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Global Business Skills


Thoughts on the ‘New’ TOEIC Exam


Having taken the actual TOEIC test so many times that I’ve lost count, I was very interested in what the announced changes to the TOEIC test would look like in practice. Because of this, I registered for the 210th administration of the TOEIC and took the test along with many other people on May 29, 2016. I’d like to share some of my impressions with you from an interculturalist’s point of view.

First of all, let me provide a bit of background. The initial major overhaul of the TOEIC took place in May, 2006, exactly ten years before the most recent changes were implemented. (This caused me and other TOEIC specialists to wonder whether we might see another major revision ten years from now!) The announced changes ten years ago, as well as this time, were intended to make TOEIC a more natural language test “simulating real-life situations that are relevant to the global workplace” (ETS TOEIC website). This time, approximately 30 percent of the test was changed. Some of the changes were simply numerical, e.g., reducing the number of Part 1 photo-based items from ten to six, from 30 items to 25 in Part 2, and from 40 to 30 in Part 5. Other revisions were much more substantial, for instance, adding TOEFL-like MQs (Meaning Questions – What does the woman mean when she says “XYZ”?) and SSQs (Sentence Selection Questions) where the test-taker in Part 6 must choose the best question to insert into the passage at a designated point. Some of the announced revisions seemed at first blush to be significant, but upon further reflection, I realized that their impact is ultimately less than most people imagined, e.g., having three-people conversations in Part 3, or Triple Passage items in Part 7. For a complete list of the changes, see here.

My overall impression is that the revisions have made the TOEIC an even better indicator of a person’s ability to function in a business environment where English is the communication medium. To be sure, TOEIC is not a perfect test. No mass-administered test could be. The best test would be one where you met me in my office for 15 minutes. I would give you something to read and ask you to respond orally to my questions. In addition, I would ask you to write something based on what you had read and our subsequent conversation. In that way, I think I could quite accurately assess your actual English ability. However, that type of one-on-one approach is unrealistic and would be extremely costly. Therefore, considering the fact that more than five million people take the TOEIC every year, I think that TOEIC does a pretty good job of predicting, within a reasonable degree of accuracy, whether or not a person will be able to communicate effectively in English. (By the way, I’ll have more thoughts on the suitability of TOEIC compared to some of its competitor tests in a subsequent article.) Anyway, I came away from the first administration of the new test feeling that ETS had done a good job of upgrading the TOEIC.

One thing that surprised me when I took the May 29th test, though, was that the test-center where I often take the test was no more crowded that usual. In fact, despite ETS’s* and IIBC’s* concerted attempts to publicize the revisions to the TOEIC, I suspect that many of the test-takers were not even aware that the test had been changed. In the days after the test, I heard and read many similar comments from other TOEIC specialists. As a result, I imagine quite a few test-takers were surprised at the new format. This leads me to worry that at least some of these people might not have been able to achieve the same score that they would have if they had taken the old test, since that is the one they had prepared for. Probably this is an inevitable part of the transition process. ETS is undoubtedly aware of this situation and will make adjustments based on various statistical formulas to ensure that a score taken before May will be equivalent to a score taken after the new test was implemented.

*ETS is the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, USA – the organization that produces most of the widely recognized standardized tests like the TOEIC, TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_Testing_Service).
**IIBC is the Institute for International Business Communication, the agency that administers TOEIC in Japan (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/国際ビジネスコミュニケーション協会).

Related to that, another strong impression I had was that the test has now become more difficult as a result of the revisions. This was something that I and other TOEIC experts had predicted. Even though ETS and IIBC insisted that the test would be virtually the same in terms of difficulty and that pre-May and post-May scores would be equivalent, in my opinion after having taken the actual test, there is no way to deny that TOEIC is now a harder test than it was before. Admittedly, I was not taking the test in the same manner as a usual test-taker would have. I had prepared a four-page list of questions that I wanted to confirm as I was taking the test, things like how many words are in Part 7 distracters or how many seconds did the Part 3 conversations take. That means that I could not focus 100 percent on taking the test as a normal test-taker. Having said that, I am a native speaker of English, one who is thoroughly familiar with the TOEIC, including the new types of items appearing on the test. And even for me, I had to really struggle to answer all of the questions correctly within the allocated time. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for non-native speakers taking the new test, especially for those people who really needed to get a certain score on the test for whatever reason, e.g., to put on their resume when searching for a job or to clear their company’s minimum English skill requirement, as measured by TOEIC.

Consequently, precisely because the TOEIC has become more difficult, the need for advance preparation is now even higher than it was before. The more familiar you are with the internal logic of the TOEIC and the types of items it comprises, the more likely you are to achieve the score you deserve to get. By clicking on this link (LINK TO 160701 Recommended TOEIC Books.docx), you can see a list of TOEIC study materials I recommend. This list will be constantly updated as new TOEIC materials are produced to reflect the changes in the new test. As you can imagine, my TOEIC colleagues and I are now actively involved in various projects to create these new materials.

In the final analysis, even though I am pleased with the changes in the TOEIC (and the opportunities these changes present for me to write even more TOEIC books ☺), I would like to stress that TOEIC is not your final destination. That final destination is to be comfortable expressing yourself in English. TOEIC is simply a ‘driver’s license’ to help you achieve that ultimate goal. But, as I will emphasize in a subsequent article, English alone is not enough. To really be able to display your true ability in today’s global, diverse business environment, we also need business skills. And, especially, we need the ability to understand people from different backgrounds, i.e., we need intercultural communication skills. Helping people develop these necessary skills (LINK TO THREE PILLARS DIAGRAM AND DESCRIPTION OF I/C and SKILLS PROGRAMS) is our mission at Link Global Solution.





まず、これまでの経緯を簡単に説明しましょう。最初の大きなTOEICの改訂は2006年5月、今回の改訂からちょうど10年前に実施されました。(そのため私も他のTOEICスペシャリストも、今から10年後にまた大きな改訂があるのではないかと考えています!)。10年前の改訂も今回と同様、TOEICを「より現実に即した状況や設定をテスト上でも再現する 」ことを意図していました(ETS TOEICウェブサイト)。今回は試験の約30%が変更されました。その一部は単なる設問数の変更です。例えば、 パート1の写真描写問題が10問から6問になり、パート2が30問から25問に、パート5が40問から30問に減りました。かなり大きな変更もありました。TOEFLと同じようなMQ(Meaning Question:書き手が暗示している意図を問う設問-女性が「XYZ」と言っているが、それは何を意味しているか?)とSSQ(Sentence Selection Questions:文章を選択する問題)の追加です。パート6では、文書内の空欄に最も適切な一文を挿入する問題が追加されました。発表当初はかなり重大だと考えられたものの、多くの人の予想に反してそれほど大きな影響がないことが判明した変更もありました。パート3の、3名での会話を聞いて理解する質問や、パート7の、3つの文を読んで理解する質問がこれにあたります。変更の全リストはこちらをご覧ください



*ETS (Educational Testing Service、米国ニュージャージー州プリンストン)は、TOEIC、TOEFL、GRE、GMATなどの広く知られた統一試験のほとんどを開発・製作している非営利のテスト開発機関。 **IIBC(国際ビジネスコミュニケーション協会)は日本におけるTOEICの実施・運営を行っている機関。 (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/国際ビジネスコミュニケーション協会)





Robert Hilke