Preparing for the Speaking Tasks of the TOEFL iBT® Test: An Investigation of the Journeys of Chinese Test Takers

Guoxing Yu, Lianzhen He, Pauline Rea-Dickins, Richard Kiely, yanbin lu, Jing Zhang, Yan Zhang, Shasha Xu, Lin Fang

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Language test preparation has often been studied within the consequential validity framework in relation to ethics, equity, fairness and washback of assessment. The use of independent and integrated speaking tasks in TOEFL iBT represents a significant development and innovation in assessing speaking ability in academic contexts. Integrated tasks that involve synthesizing and summarizing information presented in reading and listening materials have the potential to generate new test preparation strategies. This study investigated the experiences of over 1500 Chinese test takers and 23 teachers who were preparing for the TOEFL iBT speaking tasks. It examined the frequency of use of a number of different test preparation activities and materials, reasons and expectations for taking preparation courses, and the features of preparation courses. In addition, we examined the usefulness of test preparation from two perspectives: students and teachers perceptions, and the relationship between test preparation and performance. Data were collected via questionnaires, focus-group discussions, interviews with test takers and teachers, and classroom observations. The data showed that (i) test preparation was a hugely complex multiple-components construct, and teaching and learning test-taking strategies was the most prominent feature of intensive preparation courses, (ii) there were significant age-related differences in students’ preparation activities and focuses, though with small effect sizes, (iii) there was a high agreement between teachers and students in their views on the usefulness of test preparation activities, and (iv) there existed only a weak relationship between test preparation and performance. The only significant predictor of students’ test performance was the frequency of their use of the TOEFL Practice Online (TPO). The findings of the study can enhance our understanding of the pedagogic practices which characterise test preparation programmes, and contribute to the ongoing validity argument for the TOEFL iBT speaking test. The implications of the findings for test publishers, test takers, teachers and test preparation schools are discussed with reference to the instructional, learning and affective aspects of the multi-faceted construct of test preparation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-59
Number of pages59
JournalETS Research Report Series
Issue number1
Early online date20 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2018


  • Chinese test takers
  • Chinese teachers
  • independent speaking tasks
  • integrated speaking tasks
  • speaking tasks
  • test preparation


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