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Most TOEFL Course Sites Would Fail the Test
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(Frequent Warning Signs of Sites to Avoid)

By far the most widely spoken language in the world and a common avenue towards business and academic success, English has become the de facto lingua franca of the world’s economies, classrooms, and workplaces since its rise to international ubiquity in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Consequently, a panoply of numerous and varied English testing programs has sprouted across the world, teaching the language to as many different people and backgrounds as there are potential jobs and opportunities promised to English-speaking applicants. The majority of these programs attempts to prepare people for one of the most widely accepted and advocated of English certificate assessments: the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is administered by the internationally recognized testing company ETS (Educational Testing Service). ETS is also responsible for providing college graduates with the GRE, and high school students with AP exams.

While the TOEFL upholds universal standards of English proficiency and excellence, the multitudes of learning sites each proclaiming their ability to prepare any candidate for optimum performance at exam time are often less than optimal themselves. With confident proclamations like "Experience YOU can trust" and "Let us help you with your results, future, success", you would expect the many testing sites offering TOEFL tutoring to pass the standards of English set by the exam for which they’re helping people succeed. Unfortunately, this is too often not the case, as many examples of grammatical error and typos feature prominently in TOEFL tutoring sites across the internet spectrum.

Is this due to carelessness, or is it that some of these sites are run (and also taught) in non-native speaking countries by non-native speakers looking for a quick buck from people who want to improve their English who wouldn't know the difference? In other words, is poor grammar an indicator of the quality of service? You be the judge. With an aim to help spotlight these sites and raise awareness for English proficiency, below is a sample of some of the innumerable mistakes that are featured on TOEFL prep websites.

Grammatical problems:
"A lot of students prefer to take the help of private tutors in order to get better results." -www.hotcoursesabroad.com

Failure to adhere to rules of punctuation and structural sentence standards:
"You will learn strategies for every question type of every section to earn a top score, the TOEFL registration process and things to do on test day to ensure a smooth exam experience, everything." -www.notefull.com

"The best qualified instructors in the industry require teaching excellence." -www.sherwoodtest.com/experience_you_can_trust

Spelling errors and typos:
"Our course gives your FOUR timed and graded TOEFL practice tests so you know what to expect before you take the exam." -www.testden.com

"The TOEFL is for people who need to demonstrate their level of English proficiency which is required by many univerisities in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as government agencies, scholarship programs and licensing/certification agencies who use TOEFL scores to evaluate English proficiency." -americanexamservices.com (When the site you’re trying to learn English from in order to enter a university fails to spell "universities", you might want to consider other options.)

Fortunately, the TOEFL official website also provides its own prep courses and course content similar in intention to the SAT Bluebook and online practice materials published by the College Board for the autodidact. Unfortunately, however, the target audience for most of the aforementioned TOEFL sites are people in need of personal tutoring and close instruction. In these cases, tutoring sites that provide connections to individual tutors offer English-learners the chance to schedule one-on-one contact with a variety of different instructors either online or locally.

What we can learn from these explicit examples of human error is that tutoring sites can be prone to over-eager promises and technical fallacy. The likelihood of English-learners picking up on these slight mistakes is small, but it still doesn’t excuse test prep sites from elementary spelling and grammar errors. If anything, these small mistakes discredit the websites and institutions seeking to help students achieve English excellence, and should be highlighted as much as possible.

The TOEFL can be a daunting task for foreign students hoping to matriculate into their dream colleges. Remembering to keep an eye out for potential red flags in a company’s website can save you time and money better spent on more effective tools and services. As for the test prep websites making these easily fixable errors; try to take a simple spell check or editing overlook!

Calling out test prep sites and their neglect can help raise the standards of test prep offerings in general, and hopefully prevent future instances of careless English malpractice. This is particularly important because of the traffic demographic these sites accrue from students trying to learn the language. Constantly learning as they are reading, these students are most susceptible to the influences of incorrect English. Companies carelessly forgetting to adhere to the standards they purport to teach can propagate interferences to the process through which people complete their TOEFL certification. In other words, if your purpose is to teach adult students to be proficient in high level English, your website should practice what you preach.

Photo Credit: Alex Liivet, KniBaron
Both images were cropped and merged into a single image.
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