INTERVIEW: Srikant Gopal, Executive Director TOEFL Program at ETS
Srikant Gopal, Executive Director of the TOEFL Program is an alumnus of BITS Pilani and from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA joined ETS in February 2018. His team, based in Princeton, NJ is responsible for the strategy, performance and growth of the TOEFL portfolio of products. In an email interview to Autar Nehru, he speaks on the significance of TOEFL Program for students aspiring to study abroad.
Srikant, let’s begin bottom-up wards from the point of view of a high school student in India, why is a test like TOEFL important for him/her?
The TOEFL iBT test is an important requirement for Indian students who are looking to pursue their studies abroad, whether in a traditional English-speaking destination or in a non-English speaking country with English taught programmes. The test measures students’ command of the English language, and unlike any other English test, their ability to communicate in English in the academic context of the university classroom. T
The TOEFL iBT test is approximately 3 hours long, is made up of four sections that measure the core language skills – reading, listening, speaking and writing – and can be taken inperson at a test centre (TOEFL iBT test) or from the comfort of home (TOEFL iBT Home Edition). Most importantly to students, taking the TOEFL iBT test is the best way to stand out confidently to admissions professionals around the world, as the test is widely accepted and preferred because of its longstanding reputation as a valid, reliable, dependable measure of English language proficiency.
Now let’s come to types of your tests or opportunities that will be available to him and at what stages. Meaning, what is the eligibility criteria for taking such tests?
Indian students who are preparing for their undergraduate or graduate studies, either abroad anywhere in the world or even at an international foreign university in India, are encouraged to take the TOEFL iBT test to satisfy universities’ English language proficiency requirements.
The TOEFL iBT test is the world’s premier English-language test accepted by more than 11,000 institutions in over 150 countries worldwide. It is universally accepted in popular English-speaking destinations like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Ireland and the U.K., including 100 percent of Russell Group institutions. The test is also accepted universally by English-taught programs in non-English speaking countries around the world, including in Europe and Asia. In addition to the test’s wide acceptance, the test is preferred over other English-language tests in places like the US, Canada (graduate programs), France and Germany, as TOEFL iBT is the only English-language test with 100% academic content or context designed to meet the academic English proficiency needs of universities, and the test items simulate the tasks found in a university classroom.
Coming to understanding of scores. Is this test just a passing or graduating test with a certain threshold or is there any merit in being meritorious?
Test takers will receive a total score ranging from 0-120, with individualized section scores for the Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing sections ranging from 0-30. Further, there are 4 or 5 proficiency levels for each skill, which enable students to determine where their skilllevels fall(e.g., basic, advanced, etc.).
Students should put their best effort into the test, as scores on the TOEFL iBT test provide a valid, reliable indicator of their English language abilities. Institutions typically set specific requirements for an overall TOEFL iBT test score and/or section scores, which may vary depending on level of study (e.g., undergraduate or graduate level) and field of study (e.g., engineering or mathematics). Students are encouraged to check the websites for their preferred universities to identify specific requirements when applying. The better students perform, the more confident they will feel that their English skills are on par with what they can expect from their forthcoming academic experience, and the more likely they will stand out to their top universities during the application process.
Also, most teens will be curious to know, the shelf life of this qualification? And it comes at what cost?
Scores on the TOEFL iBT (and Home Edition) test are valid for two years from the test date. The price of the test in India (for TOEFL iBT and TOEFL iBT Home Edition) is priced competitively at 185 USD.
Coming to your competitors, who offer similar test and are as valid and acceptable as yours, how are you different?
The TOEFL iBT test is the gold standard of English-language tests available to students. The test has a variety of advantages compared to other English-language testing options, which include:
- Test design: the TOEFL iBT test is the only English-language test thatmeasures academic English skills the way they are actually used in the classroom. The test contains 100% academic content, with task types that reflect real-life experiences that students can expect at university, such as attending a lecture or engaging in classroom discussions.
- Accepted and preferred: the TOEFL iBT test is accepted and preferred by more institutions worldwide than any other English-language test.
- Convenience: the TOEFL iBT test is the only test with both in-person and at-home testing options that are identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring, which upholds the reliability and validity of test scores in either version.
- Security: for both the in-person and at-home TOEFL iBT testing options, ETS employs a variety of best-in-class human and AI security measures to protect the integrity of the test and each test score, including using 100% real-time, online remote proctors from beginning to end of each TOEFL iBT at-home test.
- Scoring: the test utilizes a combination of human and AI scoring to ensure the accuracyof each test score, where other tests may rely on machine scoring alone. TOEFL provides truly fair, unbiased scoring by ensuring all tests are scored through a centralized scoring network by using multiple raters who do not know test takers’ identities. This prevents any bias, for example, in the Speaking section, that may occurin other tests that use a face-to-face interview with a single rater.
- Standing Out:TOEFL helps students get noticed. Because of TOEFL’s reputation and high standards, TOEFL scores help students stand out and show schools they have that extra special something that it takes to be great. Universities notice.
- Head Start Over Peers:When students prepare for the TOEFL test, they are also investing time in their learning and skill development, and these efforts will ensure they arrive on campus better prepared than others. Universities can tell the difference.
C19 pandemic has changed the fundamentals and not only systems are reimagining but people too have started thinking differently. And, there you were with home-based solutions. Briefly, tell us about these? And also, will these at shelf for future as well?
During a time when in-person testing was limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a solution was needed to keep students’ educational journeys on track, while providing institutions with a valid, reliable measure of English language proficiency for their admissions processes. With that in mind, we at ETS worked quickly to develop TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition, a test that has proven successful to achieve these goals. Hundreds of thousands of test takers around the world have registered and taken the at-home test to date. The test’s popularity among students, and its usefulness over the past year for students and institutions alike, were key factors in our decision to solidify the test as a longstanding option in our portfolio. Renamed TOEFL iBT Home Edition, this at home test is here to stay. Because the TOEFL iBT Home Edition is the same test as the TOEFL iBT test given at a test centre, with the same reliability and validity, combined with rigorous security, scores are being accepted and used by institutions in the same way for either version of the test.
The test provides a convenient, flexible and safe testing option for students, and is identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring to tests taken in person at a centre. The test also includes the same features that students can expect from the traditional test centre option, such as MyBest scores and instant, unofficial Reading and Listening scores upon test completion of the test.
Coming to your presence and operations in India and your history of association with Indian students, can you give us a sense of how engaged you’re in terms of outreach and numbers, backend support and centres etc?
India is a crucial market, not only because of its status as one of the largest source countries for international students, but also because of the caliber of students being sent from India to institutions worldwide, leading to an unparalleled record of success all over the world as students and professionals.
The TOEFL iBT test is typically offered more than 60 times per year at more than 130 locations in India, while TOEFL iBT Home Edition is available 24 hours a day, 4 days a week.
In the several decades TOEFL has been in India to serve Indian students, TOEFL has continuously expanded its presence and availability around the country to provide more options and convenience for students, through a network of education agents, consultants and agencies.
Continuing with the previous question, will you add your future plans and any new thoughts for students in India.
TOEFL and ETS are always looking at ways to grow and expand through meeting the needs of Indian students, institutions and stakeholders. We have new initiatives in the works and are looking forward to sharing more details about these in the coming year and beyond.
I would encourage Indian students to pursue their study abroad dreams and further plans with confidence and dedication. I myself took the TOEFL test many years ago to do my MBA in the United States, and it has been gratifying to see so many Indian students of all backgrounds in all fields do well and succeed in their endeavors over the years, whether in the United States or other countries.
Formore information about TOEFL iBT, including how to prepare and register for the test, please visit www.ets.org/toefl/india.