TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs


I want to talk about something that I have talked about on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s hard to explain an idea completely. So I’m going to talk about it here.

The TOEIC is a test that many companies
in Japan, Korea, etc. use to decide if someone’s English is good enough for a job. A few companies use the TOEFL, but this is usually a very bad idea. The TOEFL tests English for university study, not for business communication.

However, I don’t think the TOEIC is very good, either. It tests normal reading, grammar, and listening more than the TOEFL, but it’s still not perfect or very realistic. Also, its focus is business–it’s not a test of general communication. Actually, the TOEFL should be called the “Test of English for Academic Purposes.” The TOEIC should be called the “Test of English for Business Communication.”

I’ve taught many people who have taken the TOEIC. Some of them have even lived in the US for more than two years. Sometimes people with the same TOEIC score have totally different English abilities: One person is easy to talk to in English, and can write understandable and emotional English, even if it’s not perfect. Another person freezes every time she needs to speak, and writes strange-sounding sentences. But they have the same score (or the second person might score higher!).

Companies like the TOEIC because it’s easy to use. They don’t have to spend much time checking each job-hunter. But I think people shouldn’t trust it too much.

  • Test-takers shouldn’t trust it too much. If you think your abilities have gone up, but your score didn’t, don’t worry. Your skills probably did improve. The test does not measure everything.
  • Companies shouldn’t trust it too much. They should consider other measures of a job-hunter’s English abilities, because they want to find the best employees and provide good service in English. The ones with the best scores may not be the best English speakers or the best employees.

In the US, if a company wants to hire someone who speaks another language, sometimes they ask for test scores. But sometimes they do something that’s better: 1) Someone in the company who speaks the language talks with the job-hunter for a few minutes in that language. 2) The job-hunter is asked to do an example of that kind of work. For example, write an e-mail to a company, translate part of a letter, make a simple advertisement, or something like that. This kind of thing lets the company see if you can do the work they need you to do. It takes more time, but it’s very practical. It also helps the job-hunters, because not everyone is good at taking tests. It gives more people a better chance to show their abilities.

I don’t know how much other countries use this kind of measurement. I know that in Japan, sometimes part of the interview is in English. (That sounds really stressful, but if you need to speak English for that job, at least it’s more realistic than just the TOEIC!) I hope they use other measures sometimes. If you need to speak and write English for a job, it’s good if you can find a company who does this kind of thing. It means they may truly care about finding good employees and providing good service.

Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest! (<--idiom meaning "to finally tell someone about something that has been bothering you")

P. S. I have extended the deadline for the contest! That means that you have more time to enter. There are not enough entries yet…Please think about a way to study English that works well for you. (Even if it’s for the TOEIC!) Talking to people in cafes? A favorite book? Watching TV shows? Listening to music? Karaoke in English? Traveling to Australia every time you have a vacation? Is there a hobby that made you really want to learn English? It can be really specific or really general. If you can write about it, take a picture of it, make a short video about it, or do anything like that, you can enter the contest! Just e-mail me (Tweet me or contact me for my e-mail address) or comment with your entry! I will send a postcard to EVERYONE who 1) enters the contest or has already entered the contest 2) sends me their name and a postal address through DM, e-mail, or the contact form 3) in the NEXT THREE DAYS (till November 14th, US time). English learners who read this blog only! (People who are both English learners and English teachers are fine!)

5 thoughts on “TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs”

  1. I totally agree with you. Since I’m Korean as well as a job-hunter, I know exactly the situation that you mentioned. TOEIC score is required by almost all Korean companies. And I’m the one who has high TOEIC socre but freezes when I need to speak English lol.

    At some point, companies came to realize that they can’t trust in TOEIC score. So, they started to require applicants to submit TOEIC Speaking score or OPIc score. Funny how that trend just made job-hunters study one more test which’s cost is very expensive.

    Only a few companies test English in the middle of interview progress. I experienced one two days ago. The company held translation test English to Korean and vice versa. And an English interview as well.

    I think more and more companies will require applicants to submit kind of speaking test score. However, to test applicants by themselves, I’m not sure of it. On the one hand, TOEIC is the most efficient way to know one’s English ability, because there are thousands of applicants to just one company. On the other hand, TOEIC is very unreliable. It’s a dilemma.

  2. Thank you for your comment!

    Actually, you mention a good point about money: ETS (the company that makes TOEIC and TOEFL) is supposed to be a nonprofit company (like a charity or public university). But they have been criticized for their high profits. In addition, the use of these tests supports a huge test-preparation industry that doesn’t really improve English communication. It just improves (?) test scores. People who feel a lot of pressure spend a lot of money without really improving their skills.

    But you’re right, it’s a dilemma. I’m not sure what I would do if I were the owner of a big business.

  3. P. S. Don’t worry, I know that feeling of freezing when you need to speak! You clearly have a large English vocabulary and good grasp of grammar. (Much better than my Japanese vocabulary and grammar…) I hope you get enough opportunities to speak English in situation that is comfortable for you, so that speaking will become easier. I’ve seen people go from “…” or “[one word]” to pretty relaxed conversations in a fairly short time. And I hope your interview went well.

  4. As somebody who has often criticized – even ranted against – the overuse and misuse of standardized exams, consider me quite sympathetic of your analysis. It’s also worth noting that no outside study has even found a correlation between TOEFL scores and actual academic performance in either university or graduate school. Although I’m less familiar with the TOEIC, it seems to share many of the perceived advantages for large institutions (test consistency, convenience, cost) and the same disadvantages (artificial context, limited scoring, weak correlation with alleged goals, excessive test preparation).
    Having said all that, it seems a tad unfair to attack the TOEIC as ” still not perfect or very realistic.” Not perfect? Isn’t that asking for far too much? No standardized test – and very few human endeavors – are “perfect.” Noting the TOEIC is not “very realistic” in the next phrase only adds some irony to the critique. May I suggest it “not realistic” to expect any exam to be “perfect”?
    Further, I’m not sure that we can wish away either the TOEIC or TOEFL or just advise our students to disregard the results. As an experienced TOEIC and TOEFL teacher, you have seen – first hand – the power to open doors or defer dreams that these strange standardized exams continue to hold. Scores matter. ETS holds real power.

    Let us, instead, speak truth to power as your fine article does – and prepare students to develop their authentic English skills. For instance, I would recommend students both study for the TOEIC with both a traditional test prep book and the multiskill Target Score (Cambridge University) that correlates authentic newspaper articles to TOEIC vocabulary. In other words, we need to both help our students raise their scores and authentic English communication skills in the short run. Of course, we also need to find ways to reduce the influence of standardized exams in both international companies and educational institutions, but that is a very daunting, difficult challenge.
    Finally, thank you for sharing your profound misgivings about both the TOEFL and TOEIC. Far too few English teachers seem willing to note that the ETS emperor has far too few clothes on!

  5. Hi, Eric! Thanks for your comments. Keep in mind that this is a blog for English learners. My thoughts are somewhat simplified here, and I try not to write too much. (If my posts are too long, people get tired quit reading–same as I do in Japanese.) Of course, all of these tests are imperfect and unrealistic. But I do think students need to really understand that and keep it in mind. The tests have a huge amount of power in many students’ minds. A lot of learners say things like “I’m going to take the TOEIC to check my abilities,” instead of testing their abilities by actually reading a book, joining a club with international residents of their cities, etc. (even when they have the opportunity to do so). Some learners even take the tests multiple times a year, and get really disappointed by slight changes in their score. Not everyone is like this, but enough students are that I think it bears repeating. It’s a major gate-keeper for jobs, too–you aren’t even considered for many jobs unless your TOEIC score is high enough, even though your actual English skills may be more than sufficient for the job tasks. It’s not just the TOEIC, but all tests, of course–the TOEIC is just so major in Japan and Korea that it’s been a hot topic on Twitter. That’s why I was focusing on it. :) I don’t think it’s an attack, but a reminder and an important thing to remember about all tests.

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