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Online TOEFL Exams to Start Next May
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Next May, internet-based TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams will start to replace the existing written test introduced to China 25 years ago, the National Education Examinations Authority (NEEA) and US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced in Beijing on Monday.


"The technology used in the internet-based test (iBT) permits test items to be delivered over the internet simultaneously in all time zones, thus increasing our already high test security," said Paul Ramsey, senior vice president in charge of ETS' global business.


"It also ensures unbiased testing by recording responses electronically and sending them to a network of ETS human raters who objectively score the responses for maximum reliability," he added.


He was speaking at the signing ceremony of an agreement with the NEEA to promote the new online exam on the mainland, provide customer services, collect exam registration fees, recruit staff and deliver results online over the next seven years.


The NEEA already helps ETS administer TOEFL and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) tests in China.


The TOEFL iBT, already launched in North America and part of Europe in September, is widely believed to be more challenging for Chinese students due to a new 20-minute speaking section.


Examinees use earphones and microphones to answer questions, recordings of which are assessed by three to six examiners. It aims to help gauge the comprehensive abilities of examinees in listening, speaking, reading and writing, and to make the exam more reliable, impartial, convenient and secure.


Final results of exams can be accessed online after 15 days.


"The speaking section is generally considered the Achilles' heel of Chinese students," said Li Ding, a teacher at New Oriental School, China's biggest English training institute. "And the new test no longer has grammatical items that Chinese students are usually strong in. So it could be expected that the number of TOEFL examinees will reach a peak before next May."


ETS also said its internet-based GRE, an entrance requirement for postgraduate studies in many English-speaking countries, will be delivered worldwide from next October.


Li said the new GRE will be easier because its vocabulary section, the biggest headache for Chinese examinees, will no longer be included.


The NEEA said the changes will affect about 70,000 TOEFL and 14,000 GRE examinees in China every year.


(China Daily, China.org.cn November 15, 2005)


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