The problem with TOEFL iBT

You know what one of the big problems with the iBT (Internet) version of the TOEFL is? The Internet is not always stable. Just a few days ago, TOEFL students in Asia had a lot of trouble taking the exam:

The problem was with the main ETS (the company that runs TOEFL) server in the United States. About 4000 students in South Korea had to wait over two hours for the server to be fixed before they could take the exam. Some could not take the test at all. ETS has had a lot of computer system and network errors since it adopted the Internet-based Test (iBT) TOEFL in 2006. This is because the iBT format has to download test questions from the main server throughout the test, while the previous system, Computer-based Test (CBT), saved questions separately on each computer.

Many students who needed the TOEFL scores for college admission will now now have the scores in time to apply. Some have even urged legal action against ETS. People in smaller towns and cities often travel to a larger city to take the exam… that’s a lot of lost money and time.

ETS said the problem was caused by its main server in the United States and it will refund fees or allow a free retake for those who had to give up the test.

Do you think that’s enough, or should ETS compensate students further? If you have taken the TOEFL iBT before, did you experience any technical problems?

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37 Responses to “The problem with TOEFL iBT”

  1. Abhishek says:

    I had taken my exam on Sep 28 this year. Event though the article published in 2006, I dont think services have improvd. Me and two of my other friends underwent simlar experiences with errors from the system.
    While, for me the questions dint load, for my friend the questions took 20 minutes to load. We have filed a case with ets, but as yet no response.
    Lets hope for the best.

  2. It is unfortunate that ETS has NOT eliminated these kinds of problems during the test-taking experience. I guess that is one of the drawbacks of delivering the test via Internet. BTW: Great blog Steve. I regularly refer my bloggers to your site.

  3. Ali says:

    I also had this problem on 2009 June 21 ,and the whole exam was annuled.I don’t know why they have not fixed this problem with their servers.You know what? Since they’re enrolling a huge number of applicants around the world by their buggy servers in the US, they cannot handle this problem and that’s the way it is!

  4. Andrea says:

    I was supposed to do my TOEFL IBT the 8th of August 2009 in Dubai, they were having some internet problems…..afeter we wait 3 hours they cancel the exam. So far I haven´t recieved any phone call or email from ETS, I called them several times last week but they keep saying please wait we will contact you…..Unfortunately I had to pay for a second exam because I need the results ASAP or the university they will cancel my application for my MBA….where I am already accepted.

  5. […] official language tests, TOEFL is king in Mexico. Sad but true. And I’m not talking about the oh no the server’s down, we’ll have to cancel your exams for today kids iBT. No. It’s the paper-based version, the PBT, which is the most widely accepted proof of […]

  6. rani says:

    i had the test on the 22 of August 2009 my friend had theri resulet on the on the fourth of September, but i did not have it till now, my profile on theri website did not show my resulet till now if any one had this problem before and he or she could solve it please write here

  7. GFaria says:

    This is the most inconvenient company to do business with. Firstly, I register all my information online. Secondly, the website refuses to proceed with the payment as my computer is Windows VISTA. Then, I call the registration center to be informed I have to go to some friend’s house, or to an internet cafe or someplace where I can register AGAIN. After days of time WASTED trying to register, I finally am able to, to find out that there is a LATE registration fee. Again, I call the registration center, and they inform me that they will charge me an extra $60 for my registration. I explain that it was NOT my fault that your system does NOT accept windows VISTA. She then said, they will charge me the $60, if I want to register again. HOW ABSURD! I have wasted two weeks trying to register for a test, and NOW it is my fault… I am REALLY SHOCKED TO SEE HOW POORLY AND BADLY YOUR SERVICE HAS TURNED INTO. A very, very angry customer, who will do everything possible so that my friends and students NEVER EVER take a TOEFL test.

  8. Joey says:

    Dear all who have experinced TOEFL iBT test,
    Next year,I will take the iBT for the first time.Hopefully,I will be a lucky dog when taking the exam.

  9. Otabek says:

    I agree with GFaria, I am also having a hard time trying to make a payment online. I am going to try with different operating systems.

  10. Satya says:

    I have cancelled my order where my test was scheduled on 10th April 2010. I cancelled on 6th April 2010 which is before the deadline. However, the refund was not credited to my credit card and when I checked my ETS account on 18th April 2010, it showed that the test was scheduled on 10th April 2010 and it was not cancelled. It was a shock for me. I did not know the reason. But it is certain that, I have cancelled it and it showed the cancelled screen and therefore I logged out of my ETS account. When I communicated the same with ETS, I have received a reply saying – ‘Your records show that you did not successfully cancel your registration for April 10, 2010’. What an irresponsible reply? The cancellation was successful on my computer and ridiculously unsuccessful on thier computers? Problem lies within in thier software and Engineers who manages it. On one occasion, those guys did not even know that software problem exists until I brought to their attention. The registration etc. does not work in most popular web browsers such as internet explorer and in recent versions of windows such as vista and 7 which clearly tells that problem lies at their side. On a different occasion, there have been problems while practicing TOEFL online and on that occasion, my internet connection speed was blamed which is again a ridiculous explanation.


  11. Ally says:

    Hi I got my toefl score.. Last week but I’m not not sure about the score I feel something wrong… I’m pretty sure that I did well ESP in the writing section I followed exactly the same method that I did in the first time ” I repeated the test twice” so first time I scored 20 in the writing and the second time 15!! How come I got this score and I was following the same method or template that I learned from the toefl books.. Is there is any chance or a way that I ask them to reconsider my scores again? I feel something going on.. Or this score is final!

  12. Jasna says:

    I am also very angry…
    When I was taking the TOEFL test, my computer crashed and my test was postponed. They sent me e-mail saying I can get fre retest but they didn’t explain how that works!! I conntacted them several times after that but with no response…

  13. Innocent says:

    I had taken my exam on May 22 this year. i need the result for this Sept. intake but unfortunate I’ve not been able to view my result and there is no response from ETS.
    please what should i do or what’s d solution ?

  14. Chris says:

    Sadly this is where IELTS will ALWAYS be superior! TOEFL being CTS, being American tries to use fancy technology to do things and it never turns out as good as expected. Globally IELTS is still emperor while TOEFL in all its variations still remains, little one and is fast challenged by PETS, Verison test etc… Which are becoming more favourable and have been commented on as being far more stable and reliable than TOEFL. CTS has really pulled a bummer here, which is a shame because TOEFL pbt actually was a damn good idea but its being phased out.

  15. Josh says:

    ETS really is pain in the A$%$. It’s a milking cow especially for foreigners who use it to work, study abroad. The scoring in speaking part is really unreliable, i did mine and just scored 24 in that part, while my friend, who honestly told me he was muttering during the test got 26. Isn’t it bad?

  16. It’s terrible, but they are such a big organization with so much penetration, and so many different elements make money from the TOEFL, that it will be hard to change.

  17. Anju says:

    I appeared for the TOEFL iBT exam on 06.25.2011. While going through the paper I find that in the reading section I could not find any question for both the reading passages. The left side where questions were supposed to appear was blank. Although I completed the test and asked for the scores because I was not left with any other option. I complaint the same to the prometric people in between the paper and still continued with the test. They provided me with ticket number. When I called prometric they wanted me to show the concern with ETS and resolve the issue.
    As I already clicked to submit my scores because I do not want to delay my admission process because of this technical problem.
    Not to mention it also affected my listening section as I have to go in between to tell this problem as no one appears when I raised my hand.

  18. andres cubeddu says:

    I just got out of Toefl test at caracas Venezuela, colegio san jose de tarbes.
    During the test the sistem fell, and we were asked to leave the roonm, while it was fixed. At the time i got back there was only one minute left in the writing part of the test, therefore I could not finished.
    I did fill a report to the Toefl representatives.
    Iwant to know, what it is going to happen now, Do i get any refunds, Can I take the test again without paying???
    I cound get any answer from the representatives
    Please help

  19. Carlos Palma says:

    I took the TOEFL test on May 25, 2012. I was fortunate not to have problems with the Internet connection, and got my score on the Internet on time. But it seems impossible to get a physical copy of my results. I ordered one and it never arrived. Two months later I ordered another to a different address and again it never arrived. People at ETS wouldn’t make sure the mail arrives to their customers.

  20. mm says:

    I have registered for the TOEFL ibt test on Dec 0x,2012. I’m really frightened by the speaking section of the test. Please, share the strategies to slay the TOEFL speaking section monster. I plan to enter world-class US universities in Electrical Engineering for fall2013.

    I’m preparing from the Barron’s book and have purchase some online tests that are paying me back!

  21. Sofía says:

    I had a problem with the Toefl exam. I was supposed to take it on November, 17th in Buenos Aires, and the day before, just when I was to get on the ferry I received an email notifying that the exam had been cancelled and my new date was December, 14th. I immediately called ETS and asked them for an earlier date because of Johnson’s deadline. Hence, I was rescheduled for the 17th of November in Montevideo, Uruguay, where I live. I went to the test center to take the exam and it was closed, I then found out that the exam had been cancelled too.

    Apparently there is no exam dates available until February in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. I have scheduled to take it on December 1st now in Santiago de Chile, and it is a very expensive trip! ETS did not take responsibilty for any of the costs that I incurred yet.

  22. Toefl could not scored my speaking section says:

    On February 2, 2013, I took the toefl ibt test and they could not score my speaking section because of their technical problem. What can I do?

  23. Daniel says:

    I had the same problem as Carlos. It’s been 6 months I took the Toefl test (in Chile) and I had no physical or any official result, even when I requested for it in two additional opportunities. These cause me not only frustration but I loss an important oportunities.
    I would like to sue ETS

  24. Prashant says:

    Hi Guys,
    I have a big problem taking toelf. My toefl date was scheduled 5th october and now I got the mail from toefl governance that my date is going to be postponed but they have not given any and only 4 days . ETS crossed the limit when they test center had technical issue. I visited that technical center and everything was looking good. Now I see no toefl date available so if ETS cancels my appointment, I cannot give toefl anywhere.
    Guys its better to take IELTS rather than TOEFL.

  25. Ana says:

    I took the test on February 2013. It is the worst service I have ever paid for.

    The exam was supposed to start at 9:00 am but the server failed and we had to wait until 2:00 pm to start the test.

    By May 2013 my certificate hadn’t arrived so I called them. They send one more certificate with no extra charge. We are in October 2013 and none of the certificates have arrived! I called them again and you know what they said? They suggested me do a screenshot of the scores on the Internet!

    How I’m I supposed to apply to scholarships and postgrad degrees with a f*** screenshot?! I need the physical copy of my results, that’s why I paid 160 USD! I just lost my money and now I’m going to have to take some other exam in some other place in order to get a real certificate, not a screenshot!

    Avoid, avoid, avoid! Don’t waste your money! They are supposed to be a serious institution but they are not! They only care about taking your money.

    Take another test with a really serious institution, like Cambridge. Avoid Toefl!

  26. Mayur says:

    it seems my problem is different from others, but any help would be appreciated. I had applied for my test score to be directly sent to the institution fifteen days back. While I applied, they said maximum time they’ll take will be a week. But it still hasn’t reached them!!! And due to all this, i missed my dead line for the application set by the university. I requested them to give me some more time. And to my surprise, University did consider and gave me two days extra. But it was of no use. I missed that one as well since TOEFL people hasn’t send my score yet. I have dropped almost 20 e-mails but they won’t reply. I tried calling them up but nobody answered the phone !!!!

  27. Mike says:

    I see a lot of problems here, and most are not really the fault of ETS.. for example, when you book a date to do your test this is the day that the testcenter opened, if for some reason the testcenter is not open, it is because they didn´t respect the contract with ETS ibt. I know from experience here in Brasil that the mail terribly poor, my certificate took 4 months to arrive. The stamp in the US, as one day after I received my score by mail. Further more, nowadays all tests are downloaded before the test and nothing is saved on the individual PC, all go trhough a server, which means that if your PC for some reason turns off, freezes or anything else, you can be reseated at any available pc and continue where your computer stopped working without losing any of your time or work.
    Furthermore, if it happens that there is a powerloss, than the testcenter should have a back up for at least the server on wich all progress is kept. At this moment I work at a testcenter and here we can be for 4 hours without electricity before the backup gives up.

    I do believe there were a lot of problems in the past, but when I speak from own experience, I can say that in the last three years nothing like the problems mentioned here occured.

    In most cases there is a moneyback clause, however his does not apply to cases mentioned on the website, problem also is, that people often do not read before they enroll, not understanding what the consequenses might be. An example of this is for instance, when they tell you to write down your complete name exactly how it is written in your ID. And people still use abreviations, or leave out a name. This is reason not to give you your score, for it is an official certificate. You are warned for this on the wensite en it is written in bold, also the consequenses are mentioned. BUt yet there are still people who do not read.

    Most important is that you read well before you enroll, understand how the mail work in you country(in Brazil it is horrible and things get lost constantly, here in Campo Grande more than 20.000 letters per month get lost…), sometimes it is ETS IBT, sometimes it is just your national mail service that is playing a trick on you.

    And realise that the testcenter is not realy TOEFL people, they can become a testcenter, but it is impossible to check up on every test center after they are one. The same that with big supermarkets, you can see the difference in management when you enter different supermarkets of the same name. Some people just want to ear money and don´t care about the clients, this doesn´t mean it is always ETS ibt who is the one tha did it wrong, however they are always responsible. Which means hat testcenters get closed on regular base too.

  28. Roberto says:

    It is understandable that students feel cheated when ETS’s TOEFL iBT software doesn’t come on-line. Definitely true. They should work on improving their hardware and software in advance before applying this test.
    There is also the issue that ETS randomly makes students take Long Formats in the Reading or Listening sections of the test. This means that you are paying $170.oo for presenting a test that may contain extra questions that will not be evaluated. Why? Because they are asking you to test new Reading Passages and their associated questions or new Listening Passages and their associated questions, which will appear in future tests, at your expense. This only makes students get tired and more prone to making errors.
    The above-mentioned is the same as asking you to pay an extra charge for a product you already bought or, put in easier terms, you go to a supermarket and a sales promoter asks you to taste a new food product and then to pay for it. This is very American and can only indicate that ETS also cashes on marketing experiments for testing products (new reading and listening passages for its pool of reading and listening passages) at its clients’ pockets or expense.

  29. Peter says:

    I took the iBT TOEFL today and connection was lost during the test. It took a couple minutes for the connection to be restored. How inconvenient… Could not help loosing focus.

  30. Annisa says:

    well, I wish I won’t have any problem with TOEFL iBT test. But could you please tell me about what should I do. Here my problem :
    I supposed to take my test in Jan 11th 2015 (I booked it on Jan 2nd). Suddenly, I phone call came from ETS representative told me that due to some issues in my test place, they had rescheduled my test become Jan 25th. I said I need time to rethink should I go on with this new date or cancel my test. Finally I decided to cancel my test and go to my View Order page and CANCEL my registration (note : my registration number and date already changed from the odd the the new one). So, the things I wanna ask are:
    1. Would I get full refund from my test fee or only a half (Because the policy said that more than 3 days of test date, the cancellation will result only a half of refund). It makes me confused because I’m not sure about which 3 days they mean now : my odd date that I chosen or the new date that they rescheduled for me? :(
    2. How long ETS will process my refund?
    3.Should i fill some form to make a cancellation or is it enough by just clicking CANCEL on my View Order in my iBT homepagea. Really wish you here who has such an experience like this share your thought. :)

  31. Mike says:

    I did TOEFL IBT twice in 2014, and I am sure now they do not score the speaking and writing by human! Unfortunately, Nothing I can do, they do not disclose anything, they are not really a company; they are mostly the scammer, what they want is more money and my advice to all student is to take a test in a reliable company, NOt ETS.

  32. Laura says:

    Personally the TOEFL people even lied about giving me a refund on my horribly dealt session. They now pretend they have paid me back the test even thou I gave them my banker’s email stating the refund had not been done.

    In few words here is their business plan: THEY STEAL MONEY FROM STUDENTS!!

    Their practices are shameful.

  33. Laura Gomez says:

    I am so mad at TOEFL, I have ordered my physical results for the third time and they have lost again in the mail. I can’t believe they have such a terrible delivery system. And the worst is that they don’t take any responsibility and blame other countries’ postal service, because apparently the american system is the best and what can they do if others live in countries that are not the USA? Terrible service!!!!!

  34. Roetilli says:

    TOELF has the worst online service I’ve ever seen!

  35. Ece says:

    I take the test today and unfortunately in a terrible test center in Ankara, Turkey.
    (Atilim University)
    The server failed four times during the test in reading, listening and writing parts and we waited to recovery which spent our 1,5 hours. Due to these failures I lost all my concentration. There was a turmoil in the class because some continued their test despite others’ cancelled.

    Retaking the test on Jan 9 suggested to us but since this doesn’t suit my deadlines I rejected and had to continue the test. Some left the class, some shouted, chatted… there was a real mass in the class. It was my last chance to raise my score and apply Phd.

    People in the test center don’t take responsibility and they don’t have a reasonable suggestion. The guys that they were speaking from ETS said to continue this terrible test.

  36. Aline Rosa says:

    I had taken the TOEFL ibt exam on May 28th this year (2016). 10 minutes later after we start the exam the ETS system stoped to work. We had to wait for one hour and half to see if they would be able to fix the problem. Unfortunately, they couldn’t and they cancelled the exam. Well, the problem is that most people travel to do that exam and we all have deadline to send the TOEFL score. So, for now I am waiting to see what’s gonna happen.

  37. May I write a guest article for your blog? I will write about any TOEFL topic you want or I can choose one of my own. Let me know.

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