Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

And the Backwash Keeps Getting Deeper...
Copyright © 2002 by Ashley Hastings and Brenda Murphy. All rights reserved.

How did we get to this point? The original purpose of the TOEFL was to give universities a convenient and objective way to estimate the English language ability of applicants whose first language was not English. This was motivated by a desire to make sure that those non-native speakers who were accepted as students would have the linguistic ability to succeed in their studies. It was never intended that the TOEFL should itself become the object of study or give rise to the kind of obsessive, mind-numbing, time-wasting drudgery represented by the elaborate, cleverly designed, but fundamentally appalling program described above.

No one should object to a practice TOEFL or two, or a little advice designed to help TOEFL candidates approach the test in a positive frame of mind. However, it is probably inevitable that a high-stakes test will stimulate the growth of a test-preparation industry. The designers of the TOEFL and the designers of TOEFL preparation programs are engaged in a prolonged game in which TOEFL tries to create less coachable tests and other organizations try to figure out ways to coach them. The losers in this game are the candidates who waste time, money, and energy learning test strategies that they will only use once or twice, instead of acquiring more of the English that they will need for higher education and future careers. The universities also lose, because their admission process is cheapened and distorted.