The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) will become a two-hour exam starting in July, cutting more than an hour from its current duration. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which produces TOEFL, claims this change will make the test more competitive. However, TOEFL has been losing ground to Duolingo, whose language test is only an hour long and gained popularity during the pandemic. Despite these changes, the cost of TOEFL iBT (the longer version of the test) will remain unchanged.
TOEFL’s Battle with Duolingo
While most colleges have adopted test-optional admissions, they still require tests like TOEFL or Duolingo for non-native English speakers to demonstrate their language proficiency. There is no cutoff score for either test, but individual colleges use the results to evaluate language skills.
The changes to TOEFL iBT will not affect the TOEFL Essentials Test, a shorter 90-minute version introduced in 2021. The fees for TOEFL iBT vary by country, with a cost of $255 in the United States, while Duolingo charges a flat rate of $59.
Although TOEFL iBT will still be twice as long as Duolingo’s test, ETS representatives argue that their test is superior. Amit Sevak, CEO of ETS, stated, “TOEFL has been an industry standard for nearly six decades, and these enhancements further underscore its position. Most importantly, these enhancements were developed through the lens of our customers and stakeholders—because they are our highest priority to serve.”
Changes to TOEFL iBT
The new TOEFL iBT will feature:
- A shortened reading section with only two reading passages and 10 questions
- A more concise and modern writing task, replacing the current independent writing task
- Removal of all unscored test questions
Jennifer Dewar, senior director of strategic engagement for Duolingo, doubts that the shortened TOEFL iBT will attract more test-takers. She noted that Duolingo’s test is still shorter than either TOEFL exam and has become widely accepted by almost every college in the United States. While she did not disclose the number of test-takers for Duolingo, she said, “It continues to grow.”
Dewar praised ETS for utilizing technology to improve their tests but emphasized that Duolingo’s fundamentally different approach means she doesn’t spend much time considering TOEFL.
Srikant Gopal, executive director of TOEFL, responded:
TOEFL iBT volumes have been growing for the last few years as the sector recovers from the pandemic, in large part credited to the launch of our at-home option in early 2020. Our volumes this year are on track to outpace last year’s volumes, led by growth momentum in several of our key markets, including China and India.
Regarding the comparison with Duolingo’s test, Gopal said:
TOEFL continues to innovate while continuously maintaining the industry-leading standard it’s known for, particularly when it comes to validity, reliability, security, and fairness. Today’s announcement underscores these values—that we’ll continue to optimize while delivering on uncompromising quality.
Implications for Test Takers and Institutions
The shortening of TOEFL iBT may not be enough to regain the lost ground to Duolingo. Factors like cost and test duration are crucial for test-takers, and Duolingo’s lower price and shorter duration give it a competitive edge. Additionally, Duolingo’s near-universal acceptance by U.S. colleges makes it an increasingly attractive option for prospective students.
It is essential for TOEFL to continue focusing on innovation and improving its offerings to maintain its relevance and competitiveness in the language testing market. ETS must ensure that TOEFL remains attractive to both test-takers and institutions, emphasizing its longstanding reputation for quality, validity, reliability, and security.
The Future of Language Testing
The language testing landscape is evolving rapidly, with technology playing a significant role in shaping the future. Duolingo’s success can be attributed in part to its innovative use of technology, offering a convenient and affordable testing experience. As more language testing providers enter the market, both TOEFL and Duolingo will need to continue adapting and innovating to stay ahead of the competition.
Emerging Trends and Technologies
Some emerging trends and technologies that may influence the future of language testing include:
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning: AI algorithms and machine learning can help assess language skills more accurately, providing personalized feedback and identifying areas for improvement.
- Remote proctoring: With the rise of remote learning and work, remote proctoring technologies can help ensure the integrity and security of online exams, making them more widely accepted by educational institutions.
- Adaptive testing: Adaptive tests adjust the difficulty of questions based on a test-taker’s performance, providing a more accurate and personalized assessment of their language skills.
- Gamification: Incorporating game-like elements into language tests can make the testing experience more enjoyable and engaging, potentially increasing test-taker motivation and performance.
The decision to shorten the TOEFL iBT test duration is a strategic move by ETS to make the exam more competitive in the face of growing competition from Duolingo. However, with Duolingo’s test still shorter and more affordable, TOEFL will need to focus on innovation and improvement to maintain its position as a leading language testing provider.
In the rapidly evolving landscape of language testing, both TOEFL and Duolingo must adapt to emerging trends and technologies, ensuring that their offerings remain relevant and attractive to test-takers and institutions alike. As the industry continues to change, the competition between these two providers will likely drive further advancements in language testing, ultimately benefiting students and educational institutions worldwide.