, stay positive, and really take advantage of opportunities like the TOEFL iBT TOEFL Special Home Edition test, to continue with their plans as much as possible, and, most importantly, stay safe and positive through all this.
People say this a lot, this will pass eventually, and maybe this could be a good thing for some people, for people who get nervous at the test center maybe it’s a positive thing.
Thank you, thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, Josh, for giving us the opportunity to share something about our new products, thank you.
Thank you, thank you so much.
Home Edition Update – Notetaking, Registration, and Expiration!
We sat down again with Srikant Gopal, the executive director of the TOEFL program, who was kind enough to give us the latest information about the TOEFL Home Edition. Watch this full new 10-minute interview to learn:
- How notetaking works on the TOEFL Home Edition
- How to find a test date that suits you
- When will test centers open up again… and more!
Here are the notes to our latest interview about the at-home version of the TOEFL iBT:
- 13. How does note taking work on the TOEFL Home Edition?
- 14. Can I see test dates before I pay?
- 15. When are the usual test dates?
- 16. Can students use a Mac?
- 17. How long does it take to schedule a test date?
- 18. Are there any delays in score results?
- 19. When will test centers open up again?
- 20. When will the home edition of the test be retired?
- 21. Do most institutions and licensing boards accept the Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT?
How does note taking work on the TOEFL Home Edition?
I’m Josh MacPherson, the head instructor of tstprep.com where our mission is to help you get your TOEFL score as quickly and easily as possible. I am pleased to have Srikant join us again to talk about some follow-up questions we had about the home edition of the TOEFL IBT. It was released in March, a couple months ago, to address the pandemic issue so people can take the test at home. There has been a great response, but also there’s been a lot of questions as well about the test and how it’s administered, and Srikant has agreed to come back to answer some of those questions. First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to come back and talk a little bit more about this.
Thank You, Josh. It’s a pleasure to talk to you again and very happy to answer any follow-up questions on the TOEFL IBT special edition.
So, there are some questions and I want to get into them, so people can stop asking me these questions. The first thing, the big thing is note-taking. As far as students know, I’ll just kind of give a summary, and let me know if that’s correct, students can use a whiteboard which is, you know, a little whiteboard that can fit on their desks to take notes and erase those as well as they’re taking the test, or they could have a piece of paper with a plastic sleeve. I guess there shouldn’t be any writing, but something like this, and they could put one piece of paper in here, right? And they can just use this only one piece of paper, but they can have an eraser and erase those notes if their page gets filled up. Is that right?
That’s correct. I think it’s important for people to make sure they have dry erasable markers, you know, whether they use the mini whiteboard that can fit on a desk or they use the paper inside the transparency sheets. It’s important to make sure they have dry erasable markers because at the end of the test they will be asked to erase everything on the whiteboard or sheet and show it to the proctor.
That’s really important and, depending on how many notes somebody takes, they may need to erase it through the test, so that they can reuse the page. That’s why it’s important for them to have the dry erasable marker, but also have ways to erase it through the tests as much as they need, and that’s why we only allow one of these things. They cannot have multiple whiteboards or multiple transparency sheets, but they can absolutely reuse them as many times as they want during the test.
Can I see test dates before I pay?
Another question that I get a lot is – when students actually go to register for the test, they can’t see the dates until after they pay pretty much. Is that correct and do you have any advice for students nervous about, you know, paying without seeing the schedule?
Again, I realize this is not an ideal solution. Ideally, you know, someone should be able to look at the exam dates that are available to them before paying for the test, but because we had to come up with a solution really quickly to help students during this crisis, this is the arrangement we were able to make with our scheduling partner Proctor U, so that’s what we have.
When are the usual test dates?
It’s actually four times a week – Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays – four days a week, but 24 hours in each day. Every hour there’s a new session that begins and, you know, there’s still plenty of capacity so students have a lot of options. Right now they can still get almost any day or any slot of the day that they want. Some will be more popular than others, but if the student has a flexibility to take it over a period of days, maybe a couple of weeks ahead, a month ahead, then they have a lot of flexibility. We haven’t really had any major issues where someone has not been able to find something that’s reasonable to fit in with a schedule.
Can students use a Mac?
Another question comes up about the Mac, so that some students, you know, they only have a Mac, they don’t have a PC, but I think you mentioned that as long as you have a Windows operating system, you can take the test. How does that work, exactly?
That’s right, so we listened to concerns that many students had about being able to use Macs, so we’ve come up with an option that’s been available for a few weeks now, where they can still use their Mac as long as it has a Windows operating system installed in it, that is used for this purpose. I want to clarify that this solution will not work with an iOS operating system. It has to work with Windows, and it could be on a Mac computer.
How long does it take to schedule a test date?
So now, after students register, they can schedule the tests within a shorter time period now. Is that correct?
That’s right, that’s another improvement we made recently. Previously, after registration, when you went to schedule the test, you needed to schedule a test 72 hours in advance of the actual session. We have dropped those 72 hours requirement to 24 hours, so that greatly simplifies the planning and scheduling of sessions for students as a result.
Are there any delays in score results?
It’s not been an issue from what we’ve been seeing. It’s important to point out, though, that for the Special Home Edition version of the TOEFL IBT test, the expected score turnaround time is between six to ten days. For the IBT test that’s taken in a test center, it is six days. In this case, it may take just a few days longer to get scores than in a test center version. It’s important for people to realize that there is a difference there, but it should not take more than ten days, unless something goes wrong, and it hasn’t yet. If some students have had issues, you know, we apologize for that and we will absolutely resolve those issues on a case-by-case basis, but it should be between six to ten days.
When will test centers open up again?
Even over the last six weeks or so that we’ve had the special Home Edition available, it never went away fully. It was always available in some countries where it was safe and legal to do tester testing.
It is never gone fully, and in some countries, people have had the option to do the Test Center Version or the Special Home Edition Version as well, and that’s where it stands today. Obviously, as things start coming back in many countries, we’re starting to open up more and more tests and testing again, you know, over the next few weeks we’ll do more of that, including here in the US.
I think people will find that Test Center testing is more easily available looking forward, but they’ll still have the option to the Home Edition until the situation comes back to completely normal. We don’t know when that will be the case, but until the situation comes back to completely normal, we will still continue to offer the Home Edition as an option. Right now, of course, registrations for the Home Edition are available till the end of June, and we are reviewing at this point whether to extend registrations beyond June at this point.
When will the home edition of the test be retired?
If the Home Edition is offered in the country, it’s available to everybody in that country, regardless of whether they’re in a place where test center testing is available or not. If it’s available in Japan, for example, or India, or anywhere, it’s available to everybody in that country. So, you know, we will continue to offer the Home Edition until such time that things go back to fully normal, so that people have a choice. Because until things come back to normal, we won’t be able to meet all the capacity with just one or two, via one or the other of the products, so we want to be able to offer both. Because we don’t know when the situation will come back to normal, we have offered the combination until the end of June at this point, but we are reviewing right now whether to extend that period, but we will do it progressively and monitor the situation.
Do most institutions and licensing boards accept the Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT?
We have not had even one university tell us that they do not accept the score from the iBT Special Home Edition Version. Some universities have confirmed their acceptance of the Home Edition on their website, but many have chosen not to do so because while, you know, in their view it’s just the iBT, it’s a different version of the iBT, and then you know, if they just talk about the iBT, that’s good enough. That’s what I want students to understand that the idea is accepted almost universally, the iBT Home Edition is accepted almost universally by universities worldwide.
With regard to the licensing boards in many professions, you know, you’re right in that. Some have chosen not to accept the Special Home Edition Version of the iBT test, and there’s not much more we can do about that. It’s almost entirely their decision, and we have no updates to provide on that. The one thing I will say, though, is that we realize that some students cannot use the accommodation to fulfill the requirements for these licensing boards, so what we are doing is we are trying to add more dates and more capacity for when test center testing does resume in many countries, so that people can take the Test Center Version more easily and fulfill the requirements by doing so.
If you need help preparing for the exam, don’t forget to check out our TOEFL Emergency Course.
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