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First Online TOEFL Exam Begins on Friday
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On Friday in 19 test centers in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Chengdu almost 500 Chinese students will sit the country's first ever online Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The TOEFL Internet-based test (TOEFL iBT), lasting for four hours from 4:00 p.m. to-day, will assess the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills of exam takers, said Paul Ramsey, senior vice president in charge of the global business of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) of the United States.

It's the first time the TOEFL iBT has been used on the Chinese mainland and replaces the paper-based TOEFL exam which has been used in China for 25 years.

"The technology used in TOEFL iBT enables test items to be delivered over the Internet simultaneously across all time zones thus increasing our already high security," said Ramsey. "It also ensures unbiased testing by recording responses electronically and sending them to a network of ETS people markers who objectively score the responses for maximum reliability," he added.

"Compared with the previous paper and computer-based formats across the world the current TOEFL iBT focuses on speaking which is generally considered the Achilles heel of Chinese students," said Li Ding, a teacher at China's biggest English training institute the New Oriental School. "And the new test no longer has grammatical questions which Chinese students are usually strong in."

The content of the exam also includes the kind of English used in higher education such as lectures, discussions, reading assignments and term papers, said Maurice Cogan Hauck, assessment director of the ETS.

"In addition to the changes in content many of us are not familiar with the long exam time and the method of online testing," said Liu Li, a college student from Beijing due to take the test.

"The flexibility of Internet-based testing will help expand Chinese students' access to the world renowned ETS assessment test centers across China," said Dai Jiagan, President of China's National Education Examination Authority (NEEA).

TOEFL iBT may be helpful to Chinese students because the test will provide information about the performance of those sitting it and diagnostic feedback which helps identify learning needs, said professor Zhou Yanhui with South China Agricultural University.

On March 8, 2006 the ETS and NEEA signed a seven-year contract at the ETS headquarters in New Jersey, appointing NEEA as the exclusive provider of operational test services for the Internet-based TOEFL and GRE exams in China.

Since it was first introduced in North America in September 2005, the ETS TOEFL iBT has been launched across the world. To date ETS has completed 14 TOEFL iBT test administrations in the countries where the exam has been launched. More than 33,000 students have taken the exam and approximately 48,000 have registered to sit it, explained Ramsey.

In China, NEEA will arrange 17 other TOEFL iBTs before the end of December for nearly 10,000 students and around 30-40 such exams next year, said Dai Jiagan. Previously China arranged about five paper-based tests each year.

TOEFL has been written, developed and administered since 1964 by ETS, a private, non-profit organization based in Princeton, New Jersey that was founded in 1947. The TOEFL test measures the ability of non-native speakers of English to use and understand North American English.

To date more than 6,000 colleges and universities in 110 countries rely on TOEFL test scores to measure the English-language skills of their students.

According to the NEEA, in recent years around 70,000 Chinese college students per year have taken TOEFL to get access to postgraduate programs at U.S. universities which accounts for about one tenth of the world's total.

(Xinhua News Agency September 15, 2006)

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