I asked moderators to close this question since the question itself is not about English but rather about a particular test, but basically I agree with the OP's outrage. In 2013, my score was 95, but when I took this year, about 6 months ago, the reading question has increased by 1 within same test time, and the listening section had become also outrageously challenging and the overall score downed to 60! after studying intensely for about a month. Would you think it would be possibly the tightening the immigration policy by Obama and Trump administrations? Thank you for any info in advance.
It is unlikely that the increase in difficulty has anything to do with US immigration policy directly. These tests are developed by private testing companies and changes are probably caused by the clients that use the tests.
If the current tests are not sufficiently difficult to distinguish between people who are fluent enough to live independently in an English speaking country and people who are fluent enough to understand and contribute to technical discussions, that needs to be corrected. The test isn’t as useful as it could be if someone who is as fluent as a native speaker gets a similar score as some who is less fluent (but still very advanced).
I would expect that the clients using these tests understand the change in difficulty and probably have adjusted their expectations (or will once they see how the pool of candidates performs on the new tests). Universities don’t want to exclude too many international students, but they also want to make sure that the students they accept are fluent enough to be successful.
I’ve read through the long comment threads a couple times now, and I’m beginning to think that your approach toward studying for the TOEFL is entirely wrong.
One beef you seem to have is that there are so many complicated words in every practice question you encounter, and you seem to think that, if you can just master all of those complicated words, you’d be able to achieve a high score on the exam. Yet this seems like a Herculean task.
Here’s the rub: you could memorize the definitions of all the complicated and unfamiliar words you find in your practice tests – meteorite, bucolic, ephemeral, existential, etc. – and still perform poorly on the test, because those are probably not the words that will appear the test (they are merely examples of the different kinds of words you will likely encounter on the test).
The TOEFL is not like a vocabulary test, where we memorize definitions from a given list of words and we are later tested on those definitions. Rather, the test is designed to measure English proficiency in an academic setting. It is designed to determine if you are likely to succeed at a university or if the language barrier is too great for you to be able to achieve success. In other words, suppose a professor is trying to teach you a difficult concept like Fourier transforms or thermodynamics. Will you be able to follow what he is saying? Or will it all sound like uninterpretable drivel to you?
I looked at this one passage from the sample questions Dan Bron linked to:
He’s eccentric. He has a hobby that he’s obsessive about – in this case, it’s the love of roses. He’s a fanatic about the breeding of roses; and here think of Nero Wolfe and his orchids, Sherlock Holmes and his violin, a lot of those later classic detective heroes have this kind of outside interest that they go to as a kind of antidote to the evil and misery they encounter in their daily lives. At one point, Cuff says he likes his roses because they offer solace, uh, an escape, from the world of crime he typically operates in.
Maybe a learner doesn’t know what the words eccentric, antidote, or solace mean, but, if that’s the case, the solution isn’t necessarily to scurry to a dictionary to look up these words and memorize their meanings. Instead, the definitions can be largely deduced from context. For example, maybe I don’t know what eccentric means, but I should be able to figure out it has something to do with roses, orchids, and violins (that is, with hobbies). The words obsessive and fanatic are clues, too. If a learner is in the test center reading this passage, he should not be kicking himself that he failed to memorize the meaning of eccentric. Instead, the learner should be thinking, “Hmmm, I may not know what this means, but I can tell it has something to with being fanatical about a hobby.”
Similarly, I may not be familiar “solace”, but the passage pretty much defines it for us in the very next few words: It’s an escape from the world of crime a detective normally lives in.
In short, the test is trying to see if you can deduce the meaning of words with hints that are naturally provided within the context. And this makes perfect sense for a test that is trying to measure the English proficiency of potential students in an academic setting.
To answer your question, the test is ferociously difficult only because the language itself is ferociously difficult. I think the only way to score well on a fluency test is to become more fluent. And, as userr2684291 said in a comment, the only way to accomplish this is to immerse yourself in the language until it becomes more natural to you.
Bonus question: Can you guess the meaning of Herculean without consulting a dictionary?
Not sure that you want to hear this, but I'm sharing the impressions and recollections of someone who took TOEFL in '86 when applying to US grad schools. I lived in the US 1986-90, but have not lived in an English speaking county since (I'm afraid that may also show in my fluency).
Judging from the material Dan Bron linked to TOEFL has, indeed, changed somewhat in the interim. But, I would have loved to take a test like that. Yes, you need to pick up some nuances from the text, but that has more to do with general scholastic aptitude as opposed to having an extensive/specific vocabulary.
Anyway, you mentioned taking expensive courses as a way of preparing for a test like this. I am very skeptical about the wisdom of doing that. Such courses may or may not be outright scams, but ... let me share my recollections of how I had "prepared" myself.
- The English lessons I took when in school (i.e. pre-college) did lay the foundations, basic grammar, semi-adequate vocabulary, skills in inferring the meaning of a previously unknown word. I admit that the last point was significantly aided by also studying other somewhat related languages, in my case German and Swedish. This is something you may be unable to do.
- But, the school lessons give you just the basics. To become somewhat fluent in a foreign language you really have to use it. The good news is that there are inexpensive ways of doing that. Read books. Works of fiction. I used science fiction, but pick whatever you want to read in spite of it being in English. Paperbacks in English are cheap, and undoubtedly available in your country also. At first, my reading was slow because I would take a peek at a dictionary every time I encountered an unfamiliar word. Then it dawned on me that such consultations were mostly unnecessary. If I couldn't guess the meaning more often than not the word would not appear again, or if it did, the additional context would help. If not having a precise translation bothered me, I would look it up afterwards.
- A slightly more expensive method I used (still talking about a hundred dollars per year) was to subscribe to magazines. My last year in high school I subscribed to Scientific American. I really recommend that. National Geographic could be another choice that makes sense. With a bit of luck you can find them at a local library making this a no-cost option! During my college years (with the prospect of studying in the US in the horizon) I also subscribed to Newsweek. Time would have done equally well. The point was to use English as a means of learning something new. Definitely an ability the US colleges and universities will insist that you have, don't you think?
- As you may have noticed, the bad news is that these remedies take time. I actually think this is necessary. I doubt there are ways of miraculously raising your score in a month or so. Anyone trying to sell you such a course is, well, trying to sell you something.
- A word of consolation. The admission committees are well aware of some of the difficulties foreign students may have. When applying to grad schools at least you can compensate by doing extremely well in your subject test. They will cut you some slack with TOEFL. They won't entirely ignore your score, but it is just one of the many factors. Extremely competitive places like MIT don't have to do that because they get so many applications anyway, and can afford to be picky.
- You may have noticed that above I didn't touch oral skills at all. Only reading comprehension. Listening comprehension you can practice, at the age of internet, more easily than I ever had the chance. Speaking? That actually comes relatively quickly once you move to an English speaking country (and once there don't make the mistake of mingling with only your own countrymen). A quote from a good friend and a former fellow grad student: "During your first six months you just nodded a lot" :-)
By and large, the people designing TOEFL and the people interested in your score are very reasonable. Becoming fluent in English (or any language) takes a lot of time, you need to give yourself that time.
I am sorry for people who gave me answers.
Now, I have begun to believe the difficulties of this test has nothing to do with the U.S government policy, but rather by the private sectors' directions.
However, what would you think by making the test such a difficult one the private sectors ( higher educational system ) can gain? Oh yes, "good" students.
But, do you know how hard it is now? Kindly take a look at an analysis as of 2017.
According to the site,
To get better information, it can help to hear directly from test takers themselves. Now, everyone has their own opinion on the TOEFL, but the general consensus among test takers is that, while the TOEFL can have challenging questions and test you on specific details, it won’t be too much of a challenge if you’re exposed to English regularly, such as taking classes that are in English, and you can communicate fairly easily in English. However, if you are still learning English and are only exposed to it in English-learning classes, you may struggle during the test since it does require a strong grasp of the language to score well, and because you need to be able to block out distractions like other people speaking around you.
Are you kidding me? Lol. I mean, if I can take a course every day and speak to English speakers every day, oh yeah, my score would be around 110 out of 120. But are you demanding us to live in the U.S itself? Are you trying to be funny or what? lol
Anyway, thank you Colleen and others for all the opinions and information but this test has become such a nasty one for test takers to need to be in environments where these people are exposed to English shower every day. Haha.
The pw is 0712.
Lol. I lost in the middle. haha.
To Nathan Turgy. At least the material I bought for only 6 bucks! is very worth reading, isn't it? It really depends on what book you choose to buy.