The ETS (Educational Testing Service) in the USA developed the TOEIC test based on its precursor, the TOEFL test, following a request from Japan‘s Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) in conjunction with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which is today’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The Asahi Shimbun interviewed Yasuo Kitaoka (北岡靖男) who was the central figure of the Japanese team that conceived the basic idea of the TOEIC test. In this sense the TOEIC test can be described as a US-Japanese crossbreed.
The TOEIC test is a two-hour multiple-choice test that consists of 200 questions divided into 100 questions each in listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Each candidate receives independent marks for written and oral comprehension on a scale from 5 to 495 points. The total score adds up to a scale from 10 and 990 points. The TOEIC certificate exists in five colours, corresponding to achieved results: orange (10-215), brown (220-465), green (470-725), blue (730-855) and gold (860-990).
There are an estimated 3 million test takers in 60 different countries per year, but most of those are Japanese and South Koreans. For that reason, the TOEIC test is virtually unknown outside Japan, South Korea and some of their neighbouring countries in East Asia. Its precursor, the TOEFL test, has more international recognition and prestige. However, things are gradually changing in Europe.
The questions attempt to reenact international business environments and contain vocabulary and usage that are not necessarily needed in everyday life. Even a native speaker will find it hard to get full marks unless they have a good educational background, which strongly suggests it is not a true test of English communicative competence.
There were criticisms that the Listening Section hires only North American (i.e. American and Canadian) English speakers despite its “International” appellation. In answer to this, the year 2006 saw a major renewal. The changes can be summarized as follows:
Overall, passages have become longer.
Part 1 has fewer questions involving photo descriptions.
The Listening Section hires not only North American English speakers but also British, Australian and New Zealand English speakers. The ratio is 25% each for American, Canadian, British and Aussie-Kiwi pronunciation
Part 6 no longer contains the error spotting task, which has been criticized as unrealistic in a corporate environment. This part instead adopts the task wherein the test taker fills in the blanks in incomplete sentences.
Part 7 contains not only single passage questions but also double passage questions wherein the test taker has to read and compare the two related passages such as e-mail correspondence.
According to a survey conducted in 2006 by the Institute for International Business Communication (財団法人 国際ビジネスコミュニケーション協会, Daidanhōjin Kokusai bishinesu komyunikēshon Kyōkai?), 56.8% of the respondents who took both the older and the renewed versions of the TOEIC test in Japan find the latter version more difficult. The lower score the test taker achieves, the more marked this tendency becomes. As many as 85.6% of those who earned scores ranging from 10 to 395 points find the renewed TOEIC test more difficult, while 69.9% of those who earned 400 to 495 points think this way, so do 59.3% of those who earned 500 to 595 points. Among those who achieved 600 to 695 points 58.9% find so, 700 to 795 points 48.6%, 800 to 895 points 47.9%, and 900 to 990 points 39.8%.
The Institute for International Business Communication operates the TOEIC test in Japan, where a total of nearly 1.5 million people take the test per year. There are two ways to take the TOEIC test proper. One is called the TOEIC SP Test (Secure Program Test; 公開テスト, Kōkai tesuto), in which one can take the test either individually or in a group on specified dates at a test centre specified by the TOEIC Steering Committee. The other is the TOEIC IP Test (Institutional Program Test; 団体特別受験制度, Dantai Tokubetsu Shuken Seido), in which an organization (a corporate body or an educational institution) can choose the date and administer the test at their convenience in accordance with the TOEIC Steering Committee. The TOEIC SP Test was renewed on May 2006. The TOEIC IP Test, on the other hand, will be renewed in April 2007 in line with the TOEIC SP Test.
More and more companies use TOEIC scores for personnel assessment instead of the homegrown STEP Eiken test organized by the Society for Testing English Proficiency (STEP) (日本英語検定協会主催実用英語技能検定試験「英検」, Nippon Eigo Kentei Kyōkai Shusai Jitsuyō Eigo Ginōkentei Shiken “Eiken”). The TOEIC Speaking Test / Writing Test started on Sunday 21st January 2007 in addition to the TOEIC SP Test and the TOEIC IP Test.
Towards the end of 2005, there was a shift in South Korea, regarded as the second biggest consumer of TOEIC , or rather the biggest in terms of per capita consumption, away from the test as a measure of English ability on the corporate level. As noted in The Chosun Ilbo (조선일보; 朝鮮日報; Korea Daily Reports) newspaper, a number of major coporations have either removed or reduced the required TOEIC score for employment. Citing an official from the Industrial Bank of Korea, “TOEIC isn’t an appropriate indicator of actual English skills.” The fact that the test is a series of multiple choice questions whose relative values are a secret, and that it neglects assessment of speaking and writing are often cited as criticisms by language teachers in South Korea. Also, another English proficiency test, TEPS, has been developed and is being adopted by many companies.
Counter arguments exist for these points. Firstly, individuals who have written the same version of the test multiple times–each time answering the same number of questions from different sections of the test–will say that no particular question is worth more points than any other, so it is wise to answer as many of the easy questions as possible before tackling the more difficult questions. Secondly, while the content of the test tends to revolve around office situations, such situations are the ones in which TOEIC test-takers will likely find themselves after sitting the test; the TOEIC Examinee Handbook also contains many examples of such questions, thus allowing prospective test-takers a satisfactory amount of information about the test beforehand. Also, TOEIC may not test actual speaking or writing production, but the fact that it tests listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and the underlying vocabulary and grammar structures inherent in these aspects of the English language lend strong support to TOEIC being a reliable measure of one’s general English proficiency. Indeed, it can be argued that the absence of a speaking section and a writing section eliminates the subjectivity that is almost inevitable with human examiners assessing voice recordings and written responses. But then the complexity of human communication can never be reduced to a mere multiple choice test.
In France, some Grandes écoles require a TOEIC score of at least 750 to award the diploma. This policy has been criticized, as it makes state-awarded diplomas dependent on a private institution–despite the fact that it was not the private institution that set the 750 mark but a recommendation from the Commission des Titres d’Ingénieurs indicating a B2+ level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. If the student can’t achieve a 750 mark, he is offered to validate his diploma by other means in most of the schools. Some schools delay the diploma for one year after the end of the studies in that case.
In Greece, TOEIC is accepted by ASEP, the organisation which is responsible for hiring new employees to work for the government.
ETS also administers a simplified version of the TOEIC test called TOEIC Bridge. The TOEIC Bridge test targets beginning and intermediate speakers and consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, requiring about one hour of testing time.