Both TOEFL And IELTS testing systems are seriously flawed in design and execution. They both are accused of marking inconsistencies designed to force the test taker to resit the exam.
There are numerous antidotal evidence about students who pass the IELTS or TOEFL tests and can not put a sentence together yet native English speakers who have studied in University constantly fall short a point of two from the required target.
We recently reviewed the TOEFL Test, which in Australia cost US$200 (Plus a $5.00 international conversion fee). The TOEFL Tests is very US centric with reports that the assessors, who are based in the USA, mark down students who have an accent they are not familiar with. As if to speak English you need to have proper tone that is a US or proper British accent, of course when it comes to the Australian Accent the American assessors hear that as a monotone accent. Points lost straight up.
The other aspect of comcern about the TOEFL test is that it is a very computer and time based assessment. Your really scored on your ability to access and understand the idiosyncrasies of the test itself not English.
The speaking test is very artificial. In a general conversation you are speaking to a live audience, with that comes feedback that you receive from the audience itself. It could be in the form of a perons reaction or facial expressions. With the TOEFL test it is like talking into a answering machine and recording a short statement or two about a topic that is once again very American in its content.
Similar concerns have been expressed about TOEFL assessors marking down Australian English as an error. Such as the use of colour as opposed to color or Neigour as opposed to neighbour. In discussion with a number of test takers there was an emphasis on learning the method of the test as opposed to the quality of English comprehension.
The assessors also know if you have purchased any TOEFL exam preparation test kits, which, if you have, will give you a potential heads up in the TOEFL scoring system.
The examiners collect a lot of statistical information before test, information that could compromise the integrity of the test results itself.
If you find yourself in the inevitable position of falling just below your target mark, and they know what that is, you have to pay an additional US$60.00 (Plus the $5.00 international transfer fee) per module. The published results are noted for their inconsistencies and lack of detail. Unlike the online sample test where you can get a report on exactly what you passed and where you fail, this information is not provided by for the actual TOEFL test. Which all makes the exam assessment that much more subjective.
English testing systems such as TOEFL and IELTS are big business, with government regulators using them as a means of approving or rejecting applications for further study or employment.
So which test is best? In our view both are just as flawed as each other.
They certainly do not provide a consistent test assessment and the management of both systems appear to be designed more around failing students in order to extract the greatest income and profit. TOEFL in Australia is cheaper then IELTS ($205 compared to $339) But TOEFL is way to time based and computer centric. Your writing skills assessment is a test of your typing skills. Mine, I know are bad, mainly because of poor eyesight to hand co-ordination.
What Australia needs to do is develop its own English language testing system. One that is designed for Australia and uses Australian context and Australian examples.
Why are we paying royalties to overseas companies when we could be keeping the profits in Australia?
The government has a long way to go in address this situation. Much more independent monitoring and review need to also made to ensure that the integrity of the testing regimes is maintains and not tainted.