Should I have my TOEFL speaking and writing scores reviewed?

To Rescore or to not Rescore the TOEFL iBT Speaking and Writing Sections of the Exam?

Over the years, I have been asked whether or not having the re-scoring of writing or speaking sections is a good idea. In fact, just the other day, someone asked that various question at a TOEFL Facebook Pharmacy Group. In this student’s situation, she had taken the TOEFL exam twice, each time scoring 27 on the speaking section. However, her score on the reading section was too low to clear her pharmacy credential, so, after intensely studying for the reading section, she retook the TOEFL exam, this time getting a satisfactory reading subtotal score. However, to her horror, the student scored 24 on the speaking, 2 points shy of the 26 she needed to clear her pharmacy credential. The student felt that she performed well as she completed the independent and integrated speaking tasks, so she asked some of her Facebook colleagues whether or not it was a good idea to have the speaking section re-scored.

One of her colleagues said, “ETS is crooked; they will steal your money.”

Another student replied that he had never asked to have anything re-scored from ETS. Therefore, to help shed light on this question, I set out on a quest to gather some information by going to ETS’s web site, talking to one of ETS’s representatives on the phone, and using my own experience.

ETS’S Web Site

First of all, understanding how your speaking and writing tasks are scored may help in understanding the re-scoring process. Scoring of speaking or writing tasks, according to ETS, will not take place in test sites. Instead, a centralized network of TOEFL iBT human raters, all of whom are monitored from a secure location, will score or re-score your writing or speaking tasks. The ethnicity of these raters, ETS asserts, is diverse as they anonymously score your speaking and writing tasks. In fact, at least two raters will score each of your speaking and writing responses from completely different locations, each one unaware of the other’s evaluation of the practice tests being reviewed. ETS reports that this objectivity in scoring greatly reduces any possible bias that any one person might have. Therefore, whoever re-scores your writing or speaking tasks will likely be different from the original human raters that read or listened to and evaluated your practice tests initially. The type of objective scoring, although it may not be perfect, allows for more consistency, which increases the likelihood that you will get similar results if you decide to have your speaking or writing tasks re-scored.

Second of all, ETS has a few stipulations of which you should be aware. If you have already requested that you have your test scores sent to a university or agency, you will not be eligible for re-scoring. ETS will not report your scores twice, especially since the re-coring may lower or increase your overall score. ETS will only review your writing and speaking scores one time, and, if you decide to have both sections reviewed, you must have them done simultaneously. Moreover, ETS has imposed a 30 day deadline for your score review, so contact ETS as soon as you can if you want to request a score review. In addition, you should be careful when requesting a score review, because, whatever results happen in the score review will result in your official score. For example, if your score lowers, stays the same, or increases in either the speaking or writing sections, that will then become your permanent, official score. Finally, to have either section re-scored will cost you an additional $80, so having both sections re-scored will cost you $160. ETS has a TOEFL iBT Score Review Request Form that you need to fill out and that you need to mail back to their headquarters along with the appropriate payment amount. It will take about 3 weeks before ETS will report your score review online.

ETS’S Representative

Third of all, once I browsed through ETS’s web site, I decided to give them a call to see if I could get any additional information that may help students decide whether or not they should have their tests re-scored. As a result, I phoned ETS, and, after 7 minutes, I still was not able to talk to a live person. Of course, none of the options matched the purpose of my call, so I almost gave up when I decided to push “0,” at which time I was directed to Tom, agent #_ _ _ _. He was kind enough, but, when I asked for his advice to evaluate the re-scoring process, he simply stated how it worked and would not give me an opinion on whether or not it was prudent to have students request a score review. In addition, he said that ETS didn’t compile statistics on the re-scoring process. Both he and I were able to agree on one thing: that the re-scoring process was a gamble that may or may result in students receiving higher scores. Nevertheless, there was one piece of useful information that I was able to get from our phone conversation. Tom said that if the re-scoring process resulted in a higher or lower speaking or writing subtotal score, then ETS would refund the fee for the student requesting the re-score. However, after the score review, if the student received the same scores as before, then he/she would not receive a refund.

My Own Personal Experience

Fourth of all, I am the Placement and Testing Coordinator at California State University, San Bernardino, and international students take our placement test (which also includes a speaking and writing section) at the beginning of the quarter four times annually. On some occasions, students feel that they should have been placed into a higher level, so they request to re-take the placement test. Similar to the TOEFL exam, our placement test is reliable and valid, so about 75% of the time the students will test into exactly the same level that they tested before, which means they received similar writing and speaking scores as they did when they first took the placement test. In 25% of the cases, students will move either up or down a level. However, my policy is if their placement score on the re-test is lower, the student can still remain in the level based on original placement, although the TOEFL will re-adjust your score even if it’s lower! I suspect, even though ETS will not release any statistics on the success rate of students who request a re-scoring of the speaking or writing sections, that most students will get a similar score on the speaking and writing section after a score review. ETS has set up an extraordinary network of human raters who are well-trained and all operate from the same independent and integrated speaking and writing rubrics, thereby creating a consistent scoring method.

To sum up, if I were a student asking for a re-score, I might consider asking for a score review under the following circumstances:

1. If you are within 1-2 points of your speaking and writing subtotals and if you believe that you performed better than what your scored showed.

2. If you have already “passed” the speaking or writing sections previously but had to take the exam again to get a higher subtotal on either the reading or listening sections.

3. If you have limited time and need to report your score results to an institution within the next two months.

To further advance this topic, please share your stories by making a comment, especially if you requested to have your speaking or writing scores reviewed.  As you comment, please focus in the following areas:

  1. What was your original speaking or writing score?
  2. What were the results of the score review? In other words, did the score review result in lowering or increasing your subtotal score in speaking or writing? Or, did your score stay the same?
  3. Did ETS refund your payment of $80 or $160?
  4. How long did it take before you could view your score results online?
  5. Do you have any tips or helpful information for other international students who might request a score review of the speaking or writing section of the TOEFL exam?

Thanks for you input!

Michael Buckhoff,