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TOEFL Tip #77: How Could One Person’s Score Change So Much In 24 Hours?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 23, 2010

We recently had a client at Strictly English take two TOEFLs within 24 hours of each other and the results were incredible. He scored a 114 on both tests, but his breakdowns were very different:

TEST ONE: R27, L29, S29, W29
Test TWO: R29, L29, S26, W30

Notice that the Speaking score changed a lot. (On a previous test, he scored a 27 on the Speaking.)  A 29 indicates near-perfect, native speaker fluency and a 26 only indicates the highest you can score while still having noticeable traces of your original language appearing in your speech. Now clearly this student’s ability to comprehend and speak English didn’t change from almost perfect fluency to “best-performing ESL” student in only 24 hours. Something else must have been at work to make such a big difference.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure what this “something else” was since no one was in the room to evaluate him as he took both tests, but the possibilities are endless: one confusing vocabulary word in the reading for Task 3 or 4, or a key word that the test-taker found particularly hard to pronounce. Maybe he misunderstood one key word, like he might have mistook, “profession” for “possession”, a mistake that even a native speaker could make quite easily. It could also be that he was speaking his native language right before going into the test, and it was harder for him to switch back into smooth, elegant English. Then there’s also the possibility that the test center was loud and he was distracted. Or, perhaps the raters were slightly off. Granted, ETS tries to make their grading as uniform as possible, but a one point difference in grading wouldn’t be unheard of. And if you add one point in Rater-discrepancy, and one point for a slightly thicker accent, and another point because he had trouble with one of the reading or listening parts of the speaking, then BAM: 26!

As I said above, we’ll never really know why this difference occurred, but what we DO know is that someone who has the ability to score a 29, only scored a 26. The moral of this story: please take every precaution to guard against your best abilities not being accurately represented on the test. Whatever Speaking score you’re trying to get, plan on working toward a score that’s at least 3-5 points higher, so that any unforeseen factors will not work against you on test day!