In the outgoing year, the English language proficiency tests industry has seen massive changes. The traditional tests have changed their formats, while newer ones have cropped up too.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), for instance, has reduced the duration of its exam. The market leader, International English Language Testing System (IELTS), has allowed candidates to re-take just one segment of an otherwise four-segment exam, if not satisfied with their scores.
While the test-organising firms call these changes “driven by the market” or “another timely move to stay relevant”, experts hint at a disruption in the English proficiency test-taking market.
Sachin Jain, Country Manager (India and SA) at ETS, the company that conducts one of the oldest English language efficiency tests, TOEFL, told News18 that the changes in the English language efficiency systems have accelerated in recent years. He claims newer tests are emerging in response to the growing “aspirations” of migrants and students from across the world who wish to work, settle or study abroad.
PTE DISRUPTED MARKET?
After the lifting of the ban, the pent-up demand to move abroad has led to a sudden rise in test-takers for almost all English language proficiency tests, however, the Pearson Test of English (PTE) has seen an unprecedented rise of 90% in 2022. According to the company’s financial report, India has played “a major role in this global growth”.
Pearson credits its tech-driven features as one of the key reasons behind the growth. Sasha Hampson, Vice-President of PTE Global Stakeholder Relations at Pearson, said: “PTE has disrupted the market.”
She claims that the AI-driven test allows candidates flexibility, and ease of taking tests when they want and swiftness of getting results as soon as two days, and sooner in some cases.
Ironically, these tech-driven features were not seen as serious competition when the test was launched first in 2009. Hampson claims that the rise was “steady” and “institutions learned a lot about flexibility of online testing”.
PTE Academic is one of the four exams that were accepted by the Canadian government for its Student Direct Stream (SDS) applicants in August this year.
‘TRADITIONAL TESTS STILL FIRST CHOICE’
While tech-enabled exams are offering easy access, many students still go for traditional tests as their first choice, according to Rohit Sethi, director at ESS Global, a prominent consultancy firm for student visas and permanent residency pathways.
“Students are happy with the available options, but having more options does not necessarily lead to more inclination. The choice of test for students and migrants is a backward integration. Tests that are more acceptable by most governments and universities tend to be a preferred choice,” said Sethi.
“Acceptance of an English language test is based on international policies. For instance, the UK prefers IELTS, while Australia accepts both IELTS and PTE. A student decides on a language test based on the country of choice. Many want to keep their options open, so they take a more accepted test rather than a test marketed as easy or convenient. The decision also differs based on visa type,” explained Sethi.
Visa experts told News18 that in case of rejections, students who had earlier opted for a new-age test are advised to go back to traditional ones to increase acceptance rates.
Piyush Kumar, Regional Director (South Asia and Mauritius) at IDP Education, the firm responsible for conducting IELTS in India, also believes that recognition of an exam is still the key factor. “We have made some changes to the exam, but that is because IELTS, as a product, needs to keep innovating to make tests more rigorous and look at customer convenience.”
‘TESTS RELY ON GOVT, UNIVERSITIES’ POLICY DECISIONS’
He suggested that newer tests, which are often marketed based on new features or as an ‘easier’ test, might get some test-takers based on marketing buzz, however, the final acceptance comes based on visa acceptance rates.
“Innovation is needed to make life easy, but without compromising on integrity. Online testing practices still need to build credibility and recognition among universities and governments,” said Kumar.
While IELTS online is not accepted for immigration purposes, IELTS, with its exam centre-based pen and paper as well as digital options, still claims to hold 70% market share in India.
TOEFL’s Sachin Jain claims there have been several instances of newer tests coming to change the market, however, “each test has its own destiny”, which he claims depends on “ethics, integrity, and confidence of what a test delivers for the test-taker and for the institution that accepts that test”. “If the test or test scores do not demonstrate the same behaviour in physical testing, policy decisions will rule out the test as a reaction,” he said.