Preparing for TOEFL iBT speaking tasks: Test takers’ experiences and expectations

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


Language test preparation has often been studied within the consequential validity framework in relation to ethics, equity, fairness and washback of assessments. The majority of washback/impact studies on high-stakes international English language tests such as TOEFL and IELTS have focused on how students prepare (or are being prepared) for these tests, with a smaller number of studies also investigating the effects of such intensive preparations on score gains or improvements in single language skill(s) or general language proficiency. This paper reports part of a larger study which investigated the experiences of Chinese test takers preparing for the TOEFL iBT speaking tasks. Much has changed since the launch of TOEFL iBT, in terms of, for example, information about the test, resources available, and preparation strategies used by test takers. Relative to resources available for TOEFL iBT listening, reading and writing tasks, however, the resources and opportunities for the development of speaking skills are more limited, especially in the contexts of use such as China. In some cases, the only way to get some training in speaking is to attend test preparation courses. Some test takers may choose to attend such preparation courses; others do not for various reasons. This could present an equity issue between test takers with different preparation experiences and pose, potentially, threats to test validity, as well as raising concerns about ethicality of test preparation. Furthermore, TOEFL iBT integrated tasks that involve synthesizing and summarizing information presented in reading and listening materials have the potential to generate test preparation strategies different from independent speaking tasks. In the larger study, we collected both quantitative and qualitative data via questionnaires, focus-group discussions, interviews with test takers and teachers, classroom observations, and evaluation of test preparation materials. At this presentation, we will report findings from over 1300 test taker and teacher questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with a number of selected test takers and teachers, in the following five main aspects of test preparation: (a) the importance and value of test preparation courses from test takers’ viewpoint; (b) their expectations on preparation courses; (c) speaking activities they have to prepare for the tasks; (d) test preparation materials they use, especially with reference to the use of computer technology/programmes in accessing, sharing and managing materials and in training time management; and (e) their teachers’ pedagogical practices in speaking lessons. In addition, we will report the test takers’ views on the usefulness of (c), (d) and (e) above in preparing them for the TOEFL iBT speaking tasks. The findings have important implications, not only for test developers but also providers of test preparation programmes that may influence test performance. They contribute to the on-going validity argument for the TOEFL iBT speaking tasks and further, to enhancing our understandings of the pedagogic practices of the test preparation programmes and the extent to which such programmes offer opportunities for developing speaking proficiency, and hence addressing the delicate relationship between testing, learning and ethical coaching.
Translated title of the contributionPreparing for TOEFL iBT speaking tasks: Test takers’ experiences and expectations
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage Testing Research Colloquium
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Name and Venue of Event: Princeton, NJ
Conference Organiser: International Language Testing Association/Educational Testing Service (USA)


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